Review of "Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community" by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker
Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community invites readers into a contemporary expression of monasticism now being explored by Christians who favor doing their faith rather than talking about it. The book, written by two United Methodist professors of evangelism, Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker, is part of the "New Monastic Library" series from Wipf and Stock.
At a 2011 Wesleyan Leadership Conference, Heath spoke extensively about the New Day Communities, "a growing network of missional micro-communities that are based on prayer, hospitality, and justice." Seminarians from Perkins School of Theology, where Elaine teaches, provide leadership in many of these new monastic communities. The gist of the experience is personal commitment to living in Christian community, particularly in what the new monastics call "the abandoned places of empire." The group creates its own covenant and Rule of Life that orders its life. Heath and Kisker advocate participation in new monastic experiences. Such participation could be the catalyst for beginning a renewal movement.
Heath and Kisker alternate in writing chapters. Kisker weaves a series of short, but poignant historical narratives of intentional community and church renewal. Early believers distinguished themselves through their Christian character and practice. Contrary to popular belief, monasticism began with laity (monks) who responded to their understanding of the call of Jesus and "the lack of disciplined holy community in the church they experienced.v"Clergy did not lead these movements. That laity began and perpetuated much of the monastic movement is foundational for contemporary readers.
The second key aspect of monasticism is the willingness of adherents to submit to spiritual discipline in community. Monastics followed a Rule of Life to guide and discipline their communities.
Intentional faith communities were not limited to the Catholic Church; there were Protestant models as well. Followers of Ulrich Zwingli believed they should live holy disciplined lives at a level that the bourgeois civil leaders would not stomach. Kisker’s review includes the Anabaptist, Pietist, Moravian, and Methodist movements. Methodism clearly shared many of the characteristics of previous monastic communities.
Kisker’s historical survey reveals a stubborn human tendency to define Christianity by adherence to doctrine (what to believe) rather than discipleship (how Christians should live). Methodists can find clear evidence of the practice of intentional communities through the class meetings and bands. They too had a Rule of Life taken from Isaiah 1:16-17, "Cease to do evil, learn to do good." Methodists were expected to "continue to evidence their desire of salvation."
Following Kisker’s historical foundation, Heath turns her attention to contemporary considerations regarding the creation and participation in new monastic communities. She urges reflection upon the practices of early monastic communities when forming intentional faith communities today: monks emptied themselves for the sake of their neighbors, communities aimed to provide an alternate vision of how to embody the verse of the Lord’s Prayer that states, "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The early Methodists' rule of life as a community consistently involved working mostly among the poor and marginalized.
Heath and Kisker argue that the new monasticism is an authentic expression of the Wesleyan vision for incarnational living in Christian community. The last portion of the book is most practical. It outlines tangible suggestions about how the UMC could participate in new monastic ministry. From creating your own Rule of Life based on the five-fold United Methodist membership vows to the practical aspects of appointing bivocational clergy, the authors end the book solidly in practical application.
For me, the book generated a series of questions that I believe would stimulate healthy dialogue within congregations. I am sure that reading Longing for Spring will stimulate deep reflection, purposeful prayer, and definitive action. Read it—you won’t be disappointed.
Here is the short list of questions the book generated within me.
- What type of Christian community are you looking for? Describe it.
- Describe how Christian community is formed and maintained in your local congregation.
- How has the Christian community in your local congregation helped you to develop as a disciple of Jesus Christ?
- In your local congregation, what intentional education occurs about the fundamental doctrines of Wesley, such as personal piety and social holiness, The General Rules, the importance of spiritual formation in small groups, works of piety and mercy?
- What role should clergy play in a lay-initiated spiritual movement?
- How would you respond to the idea of submitting yourself to spiritual discipline carried out in community?
- How do you believe people best learn to grow in Christ-likeness?
- What do you believe receives more emphasis in churches today: doctrine about what Christians should believe or discipleship that describes how Christians should live? Explain.
- Is there an intentional process in place in your local church to receive and nurture people who become spiritually awakened?
- What does the Methodist Church expect of its members today? How does the local church verify that its members are adhering to those expectations?
"New Monastic Library "series from Wipf and Stock
"John Wesley and Mission, Works of Mercy"-- from John Wesley, Holiness of Heart and Life, GBGM
Manskar, Steve. "The United Methodist Church and Ministries to the Poor" (pdf)