What is a WESLEYAN hermenutic?

This is a "secret summer post" but if you found it, you are welcome to post your thoughts on a Wesleyan Hermenutic.


Dave Smith said...

OK, so I totally agree with you, and with Tom Peter’s leadership observation about Mission Statements; because both of you are astute observers of human behavior (and you have a theological nuance rather than Peter's business model).
Thus, you are not asking, “What is one's hermeneutic?” For that is the question of how you will read and interpret scripture. Rather you are asking how it will function within the organization. I fully agree; that is the more vital question. E.g., When I talk to students; I do not ask what they value in life (they are too young for that). No, I ask for their checkbook and their day-timer. For where they spend their time and money IS what they value.
So, how does our (if there is a Wesleyan) hermeneutic operate?
1. Is it Pre-determined? (Outcomes made in advance of what we want to accomplish?)
2. Is it Theological? (Each generation must re-articulate their theology, so each generation must redefine their theological approach to shifts in culture and society…thus by definition must we always be re-active rather than pro-active?)
3. Is it Dynamic?
4. Is it Biblical (ouch) or more pragmatic?
Maybe my bent is just a bit more optimistic (Wesleyan?). Maybe we are simply more application/appropriation oriented. We are not so much concerned with what it precisely said (past tense) but are much more concerned with what it means today. Yes, history, culture, language nuance are important, but our theology (read as presuppositions if you like) may be a more determinative factor in our hermeneutic than we want to give credit.

Function determines (trumps?) meaning.

Outside-the-Beltway Drury said...

One very practical issue is how the the Wesleyan use of "inerrant" played a role in torpedoing the merger with the Free Methodists back in the 70s. I wasn't an eyewitness but it is my understanding that the FM lack of "inerrant" was one issue of the day.

As you look for a functional Wesleyan hermeneutic, I am fascinated how such a theoretical issue led to such a practical outcome.

Dave Smith said...


I rally love this list you compiled...of (practical?)changes that have taken place in the last 25 years...

1. Eliminating specifics against wearing jewelry, modesty of dress or buying on Sunday.
2. Clamping down on any and all tongues-speaking among our people.
Softening our stance against divorce.
3. Loosening up our ban against attending movie theaters.
4. Protesting abortion.
Softening a bit our stance against tongues-speaking—at least in private.
5. Defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
6. Prohibiting alcohol but later softening that stance for community members.
7. Eliminating our statement against social dancing.

They cover a whole range of topics; social, religious, cultural, "sacred cows"...

So our task really is defining a functional hermeneutic...

and the final one you mentioned, the stumbling block with the FM-Wesleyan church merger; wow, I find it fascinating that the differences in ecclesiology did not stop the merger...but one of semantics over a Word. But maybe it was simply the time in which it took place. The word was a “Shibboleth” for the Wesleyan Church; and the FM’ers mis-pronounced it. A dead giv-away.

Keith Drury said...


Yes, that is one of the theories on the collapse of the FM-Wesleyan merger—perhaps the most common spin in fact. As for holiness denominations using “inerrant in the original manuscripts” in their denominational statements:

-Free Methodists don’t use the term

-Nazarenes use it only related to God’s will: “inherently revealing God’s will.”

-Brethren in Christ don’t use the term

-Congregational Methodists don’t use the term

-Church of God-Anderson doesn’t use the term

-C&MA doesn;t use the term.

-Of the holiness churches only the Wesleyans church and Church of Christ in Christian Union-Circleville use the term.

So, yes, Scott that is the usual explanation for the collapse of the FM-Wesleyan merger talks.

However, as with most things, there is often another story, a "back story" one less heroic but and more interesting.

I believe a major factor contributing to the collapse of the FM-Wesleyan merger was the long-standing history of the Free Methodist Bishops treating Wesleyan leaders like mindless country hillbillies.

As a result, Wesleyan leaders have always personally preferred Nazarene leaders who treat Wesleyan leaders with dignity and respect.

It’s curious—the Nazarene laity often treat Wesleyans like the Free Methodist Bishops.


Keith Drury said...


Thanks for the thoughts—excellent. You are right—Wesleyans are more interested in the practical application to life than the meaning of words of statements—a very Wesleyan approach?

And of course the “other half of the church” (often forgotten in historical studies—the Pilgrim Holiness church—did not use the word inerrant at all.)

Since I am a practical-theology guy I tend to ask practical questions—hence my question on the “descriptive Wesleyan hermeneutic” on the street rather than the “prescriptive Wesleyan hermeneutic” which I expect scholars to discuss...

When I reflect on these practical decisions and how they were made, here is the hermeneutic I find: “Wesleyans simply come to know the answer which is obvious to us, then we search the Scriptures to find that answer.

Wesleyans did not go to the Scriptures with open minds to decide that slavery and abortion were wrong. We knew they were wrong and searched to find support for what we believed the Holy Spirit had already told us in our collective heart.

When homosexual marriage came along we did not call a study committee to find out if homosexual marriage was permissible in the Bible—we knew it was out of order and we searched for Scriptures that supported the obvious position.

We did not go to the Scriptures with open minds to see what they said about tongues before excluding public tongues-speaking, we knew we were not tongues-speakers and we found justification for that in scripture.

When we decided to loosen up our strict stance on divorce, jewelry, Sunday purchases and dancing we knew it was time to do so and we found Scripture that helped us do that.

All this sounds very scary to Bible scholars but perhaps Wesleyans believe the Holy Spirit “guides us into all truth” granting us permission to
"Bind and loose” these matters.

Of course, the Bible has always been the playing field where these decisions are hammered out—but I do not believe we sat down with totally open minds seeking to live clearly by the “plain words of the Bible.” The plain words on divorce, jewelry, slavery, women’s hair covering, movies, dancing and even alcohol are often quite different than what we decided.

The Wesleyan “practicing hermeneutic” seems to rely more on the Holy Spirit’s leading than on enforcing the plain words of the Bible. We seem to permit a general conference to act to “bind and loose” the first century “plain teaching of the words.”

However, I should admit that in two of the above decisions scholars were called in (tongues and divorce). However in both of these cases only scholars who already supported the change the denomination’s leaders already wanted were invited. ;-)