Broadbooks: Nazarenes are theological heirs of John Wesley. What important contributions can Wesleyan theology make to contemporary Christianity?
Noble: That is a huge question. First of all, let me start out with this: Wesley was one of the world’s great evangelists. If you look at the way he himself organized his theology in his standard sermons, it begins with an emphasis on justification by faith, the new birth, the preaching of the gospel. So, for Wesleyans and for Wesleyan mission, the gospel has to be central.
Although Wesley was an heir of the Reformation under the evangelical tradition and was an evangelistic preacher, he did see some dangers in the Reformation tradition: the emphasis on faith alone and the emphasis on election in Calvinism could lead to carelessness, antinomianism, and not being concerned about holiness. So, the emphasis on holiness is tremendously important—on holiness through the whole of the Christian life, on holiness in spiritual formation, on the disciplines, and, of course, on perfect love. Today, that is something Wesleyans also need to emphasize in a day when the evangelical church worldwide is flourishing. We need to remind them that holiness is an important part of that.
The third thing I would say is that though Wesley’s preaching was to bring individuals to the new birth, in his Methodist society, he gave us a great model of the corporate church. People came to faith, people moved on to perfection within the weekly meeting of the class and the band, where they all testified to each other. That is the corporate expression of Christianity, which is something today’s church needs.
Lastly, Wesley believed in holistic ministry. His great love was for the poor. In his 80s, he was seen out in the snow collecting pennies for the poor. He wrote a whole sort of self-doctor book because people could not afford medical treatment. So, the holistic ministry to the whole person is very much part of the Wesleyan tradition.
Broadbooks: You have been commissioned to write a three-volume systematic theology for the church. What is your goal for this project?
Noble: This is an enormous project, and I sometimes think I am mad to have said yes. My goal will be to express coherently our theology. We are talking about intellectual coherence. That is vitally important for the mission of the church. There is a lot of anti-intellectualism about—opposition to learning and a fear of theology. That is completely un-Wesleyan. Wesley was deeply concerned to unite piety and learning. Those who think we can do without theology are actually doing the church great damage. We need a coherent understanding of our theology.
It also has to be comprehensive. A coherent, comprehensive theology has to take into account all the work that is going on in biblical study, and biblical studies do not stand still. History of the church, historical theology, practical theology—all of this has got to find unity and be comprehensive in that way. Now that is an impossible task. So much is being written in these areas with many experts and specialists in these areas, but it must try to be comprehensive.
I think it also must be contemporary. This is why we cannot just use the excellent theologies written 50 or 60 years ago. We have to speak to today’s generation. True to the tradition, we have to express it in a way that can be understood today—society and culture do not stand still.
I also think our theology has to be global. Up until this point, most systematic theologies that have been written have been European or American. This is no longer the case. Today, most Christians are outside of Europe and America, and the majority of Nazarenes are outside Europe and America. So, what is being written in theology around the world has also got to be taken into account. Putting all these things together, it is an impossible task, but I’m having a go at it anyway.