John Wesley on Predestination

While some Methodists (and others) wrongly believe that John Wesley (and the Methodists with him) taught that there is no such thing as 'predestination,' Wesley produced numerous writings (including a whole sermon) on the proper understanding of the Bible's true doctrine of predestination.  Here is a snapshot of his understanding from his "Notes on the New Testament" comment on Ephesians 1:4-5:
1:5Having predestinated us to the adoption of sons - Having foreordained that all who afterwards believed should enjoy the dignity of being sons of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. According to the good pleasure of his will - According to his free, fixed, unalterable purpose to confer this blessing on all those who should believe in Christ, and those only.

John Wesley's understanding is that God predestines and "foreordaines" that 'all who believe in Christ' will enjoy the blessings of salvation.  This is quite different than the teaching that God causes certain individuals to believe or to disbelieve simply by virtue of his predestination of those particular individuals either to salvation or to damnation.  So the type of Calvinism one is likely to meet nowadays is ruled out.  It is also noteworthy that Wesley's last words here, "and those only," rules out any possibility of universalism in Methodist theology: only those who believe in Christ will be saved. 

It is important to note at this point that the Notes on the New Testament as a whole do form one of the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, in accordance with which our pastors are bound by oath to teach (though some may perhaps take that commitment more seriously than others).  For some this may raise the question of whether there be any salvation outside of the visible church - among adherents of other religions, for example.  It seems to many of us that Wesley's words, in and of themselves, do not necessarily rule out the possibility that some might believe in the eternal Logos/Word/Christ, that is, believe in his essence "without knowing his name or his incarnate history."  Some of the Early Church Fathers taught that precisely this had happened with famous seekers, such as Socrates, who surely was not a professing Christian.  Wesley's words do not rule out this reading for Methodists, yet nor do these words affirm this possibility either.

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Blogger Gary said...

Is someone else's Salvation dependent on YOU?

One of the biggest criticisms of the Lutheran (and Calvinist) position on the Predestination of the Elect is that it removes the motivation to spread the Gospel/to do missionary work. "If God has already chosen who will be saved, why bother spending your time preaching the Gospel to sinners? God will take care of it, I don't need to worry about it."

It is true that Lutherans believe that God has already chosen those who will be saved (but they do NOT believe that God has predestined anyone to hell, regardless of what some people believe Luther may have said at one point in his life). It is also true that we Lutheranws believe that sinners do not have a free will to choose God. So no matter how hard we try to convince sinners of their need for a Savior, if God has not predestined them for salvation, they will NOT believe, they will not be saved.

The advocates of Free Will Theology say that a sinner IS capable of choosing God. Therefore, it is our job as Christians to witness to every human being with whom we come into contact in our daily lives, because our efforts may be the trigger for them to "accept" Christ." These Christians base their belief on the passage of Scripture that states, "for whom he did foreknow, those he did predestine...". They take this to mean that God's predestination is based on God foreknowing that at some point in the future, that a particular person would make a free will decision to believe in Christ.

Lutherans and Calvinists say that this is impossible since Romans chapter 3 tells us that no one seeks God. Making a decision for God is "seeking" God, and therefore an impossibility according to God's Word.

But are we Lutherans really off the hook when it comes to sharing the Gospel? It is true, we should do be out preaching the Gospel to our neighbors because Christ commands it, but, really, what are the consequences of our disobedience on this one issue? A slap on the wrist when we get to heaven, but no direct consequences for the "un-elect" person to whom we failed to share the Good News?

We Lutherans state that we do not know what criteria God used to choose/predestine those who will be saved. But I would like to propose this idea: Yes, it is true that a particular person's election is not dependent on HIS decision to believe since Romans chapter 3 states that this is impossible. But...is it possible that this person's election is dependent on God foreknowing that YOU would obey his command to go out into the world and preach the Gospel, and in particular, he foresaw that YOU would share the Gospel with this individual, and based on YOU being faithful/obedient and sharing the Good News with that person, God chose/elected that person to be saved??

To believe this would certainly increase our motivation as Lutherans to share the Gospel instead of sitting at home enjoying the blessings of salvation all to ourselves. (Maybe we should share this idea with our Calvinist Christian brothers and sisters to light the "evangelism fire" underneath their behinds also.)

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

6:28 PM, September 03, 2013  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Good thoughts that have been (rightly) much-discussed. It seems to me that Wesley's point is that predestination is not about "someONE's salvation" at all, but about a whole people's salvation (the covenant people) taken as a whole. The covenant people are predestined for salvation, not this guy or that gal in particular.

So I'm suggesting that Wesley's way of looking at this actually side-steps the whole question you bring up about whether God predestines some to be damned or the question that asks "since God predestined this or that person anyways, why bother evangelizing?"

We evangelize individuals so that they will become a part of that body which is predestined for salvation. This affirms what the Reformed tradition wants to say about assurance based upon God's predestination, without cutting out the importance of our own free (but only by God's prevenient grace, not from our own strength of will) choice to respond to the Gospel.

3:21 PM, September 05, 2013  

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