A few months ago Abingdon Press (the United Methodist publisher) sent me the manuscript of a forthcoming (now published) book by my friend Don Thorsen who teaches theology at Azusa Pacific University. (Actually, he’s also the Chair of the Department of Theology and Ethics at APU’s Haggard Graduate School of Theology.) Don and I have been friends ever since we worked together on the editorial board of the Christian Scholar’s Review in the 1990s. Don is a good Wesleyan theologian.
The book, which I gladly recommended (my blurb appears on the back cover), is titled Calvin vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice. On the back cover appears the following statement: “When we stand at the Pearly Gates, God will not ask us what we believed but how we lived.” Endorsements on the back cover (besides mine) are by Kenneth Collins (another good Wesleyan scholar who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary), Amos Yong (Regent University) and Stephen Gunter (Duke Divinity School).
The book compares and contrasts Calvin’s theology (and Calvinism) with Wesley’s theology (and Wesleyanism). It’s a very fair and even-handed treatment of Calvin’s theology; Thorsen has clearly done a great deal of research into both theologians’ writings. But the thrust of the book is not systematic theology but Christian living. Thorsen’s whole project is to connect the two–doctrine and practice. If he is right, and I think he is, Wesley’s theology is much more biblical and practical than Calvin’s and many Calvinists live their Christian lives in a way more consistent with Wesley’s theology than with Calvin’s.
The book is not polemical; it’s main purpose is not to criticize or belittle or convince readers not to pay attention to Calvin. Thorsen praises Calvin and his theology for some distinctive ideas and practices. Overall, however, he believes Wesley’s theology is too little known–especially but not only outside of Wesleyan circles–and has much to offer for Christian living. I certainly agree.
If you are looking for a good, popularly-written introduction to Calvinism versus Wesleyanism (or Arminianism as Wesleyan theology is basically Arminian) I strongly recommend this one.
One thing that excites me about Don’s work here and in other books (he’s authored several) is the evidence it provides that Wesleyan evangelicals are breaking out of their insularity and joining the larger evangelical conversation about theology and Christian life. When I was a beginning student of theology it wasn’t easy to find good Wesleyan theology for non-Wesleyans. Most Wesleyan theology was published by little known “Holiness” publishing houses operated by Holiness-Wesleyan denominations. Abingdon was publishing mostly liberal theology. Most evangelical theology was written by Reformed theologians. Exactly when and how that began to change is difficult to tell, but changing it is. I think that Thomas Oden has much to do with the renaissance of Arminian/Wesleyan theology and its emergence into mainstream evangelical theological life. Other Wesleyan scholars such as Ben Weatherington have done much to convince non-Wesleyan evangelicals that Wesleyans have much to offer evangelical scholarship.
I welcome Don Thorsen’s book and his voice into the wider evangelical conversation. May his tribe increase!