Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reduction of Seduction Part 1


"My theme is seduction, resistance, and the cultural consequences of both."

No, this is not a quote from God on the Oprah show, offering a soundbite summary of Scripture (though it works well for the Book of Numbers, among others)!

And I know "seduction, resistance, and the cultural consequences of both" sounds like the story of your life (I have not been reading your journal).

It is actually one author's upfront and provocative confession about his tellingly titled book, "The Evangelist of Desire."

Henty Aberlove's book is well worth wrestling with; one that suggests that a certain prominent evangelist's "success rested on his establishing a (metaphorically) erotic relationship with his followers." In fact this biography offers persuasive (seductive?) evidence that then evangelist, in one reviewer's summary, "used his status as a gentleman to create deference, and in his ability to exact love—almost unbounded love—from his followers (many of whom were women)." This popular evangelist "won and monopolized love. He eclipsed his colleagues and even God Almighty in the hearts of his followers."

Many of you are interrupting (I see you) with a yawned protest: "Tell me something I haven't heard before. This could describe any number of contemporary and seductive televangelists. I just change the channel."

But we are not talking contemporary.

At least, not yet.

And I can guarantee this preacher never appeared on television; indeed never owned a television.

He was born in '03.


His name: John Wesley.

His usual claim to fame: spiritually deep; authentically apostolic founder of the worldwide Methodist movement.

Words usually included in his c.v.: " reformer", " revivalist," genius".... Maybe "maverick." Even "heavyhanded."

But "seducer"?

Since Aberlove is no slouch, but a seasoned and reasoned scholar respected in the Wesleyan tradition and beyond ; and since my own roots are Methodist, I was obviously intrigued enough to weigh the thesis. Let me summarize that I find it weighs well and rings mostly true.

I am not saying God didn't use Wesley mightily; I am not saying he had sexual problems that should've kept him out of the ministry.

Unlike more modern "evangelists of desire," I think he kept his pants up, and his..uh, nose..clean.

I am simply buying both clauses of _______'s conclusion upon finishing the book:
"No other contemporary revivalists managed a pastoral stance so strangely monopolistic and seductive; no other achieved a comparable result."

And wanting to ask deep questions about ends and means; overt and covert manipulation in the emerging and apostolic church of today; whether these wineskins are Wesleyan or otherwise.

Wesley's curious and furious keynote was that God can grant purity of motive; even freedom from original sin, through the (usually instantaneous) crisis of "entire sanctification" (a loaded
and leaded phrase, unfortunately framejacked by Wesley from 1 Thess. 5:16) or "Christian perfection." Yet it is possible that the extreme application of this doctrine; and Wesley's at times extreme "monopolistic and seductive" modus (though partly a God-gift appropriate to his era and culture), was in part an inevitable sequitur of his imperfectly-sublimated/sanctified
personality mix and sexual self .

I am aware this may sound overly Freudian or flippant. But am I wondering if John Wesley had, for example, a "father wound"? Yes. One that nuanced and tainted his message and ministry, and might become unknowingly embedded in our contemporary approach to life and leadership, whether or not we place ourselves in the Wesleyan theological lineage? Absolutely.

Even a cursory study of Wesley's upbringing, and his family of origin's written and unwritten rules will back such an argument. His unemotional; perhaps "absent without leaving" father understatedly categorized John's rescue as a child from their burning parsonage (Ah, he was aPK; that explains it(:....) as "almost a miracle." His more engaged parent; his mother, is known and remembered for her 'domestic management." (sounds like an emotionally present mother?)
And we haven't yet touched on the political disagreement between his parents which kept them from sleeping in the same bed; or the fact that John was one of nineteen (!) children. No wonder his busy mother had to resort to putting a bag over her head to sneak some "private prayer time."

Certainly in one sense we are all "functionally dysfunctional." And we all have come from dysfunctional families. Join the club you already belong to! But no matter how deeply you have "accepted Christ", or how many times we have been "entirely sanctified, ", the core problem with each of us is "everywhere we go, there we are." Surely of any family system was a set-up for "issues." And when a leader is dramatically and publicly rasied up to the degree John Wesley was, these issues issue in an inescapbale "doing one's laundry in public."

