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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?
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First, I should note there are a number of beautiful aspects in 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.
18 thoughts on “Why I love Wesleyan theology”
thanks for posting these things that I can share with people in my ministry…they enjoy reading your stuff and they say that you spell butter than me :). Thanks Teddy!
Third paragraph under “my experience”…second sentence. The “don’t” is an error?
I love this post and will print and save it.
Thanks Steven. I don’t think the “don’t” there is an error, but it was worded in a confusing way, so I edited it. Thanks!
The wording of that line is still a bit confusing for me. Are you trying to say that currently you don’t willfully sin (as in entire sanctification)?
Hi Jonathan. I am trying to say I don’t willfully sin, but I’m not equating that to entire sanctification. Willful sin is what Wesley would have equated with “sin reigning.” Sin having such control over our wills that we would willfully rebel against God. Entire sanctification has to do with the removal of even “sin remaining” – those things that continue to bubble out from time to time: lust, envy, greed, pride, etc.
This is a point a lot of people sharply disagree with in Wesleyan theology, but I think it’s unquestionably a part of Wesley’s theology – Christians don’t willfully sin. See, for instance, “Salvation by Faith – Sermon 1” (II.6). For me, that idea was shocking and even a bit disturbing when I first encountered it, but it has become a great experience of grace for me.
Does this make sense? Happy to discuss it more.
Another great post. Thanks.
Of course technically “Wesleyanism” is “Reformed” on several counts because Arminius lived and died a “Reformed” minister who dissented over very little within the recognized doctrinal standards of his day, the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism. He considered himself “Reformed”, i.e. Reformed as in “Non Lutheran Protestant”.
At the same time Wesley – who followed Arminius of course and edited “The Arminian” – was a priest in the “Protestant and Reformed Church of England” as it termed itself at times. As some Wesleyan scholars have noted (i.e. Keith Drury) John Wesley was closer to John Calvin than many moderns who take the name “Arminian”.
Here’s Drury on that in one place:
though Oden mentions as much in his multi part work on Wesley’s theology too…
Of course I know what you mean when you differentiate Wesleyanism from “Reformed” theology, but for the sake of accuracy, I wanted to mention this.
All this to say “Just sayin'”