Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy

Here is a fabulous article by Randy Maddox tracing the similarities between much of Wesley's theology and that of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It goes through a brief sketch of a Wesleyan systematic theology - highlighting similiarities and differences on such issues as Trinity, Human Nature/the Fall, Grace and Cooperation, Christology, the nature of Salvation, and the role of the Spirit and the Sacraments.

As you will see below, the article argues that Wesley is simply a very earnest Anglican theologian in his approach, and it is precisely this typically Anglican approach that has led him to be more influenced by the Early Greek Fathers than is common in much of the Western Tradition (i.e. Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Reformed theology), even among Anglicans he stands out in this respect.

One part of the essay that was especially intriguing was the suggestion that Wesley's views on grace and freewill may have as much - or more - to do with Greek theologians than they have to do with Jacob Arminius. I long ago ceased calling myself an "Arminian" on this question because it seemed to me that the views I held were much more ancient than that.

It has been said that, at its best, Methodist theology represents a 'centrist' or 'bridge' position within Christian thought, and this gathering together of various elements of the whole Church tradition (Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, Charismatic and Evangelical) has always been a big part of my attraction to Anglicanism in general and Wesleyanism in particular.

There is always the temptation to pick one element to emphasize at the expense of the others, and so, it is helpful to read essays like this one to remind us of the wonderful gift Wesleyans have to offer to the church (especially to ecumenical conversations) and the world. Below is included the introductory section of Maddox's essay:

Asbury Theological Journal 45.2 (1990): 29–53

Influences, Convergences, and Differences
For: Albert C. Outler

Randy L. Maddox

John Wesley’s overall theological orientation has proven to be surprisingly hard to classify. The debate about his “place” in the Christian tradition began during his lifetime and has continued through the whole of Wesley scholarship.

Given his Western Christian location, this debate has generally focused on whether Wesley is more “Protestant” or more “Catholic.” Early studies generally assumed that he was Protestant,but differed over which branch of Protestantism he more nearly resembled or depended upon. Some argued strongly that he was best construed in terms of the Lutheran tradition. Others advocated a more Reformed Wesley. Most assumed that such general designations must be further refined. Thus, there were readings of Wesley in terms of Lutheran Pietism or Moravianism, English (Reformed) Puritanism, and the Arminian revision of the Reformed tradition.

Dominantly Protestant readings of Wesley proved to be inadequate. There were clearly typical “catholic” themes in his thought and practice as well. Indeed, there have been several appreciative readings of Wesley from the Roman Catholic tradition. These counter-readings of Wesley have increasingly led Wesley scholars to speak of a Protestant/Catholic synthesis in Wesley’s theology.

Such a Protestant/Catholic synthesis should have been expected, given Wesley’s Anglican affiliation and training—and Anglicanism’s self-professed goal of being a Via Media. Indeed, some recent Wesley interpreters argue that he was simply an “Anglican theologian in ernest.” This reading of Wesley would seem to be the most adequate so far.

At the same time, the unique nature of Anglicanism has suggested a related reading of Wesley that deserves more consideration. Early Anglican theologians did not mediate directly between contemporary Protestantism and Catholicism. Rather, they called for a recovery of thefaith and practice of the first four centuries of the Christian church. Since this early tradition antedated the later divisions, they believed its recovery would provide a more authentic mediating position. In the process of this project they reintroduced an awareness of many early theologians—particularly Greek writers—who had been lost from Western Christian consciousness.

Even a cursory reading of Wesley shows that these recovered early Greek theological voices were important to him. This influence is particularly evident in some of those convictions that have been at the heart of the debate over his distinctive “place”. Since these early Greek theologians remain normative for the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the possibility that Wesley should be read in terms of this tradition, or as a bridge between Eastern and Western Christianityhas begun to receive scattered attention. The goal of this essay is to collect and summarize the suggestions of those contributing to this investigation; thereby, increasing general awareness of this perspective on Wesley’s theology...

Click here for the whole essay.

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Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I just ran across this post from Bishop Whitaker (apparently a few years ago) noting a book on the subject with both Wesleyan and Orthodox contributors:


11:31 AM, May 13, 2009  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

for some reason the extension ".htm" does not appear when I cut and paste from that last comment, but DOES appear if you click on the post itself and see the comments at the bottom of the page

11:36 AM, May 13, 2009  

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