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Wesleyan Theology. Part One: Authority, Sin and Salvation. Wesley’s Concern for Theology. While often quoted as stating, “…We think and let think”, Wesley held intense convictions concerning theology and doctrine Believed that the spirit of unity to be the essence of the Church

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wesleyan theology

Wesleyan Theology

Part One: Authority, Sin and Salvation

wesley s concern for theology
Wesley’s Concern for Theology
  • While often quoted as stating, “…We think and let think”, Wesley held intense convictions concerning theology and doctrine
  • Believed that the spirit of unity to be the essence of the Church
  • Disunity destructive to the very mission of the Church
wesley s concern for theology1
Wesley’s Concern for Theology
  • “Whatever is ‘compatible with love to Christ and a work of grace’ I term an opinion,. . . (but) right opinions are a slender part of religion, if any part of it at all.”
    • John Wesley, as quote in Hildebrandt’s “Christianity according to the Wesleys”, pp. 11-12
wesley s concern for theology2
Wesley’s Concern for Theology
  • Essential Doctrines to John Wesley
    • Original Sin
    • The Divinity of Christ
    • Atonement
    • Justification by Faith Alone
    • Work of the Holy Spirit
    • New Birth (Regeneration)
    • Trinity
wesley s concern for theology3
Wesley’s Concern for Theology
  • Other doctrines may be considered essential at some times, and less essential at others
  • While Wesley would seek for common witness with members of those traditions with whom he disagreed, he was never prepared to surrender his perceived truths for a theological relativism.
wesley s concern for theology4
Wesley’s Concern for Theology
  • Wesley never contended that a clear knowledge of doctrine necessary for salvation.
  • All persons who would teach and preach, however, must possess such knowledge
  • All persons who sought the life of holiness must possess such knowledge
authority and experience
Authority and Experience
  • As a classical Protestant, Wesley contended that Church Tradition and Experience be subjected to the “Written Word of God”
  • Written Word of God thought to be the only sufficient rule of both Christian faith and Christian practice
  • Homo unius libri
authority and experience1
Authority and Experience
  • Wesley demanded that his preachers either “contract a taste for [extensive] reading” and study or else “return to your [original] trade”
  • All other writings, however, should be judged in light of Holy Scripture
  • Wesley assumed that God wrote the Bible
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • The literal sense is emphasized “unless it implies an absurdity” and “if it be contrary to some other texts; but in that case that obscure text is to be interpreted by those that speak more plainly.”
  • All texts should be interpreted in its total context.
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation1
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • Scripture must be compared with Scripture. Therefore a thorough knowledge of the whole is necessary
  • When possible, Scripture should be confirmed by the Experiences and Traditions of the Church
  • Reason should be employed to understand what Scripture declares and how Truth should be declared to humanity.
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation2
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • “Plain Truth for Plain People”
  • Free from all “nice and philosophical speculations; from all perplexed and intricate reasonings” although such rational and philosophical investigations may have served the interpretative process well.
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation3
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • Knowledge of the Ante-Nicene Fathers
  • Knowledge of the Prayer Book
  • Knowledge of historic Creeds
  • Declarations of the Ecumenical Councils
  • Tradition used as a legitimate form of historical exegesis of text
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation4
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • Reason also used to check “private” exegesis “It is a fundamental principle with us (the Methodists) that to renounce reason is to renounce religion, and that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion>”
      • Letters, V 364.
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation5
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • Yet Reason had nothing to say concerning the existence of God, since reason possesses no “pre-established principles” of Natural Theology.
  • On such matters, Revelation stood as sole authority.
  • Reason can never reveal the “Unknown God”; only Revelation can accomplish this task, according to Wesley.
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation6
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • For Wesley, reason assists humans in giving order to the evidence of Revelation. In turn, tradition provides the necessary historical boundaries for Biblical interpretation so as to avoid heresy.
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation7
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • The individual’s experience of the Holy Spirit also a means of interpreting Scripture, but must be held within Tradition (since the Holy Spirit has dwelt with the Church throughout the ages)
  • The individual\'s experience of the Holy Spirit must also be related to the Church’s historical witness to Christ
wesley s approach to biblical interpretation8
Wesley’s Approach to Biblical Interpretation
  • “The appeal to individual experience is ever checked and balanced by the appeal to collective experience.”
