Conversations Profiles

Randy Maddox—A Wesleyan, RessourcementTheologian

Mark Gorman

This year Randy Maddox retires from teaching Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Duke Divinity School, where he has been on the faculty since 2005. In March, Maddox received the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wesleyan Theological Society, recognition that seemed both appropriate and long overdue. As general editor of the Wesley Works Editorial Project (a position he will continue to hold), director of Duke’s Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition, Institute Secretary for the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies, former editor of the Kingswood Books imprint, editor of and/or contributor to multiple volumes in Wesley and Methodist Studies, and author of Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood, 1994), as well as dozens of essays and articles, Maddox has contributed as much as anyone, in any generation, to the study of John and Charles Wesley and the traditions they birthed. Every student of the Wesleys should be familiar with Maddox’s work, as should every Wesleyan-Methodist pastor and theologian. As a tribute to Dr. Maddox, I offer the following brief, doubtless incomplete, introduction to his scholarship.

Maddox’s early work can be seen as the continuation of a project that began with Albert Outler (Leicester R. Longden’s appraisal of Outler can be found here). Outler was one of the parties most responsible for the critical edition of John Wesley’s works, the Wesley Works Editorial Project, but he also invested significant effort in analyzing and defining John Wesley theologically. Outler read Wesley through the lens of early church writings, which led him to present Wesley as a Western Protestant theologian with leanings toward (Eastern) Orthodoxy. Maddox shares this “Eastern” sympathy, although he is more careful to define his terms.

With his seminal Responsible Grace, however, Maddox both produces the thorough monograph on Wesley never quite managed by Outler and, at the same time, moves beyond Outler’s project in two ways.

First, Maddox treats John Wesley as a practical theologian. This is a small but substantial revision of Outler’s “folk theologian” label for Wesley. For Maddox, recognizing Wesley as a practical theologian allows us to see him working in a specific theological framework, or “worldview” (16), without insisting he be a systematic theologian.

Second, Maddox’s presentation of Wesley’s theology focuses on a core doctrinal issue, which Maddox calls Wesley’s “orienting concern”: “responsible grace.” Whereas Outler famously drafted the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral and thereby drew attention to Wesley’s supposed methodology as a key to understanding what coherence he might have had across his many works, Maddox instead argues that such coherence is rooted in Wesley’s understanding of how divine grace works, healing us and enabling us to participate in the redeeming work God is accomplishing through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Tellingly, Maddox does not reject outright Outler’s Quadrilateral, but he does modify it (it “could more adequately be described as a unilateral rule of Scripture within a trilateral hermeneutic of reason, tradition, and experience,” he says [46]). The contents of Responsible Grace are set according to an ordo salutis, “the Christian experience of salvation as the recovery of holiness” (25), rather than the Quadrilateral.

Since publishing Responsible Grace, Maddox has written a vast array of articles, essays, and book chapters on a wide range of Wesley-related subjects. A major recurring theme in these shorter, but often no less important, publications is the “holistic” nature of Christian salvation. “Holistic” for Maddox signifies a broad scope of salvation that includes our redemption from sin and also the renewal of every aspect of creaturely existence, from human thoughts and desires to the health of our bodies and the restoration of the non-human creation, culminating in our resurrection and the new creation. So, for example, Maddox has explored the connection between John Wesley and the natural sciences, including medicine and psychology. And he advocates a holistic approach for understanding both how God effects salvation, not just through a juridical declaration of forgiveness but by rehabilitating us, and how we ought to participate in that salvation, through a holistic approach to missions and Christian practice.

Maddox is also a gracious enabler of colleagues and students. Many of his articles are available online in open access format, here and here. Most impressively, as director of Duke’s Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition, he made freely available for download all of Charles Wesley’s hymns in manuscript, original published, and modernized formats. Each collection also includes an introduction and scholarly apparatus. This is an invaluable resource with broad academic and church application.

The great effect of Maddox’s scholarship is to reclaim and present John and Charles Wesley as theologians who can contribute substantively to contemporary theology. Maddox is a ressourcement theologian, not an antiquarian, an Henri de Lubac for the Wesleyan-Methodist heritage. Like the Wesleys’ own legacy, his work is a gift not only to those who claim that heritage but to the whole of Christ’s church.

[An earlier version of this essay incorrectly stated that Maddox would continue to lead Duke’s Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition. We apologize for the error.]

Posted Nov 04, 2019

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