Quick Synopsis – I must admit that I am disappointed. This is the book I wanted to write and Dr. Kevin Watson beat me to it. No matter. The important thing is that it has been written. A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living offers the reader a simple (not easy) way to grow in Christlikeness.
“The General Rules” were penned by John Wesley as covenant for all those who sought membership among the Methodists. It comprises three rules: do no harm; do all the good you can; attend upon the ordinances of God. The author summarizes his book with the following words,
The first rule is “do no harm,” or do nothing that leads you away from God. The idea is that you cannot move forward until you stop going backward. The second rule is to “do all the good that you can.” We looked at … the expectation in scripture that followers of Jesus will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those who are sick and in prison. The third and final General Rule, “Attend upon the ordinances of God,” is an old-fashioned way of saying, “Practice the instituted means of grace.”
These form the pillars of the blueprint, but the foundation is this, “watching over one another in love.” When the General Rules are combined with the practice of Wesleyan small groups (Class Meetings) then transformation is inevitable.
Brief Outline – The book can be divided into three parts: the foundation; the rules; and putting it into practice. The author provides an outline for group discussion in the appendix, as well as “The General Rules.”
- Grace: The Foundation for Wesleyan Faith – This chapter looks at the concept of grace from a Wesleyan perspective. Generally speaking, Wesleyans talk about three kinds of grace. The first is prevenient grace, or the grace of God that goes before preparing us to respond to the second type of grace, which is justifying grace. This kind of grace is otherwise known as conversion, or being born again. Finally, Wesleyans speak of sanctifying grace, that grace of God by which we are made holy through partnership with the Holy Spirit. Grace is the foundation and means by which we grow in Christlikeness.
- Participation in Our Growth as Disciples: The Goal of Grace – This chapter looks more closely at the concept of sanctifying grace and our call to participate with God in our salvation. (This can be a particularly disturbing idea if one assumes works righteousness. However, because God’s grace is the foundation of all life we recognize that it is only by the grace of God that we can “work out our own salvation.”)
- A Method: The Wesleyan Blueprint for Discipleship – This chapter provides a brief historical overview of John Wesley’s methodology, or plan for discipleship. It is in this chapter that “The General Rules” are introduced.
- The First Rule: Do No Harm – In essence, doing harm is defined as anything that causes us to move away from God. When we fail to love God or love our neighbor, wether intentionally or unintentionally, then we have failed to do no harm.
- The Second Rule: Do All the Good You Can – This chapter is about being known for what we are for rather than what we are against. In other words, this about fulfilling Jesus’ words, “they will you know you are my disciples by your love.”
- The Third Rule: Practice the Christian Disciplines – This chapter looks at the means of grace (or spiritual disciplines) Wesley lists in “The General Rules.” While not an exhaustive list, one would do well to practice them: public worship, hearing of scripture, communion, searching the scriptures, and fasting.
- Finding the Balance – This chapter looks at three inherent tensions within the Christian life and how “The General Rules” can help us: faith vs. works; personal piety vs. social; love of God vs. love of neighbor.
- Watching Over One Another in Love: The Importance of Christian Community – This chapter looks at the foundation of “The General Rules,” which is community. One can keep the rules in isolation, but one is better served by being involved in a like-minded community where the members watch over one another in love. (Wesleyans call this kind of meeting a class meeting.)
- Where Are You Going? – This chapter is a call to action, “Where are you going?”
Recommendation – Anyone interested in three simple (not easy) rules for living out their faith should read this book. I think every church, every community, would benefit deeply from persons committed to this way of living. In our own church we speak of the 3 Simple Rules – do no harm, do all the good you can, and stay in love with Jesus. They are transforming us through God’s grace. They are simple enough to get started on immediately, yet deep enough to take a lifetime to master.
What’s Missing? – The only change I would make is to address the tensions up front. Too many people see the first rule and label us “legalists,” which we have been in the past. They hear of Wesleyanism and the second rule and accuse us of being Pelagians, or works righteousness focused. I suppose there have been those as well. The beauty of the third rule is that it allows us to circumvent the first two misperceptions. Watson addresses this, but not until chapter seven. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
More by Kevin Watson
- The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience (or from seedbed)
- A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s general Rules as a Guide to Christian Living
- Pursuing Social Holiness: The Band Meeting in Wesley’s Thought and Popular Methodist Practice