John Wesley As A Theologian Of Grace -- By: Robert V. Rakestraw

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 27:2 (Jun 1984)
Article: John Wesley As A Theologian Of Grace
Author: Robert V. Rakestraw


John Wesley As A Theologian Of Grace

Robert V. Rakestraw*

In the Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin writes:

We shall never be clearly persuaded, as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the wellspring of God’s free mercy until we come to know his eternal election, which illumines God’s grace by this contrast: that he does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what he denies to others.1

Calvin goes on to amplify this seminal statement by contrasting God’s free grace with human effort in the sharpest possible manner, declaring that “the very inequality of his grace proves that it is free.”2

Since the time of Calvin the impression has been created among many Protestant Christians that only those in tune with the outlook of this master theoretician are entitled to speak seriously of God’s free grace to humankind. The fact that the Calvinistic and Reformed denominations have traditionally held so adamantly to the doctrines of human depravity, justification by faith, and the supreme authority of Holy Scripture has deepened the impression among many that only within this stream of Protestant thought is God really presented as sovereign and human beings really seen in their utter helplessness as the Scriptures appear to present them. In many evangelical colleges and seminaries students are exposed to Hodge, Shedd, Warfield and other Calvinistic thinkers, yet seldom are they introduced seriously to those such as Clarke, Miley, Pope and others who seek to exalt the matchless grace of God by heralding its universality rather than its particularity.

The major influence on this latter group of theologians is, of course, John Wesley, just as John Calvin is for the former group. But in the eyes of most non-Wesleyan Christians Wesley is not taken seriously as a theologian of grace; in fact, he is not taken seriously as a theologian at all. Albert Outler notes that Wesley the evangelist, Wesley the organizer, and Wesley the social reformer are all familiar figures, but what has gone largely obscured is Wesley the theologian.3 In Outler’s view, “that Wesley should have become the patron saint of theological indifferentism is mildly outrageous.”4 Because Calvin wrote his theol-

*Robert Rakestraw is teaching fellow and doctoral candidate in theology and ethics at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

ogy systematically, whereas Wesley expressed his vi...

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