Wolfgang Simson's insights shed light here:

Whoever is launched into existence without been given a fathers heart may very
well end up a spiritual orphan. A study under the title ”Orphans rule the world”
has proven that most people who made their radical mark on history were in fact
orphans. The trauma of growing up fatherless has bottled-up enormous energy
which they used to prove themselves to the world, because they have never heard
a loving father say ”well done, son!”, and rejoiced, relished and relaxed in
that knowledge and security. Many churches, denominations or organizations have
unwillingly given birth to a wave of children who are spiritual orphans,
fatherless leaders who had to break away in order to obey their life calling.
Many in Europe exclaim: Two World Wars have killed our fathers, whole
generations have been bombed away. When the wars started, ”all the daredevils
went to the front and died. Who was clever enough to stay behind? The
accountants. And today we inherited their genes and drown in a flood of
bureaucracy!”, says my friend Bob Smart of Reading, UK, with that dark and
spot-on English humor. He meant it as a joke, but maybe there is more truth to
it than meets the eye. Spiritual fathering is also one of the greatest needs of
today's ”Generation X”, many of them unable to believe in the consistent and
unfailing love of the father in heaven because of their fathers on earth. They
are over-entertained and underfathered, and, in fact, spiritual orphans.
No one would debate Wesley's "radical mark in history" ; he was the catalyst behind nothing less than a Great Awakening; and is commonly credited in secular history books as one whose influence likely aborting a bloody revolution in England, similar to the French Revolution of his day. So according to the above thesis, he was likely an orphan. Though in this case, not literally, which can indeed be more damning and damaging. revolurtion Lelaism Liberalism
funstional dysfuntion effective . manifedstations of.

The opening salvo of Watchman Nee's classic, "The Release of the Spirit": "One doesn't go far in the Christian life without realizing one's biggest enemy is not the devil or the world..but yourself."

So it does not detract froom the obvious sovereignty of God in the Wesleyan Revival, and the clearly anointed and exceptionally gifted vessel that Wesley himeslf was to porffer that the laden leagalism inhererent in some branches of the movement taht bear his anme; and the lazy liberalism of the majopr denominations that claim him as father, is in some senses directly tied to what did or didn't happen in the parsonage. Life is formed around dining tables...or not.

Robert Chiles, in a landmark (and landmine) study, Theological Transition in American Methodism, masterfully traces the line and decline of the post-Wesley Methodist movement through three dovetailed shifts in theology: "from revelation to reason, from sinful man to moral man, and from free grace to free will." He explores possible time bombs inherent in the nature of the original (good) doctrines themselves that seemed destined to morph into the eventual theological weakness and potential philosphical perversions now embedded in the DNA of the Methodist movement.

Chiles discusses well various theological and sociological factors that contributed to the transition, but does not include (or include enough) factors revolving around the early home life of John Wesley. Chiles can be read as lamenting that originally sound and relevant doctrines within a relatively short time (Chiles helpully limits the framework to America and the focus to the years 1790-1935) tainted into what by now is nearly "the exact opposite of what Wesley believed."

Actually, the current morass might be more accuratey articulated as exactly what Wesley believed...but in his heart ("unofficially"), if not on paper and in pulpit (officially).
David Seamands has suggested that our "kneelogy" (how we feel about God as we pray) is just as crucial as our theology.

In other, more crass, words: some of the fruit was becoming rotten even befotre it left the British continent.

To the point: Wesley's father-wound may have been almost as formational as anything else in his theological construct...and "kneeological" concepts.

Mark DeRaud, founder of Art and Soul Institute how pervasive this cultural vaccum created by absent (literally or emotionally) fathers has reached critical mass all these centuries later in our secular and church cultures, necessitating a new Renaissance/Reformation in the arts and church. (audio file accessible from 6:10-8:03 at Ironically, and iconclastically, we are positioned for a new Wesleyan Revival , partly due to the weak strengths and strong weaknesses inextricably interwoven in the DNA of the first one!

