Along the Way: A Good Trembling

I posted this earlier today on my Facebook page. I am reposting it here to better archive it, and to share it with those of you who are not Facebook friends….

“A Good Trembling”

I had no plans to write today, but I am sitting here with an unexpected trembling in my soul—a good trembling, a God trembling. It came as I re-read chapter one of E. Stanley Jones’ book, ‘The Christ of Every Road.’ He wrote it in 1930, but it is ablaze with the light of insight and the fire of passion. I am writing this under the influence of Jones’ words that he went on to unpack under the title of the first chapter, “On the Verge of a Spiritual Awakening?”

If you follow my writing, you know I am among those who believe God is once again doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), and that we are in the midst of another Awakening. Jones said as much nearly 100 years ago! And what set me to trembling is that he gave evidence for his belief in the very four areas I (and others) are seeing today. In 1930, Jones named them as follows,

First, the scientific affirmation of faith and its place in teaching us new things about faith. Jones saw the sciences as friends with religion in helping to usher in a new awakening—what he called a bringing out from the facts of life a view of life that would be transforming. As a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition (which itself is part of the larger Anglo, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions), I see this in Wesley’s inclusion of Reason in his hermeneutic—an inclusion that was enhanced by the sciences. [1]

Second, the trend toward experience. That is, life arising from concreteness, not concepts. It’s what some today are calling lived theology. Jones said it clearly, “The world of dogmatic authority is dead.” But that death was for him (and for a growing number of us today) a resurrection. Again, John Wesley affirmed it through his inclusion of experience (“practical divinity”) in his hermeneutic, envisioning the movement of Christianity away from what he called “dead orthodoxy” into living faith (“faith working by love”). [2]

Third, the undertone of deep spiritual craving. A hunger Jones saw as he traveled the world. He found it among those who were still religious but hanging on by a thread and looking to religion in new ways. He also found the craving in those who had left religion not because they had lost a hunger for God, but because the institutional forms of religion had failed to satisfy their hunger. Jones saw nearly a hundred years ago what we call today the “nones and dones” phenomenon, and he viewed it as a sign of being on the verge of another awakening. [3] In the Wesleyan tradition, we find John Wesley going toward those outside institutional Christianity who nevertheless hungered for God. They experienced God in ways they had not previously done.

Finally, the expansion of Christo-centric consciousness—a mindfulness Jones found within and beyond Christianity. [4] Christlikeness, he noted, was increasingly becoming the spirit of the age. He contrasted this with a denominational-centric Christianity—a form of religion to which God would not entrust the power of the Spirit because it produced what he described in two words: “imperialism” and “megalomania” driven more by a lust for power than a love of God. [5] Again, I see in John Wesley a similar discernment of the same temptations which Jones saw, and we continue to see. Wesley intentionally kept Methodism defined more as a movement than an institution, partly to avoid these pitfalls.

And so, with these four things before me, I find myself unexpectedly experiencing today a good trembling—one afforded me by E. Stanley Jones, my overall key mentor in faith and its formation. My trembling is a surprising, “Wow!” but it is more. It is a strengthening of my resolve to stay on the path others have seen and are seeing—God’s new Pentecost, God once again doing a new thing. [6] Isaiah’s question in 43:19, “Do you see it?” is one I want to answer with a resounding, “Yes, I do!” as I journey on the way walked by Wesley, Jones, and so many others, including Jesus himself and a multitude of his followers since. And I want to be among those saying to everyone, “Come on along!”

[1] Here is conservative Christianity’s “Achilles’ Heel”—its willful obscurantism of scientific facts that leave it advancing untruths with respect to such things as human sexuality and our oneness of being (human and planetary), leaving it to get it wrong on such matters as LGBTQ+ people, race, government, ecology, and more. Now representing outdated and untrue science in its statements of faith and ethos statements, a large segment of Evangelicalism is a faux Gospel, founding its allegations on falsehood no longer supported by facts.

[2] Large segments of Evangelicalism continue to exist on the basis of alleged “doctrinal purity” that creates leaders who arrogantly act like illuminati who oversee communities where the unpardonable sin is disagreement and acceptance is “agreeing with us because we have the truth.” These folks knowingly erect walls rather than build bridges, turning their faith into fortresses, mistaking schism for spirituality. Jones’ promotion of the Round Table is a healthy alternative to that toxic faith. See his book, ‘The Christ of the Round Table’ for more.

[3] Sadly, a large segment of Evangelicalism views the “nones and dones” as people who are departing the faith, people who have “left the truth” and gone into error, even heresy. But this view survives only through caricaturing those outside their restrictive communities and by a counterfeit definition of “nones and dones” as unspiritual, when in fact the opposite is true.

[4] In his book, ‘The Way’ (reading for Week 50, Saturday), Jones bravely wrote that Christianity does not have to be exclusionary, but rather to be affirmative–that because Christ is the light of the world, anyone who lives by that light “will be saved and saved by Christ, however unconscious they may have been of Him as Christ.” He continued his bravery by sharing his belief that Gandhi would be in heaven. These convictions put him at odds with exclusionary Christians, but it was a price he was willing to pay to declare his belief in an expansive Christology–the kind Richard Rohr describes in his book, ‘The Universal Christ.’

[5] Here again, a large segment of Evangelicalism has sold its soul to what we today refer to as Christian Nationalism, with the same penchant for imperialism and megalomania Jones wrote about in 1930.

[6] I wrote about this in my book ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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