Monday, December 11, 2006

I Have Written about Justification by Faith and Original Sin, So Some of My Fellow Methobloggers Have Accused Me of Being a Calvinist

Truly bizarre.

It is fallacious to argue that because Wesley and I agree with John Calvin on some matters that we must necessarily be Calvinists (a term used in a pejorative sense).

For example:
1. I believe in the Virgin Birth.
2. Calvin believed in the Virgin Birth.

Does this make me a Calvinist?

3. I believe in the Resurrection.
4. Calvin believed in the Resurrection.

Does this make me a Calvinist?

5. I believe that Gavin Richardson has the UMC logo tattooed on his butt.
6. John Calvin believed that Gavin Richardson has the UMC logo tattooed on his butt.

Does this make me a Calvinist?

Allow me to refer to that filthy, stinking Calvinist heretic John Wesley on these matters. On justification by faith:

And, first, how are we justified by faith? In what sense is this to be understood? I answer, Faith is the condition, and the only condition, of justification. It is the condition: none is justified but he that believes: without faith no man is justified. And it is the only condition: this alone is sufficient for justification. Every one that believes is justified, whatever else he has or has not. In other words: no man is justified till he believes; every man when he believes is justified.

Do we bear original sin and damnation for it? Yes.

Man did disobey God. He "ate of the tree, of which God commanded him, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it." And in that day he was condemned by the righteous judgment of God. Then also the sentence whereof he was warned before, began to take place upon him. For the moment he tasted that fruit, he died. His soul died, was separated from God; separate from whom the soul has no more life than the body has when separate from the soul. His body, likewise, became corruptible and mortal; so that death then took hold on this also. And being already dead in spirit, dead to God, dead in sin, he hastened on to death everlasting; to the destruction both of body and soul, in the fire never to be quenched

Thus "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin. And so death passed upon all men," as being contained in him who was the common father and representative of us all. Thus, "through the offence of one," all are dead, dead to God, dead in sin, dwelling in a corruptible, mortal body, shortly to be dissolved, and under the sentence of death eternal. For as, "by one man's disobedience," all "were made sinners;" so, by that offence of one, "judgment came upon all men to condemnation." (Romans v. 12, &c.)

Are people totally depraved, lacking all moral innocence? Yes.

But was there not good mingled with the evil? Was there not light intermixed with the darkness? No; none at all: "God saw that the whole imagination of the heart of man was only evil." It cannot indeed be denied, but many of them, perhaps all, had good motions put into their hearts; for the Spirit of God did then also "strive with man," if haply he might repent, more especially during that gracious reprieve, the hundred and twenty years, while the ark was preparing. But still "in his flesh dwelt no good thing;" all his nature was purely evil: It was wholly consistent with itself, and unmixed with anything of an opposite nature.

Are those who deny this depravity truly Christians? No.

Hence we may, Secondly, learn, that all who deny this, call it original sin, or by any other title, are put Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity. They may, indeed, allow, that men have many vices; that some are born with us; and that, consequently, we are not born altogether so wise or so virtuous as we should be; there being few that will roundly affirm, "We are born with as much propensity to good as to evil, and that every man is, by nature, as virtuous and wise as Adam was at his creation." But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?" Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but an Heathen still.

Is it terrible that people have not heard the Gospel? It is indeed. Who can deny that this is a tragedy? God will ensure that his salvation is made available across the world, but he will do so through Christian missionary efforts. Salvation is given to the followers of Jesus:

At that time will be accomplished all those glorious promises made to the Christian Church, which will not then be confined to this or that nation, but will include all the inhabitants of the earth. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain." (Isaiah 11:9) "Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls, Salvation, and thy gates Praise." Thou shalt be encompassed on every side with salvation, and all that go through thy gates shall praise God. "The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: But the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory." The light of the sun and moon shall be swallowed up in the light of His countenance, shining upon thee. "Thy people also shall be all righteous . . . . the work of my hands, that I may be glorified." "As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." (Isaiah 60:18, &c.; and 61:11)

I reiterate my challenge: if the views that I expressed in my post are contrary to Wesley, show me where. Don't give me your impressions of Wesley. Quote him and me side-by-side to show me where I have erred.

It is not enough to simply point out where I agree with Calvin. You must show me where I differ from Wesley.


Richard H said...

I'm afraid (1) I haven't been paying close enough attention to see your evil Calvinism coming out, and (2) I don't see Calvinism as the greatest of evils.

Now if we reduce Calvinism to TULIP (and reducing things is always the easiest way to get rid of them), I think it would be difficult for a Wesleyan to make a case for the L & the I. I think a Wesleyan case could be made for T, U & P, though I'm not aware of Wesley himself ever making a case for P (but arguing against it instead).

Of course, I'm not very fresh on my Wesley, having, as a fellow evil perosn, been reading more Calvinists (well, NEO-Calvinists) lately.

Anonymous said...

