Review: Being a Christian in the Wesleyan Tradition
United Methodist Pastor John Gooch has written this handy book as an introduction to what makes Methodism different from other Christian denominations and what it ultimately means to claim the name “Methodist.” As he states in the conclusion, Methodism has the popular opinion of being a fast and loose religion, but as Gooch shows throughout the book, that is just not the case.
Gooch begins by discussing what it means to belong to any organization but specifically to the church. He follows this discussion with short paragraphs on key historical people and topics from the founding of Methodism. The next chapter looks at five doctrines that are specific to United Methodism: infant baptism, open communion, connectionalism, apportionments, and the appointment system. These are great places to start and succinct enough to get a clear picture of how Methodism today is structured around it foundational doctrines. Other concepts, including faith and works, scripture and tradition, sanctification (or holiness), and the organizational structure of the church are also explored.
The next section on believing walks through baptism in the Methodist tradition including what the person (or sponsor) and the congregation all vow to do. Following this is a helpful explanation of basic Christian beliefs and then distinctive Wesleyan emphases, specifically prevenient grace, justification and assurance, sanctification, faith and good works, mission and service, and the importance of the church. The sacraments of baptism and communion are looked at from a Wesleyan perspective, as well as how to read the Bible.
The section on growing comes next (a different order than the subtitle) and begins with a deeper discussion of sanctification and its importance to the Wesleyan tradition. It serves as the basis for the rest of the section which discusses critical thinking and the spiritual disciplines designated as acts of piety, acts of mercy, and acts of justice. How many of these do you and your church participate in?
The final section on living is less devoted to the specific ideas of John Wesley, but rather it takes that foundation and applies it to living real life today. What is your personal morality? How does it affect your relationships with others? Your public life? Your role in society at-large?
Throughout the book, Gooch makes the case that although there are specific and distinctive Methodist doctrines, the church encourages critical thinking and the work of the Holy Spirit. Although we may have many different ideas about politics or social justice, we all agree on some basic Christian beliefs and some distinctive Wesleyan ideas, too.
At just over 100 pages and peppered with reflection questions and suggested reading lists, this book makes a great read for new Methodists and those that may have grown up in the faith and missed or forgotten our foundational beliefs. The book is not at all an argument for Methodism; it is a simple statement of where the church has been and where it is today.