It is probable that Wesley's "eighty percent of the iceberg" and blindspots were larger than he realized..or perhaps wasnted to realize. As the reminder in your car's rear view mirror inadvertently prophesies about what is behind you: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.:

No one has been braver and more adept than Lawrence O. Wood; himself a son of, and scholar in, the Wesleyan tradition; at tracing the wires from early childhood development to later adult theological misfiringss in professional theologians. In his watershed book, "Truly Ourselves, Truly the Spirit's: Reflections on life in the Spirit," he traces and trips these wires not only in the more "obviously" damaged theologies of Tillich (God is not personal) and Bultmann (demythologizing of miracles), more classically evangelical hero at hand: John Wesley . All this from an astonishing intellectual integrity, and all the while refusing to cowtow to reductionism, or failing to confess that sometimes a cigar is just what it is.

One review of Wood's book speaks to this concern:

Wood traces modern process theology, as exemplified by Tillich as well as
Whitehead, to ancient Stoicism, which is an attempt to find peace by an
absorption into a world-spirit which is void of personality. Stoicism, says
Wood, "had no personal God and no history of salvation. Consequently it lacked
the one intellectually compelling and emotionally satisfying component in Life,
the personal dimension"(p. 160). After showing the emptiness of modern theology
in its gropings for peace Wood moves deftly to the Scriptures and points out
that the "sabbath rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9, RSV) is the rest of
heart holiness made possible by the gift of a personal Holy Spirit (p. 169).
A recurrent theme advanced again and again in different contexts, is Wood's
conviction that satisfactory parent-child relationships are indispensable to the
development of normal personhood, including the child's likelihood of being able
to sustain happy relationships with others in adult life, including God. At this
point the problem is twofold: the problem of arrested spiritual development
which inhibits the desire to know God as Father; and the converse problem of
prevenient grace in overcoming this psychological roadblock

How does this all manifest in church structure and culture?

Jurgen Moltmann is hugely helpful:

In the sad old days of the Soviet Union, everyone was able to marvel over the
socialist police-state already at its very frontier: Having finally, after
prolonged effort, acquired a visa and, after presenting a multiplicity of
documents, one had to show one’s passport to not just one official but, as a
rule, four. The first official checked whether the visa was correct and the
passport still valid and properly stamped; the second official checked that
the first one had checked correctly; the third checked the second; and the
fourth, finally, had to check the third, second, and first officials. The
precept of Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) ruled supreme: Trust is good but
control is better.”

What is frightening and enlightening is that one would have to merely make a few subsitutions ("Wesley" for "Lenin"; "papers" for "visa," etc.) to Moltmann's depiction, and it remains a astoundingly accurate painting of Wesley's "band meeting" admission policy...right down to the stamps. These meetings..which were ironically about"laypeple" becoming accountable and empowered to live the Christian life, and lead others into it...were at the core of Wesley's genius.
But thay had a dark side, and slighty gnostic undershadow. Suffice to say that hardly anyone would've noticed (or complained if they did) if Lenin's motto "Trust is good, but control is better" were on the literal banner over the gatekeeper/visachecker's/stampmeister's desk set up as an entrance to each meeting place.

A recent historical event suggests parabolic parallels. Despite a legal batttle, the 1065 crosses that had been erected at "Chekpoint Charlie" (the fanous and infamous crossing point from East ...and thus West Berlin) to memorialize that number of persons who died attempting to escape East Germany. To read the story and watch the actual dismantling of crosses (even as protestors cahined thesmelves to them) calls to mind what may well have happened with well-intentioned "band meetings" of those "pre-approved by Pope Wesley": checkpoints and standards may be necessary, but not at the expense of a Christ and cross-centered theology and praxis.

In a denomination that claims to be the direct descendent of Wesley's Methodism (United Methodism), and preaches (on paper) the the ministry of all God's people, and the priesthood of all believers, why is it that it "feels" ("feelology") that the only "stamp of approval" priests are those who have passed the bar (seminary education and extensive ordination this day, only ordained deacons can serve communion in a parish)and checkpoint of the tall steeple, large membership Methodist churches that dot the skyline and dominate the psyche of the American South.