What might help Andy and some others is for you to explain your understanding of previent grace.


Henry Neufeld said...

John --

Since you linked to my post, I'm guessing that the proximity of a remark about Calvinists caused you to believe I was accusing you of being a Calvinist. I apologize for leaving any such impression.

I disagree with you profoundly on this topic, but I did not intend to suggest you were not Wesleyan in theology.

As for me, call me what you want. :-)

Allan R. Bevere said...


Actually, you have it quite right. Wesley very much liked Calvin's undertanding of justification and atonement, as well as original sin. He also drew from Calvin on sanctification; he thought Luther's theology of sanctification was "quite stunted."

To be Wesleyan does not, of course, mean a wholesale rejection of Calvin. On the other hand, Wesley, as I'm sure you know, did not appreciate Calvin's views on predestination.

It seems to me that in true Wesleyan fashion, it is important to appreciate Calvin, as did Wesley, without buying into his theology completely.

I think it is rather unfortunate that what it means to be Wesleyan today for some folks is rather superficial. It amounts to nothing more than being "inclusive." But as Tom Wright continues to remind us, today's notion of inclusiveness in the church is too broad and too shallow.

Anonymous said...


I have read Rev. John Wesley's journal cover to cover.

Everything you write here is true.

Ivan Walters said...

Wow, I'm sorry I missed the discusion on inclusiveness. I wanted to comment on some of the issues raised there. First "for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ... men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so they are without excuse" Romans 1:18-20. Or to put it more succintley everyone is born with an innate knowlege of God and his requirements so that only 'The fool has said in his heart, there is no God". Psalm 14:1. However, Paul's comments about judging the secret thoughts of all show how God will save many who have never heard the name Jesus. They know they should be following him and try to, but like the cured blind man need him pointed out to be able to worship him. John Chapter 9. See also "Not everyone who says Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven". Matthew 7:21. Secondly, there is an "age of accountability" given in the Bible "The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you ...from twenty years old and above" Numbers 14:29.

Brett said...

Nice post, John, except for the part about Gavin's butt.
Seriously, though, I think that John Wesley would have a lot more in common with Calvin and Luther than most modern day Methodists and Churches that bear his name.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Wesley say that he was within a hair's breadth of being a Calvinist? He was pretty vocal and insistent about what laid in that hair's breadth, but that doesn't change the affinity with much of Calvin.

Anonymous said...

Okay its late but I couldn't sleep till I helped (read stirred that pot once more).

Andy is looking at one issue of Calvinism: that of Total Depravity of Humankind.

Let my little brain try to work-
Calvinist View of Total Depravity:
We are all so messed up, screwed up beyond anything, damned, horrible, lost, dead to sin, utterly worthless, garbage, junk, worse off than the scum that resides on Gavin's shower floor after he showers from the day we are born because of original sin.

Wesley View of Total Depravity: We are all so messed up, screwed up beyond anything, damned, horrible, lost, dead to sin, utterly worthless, garbage, junk, worse off than the scum that resides on Gavin's shower floor after he showers BUT Jesus' action on the cross enters into this situation and gives an inoculation shot for all of humankind.

Now some of my more Calvinistic brothers and sister would call this a cop out because it allows Wesley to overcome original sin and restores free will at the same time. But I digress, it is too late for that discussion. So again as my earlier post says, I think you and Andy B. might be in close proximity. Its just in the ballpark of previent grace.

(The one who needs some medicine to get this junk out of his head so he can sleep)

Brian Russell said...

Perhaps we should think about Christian orthodoxy period.

Christians believe in the absolute total and hopeless "lost-ness" of every human being. Period.

God is the only hope for restoration, salvation, and reconciliation.

This is the point at which Wesleyan-Arminian and Reformed Theology part courses. The W-A strain argues that God's grace is freely available to all whereas R articulates a double predestination where the ultimate fate of each individual is decreed by God.

Anonymous said...

Beta blogger is evil. It wiped out my comment when I signed in.

So, here's the short version.

Wesley defended Arminianism. He rejected predestination and believed grace could be resisted.

He believed in justification by faith alone, but his understanding of grace was different in significant ways from Calvin.

He also put enough emphasis on works as the fruit of salvation to get called all kinds of names by some Protestant scholars.

His position on total depravity is still mocked by strict Calvinist scholars as semi-Pelagianism (if that's how you spell it.)

If I go much further, I'm going to have to start using words like "mongerism" and "synergism," which as a layman and non-seminarian I am prohibited from using.

John said...

Stephen Fife wrote:

What might help Andy and some others is for you to explain your understanding of previent grace.

Sure. This is off the top of my head:

God provides prevenient (preventing) grace to all humans in order to enable them to be aware of God, of their own sin, and of their need for salvation. Prevenient grace is the manifestation of God's desire that all people be drawn to himself. Prevenient grace is resistable, but it gives us the ability to say 'yes' to God that we otherwise would not have.

