Last week I received Kevin M. Watson’s A Blueprint for Disciplineship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living by mail. It is a short, engaging book, and I read it the day it fell into my hands. I did not actually fall there by as though by a divine accident. I requested the book, and I’m glad I did.
Watson is currently a Ph.D. student in Church History and Wesley Studies at Southern Methodist University. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and blogs here. Prior to his sojourn to the land of academia he had pastored in the local church. I have never met Kevin in person, but perhaps I will someday, as he seems to be a kindred spirit, a deep thinker, and a lover of God.
These facts are relevant to Watson’s writing, as they reveal the source of his depth and his clarity. Watson writes for real people attempting to live the Christian faith within the bounds of everyday life. Though he is now an academician, Watson remembers that his forebear, John Wesley, sought to equip people in practical Christianity, and writes accordingly. As his title suggests, this small book chronicles a Wesleyan vision for discipleship and provides helpful wisdom and insight for small groups, pastors crafting a plan for discipleship within the local church, and individual Christians seeking formation in a distinctly Wesleyan way of Jesus Christ.
Watson begins his book by naming the crisis: it appears as though the central task of discipleship has been forgotten by the Christian people of our time. For United Methodists, Watson pulls no punches, making certain that his audience is well aware that his denomination has been in decline for four decades and that willful ignorance of this fact “is done at our own peril.” Watson asserts that this state of affairs can change, but to bring about change Methodist people must not “desperately hold on and try not to lose too many members” but must “depend on God’s grace, by breathing deeply of God’s Spirit, and…[allow] our lives to give witness to who Christ is and what he has done for us.” Said differently, Watson issues a call for repentance–something I deeply appreciate. At the center of Watson’s message is a strong theology of God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. More than he may be aware, his account of grace given in his first twenty pages is a true gift to the church.
After naming the crisis and building a theological foundation for the Christian life, Watson paints a picture of the future for individual Christian believers. Along with Wesley, Watson stresses personal and social holiness as the goal of the Christian life. Watson states, “The goal of grace…is not just to save us from ourselves; it is to enable us to enter into a deeper and deeper relationship with God so that we are able to love God and our neighbor increasingly.” Watson is sure to emphasize that the efficacy of God’s grace will result in varying vocations and expressions of holiness. There will be those, like Mother Teresa, who are called to serve the outcasts in the streets of Calcutta. But there will also be businessmen and women, parents, and persons working common trades who have been given no less a responsibility to follow Jesus in the context of “ordinary” life. We are wise to remember that Jesus was a carpenter living in relative obscurity for the first thirty years of his earthly life, and by his example demonstrated that the with-God life can be fully experienced and expressed in the tasks of everyday living.
Once Watson has established that the calling of discipleship is for all people, he moves on to the historical examination of Wesley and his method for Christian discipleship. The common difficulty faced by both Wesley and Christian leaders of our time is the need to establish a direction within which people may move from infancy to maturity as followers of Jesus Christ. According to Watson, Wesley’s goal “was not to get as many people as he could to pray a certain prayer. Rather, his goal was to get as many people as he could to trust in Christ, not just for one moment, but for the rest of their lives and with all of their lives.” Watson clearly describes Wesley’s three levels of community which may assist in bringing people to maturity–the society meeting (akin to congregational worship), the class meeting (akin to a small group), and the band meeting (a meeting of a few, same-gender friends for personal accountability, including the confession of sin). Within Methodist societies, these persons would strive to follow three general rules: 1) Do no harm; 2) Do all the good that you can; and 3) Attend upon the ordinances of God.
The heart of Watson’s work is an exploration of these three rules. He carefully explains each rule, giving helpful, true to life illustrations alongside practical actions steps for the integration of each rule within daily life. Watson also attends to the biblical basis for each rule, as he recognizes these practices were not an invention of Wesley, but are rather rooted in a much older, deeper story. Following his treatment of the general rules, Watson attends to what he calls “balance points.” These balance points are: 1) faith and works; 2) personal piety and social action; and 3) love of God and love of neighbor. Each of these points have been treated extensively across Christian literature, but it is no surprise they surface here, as Watson is a Methodist. Each of these three balance points are evident when Methodist people are at their best.
Watson ends his work with a call to follow Jesus. His vision is cast for Christ’s sake, not only for the sake of The United Methodist Church. His call to follow is distinctly Wesleyan but broadly encompasses all Christians. Watson states, “We have something that is good news, something that we are blessed to be the stewards of, and we will want to freely and boldly offer this gospel (which means good news!) to all the world. We offer this good news, not because we want something from others, but because of a deep conviction that we have something they need to live life as God intends. Living life to the fullness that God intends is, after all, what the Wesleyan blueprint for discipleship is all about!”
I truly appreciate this book from Kevin Watson. Watson is on solid footing–logically, biblically, historically, theologically, and spiritually. This book is written with the precise mind of a careful thinker and the heart of a pastor. The challenge which remains to be met is that which he issues at the conclusion of his book, which includes a call to make a decision to follow Jesus in community with others, to put the general rules in to practice, to live a life of holiness, and to participate in God’s redemption of the world.
I can only hope and pray all Christians, Methodist or otherwise, heed Watson’s challenge.
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