One of the many highlights for me from the 2015 New Room Conference was picking up a copy of Andrew C. Thompson’s brand new book The Means of Grace: Traditioned Practice in Today’s World. The book is a substantive yet highly accessible introduction to the basic habits or practices that Wesleyans have insisted are essential for growing in Christian faith and maturity. John Wesley referred to these basic practices as means of grace.
The book begins with a chapter that defines grace and discusses its integral role in the Christian life. The book is organized according to John Wesley’s s understanding of the means of grace as instituted, prudential, and general. Thompson discusses these as what we learn from Christ (instituted), what we learn from our context (prudential), and what we learn by contemplation (general).
The book is appropriately weighted towards the instituted means of grace, those practices that are based on the teaching and example of Jesus. A full chapter is dedicated to each of the instituted means of grace: baptism, searching the Scriptures, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and fellowship (or Christian conference). Each chapter provides a strong introduction to the Biblical foundation of the particular practice, as well as its connection to Wesleyan spirituality and our daily discipleship. A particular strength of the book is Thompson’s comfort with both the theological significance of each of these practices and his ability to suggest practical ways to more fully integrate each practice into the rhythms of daily life.
Part II of the book focuses on the prudential means of grace, or what we learn from our context. A chapter is dedicated to “Classes, Bands, and Arts of Holy Living” (my favorite chapter!) and Works of Mercy. Part III focuses on the general means of grace, or what we learn by contemplation. And the book concludes with a summary of the significance of the means of grace for Christian discipleship and an exhortation to enter into a disciplined practice of this disciplined way of life. Thompson concludes by reminding us that the means of grace are intentionally ordinary practices that are “meant to be used in everyday, ordinary life. The promise that they hold for us is that they will show us the way from an ordinary to an extraordinary kind of life” (138).
Thompson is uniquely qualified to write this book because he is both a scholar and a pastor. Moreover, both his scholarship and his pastoral work focus on a thoroughly Wesleyan approach to Christian discipleship.
As a scholar, Thompson wrote his ThD dissertation on Wesley’s understanding of the means of grace at Duke Divinity School, studying with two of the giants in the field of Wesleyan/Methodist Studies, Richard P. Heitzenrater and Randy L. Maddox who have written two of the basic texts for United Methodist ordinands on the history of Methodism and John Wesley’s theology. Thompson also taught the required courses in Methodist history, doctrine, and polity at Memphis Theological Seminary for four years prior to being appointed by his bishop to one of the largest local churches in his home Annual Conference. Simply put, Andrew could not be better prepared intellectually for writing this book. And yet, Thompson also has a deep commitment to the local church and clear giftedness for local church ministry, as is evidenced by his recent transition to the senior pastorate. Thompson’s commitment to the local church and to helping laity grow in faith in Christ is clear throughout The Means of Grace.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a deeper understanding of the Wesleyan approach to Christian living. The practices this book introduces have been tried and consistently found to be used by God to draw people more and more deeply into the life that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share with each other. There is simply no more reliable path to Christian maturity.
[Disclaimer: Andrew Thompson is a personal friend and The Means of Grace is published by the publisher of one of my books. However, I have received no compensation for writing this review. I chose to write this review because I think this is a great book and I hope you will read it!]