The essays for my three other subjects allowed me to get stuck into some issues I came to college with. My essay for History of Evangelicalism was fun but didn’t carry the same weight for me as the others. (In case you’re interested, it was on whether/how Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘And Can it Be’ typified the theology and ethos of Methodism.) However, the class as a whole has been an incredibly heartwarming experience.
Perhaps that ought not to be a surprise since the historical definition for evangelicalism that we looked at was having a concern for vital piety. But for me, it was a chance to connect with ‘my people’ in history. I did Early Church History last year and earlier this year went on the Reformation study tour. Both were excellent and interesting and exciting, but tracing evangelicalism from the German pietists and the Puritans through to the revivalists and into the 20th century was like learning my own family history.
100 years after the Reformation while Christian Europe was tearing itself apart in war, the first evangelicals asked how that could be the case. Why have your doctrine right if it doesn’t make any different to how you live? This is exactly how I feel! I know the doctrines of the early church were important, that we stand on the shoulders of the Reformers – but shouldn’t that make a difference to more than just how we think?
Earlier this year on the Missional Leadership retreat, we were asked which we leant towards more: doctrine or ethics? I couldn’t work out where I belong. I didn’t want to go without either! The leader helpfully re-phrased – what do you want written on your gravestone? Well, that was easy for me. I knew that I wanted to have something like “This was a girl who lived for Jesus.” Sure, doctrine’s important but I don’t want to be known for being right. I want to be known for living for Jesus – in my actions, emotions, drive and behaviour. Similarly, when I’m discipling someone, I don’t want to know whether they’re sold on predestination so much as whether they’re loving Jesus, living a holy life, desiring the evangelisation of their friends, etc. My first inclination is to champion a life of vital piety!
There’s an importance to doctrine: evangelicalism comes after the Reformation for a reason! But in Wesley, Carey, Palmer and Graham I find kindred spirits, not because we agree on everything but because we have the solidarity of a commitment to lived faith – deep in emotion and real in action. John Wesley wrote of his conversion that he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’ as he heard Luther’s prologue on Romans. And in a difficult semester, it has been tremendously encouraging not only to discover these brothers and sisters but, in learning their journey, also to share it.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.