The Development of John Wesley’s Theology
John Wesley deserved to receive the doctoral robe offered by Marin Luther as he successfully reconciled “salvation by faith alone” with “faith without works is dead.” A review of the key events in Wesley’s life and his developing thoughts indicates that it was a process that took a lifetime to achieve. Thus, I am left to wonder whether a doctoral robe would be sufficient recognition for such a monumental achievement.
To properly address this issue, a survey of Wesley’s theological formation is in order. Wesley’s journals suggest that he was tossed “by the winds of doctrine” to and fro as he sought to understand what one must do to be saved: Is one saved by “faith alone,” “works alone,” or “faith and works alone?” Albert Outler provides a summary of Wesley’s initial understandings in Wesley’s own words (pp.44-50). Wesley apparently started with the understanding that there should be a good blend of faith and works (p. 44), but soon fell under the spell of Calvin and Luther, who argued that one is saved by faith alone (p. 45.) He climbed out of this boggy hole with the help of certain English writers (Id.)
Wesley’s involvement at Oxford with the “Holy Club” demonstrates that Wesley was initially of the mind that “faith without works is dead.” (Outler, p. 8) The Holy Club was devoted to “systematic Bible study, mutual discipline in devotion, and frequent communion.” (Id.) In addition, its members were devoted to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those that were sick, and visiting those that were in prison. (Handout, John Wesley’s letter to Mr. Richard Morgan, the father of the young man that died, dated Oct. 18, 1732). This group was dedicated to doing good, communicating the gospel, and observing fasts. (Id.)
In 1725 at the age of 23, Wesley experienced “a sudden focusing of [his] faith and personal commitment.” (Outler, pgs. 6-7.) Wesley read several parts of Bishop Taylor’s Rules...
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