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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

John Wesley and John Calvin - Their Commonalities

I found this excellent article on the Commonalities between John Wesley and John Calvin.

Both, of course, were profoundly Augustinian in their view of grace and the sacraments. So in some ways, modern heirs of Wesley would find Wesley's own theology objectionable if they understood it! Come to think of it, Wesley is probably more "reformed" than many Presbyterian evangelicals if you really questioned them!

Wesley did not believe in "aribirtrary predestination" the author rights... but then again, neither does any Calvinist who believes that God is supremely loving and holy. Nothing God does is "arbitrary". I don't believe in Random Acts of kindness as displaying God's kindness either for that matter - kindness at random is too often "feel good slumming" in the fetid neighborhoods of sin. It doesn't display the covenant faithfulness and intentionality of God and usually is worthless for little more than feel good session for our self-righteousness.
Here's an excerpt.

Also Wesley wasn't "Arminian" in the sense that he believed one could be saved "at any time." God had to draw first and all prevenient grace is associated with some proximity to the means of grace, i.e. preaching (or at least the Bible) and the sacraments.

For more on the Wesley the Calvinist, read on.

For example, John Wesley does not believe people have an inherent power as the result of prevenient grace to exercise saving faith at any given moment, to decide when and where they will commit their lives to Christ, as is implied often in contemporary Wesleyan circles. Likewise, John Wesley is not a Semi-Pelegian—someone who believes human beings retain vestiges of the moral image of God and thus are only partially destitute spiritually (as is often assumed by Calvinists). The fact is there is so much common ground between John Wesley and John Calvin that Wesley himself claimed his position was within a “hair’s breadth” of Calvinism (at least on Justification, though not perhaps on sanctification)[Letter to John Newton, 14 May, 1765].

If human beings are totally dependent upon God’s grace for “saving faith” the question must be asked, “How does God communicate His grace to people?” Again, Wesley answers with Calvin and Luther that God communicates his grace through the “means of grace.” Primarily the means of grace are delineated in the Protestant marks of the Church – the preaching of the “pure word of God, the due administration of the sacraments, and the community rightly ordered.” While Wesley did not believe these were the only means of grace, these were the primary means by which God communicates grace to individuals and communities. As people are exposed to the means of grace or as they place themselves in the flow of the means of grace (as they hear the Gospel, partake in baptism and Holy Communion, and participate in the Body of Christ), grace capable of creating saving faith is made available.

However, in contrast to the Roman Catholic tradition (which teaches that grace is always communicated to the recipients of the means of grace) John Wesley along with the Reformers did not believe that participation in the means of grace always guarantees the transmission of grace to each participant. More specifically, the means of grace were seen as the most likely places for God to transmit His grace but there is no assurance that grace will be given. Therefore, not every time the Gospel is preached, the sacraments duly administered, and the community rightly ordered is grace communicated. There are times when the Gospel is preached, when “little” or “nothing” happens, while there are other times when God is working to draw, convict, and convince a person or people through the means of grace. John Wesley agrees essentially with Luther and Calvin on the means of grace.

[I]n today’s theological world Wesley can seem to be closer to the Reformed tradition than the very theological tradition that bears his name!

Wesley’s position is:

Because of the extent of original sin, human beings are completely dependent upon God for the work of salvation – in conviction, repentance, and faith.

A person can not be saved at any moment the person chooses, but only in those moments in which grace is being offered capable of creating saving faith.

The only part a person plays in the work of salvation is to place themselves in the means of grace and then when that grace that can create saving faith comes choose to cooperate with it.

However, even this work of human cooperation is in itself a gift of prevenient grace.

*Written by Professor Keith Drury of Indiana Wesleyan University