Let me be clear on this. I am not proud of the fact that I am a post theological education Christian. For example, people are surprised to know that one of my faculty advisors was Henry Nouwen. Yes, I was blessed by a number of outstanding teachers, not the least of which was Jaraslov Pelikan while at Yale. I do believe that some of them had a deep relationship with Christ. But none of these teachers ever spoke of a personal relationship with Christ as something to be desired, and most down played any sense of conversion. Conversion, if it existed at all, was a gradual process of growth. Consequently, I look back a bit jaded at my seminary experience.
I only spent one year at Sewanee, but about eight or nine years at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Vanderbilt Graduate Department of Religion (faculty and students overlapping). Fr. Martin's observations of his theological education resonate with my experience at Vanderbilt. The focus was almost exclusively on a politically correct version of social justice. The very idea of a "deep" and "personal relationship with Christ" was the sort of stuff that fundamentalists talked about. When we weren't looking down our noses at them, we felt sorry for those kinds of folks.
After his conversion, Fr. Martin describes how reading the works (particularly the sermons) of John Wesley helped ground his post-conversion identity and integrate that experience with his theological education. "Wesley," Fr. Martin writes, "was a high church Anglican who’s 'heart was strangely warmed' in the Aldersgate experience, and who had deep commitments to the marginalized and poor of his world." And he continues by sharing a number of things he learned from Wesley:
All the head knowledge in the world cannot substitute for “knowing Christ Jesus in the power of his resurrection.”
Religious experience apart from creedal belief usually ends in shipwreck somewhere.
True conversion leads to passionate love for the poor and to concrete steps to alleviate their poverty.
Social justice and evangelism are both mandates of scripture, to hold one without the other is to diminish Christ’s work.
Holiness of life is the goal of all disciples – we don’t want to be people who do good things - we want to become people who are Christ-like.
Simplicity of life is a Christian virtue.
Christian leaders who hold power often work to suppress Christian experience - even those who once claimed a conversion experience.
Being called a fanatic is often a compliment.
Nominal Christian life is the greatest enemy to true discipleship.
Innovation for the sake of mission and evangelism is Apostolic and needed in every age.
Extreme Calvinism quenches human freedom and is joyless.
People have free will and it is obvious that we have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in ministry and growth.
In Christ, women are equal to men and can be effective agents of ministry.
Bishops are important, but prelacy is a sin against Christ and his Church.
And when it comes to preaching, “set yourself on fire in the pulpit and the whole world will come to see you burn.”
While I do not share Wesley's view (expressed in a letter to his brother Charles dated August 19, 1785) that "the uninterrupted succession [of bishops] I know to be a fable, which no man ever did or can prove," I resonate with pretty much all that Fr. Martin learned from Wesley.