Perhaps the unavoidable tangent and twin of the Edipus complex is the "Edifice complex" !!

That complex complex may have been birthed in the crucible of an exceptionally large family.

And fed by the "between the lines" life motto: "You're never good enough."

The influence that Abelove thinks came from Wesley’s gentlemanly
bearing, stemmed from Wesley’s gospel message and from his willingness to do
more, risk more, and to strive to be more for Jesus Christ than almost anyone else
around him.

This striving may have stemmed in part from a desire for parental (and Heavenly Parental)approval; and a concurrent and connected need/desire to secure and seduce followers.

Is there such thing as an overemphasis on obedience/holiness?

"Obedience by itself is the most insidious of all temptations. It is the
ontological source and motive behind obedience that gives it its character. Thus
obedience is not the central motive in the life of Jesus as sheer ethical
demand. Rather, it is the inner life of sonship that comes to expression through
his obedience that characterizes Jesus. And it is in this sonship that we find
the motif of self-emptying carried out through his identity with both the sinner
as the object of divine love as well as with the Father as the source of love.
Indeed, it may be said that in this sonship there is displayed not only the love
of the Father for the world but the love of the Son for the Father who loves the
world" (Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology. 115).

If sonship were the motif and motif that Wesley preached AND practices, (Unitl taht date, I had the faith of a servant, but not yet the faith of a son")perhaps the fears and fallout would've been lessened.

John Kent’s recent Wesley and the Wesleyans presents the reader with an
equally manipulative depiction of Wesley. It differs from that of Abelove
only in-so-far as Kent’s Wesley is considerably less seductive and much less lovable:
‘Naturally authoritarian Wesley found in religion a means of imposing his will
on some of his contemporaries, though rarely on his social equals.’ .... Hence,
Wesley’s own views and most frequent self descriptions seem convoluted and
obscurantist, and the real truth about his motives and character is to be
gleaned from a melancholy and frustrated letter he wrote to his brother
Charles—in which John claimed: ‘I do not love God. I never did.... "
(Churchman )

"Imposing ones will" is functional rape....all based in a feeling of failure to attain ones own perceived standards/commandments from God. A focus on externals, under the guise of an internal relationship, sublimates and serves self-doubt. Wesley even journals at one point; simultaneously with almost singlehandedly (perhaps the heart of the problem) leading and shepherding one of the most profound revivals in all history, "I am not a Christian."

Wesley not a Christian! I guess I am not either!

I am aware of some overstating the case to make the point. overpainting. And don't read as much into me as can be read by Roy Hattersley below: Wesley didn't belong in jail a(though familys a family systems support group might have helped...and this is not to acquiesce to what Phillip Rieff has coined "The Triumph of the Therapeutic.")


Roy Hattersley: Wesley was a man who was much easier to admire than to love I
think. His own brother said “women are the serpents in John’s Garden of Eden”.
He couldn’t keep his hands to himself. In a modern society he would be certainly
prosecuted – and probably imprisoned – for sexual harassment, possibly assault.

Interviewer reponds: Wesley was a natural celibate, that his sometimes troubled relationships
with women – and, sadly, his troubled marriage – were a result of his failure to
determine that he would forsake all thoughts of marriage and dedicate himself
entirely to the work of God. He found women attractive, he enjoyed their
company, he developed close relationships with many of them – but in the erotic
aspects of life, he seemed inept and ill-suited. A bumbling suitor? Yes. A
hopeless husband? Probably. But a womaniser, or a dirty old clergyman? Certainly

So let's not overpaint too much; but enough to bring back to light the previously invisible (intentionally painted over) "

Here then, for the rest of this article, are four pracical categories for this "reduction of seduction":

1. Gleaning from Systems Theory
2. (Dis)Arming Oneself with a "Loyal Opposition" Towel
3. Hacking the Empire of Signs

1. Gleaning From Family Systems Theory

"Fathers and mothers don't pastor large churches."



  1. see the last section of a wesley sermon..."obedience to pastors"

  2. Sean. Thanks so much for posting. I will definitely check it out.

    I agree re: Nee!


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!