I’ve been really impacted by John Wesley here of late. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is called “The Life & Thought of John Wesley.” I’ve been working out of two main books, Responsible Grace by Randy Maddox, and Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Richard Heitzenrater – both of whom teach at Duke. Heitzenrater is really an historian, he became famous for “breaking the codes” of John Wesley’s personal diaries. I think the story goes that he found a code tucked in some of Benjamin Ingham’s diaries or maybe it was in one of Wesley’s (here’s to going through original source documents). Anyway, he figured out how to decipher what Wesley wrote in codes in his diaries and provided the world with a more complete reading of Wesley than was previously possible. His book really reads more like a complete history of John Wesley and the Methodist movement of 18th Century England.
Maddox works more in theology and Responsible Grace is widely read – published in 6 languages now. It sort of sorts through all of Wesley’s writings to distill from it an actual systematic theology. Wesley was a total practical theologian, though, Maddox points out he hasn’t ever really gotten the credit he deserved in that respect. Here’s just a little of what’s been blowing my mind lately:
- From the Greek orthodox he grabbed hold of this idea that the Western Juridical model of atonement is only half of the story. We certainly need pardon from the penalty of sin, but just as much as we need that we need healed from the plague of sin. Thus there are 2 movements to salvation: first we’re pardoned from the penalty of sin by Christ and secondly, we’re healed by the renewed presence of God. The protestant reformers and their posterity have really only focused on the first movement – to their detriment.
- He supported the view that sin was universal, whether it’s original sin or not, it’s universal. But he just believed that grace was as universal as sin, thus he rejected the idea of unconditional election to salvation and damnation chiefly on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the impartiality of divine justice and mercy. It casts doubt on the sincerity of God.
- Original sin is cancelled out at birth by God’s Prevenient grace. We’re not guilty of Adam’s sin, only our own. He liked the term In-Being sin rather than original sin.
- The nature of salvation is that it is personal, co-operant and gradual. That is, our faith is graciously empowered and inspired but it is not coerced. On the other hand, faith is salvific from the very first moment we stop resisting the overtures of God toward us. Thus Wesley’s big move is really to say salvation and sanctification are linked, they are just two movements of the same thing.
He was a freak but his theology is really working me over right now! Mostly it’s helping me see what was wrong about the Protestant Reformation.