Shocking Beliefs of John Wesley

Shocking Beliefs of John Wesley March 20, 2019


What follows is an excerpt from Frank Viola’s new book – ReGrace: What the Shocking Beliefs of the Great Christians Can Teach Us Today. The endnotes which contain first-hand sources are not included in the excerpt.


1) Some of the so-called shocking beliefs that I cover in ReGrace are beliefs that I myself agree with. Others I find abhorrent.

Consequently, just because a shocking belief is listed doesn’t reveal how I personally feel about it.

It simply means that many evangelical Christians will find the belief to be shocking (at worst) or peculiar (at best).

Therefore, to those of you who are inclined to finish this book and proudly throw your chest out saying, “Good grief, I wasn’t shocked by any of those beliefs!” remember three things:

You missed the point of the book; each person I feature had people who believed they were heretics during their day; and every one of them still have people raking them over the coals because of their viewpoints.

2) While I disagree with a number of beliefs that each person I feature held, I have respect for each of them. In fact, I cannot tie the laces of their shoes.

Each individual was remarkable in his own right. I realize this means that people who don’t like Calvin, Lewis, Wesley, Augustine, and so forth will be turned off by that statement.

And some may misuse this book as a frontal attack on each person it covers, completely missing the boat on those chapters and the intent of this volume.

Finally, remember, the point of this book is NOT to highlight what our spiritual forefathers believed. It’s simply that they all had imperfect views. For that reason, let’s have more grace and civility whenever we disagree with each other over theology and politics.

The book explains practically how to disagree – even strongly – in a Christlike manner without getting down in the mud and engaging in fleshly, carnal behavior over a diverging viewpoint held by a fellow Christian.

For if the “heroes” of the faith didn’t possess immaculate perception, than the same is true for every child of God today – including you.

Read Excerpt Now

The Shocking Beliefs of John Wesley

I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God.

~ Oswald Chambers

John Wesley was remarkable. In his effort to preach the gospel, he is estimated to have traveled between 225,000 and 250,000 miles mainly on horseback. He preached over 40,000 sermons. Standing at only five feet three and weighing between 125 and 128 pounds, Wesley left an indelible mark on church history.1

Perhaps his most enduring contribution is that he gave us experiential salvation—a salvation experience that moved past the frontal lobe.

As is the case with all who have the hand of God on them, Wesley faced unbelievable opposition from every quarter. He amassed a boatload of enemies. Even members of his own family caused him grief in his ministry.2

Yet despite the continuous onslaught against his ministry, God’s protection was on him. Wesley’s legacy has impacted hundreds of thousands of Christians in every generation, including our own.


Nevertheless, Wesley—like every other servant of God—had feet of clay. And he also held to some strange beliefs. Here are some of them.

1) Wesley believed that church buildings should separate men and women.

Wesley believed that religious buildings should “be parted in the middle by a rail running all along, to divide the men from the women.”6

2) Wesley believed in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena. 

Wesley believed there was a ghost known as “Old Jeffrey” in the Epworth parsonage where he grew up. Wesley actually believed the “ghost” was a demon or a messenger of Satan, sent to afflict his father for his rash promise of leaving the family.7

3) Like Augustine before him, Wesley believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother.

The difference, of course, is that Augustine was Catholic while Wesley was not. In his “Letter to a Roman Catholic,” Wesley stated,

I believe that he [Jesus] was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.8

The above is a short excerpt from ReGrace with the endnotes removed. There’s much more on Wesley and his views in the book.

To order the book, go to ReGrace: What the Shocking Beliefs of the Great Christians Can Teach Us Today.

Here is the Back Cover Description:

The church is tired of seeing Christians act ungraciously toward one another when they disagree. Social media has added to the carnage. Christians routinely block each other on Facebook because of doctrinal disagreements. The world watches the blood-letting, and the Christian witness is tarnished.

But what if every Christian discovered that their favorite teacher in church history had blind spots and held to some false–and even shocking–views?

Bestselling author Frank Viola argues that this simple awareness will soften Christians when they interact with each other in the face of theological disagreements.

In ReGrace, he uncovers some of the shocking beliefs held by faith giants like C.S. Lewis, Luther, Calvin, Moody, Spurgeon, Wesley, Graham, and Augustine–not to downgrade or dismiss them, but to show that even “the greats” in church history didn’t get everything right.

Knowing that the heroes of our faith sometimes got it wrong will empower us to treat our fellow Christians with grace rather than disdain whenever we disagree over theology.

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  • Jim BIshop

    I have to agree with you Dave. These really made me search what I really believed. I was truly blessed by them.

  • Jim Sepi

    The Church of the Nazarene attribute the doctrine of “entire sanctification” or “second work of the holy spirit” to John Wesley. Does anyone know if Wesley taught this doctrine?

  • kc

    I cannot say for sure that this flows directly from John Wesley but in the Methodist Hymn book and liturgy there are these two (could be more) corporate prayers:
    1) O God, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, and that in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: Draw near to us now with they power and steadfast love, that in thy presence we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen and
    2) I don’t have the whole prayer on hand but it says “…so that as doers of the word and not just hearers we may be saved.”