      • Workman, H. B. (1921) from “The Place of Methodism in the Catholic Church”, p. 306.
the order of salvation
The Order of Salvation
  • Repentance (the porch of Religion)
  • Faith (the door of Religion)
  • Holiness (Religion itself)
  • “Salvation…is not what is frequently understood by that word, the going to heaven, eternal happiness. It is not the soul’s going to paradise…”
the order of salvation1
The Order of Salvation
  • “Salvation. . . might be extended to the entire work of God” within the universe.
    • Sermon, I, p. 41
    • Hence, the individual can be in only most infinitesimal possession of salvation
prevenient grace on the porch of religion
Prevenient Grace: On the Porch of Religion
  • Prevenient Grace was considered by Wesley the “first dawning” of God within the live of the human.
  • Humankind cannot move themselves toward God
  • Humankind still responsible before God for their own salvation
  • Humankind cannot manufacture its own salvation (Pelagianism)
prevenient grace on the porch of religion1
Prevenient Grace: On the Porch of Religion
  • Because of Original Sin, humankind is “dead to God”
  • Prevenient Grace provides humankind the minimal power necessary to turn toward God while still within Original Sin.
  • This power only allows humankind to accept or refuse an initial relationship with God.
prevenient grace on the porch of religion2
Prevenient Grace: On the Porch of Religion
  • While other gifts of grace necessary to move the individual toward Justification, this initial gift provides the minimal power for the initial “turning”
  • Prevenient Grace often misidentified as “conscience”, or so claimed Wesley.
prevenient grace on the porch of religion3
Prevenient Grace: On the Porch of Religion
  • Prevenient Grace does not remove Original Sin from humankind. This sin Wesley consider absolute in nature—there is no “cure” for Original Sin while one remains human.
  • Prevenient Grace does, however, assist in the alleviation of relative sin (one’s own distance from a relationship with God).
original sin
Original Sin
  • Humankind stands totally depraved before God
  • While humans may be capable of great deeds and acts of courage, in the presence of God they stand utterly helpless.
  • Adam designed with “Original Righteousness”; that is, Adam was made for personal relationship with God
original sin1
Original Sin
  • In the act of the Fall, Adam loses Original Righteousness and thus distorts the nature of human existence.
  • In other words, Adam loses “moral image”
  • In its place, humankind places self-government and other human limitations on power
original sin2
Original Sin
  • Yet, no matter how worthy such human endeavors appear, they can be no substitution for a relationship with the Divine One
  • For this reason, even moral acts performed by a sinner (human) is to be considered sinful.
  • Humankind confuses moral action with salvation, thus moving further away from God.
original sin3
Original Sin
  • All human suffer from this basic condition
  • Yet human’s natural ability to seek God not lost, only twisted and misdirected.
  • Ultimately, humanity can do nothing to change this situation and become worthy of standing—once again—before God.
  • Humankind stands condemned before God.
original sin4
Original Sin
  • It should be stated that Wesley understood that those persons who did not accept the gift of God’s grace would not understand themselves as totally corrupted and damned.
  • On these basis points, Wesley was of the same mind as the other Protestant Reformers.
original sin5
Original Sin
  • Yet Wesley differed greatly with the Calvinists on the notion of Predestination.
  • From a Calvinist standpoint, if humankind—because of free will—could willingly choose salvation, then human kind could not, by definition, be totally depraved (as demanded by Original Sin)
predestination
Predestination
  • “For Jesus Christ’s sake [Mr. Wesley], consider how you dishonour God by denying election. You plainly make man’s [sic] salvation depend not on God’s free grace but on man’s free will.”
    • Letter from George Whitefield to John Wesley
predestination1
Predestination
  • Calvin understood that God knew from the onset of creation all persons who would be born into the world (hence a predestination to life).
  • Further, because of the sovereignty of God, Calvin assumed Absolute Divine Will as an essential attribute.
predestination2
Predestination
  • Therefore, God knew from the beginning of time those persons who would accept the gift of grace (because they could not resist it, given the preordained order of the world)
  • Due to the depravity of human kind, humans (like Wesley) confuse Free Will with Divine Will (so say the Calvinists)
predestination3
Predestination
  • Yet Wesley rejected Predestination because of his understanding of Prevenient Grace.
