Toward a Wesleyan Ecology: Establishing an Incarnational Christian Presence

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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Last week, Greg wrote a wonderful piece on Karl Barth and science, and I couldn’t let reformed theology have the last word! So, I wrote a follow-up to my piece from a few weeks ago. If you remember, I wrote about how John Wesley understood God’s calling to include caring for all creatures, a passion that became foundational in his ministry. Today’s installment focuses on how science can help ministry thrive by providing the tools to transform human systems, environments, and behaviors. At SftC, we are convinced that engaging science can revitalize the church, and Wesley’s approach serves as an example.

In his sermon “The Unity of the Divine Being,” Wesley suggests that true religion must be defined as developing the “right tempers toward God and man.” Wesley argues that these “tempers” can be summarized in two ways: in “gratitude” directed toward God and in “benevolence” directed toward our neighbors. While these statements reflect the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 22:37-39, they also highlight the importance of doing everything possible to help those around us. For Wesley, loving our neighbor included using all the resources at our disposal to enrich the lives of the most vulnerable members of society.

On this basis, Wesley explains that God’s love transforming every believer should propel them to practice works of love for their brothers and sisters. In other words, caring for those in need calls for an attitude of humility, genuine benevolence, and gratitude towards the Creator. Since God’s love is actualized in Christ Jesus, we should establish a Christian presence that incarnates his love through tangible actions.

Instruments of Divine Mercy

In his book, “Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics,” Wesley researcher, Theodore W. Jennings, suggests that his primary concern was to address the physical, economic, and spiritual needs of the less fortunate in society. Wesley provides a practical foundation to nourish and sustain a Christian praxis that applies both the book of scripture and the book of nature. This approach ensured effective, transformational ministry for the most marginalized members of English society. In other words, Wesley’s brand of wholistic ministry attended to the individual’s spiritual, social, and bodily needs, thus becoming “instruments of divine mercy and justice.”

Theodore Runyon, another Wesley researcher and biographer, explains that Wesley was convinced that faith was inextricably linked to connecting love, service, and support to help people experiencing poverty. He writes that two centuries before the proponents of liberation theology “discovered the preferential option for the poor,” Wesley was already promulgating, prescribing, and practicing it with his eighteenth-century Methodists. As already noted, this type of Christian service required engaging science as a primary tool for social and physical transformation.

Wesley suggests that to be a member of the true Church of Christ, the believer must live under the law of divine love. This idea presupposes a readiness and desire to alleviate the burdens, pains, and needs of the most vulnerable members of society. A recurring motif in Wesley’s sermons relates to the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “bearing with one another” in “all humility and gentleness, with patience” (Eph. 4:2). However, for Wesley this responsibility maps to the Christian’s duty of “lifting up their sinking heads” and “strengthening their feeble knees” by building an ecology that addresses the body, mind, and soul of the individual. Therefore, Wesley argues that attending to the spiritual needs of an individual while neglecting their health, afflictions, and injuries is a disservice to the gospel.

  •  In an article for the American Scientific Affiliation, Wesley’s researcher, J. W. Haas, Jr., presents a compelling argument of how Wesley used science to revitalize the church.
  • In a Wesleyan Theological Journal article, Randy Maddox reframes Wesley’s understanding of the science and religion dialogue.
  • Don’t forget to check out SftC’s other resources on John Wesley.

Responsible Use of Resources

In a sermon entitled “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” Wesley argues that economic prosperity and society’s advances should be used to attend to the needs of the poor. The book of Acts shows an early church focused on meeting the needs of all people so that no one lacked anything as resources were distributed “to anyone as they had need” (Acts 4:35). For Wesley, this kind of radical stewardship represented the responsible use of resources.

Wesley was so convinced of this truth that he regularly spoke against the dangers of riches and the excessive concern for material goods. He lectured against excesses in dressing and eating while calling everyone to become responsible stewards. Throughout his writings, Wesley urged his followers to give up luxuries so they could redirect their resources to help secure medical treatment and medicines and build a social scaffolding to transform their socioeconomic context. Why? Because caring for our brothers and sisters is the fulcrum of holy action.

Wesley writes: “Render unto God, not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s, be it more or less; by employing all on yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all mankind, in such a manner, that you may give a good account of your stewardship when ye can be no longer stewards; in such a manner as the oracles of God direct, both by general and particular precepts; in such a manner, that whatever ye do may be a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour [sic] to God,” and that every act may be rewarded in that day when the Lord cometh with all his saints.”

In other words, Christians should make every effort to become good stewards of God’s resources. This ministerial expression includes properly using our time, talents, and treasures. For Wesley, the responsible use of resources involved using our intellects to find proper solutions to the physical needs of our brethren and advocating for a society that embraced the least of these (Matt. 25:40). Thus, true religion requires a radical call to stewardship that centered on loving our fellow “human” as an expression of service and spiritual act of worship (Rom.12:1). This way, we will love God as we love and care for our neighbor.

John Wesley’s ministry focused on using all available resources to transform the individual and their context. By building an ecosystem centered on attending to the physical needs of those suffering undue burdens, Wesley guaranteed a sort of revival that revitalized and transformed the lives of many. At SftC, we are convinced that a careful reading of the book of Scripture and the book of nature can still have the same effects in our social context. In other words, we can help create an ecosystem where the needs of our brethren can be met while assisting God to transform their lives. I hope you are inspired to follow this example.

In Nobis Regnat Iesus,

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