    I told a friend that no Christian should say these prayers because salvation then is by works. Heard of them? Did they come from John Wesley?


  • Bryr Brannigan

    I’ve been on the receiving end of excommunication and heretic and this truly humbles me, reminds me to see the bigger picture and helps me to be gracious to those who treated me as such. I need to be on the receiving end of grace as much as they do. Just because someone is wrong, doesn’t mean they are ALL wrong and not used by God. Thanks for sharing.

  • LorraineinBC

    That was fun. Thanks! I’ve been saying for a long time, that if I had all the junk I wrote years ago published, folks would think me rather odd (even odder than now?!). We grow, we learn, we know more of Jesus as we travel the way. Extend as much grace to your brother as you would have him extend to you. 🙂

  • Abranda

    I think…one side would definitely smell better than the other side. 🙂

  • terrymengle

    Thanks for the correction. The last time I attended a Free Methodist church the jewelry ban was still in effect, but that has been many years.

  • Mark Neale

    The more I learn about Church history and the voices God used, the more I realise how incomplete or confused some of their beliefs were. However, we should all be thankful that it wasn’t my writings that were kept and poured over by preceding generations. I’m with you Frank – great men and women not yet perfected, and I am thankful for them all.

  • Angela

    Love Wesley. Wrote my church history paper in Bible college on his spiritual life. Course I didn’t know anything about Guyon then, or much about the spiritual life!. But he certainly impressed me. You don’t say anything about his beliefs on Christian Perfection. I don’t know what they were but I “hear” they are controversial.

  • Presently reading it. Suspending judgment until I’m finished.

  • Dave Dittman

    Thank you Frank. This is a wonderful series and I get your point. I guess I was not clear. I believe that the deeper Christ-centered teaching that we write, read, and share, is often considered to be unorthodox, or even heresy or “subversive literature” by some whose faith is limited by the teachings of a man-centered controlling church system. Therefore, like Christ, we can expect misunderstanding, rejection, and persecution as we present the fullness of the One who is the Living Truth.

  • Doug Dawson

    As a Free Methodist pastor I wanted to let you know that Free Methodists are O.K. with jewelry.

  • terrymengle

    The free Methodists, to this day, still think jewelry should not be worn as “self-adornment”.
    PS- This three piece series on unusual beliefs is, in my opinion, one of the best and most interesting things you have written. It brings humility into focus when we hold to our “right doctrine” pride.

  • Kati Clair

    Joking aside, Frank, what do you think of Wesley’s work on 1 John? (Sorry if this is extraneous.) Wesley’s teaching on perfection seems to have struck fear into many hearts.

  • Precisely. Have you seen this article by Boyd and me on the MISuse of the term “heresy”?

  • Right, but it’s something that will surprise many evangelicals who have demonized Montanus and have held Wesley in high regard.

  • This view is held by many evangelicals today of the Arminian persuasion. Which, according to Barna, is more prevalent than the Reformed.

  • Hi Michael, accountability groups have been immensely popular since the 1970s and are back in vogue today in most evangelical circles as evidenced by just about every “discipleship” book in print in recent years.

  • “Subversive literature” was tongue-and-cheek. That is what some evangelicals call these works. It gets back to the introduction of the post and why I decided to write the series. Sorry that point was missed.

  • Dave Dittman

    You write that Wesley owned the “subversive literature” of Molinos, Guyon, Fenelon,
    and other Christian mystics. Yes Frank, we who read and share this intimacy
    with the Lord as experienced by these and others will always be a serious threat
    to the man-centered religious system. I have been re-reading “The Spiritual Guide” by Michael Molinos and the book cover itself is revealing in that it displays a reprint of the Papal Decree of 1687 “Anyone Found in Possession Of This Book will Be
    Excommunicated.” Why was this book hated and burned? Mollinos writes in his Introduction that “One condemns out of ignorance and one condemns out of lack of experience.”

  • Michael Hoke

    I would also include Wesley’s societies. He believed that accountability groups were essential to maintaining personal and corporate integrity….”righteousness” in the transformation process. This would be seen today as highly intrusive into one’s personal life. I participated in such groups while attending Asbury University and Asbury Seminary and found them very helpful.

  • Chavoux

    To me the most shocking thing is that Wesley believed that the saved can loose their salvation. This would seem to contradict John 10:28-29. 😉 But fortunately, God says that both Wesley and Whitefield as well as Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis, belongs to us, and not we to them. 😉 (1 Cor.3:21-23)

  • Regarding Montanus, most of what we know about him is from sources that were critical towards his movement. In those days, critics weren’t very objective in their reporting, so he might have been no more radical in his day than some slightly-left-of-mainstream preachers of our day.

  • Jason Sanborn

    These are well-written and worthwhile blogs, Frank. I’ve been called a heretic for listening to the teachings of a certain preacher, simply because of 1 or 2 “odd” beliefs he has.