Dr. Fred Sanders of Biola University today published an article on the Asbury Seedbed (www.seedbed.com) titled “Wesley as a Happy Puritan” in which he argues that Wesley was really just a Puritan in thought and practice and offers up a possible bridge between parties in the modern Calvinism-Arminianism debate on these grounds. Below is my response to Dr. Sanders:
You can now view the entire conversation between myself and Dr Sanders on Seedbed at the following address: http://seedbed.com/feed/wesley-as-a-happy-puritan/
Thank you for your article, Dr. Sanders. There is no doubt that Wesley was influenced to some degree by the Puritan authors, but this can also be said of many other groups and theological traditions. He was arguably more heavily influenced by the German Moravians into at least the 1740s and owed a great debt to the thought of the Caroline Divines.
Rupp’s appraisal that Wesley was merely doing what the Puritans were trying to do but without interference from the church and state is narrow and ill-informed. To begin with, Wesley met opposition on every front from the Ecclesiastical hierarchy. That he was not fully excluded from the Church of England is a testimony to the high regard given to ordained clergy, not a suggestion that a blind eye was being turned on his activities.The statement that Wesley was “just a committed and contented Church of England man” given as explanation for Wesley’s refusal to renounce the CoE is misleading and vague. Wesley was indeed a committed clergyman of the CoE. He commented on occasion that he saw the 18th Century church as one of the few in history that remained faithful to Primitive Christianity. However, he was anything but content. It was precisely his discontentedness with the message of the church, which did not include salvation by faith alone, which sent him ultimately to the fields at the behest of George Whitefield, and it is this discontent that pressed him to endure unfathomable hardships in his pursuit to bring this Gospel to Britain.You also stated that “while he [Wesley] loved the Anglican liturgy, he insisted that true religion resides in the heart rather than in these (excellent) outward forms and ceremonies.” This is again true, but only partially so. While Wesley emphasized religion of the heart, insofar as that means the transformation and sanctification of the individual, he also saw outward forms such as fasting, works of mercy, and the Eucharist as a means of grace, absolutely critical to the ongoing nurture and sustenance of the soul. He even went so far as to call the Eucharist a converting ordinance, meaning that God’s grace which is given through the ordinance is sufficient to lead the unbeliever into belief. This is a far cry from the Puritan mind.
The similarities between Wesley and the Puritans are no doubt present and interesting for further study, as are the similarities between Wesley and a great many other groups and traditions. Primarily, though, Wesley was a Church of England clergyman and adhered to the great traditions in which he was brought up. His language may be occasionally Puritan, but only where that language is also Anglican. When an over-emphasis is laid upon any one undercurrent of Wesley’s thought there is a danger of falling into a skewed view of his theology and practice, as has been done before with regard to Wesley and the Eastern Fathers. We who would follow in his footsteps (to whatever degree that may be), must be careful to avoid such narrow readings of Wesley, lest we miss the man altogether and find in his place just another Johnathan Edwards, or George Whitfield, or . . .
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