Examining Spiritual Practices Through a Wesleyan-Methodist Lens Part 2

Today's post is the continuation of yesterday's post found here.  Today, I focus on the first two questions that Dr. Ken Collins proposes: "Is the practice Christologically based?" and "Does the practice detract from Jesus as mediator?"  If you have never read any of John Wesley's writings you may not appreciate the time he took read, examine, write and publish responses to books, preaching and tracts in his day.  Wesley did not take spiritual practices lightly, in fact, he was very careful about what he endorsed to the people called Methodists, should it be any less important to us today? 

The questions Dr. Collins raises in part, address the concerns he terms “...the health of contemporary developments in religion...(Collins 1993, 314).” Dr. Robert Tuttle affirms in his own chapter the need to examine spiritual practices in our day. It is hard to miss the nod to Wesley’s own questioning of not just mystical writings but any and all theological or spiritual practices in his own day. Collins begins by asking, “...are current trends in spirituality Christologically based?” This is the first question with which we will examine Ignatius’ writings in The Spiritual Exercises.

For the sake of this paper, a simple understanding of Christology should suffice. Christology is the study of the nature and person of Jesus found in the Canonical Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament. In the first week of the Exercises, there is much time for reflection upon God’s position of authority as well as his grace. At the same time, there is an opportunity for the Christian to reflect upon one's place in this world and our fallen state. “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means save his soul (The Spiritual Exercises 1964, 47),” writes Ignatius. These words seem to echo the Westminster Shorter Chatechism when it is asked, “What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever (www.shorterchatechism.com, 2012).” The beginning of the Exercises, positions us at the Creation - the first exercise asks the exercitants to “consider the sin of Adam and Eve (The Spiritual Exercises 1964, 55).” Yet, this is not where the exercise ends.

Ignatius has the excertiant focus upon Christ Jesus in this first exercise as well. In a most significant moment of reflection, the excertiant is asked to speak with Jesus about his role as the Christ. Specifically, one is to consider how God became human, possessed eternal life but suffered temporal death for our sins (Ibid, 56). As we move into the Second Week, “The Kingdom of Christ,” we find Ignatius leading excertiants to reflect on the Trinity and God’s plan and work of redeeming humanity (Ibid, 70). In addition, Ignatius makes a specific reference in the Fifth Contemplation, no. 4, which is a desire, “to know more thoroughly the eternal Word Incarnate (Ibid 72).” In such passages, it is hard to miss the careful acknowledgment of Jesus as both God and human as well as the trinitarian language of the orthodox faith.

There is a wealth of scripture references for the recommended meditations which Ignatius asks of excertiants. These passages all have to do with the life of Jesus. From the annunciation to the ascension, the focus of a person’s time in Scripture is to be upon the life of Jesus. As Methodists, this brings to mind our practice of doing theology based on the quadrilateral. The first and primary means of any of our theological work, begins with Scripture and Scripture is the most important of the elements among the four which include tradition, reason, and experience.

The second question which Collins proposes in his paper is to examine if the practice or trend encourages a “direct relation to God which detracts from the work of Christ as mediator?” A cursory reading of John Wesley’s writings and experiences shows this to be an area of great concern for him. Here, Tuttle notes the distinction being that on one side is the idea that implies, 'God helps those who help themselves.' Christianity insists that God helps those who cannot help themselves but who are willing to be helped by God (1989, 176).” This earlier thought Tuttle argues, is a sort pantheism, that God is all things. As such, the need for a mediator between us and God is not necessary. This is certainly in conflict with the Christology we noted before but it is also inconsistent with a theology of Christ as the mediator; our high priest as expressed in Hebrews,

(17) Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (18) For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (2:17-18 NASB)

How does Ignatius’ Exercises respond to this questioning? To start, we return to the first weeks exercise and acknowledge the theme Ignatius establishes in stating, “…He [Jesus] submitted to temporal death to die for our sins (The Spiritual Exercises, 56, emphasis mine).” Ignatius continues this recognition of our sin and Christ Jesus as our mediator into the third exercise where he asks, “Him [Jesus] to intercede with the Father to obtain these graces [knowledge of our sinful state] for me (Ibid, 58).” While not as extensive as some may prefer, clearly, Ignatius acknowledges the work of Jesus Christ as the mediator.

Stay tuned for my next post regarding Examining Spiritual Practices Through a Wesleyan-Methodist Lens for an examination of the next two questions: "Is the practice rooted in the atonement? and Is it rooted in the means of grace? (ex: prayer, communion, Bible reading). "


Henry Jordan said...

Good to know about spiritual practice a Wesleyan methodist lens. I'm a follower of God and I've been practicing meditation to make myself more spiritual than I'm now.

Thanks for the blog post.
James Tarantin

Unknown said...

You're more than welcome James. Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you found my writing helpful. There is a number of passages in the Bible as well as practices of meditation. Wesley examined everything he read and assumed little about a writer. I have found Dr. Collins' questions pointed and quite helpful and I'm glad they've been of help for you as well.

James Tarantin said...

James’ father, David, was born into deep poverty where the pots and pans did not serve to cook food, but to hold the raindrops dripping from the sky. He braved the cold and the scorching heat and through the sheer powers of humor, humility and heart … he carried his family up the mountain.

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