My last post ended up circulating pretty widely beyond my little Methodist world. And because I concluded it by mentioning how I believe Wesleyan theology is “better and truer, richer and deeper” than Reformed theology, I’ve received questions from non-Wesleyans asking me to say more about Wesleyan theology. Just what do Wesleyans believe that is so true and rich and deep?
First, I should note there are a number of beautiful aspects of Reformed theology––many that Wesleyans and others seem to have lost and need to find a way to recover. By no means do I think it should all go!
The best nutshell version of distinctively Wesleyan theology I’ve heard (first at John Meunier’s blog) is that we have 4 Alls:
1 — All need to be saved.
We believe that all of humanity is totally depraved. We are all sinners, and our only hope is the grace of God. Even the best of us are so far fallen that we can’t do anything to earn God’s grace.
By what we call God’s prevenient grace, God makes us aware of our own bondage to sin and offers us the grace to repent and have faith.
2 — All can be saved.
We believe God loves all of humanity and “wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3). And we believe that salvation was made possible for all because, by the grace of God, Christ tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9).
The most wicked person I know… Christ tasted death for him, and he can yet be saved if he receives God’s grace.
3 — All can know they are saved.
We believe in Christian assurance. We don’t have to go about life worried about whether or not we have received salvation. God has put his Spirit in our hearts, and “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:16).
4 — All can be saved completely.
We can be saved completely — both from the guilt of all past sin and the power of all present sin. “No one who is born of God will continue to sin” (1 John 3:9).
God’s grace and salvation justify us before God so that we may appear holy to him. But they go beyond that, trampling over sin’s power in our lives. They sanctify us before God, so that we may actually be holy and blameless before him. We don’t go on sinning. All of this only by the grace of God, not by our merits.
That last bit is what has particularly transformed my life. I dropped the “well, I’m just a sinner” mentality and realized that God’s power and grace aren’t just about making me appear holy before God, but are actually making me holy. What great freedom and transformation have come from that!
Does that mean I have no more sin remaining in me? I never do wrong? I wish, but no. There are still moments––too many––that I look back at something I did and realize how selfish, prideful, vain, or envious it was. That’s what we call “sin remaining”––bubbling up from within us, even when we’ve devoted our full wills to God. (And for what it’s worth, pure Wesleyan doctrine says we may be sanctified through and through in this life. God is able to remove even the sin remaining in us. If we confess our sins, he will purify us from all unrighteousness [1 John 1:9].)
What I mean at least by sanctification is that I don’t willfully sin. If I know that something I’m about to do is sin, I don’t go on and do it anyway. That would be “sin reigning”––as if that sin had such control over me that I couldn’t resist it, even though I knew it was sin––an affront to God, a rejection of Christ’s lordship. So even if sin still remains, it can no longer reign in the life of a believer. By the grace of God, sin has lost its power.
That is the piece of Wesleyan theology that expanded my understanding of God’s grace and power far beyond what I had ever previously understood.
And all of this is only dealing with doctrines concerning salvation. There are other beautiful distinctives in Wesleyan theology, especially regarding the sacraments, worship, means of grace, and stewardship, but I’ll leave off at this for now.
If you want more, take a look at my Crash Course in Theology post. The Harper and Haynes books would probably be the best places to start.
Another good place to go for more is John Wesley’s sermons. See my project updating them to today’s language here.