  • From Wesley’s perspective, all humans can either submit to God’s initial gift of grace or deny it.
  • Wesley contended that it was God’s desire to bestow grace on the wretched.
back to original sin
Back to Original Sin
  • So what is unique about Wesley?
    • Rejection of Predestination
    • Link of Prevenient Grace to Original Sin
    • Notion of God as source of unlimited love and unlimited justice
    • Humans live as “First Adam” until the “Second Adam” (Christ) delivers us from our fallen state.
three situations of humanity
Three Situations of Humanity
  • Natural Man
  • Man Under the Law
  • Man Under Grace
    • As recorded in Wesley’s “The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption” (1739)
situation of natural man
Situation of Natural Man
  • Natural man exists in a “state of sleep”, totally ignorant of God
  • Natural man stands on the edge of “the pit”; that is, damnation
  • Natural man may find comfort in his own wisdom and goodness but is deceived by pride
  • Goodness and wisdom never replaces a relationship with the Divine
situation of natural man1
Situation of Natural Man
  • Through Prevenient Grace (conscience) Natural Man can be brought under the Law of God as reveal by Scripture and the Holy Spirit
  • For this reason, Wesley believed in preaching only the Law to the sinners and saving the Gospel for those who have experienced grace.
situation of natural man2
Situation of Natural Man
  • Repentance becomes the “porch” of the House of Religion
  • Repentance occurs when the sinner accepts the gift of Prevenient grace and remains receptive to addition grace from God through the mediating presence of the Holy Spirit (that divine nature of Christ that remains active in the world)
situation of natural man3
Situation of Natural Man
  • To repent, one must accept themselves as a sinner who possesses no ability to save themselves from damnation.
  • Such acceptance may bring the “fruits” of repentance (changed behaviors and perception)
  • For Wesley, the fruits of repentance must emerge before faith.
situation of natural man4
Situation of Natural Man
  • Again, please note that Wesley places total emphasis on Prevenient Grace (and not the preaching of the Gospel) to bring the sinner into the state of repentance.
  • Believed that “Natural Man” at the point of repentance must be judged on the basis of his inward response to God’s gift of grace and not by any good works.
moving toward justification
Moving Toward Justification
  • Justification can be defined as being relieved of the guilt (but not the condition) of Original Sin through allowing Christ to work within ones life.
  • Justification cannot be earned; it stands as Divine Forgiveness of the guilt of Original Sin and the personal awareness of how far short one stands from the righteousness of Christ.
moving toward justification1
Moving Toward Justification
  • For Wesley, repentance considered a “species of faith” that emerges before faith itself
  • One who is repents:
    • Consciously accepts Christ
    • Possesses a sense of forgiveness
    • Actions of “leaving off from evil, doing good, and forgiving one another”
moving toward justification2
Moving Toward Justification
  • But a theological problem emerges: It appears that Wesley advocates a mix of Justification by Faith (by accepting unearned, unmerited Grace of God) and Justification by works (changed behaviors after repentance but prior to Justification)
  • At this point Wesley differs greatly from the other Protestant reforms
moving toward justification3
Moving Toward Justification
  • In an attempt to reconcile this tension, Wesley often described two types of faith that emerge in the life of the early Christian:
    • Repentance Faith
    • Justifying Faith
repentance faith
Repentance Faith
  • The faith of a servant
  • Occurs before Justification
  • Prevenient Grace provides motivation to begin to amend one’s ways and to look for God
  • Naturally some good works may result from such motivation
  • These works differ from the good works of the sinner
repentance faith1
Repentance Faith
  • These works are only remotely necessary for justification since they serve as “fruits of repentance”
  • Repentance faith (inward response plus fruits) stands as a human’s free response to God’s initial gift of Prevenient Grace and a desire to receive additional grace.
justifying faith
Justifying Faith
  • Faith of a child in a parent
  • Repentance works does not gauge the readiness of a person to receive this type of faith
  • Instead, God gauges one’s readiness to enter a new level of intimacy and relationship by allowing Christ to work through them
justifying faith1
Justifying Faith
  • Wesley also maintained that one would need to be conscious of the fact that it was through faith (that is, the gift of grace from God) alone—and not the good works that occurs while engaged in repentance faith—that one was now ready to enter a deeper relationship with God through Christ.
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