Anonymous said...

Although I don't claim an encyclopaedic knowledge of Wesley, I don't think anything you've said contradicts Wesley.

A lot of United Methodists, in my view, have gone very wrong in their rejection of Original Sin, and perhaps UMs now incorrectly see this as a "Calvinistic" idea, which it most certainly is not.

Where you might tentatively approach Calvinistic double-predestination is in your cut-and-dried, approach of "So your part of the world hasn't heard the Gospel message? Tough turds, we're all sinners". One would hope from biblical witness that God himself is weaping at this state of affairs.

I actually have deep in the recesses of my mind that Wesley offered the possibility - not certainty but possibility - of God's compassion in the case of not having heard the Gospel. But, I cannot respond to your throwing of the gauntlet with an exact quotation at the moment.

Caveat: I do not personally feel the need to believe everything that Wesley believed, nor does British Methodism require me to.

I am troubled by those who are certain that all the damned will be people who do not have the special knowledge of the Gospel message that they do. This approach to Christ seems highly Gnostic to me. It seems to rely for salvation on what we think rather than on the work of Christ (his life, death and resurrection).

Anonymous said...

Not even the Calvinists are all Calvinists any more.

I was talking with an elder who is taking some courses at a Presbyterian seminary (no Methodist semiaries near us). He told me that the first day he went in ready to get into a little friendly banter about predestination and free will, but the Presbyterians wouldn't play.

"We don't really believe that any more," they said.

Alan said...

As a Calvinist, I can definitely tell you that most people who call themselves Calvinists are not Calvinists. I think there are about 5 of us left in the PCUSA. The liberals were probably never very Calvinist, and the conservatives are all fundies, Arminians, or semipelagians, etc. :)

Also, re: total depravity. As a result of total depravity we are indeed, as Calvin said, "miserable worms." But don't forget that he also believed very strongly in the importance of being created in the image of God. It is possible, even for a Calvinist to overdo the total depravity thing.

Andy B. said...

Hi, everyone!

I'm pretty cool with where John is on this whole thing. For my part, to comment, "How delightfully Calvinistic" and then not explain myself was a bit irresponsible, I suppose. But John, man, lighten up, brother! You are running with this thing a whole heck of a lot further than I ever thought you would. I just found it a little odd that you think God chooses some people to know Jesus and others to not know him. So, yeah, we differ on this point. But I am really okay with it, because I also know that you believe God desires that all of humanity be saved. Like Stephen asked, you believe in prevenient grace.

I pretty much echo what pambg wrote, "I am troubled by those who are certain that all the damned will be people who do not have the special knowledge of the Gospel message that they do." That is how I read that original post, and that is why I commented about it seeming delightfully Calvinistic to me. I've never considered you anything other than Wesleyan, and did not mean to imply otherwise.

Marty said...

I find your perspective to be totally Wesleyian....and the only point of distinction I would offer between Wesley and Calvin is that of the "elect".
I believe that it is a stretch to find biblically sound validation for an elect few who can come to know God's glory. It is the notion of the "elect" versus any other creed or tenant of faith that differentiates Calvinists from the rest of the body of Christ.
Drop the notion of there being an "elect" few who have a hope of salvation, and the differences are very few.

Alan said...

"t is the notion of the "elect" versus any other creed or tenant of faith that differentiates Calvinists from the rest of the body of Christ. "

Not really true. We Calvinists also believe that our faith is part of effectual call. Many others, even Wesleyans, (I thought, though I might be wrong there?) believe that we somehow participate in our faith and choosing to follow Christ.

BTW, I am disturbed that the "Word Verification" for this comment is "onaner".

John said...

Alan, you are correct. Wesleyans believe that God's saving grace is resistable, and a personal decision is necessary. This is not because God cannot save us without our consent, but that he chooses not to save us without our consent.

Marty said...

I find the notion of effectual calling to be more directed to the unsaved versus the saved.

"This effectual calling, according to St. Augustine, is ingressus ad salutem, our "entrance into a state of salvation;" the first step whereby God's predestination descendeth to us, and we again ascend to the glory predestinated."

To me, it speaks to those who are not called versus those who are called to witness for Christ.

Just a "not Calvinist" perspective, rather than a Calvinist one.

Whatever the magic number of elect may be, may we both be in that number.


Alan said...

""This is not because God cannot save us without our consent, but that he chooses not to save us without our consent."

Well, I would dispute the idea that Calvinists believe that God saves us without our consent (which may not be what you're implying.) A more accurate view would be that, without His Grace working in us, we would be unable to respond in faith any way. That is, I don't think there are folks in Heaven who steadfastly refused God's love, but since He had already predestined them to eternal life, voila, they're there. Instead, the working of the Spirit allows the elect to respond appropriately to their election, a response which wouldn't be possible without it.

"Whatever the magic number of elect may be,..."

It's 42 actually, which is going to come as a big shock to a lot of people. ;)