John Wesley’s Ecological Eschatology

I enjoyed reading the first volume of Thomas Oden’s series on John Wesley’s teachings. In some ways it wasn’t quite what I expected. The only book of Wesley’s I’ve read in its entirety is A Plain Account of Christian (which I appreciated more for its prayerful tone and pietism and less for its theology!). Perhaps because I hadn’t looked into the description of this series on Wesley very closely, I was expecting a systematic arrangement of Wesley’s teachings (i.e. quotations from primary sources); this was actually more of a systematic summary on Wesley (with plentiful footnotes and selective quotations). It’s like reading a popular multi-volume systematic theology that is oriented around the thinking of a specific figure. Most of Wesley’s written teachings are sermons, so this actually works very well! Since I hail from the Wesleyan tradition, I would like to one day engage Wesley more directly (perhaps via his major treatise on original sin?). But this was a good starting place for now.

Right now I am reading Jürgen Moltmann’s God in Creation, where he develops his ecological doctrine of creation (it’s an amazing book so far, which will likely inspire some posts to come here!). I appreciated to learn via Oden that Wesley, an authority in my own tradition, talked in similar ways about creation, ecology and eschatology in the same breath. Our stewardship of earth has its basis not only in God’s charge to man at Eden, but also in the coming eschatological redemption of creation from the frustration and groaning it is subject to now. Below are some selections that explain Wesley’s understanding of this topic. Enjoy!

Closer to a philosophical ecology than anything else found in Wesley, the homily on “The General Deliverance” views plant and animal life in relation first to the original human condition prior to the fall, then after the fall, and finally in the light of the resurrection. The predicament of plants and animals and even of the inorganic world is viewed in the context of salvation history — creation, fall, the history of sin, redemption, and consummation….
The mercy of God is over all of his works: rocks, plants, animals, humans, angelic creatures. Therefore we are being called to express the same goodness and mercy toward creation that God has shown toward us, to be merciful in whatever sphere of responsibility we are given — not only with respect to our own human suffering, but with respect to nonhuman creation’s suffering as well….
Wesley posited a great chain of being in which the one who is incomparably good brings forth a created order (not an emanation) that exhibits vast variety and complexity, wherein less conscious elements are ordered to benefit, enable, and serve more freely conscious elements. As plants sustain and provide energy for animal life, so animals provide sustenance for human life. Inorganic matter sustains and feeds organic matter, which in turn is the basis of a food chain that sustains animals, who in turn supply sustenance for human beings who live precariously in this curious juxtaposition of finitude and freedom, this special arena of creation with our roots in nature yet with astonishing capacities for imagination, reason, and self-determination. Humanity experiences the psychosomatic interface that straddles finitude and freedom, standing in the middle of creation, “a creature capable of God, capable of knowing, loving, and obeying his Creator.”
Oden, Thomas C. John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 1 (p. 163).

In our inattentiveness to our true good, we, as warned, fell and lost our holiness and blessedness, and destined the body toward death. When we lose our original trust-filled liberty, the beasts lose their more limited spheres of enfranchisement. They are deprived of their proximate blessedness by the human fall. So animal and plant life on this vulnerable earth has become profoundly implicated in the history of sin. There is suffering not only in human history but also in the whole of the natural order as a result of our sin. If the creator of all things does not despise anything that has been made, and wills that all creatures be happy, how has it happened that there is so much travail in natural creation? Why do so many evils oppress and overwhelm creatures (plants, animals, and humans)? The answer cannot be given within the bounds of history, but only in relation to the end of history. There is no adequate answer to the question of theodicy except in eschatological reference. We gain no adequate grip on the problem of suffering without seeing it in relation to the last judgment.
Oden, Thomas C. John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 1 (p. 166).


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