Friday, August 29, 2008

Theology or personality?

Illustrating how our personal backgrounds, and not simply our theological systems, shape who we are, Montagu Barker relates the apocryphal story of Wesley and Whitefield:

"John Wesley was brought up in a rigid High Church household where the children were ordered by the ringing of a bell and were taught by their mother to cry silently. Whitefield was brought up in the local inn and had a much less ordered life. In adulthood, they worked together and went out on their evangelistic tours, and the story is told that they arrived one night at an inn, very tired. When they reached the room which they shared, George Whitefield threw himself on the bed exhausted while Wesley got down on his knees, opened his Bible and before setting to his devotions looked very reproachfully at George Whitefield and said, 'George, George, is this your Calvinism?' At 2:00 AM in the morning George woke up and found John still on his knees, fast asleep over his Bible, so he shook him and said, 'John, John, is this your Arminianism?' It was not their differing theological systems but their family backgrounds which led them in their fatigue to react with completely different attitudes to devotions. . . .

God works within the individuality of our personalities and it is this which accounts for the rich variety of Christian biography. We have the remote and logical Calvin; the warm tempestuous Luther; the fastidious and over-organized Wesley; the freer, more liberated Whitefield, son of a publican. God used each greatly and in different ways, and who would dare to rank them spiritually? Theologically they stand in absolute agreement regarding Christ and pardon from sins, but their experience of God's dealing with them personally was different. In particular their doctrinal systems widely differed, and unhappily their followers were often bitter enemies. Whatever may be the true understanding regarding the biblical passages disagreed upon, the problems in terms of division and hostility seemed so often to occur in this area of personality and experience."

Nigel Cameron and Sinclair Ferguson, editors, Pulpit & People: Essays in honour of William Still on his 75th birthday, pages 92-93.

How does one say "Yes, let's cut each other a lot of slack" in theologically sophisticated language?