Tag Archives: calvinist

Reforming the Law: John Calvin and the Use of the Law in Geneva (Pt. 1)

detail-of-john-calvin-by-oliver-crisp-cover-of-his-deviant-calvinism
A Portrait of John Calvin

Addressing “The Pattern of the Law for Piety,” John Calvin states that the law profits believers in two ways: 1) it instructs us about God’s will and 2) it exhorts Christians to obey it. Given these two functions of the law, which are related to its “third use” (McKee, 266), we may wonder what role the law played in the daily life of Christians in Geneva. We may also wonder how important biblical law was for everyday Christians and how the law was enforced. At one point Calvin says,

Now this scriptural instruction of which we speak has two main aspects. The first is that the love of righteousness, to which we are otherwise not at all inclined by nature, may be instilled and established in our hearts; the second, that a rule be set forth for us that does not let us wander about in our zeal for righteousness. (McKee 271)

Here Calvin seems to indicate that the law has two ways of reforming behavior and inculcating a love for righteousness. First, it seems to establish a natural desire in the believer’s heart to obey the law, which prior to regeneration was not there. Second, the law acts as an external form of enforcement,  as a rule that does not let believers wander. In this brief essay I argue that Calvin’s method of instilling of God’s law into God’s people manifests itself in two ways — one, in the organic and unforced social process; the second, externally imposed by legislation. Calvin seeks to navigate between two ways of imposing the law. On the one hand, to leave law-keeping simply up to organic growth may lead to a lack of true enforcement. On the other hand, legislating conformity may create mere external obedience rather than real heart change. As we shall see, both manners of enforcing the law play an important role in Calvin’s Geneva, but both bring potential dangers. We shall begin the discussion of Calvin’s reformation of the use of the law for Christians by highlighting a few examples of how Calvin sees the law play out in Christians’ lives, then  turn our attention to each manner of enforcing the law.

The Pattern of the Law for Piety

Calvin argues that at the core of God’s law there are simply two principles. The first concerns what we owe God, and the second concerns what we own our neighbors. (McKee, 256) Thus all of the law can be considered to fall within the scope of these two concerns. Accordingly, it is the Christian’s duty to learn the law and internalize it. The Christian ought to be like a servant prepared to “search out and observe his master’s ways more and more in order to conform and accommodate himself to them.” (McKee, 266). This is the duty of all Christians, and it  ought to be pursued on a daily basis.

An important aspect of coming to internalize the law involves learning to recognize that other persons are made in the image of God. Learning to see, respect, and honor the image of God in others is a way of owing God what God is due and owing our neighbors wat they are due as well. The recognition and reverence of the image of God imprinted upon each person will keep Christians from shedding the blood of others, stealing from them, and bearing false witness against the. Recognizing the image of God in others will help Christians see the stranger and give them honor and love. The image of God recognized in others will generate a desire to be generous, giving them what they deserve. (McKee, 276) If honoring God and neighbor through the recognition of a shared image of God is the goal of Christian law keeping, we may wonder, how do Christians grow in their desire to follow the law? As mentioned above there are at least two ways. We will jump into these next time…

John Calvin & the Four Nicene Marks of the Church

One theme that emerges throughout Calvin’s works as well as some Calvin biographies is the importance he places upon ecclesiology. We see this in various ways, for instance in his fight for the unity of the protestant movement, in his emphasis on the proper understanding of the Eucharist, and his constant attempts at establishing church discipline in Geneva, just to name a few examples. In this brief essay I will explain a few themes in Calvin’s ecclesiology by using the four marks of the church as they are put forth in the Nicene Creed. Understanding that this is not necessarily the way Calvin organized his ecclesiology, I believe it is a useful tool for explaining what he thought about the church.[1] Thus in this essay I will address what Calvin might understand what is meant when it is said that the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva - Calvin's
St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva – Calvin’s “Home” Church

ONE

            The Nicene creed begins the section about the church by saying “I believe in one…. church.” The oneness of the church is something that Calvin insists upon throughout his career. This might seem to contradict the very nature of the protestant reformation, however in Calvin’s mind it does not present a contradiction, namely because Calvin saw the oneness of the true church as vitally important. This is a theme that emerges in Gordon’s biography of Calvin. Gordon claims that “Calvin understood his destiny to extend far beyond Geneva’s walls: he was a man of the Church, and its unity was his deepest passion.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 35) One concrete example of how unity was at the forefront of Calvin’s mind can be seen in his attempted ecumenical work on the Eucharist. Calvin saw the dispute between Lutheran and Zwinglian understandings of the Eucharist as the major block towards church unity. Thus Calvin attempted to navigate a way between both positions, a way which could unite the church. He did this by signing the Augsburg Variata and the Consensus Tigurinus, as well as cultivating a relationship with Melanchthon. He even traveled extensively, journeying to Berne, Zurich, Basle, Frankfurt, and Strausbourg in order to cultivate unity. Sadly, the unity he desired was not achieved.

HOLY

            The Nicene creed continues by saying “I believe in one, holy… church.” Regarding the holiness of the church Bruce Gordon says “the power of Calvin and his fellow ministers lay not in their talent for excoriation, but in their ability to create a vision of a godly community.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3095) Though he may have done an excellent job of casting vision for what a godly community looked like, one cannot escape his “talent for excoriation.” One can take the incident with the excommunication of Philibert Berthelier as an example. Berthelier had been excommunicated by the Consistory but appealed to the Small Council in order that he may attend the Lord’s Supper. However, Calvin appeared before the council declaring that he would “rather die a hundred deaths than subject Christ to the disgrace of unworthy participation in the Lord’s supper.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc, 3069) However, at the end the city magistrates concluded that church discipline was in their hands and not in the hands of the consistory. This was a defeat for Calvin, who believed that “our Savior set up in his Church the correction and discipline of excommunication.” (Articles Concerning, 50). Nevertheless, Calvin instituted wide spread moral reform. Geneva was transformed from a city filled with immorality, even having a reputation for violence and sodomy, towards a slightly more moral society. Thus in Geneva we see Calvin’s belief that the church ought to be holy and pure.

CATHOLIC

            The third Nicene mark of the church is that it is “catholic.” Interpretations of what is meant by “catholic” are manifold but at the very least we can say that it can refer to that which has universally been believed by the church. A prime example of how Calvin sees protestant churches as being truly catholic (as opposed to the Roman Catholic church) can be seen in how he argues with Sadoleto. In his reply he defends his catholicity by saying “You are mistaken in supposing that we desire to lead away the people from that method of worshiping God which the catholic church always observed.” (Sadoleto, 6) He then claims that the church has always been governed by the Holy Spirit, which God has annexed to the Word, he supports this claim with Scripture and by appealing to Chrysostom. He then argues for the claim that the protestant church represents what has always been believed by appealing to the writings of Basil, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine. Calvin then says “that it [the Church] is the society of all the saints, a society which, spread over the whole world, and existing in all ages, yet bound together by the one doctrine, and the one Spirit of Christ, cultivates and observes unity of faith and brotherly concord.” (Sadoleto, 7) Thus he emphasizes the catholicity of the church, even saying that protestants revere this church, the church which is truly Catholic, as its mother; but he rejects the Roman church as fulfilling this catholic definition of the church.

APOSTOLIC

            The final mark of the church is that it is “apostolic.” Here Calvin rejects apostolic succession in favor of succession of apostolic teaching. One see’s the importance Calvin puts upon apostolic teaching in the way he envisions his own vocation. In one sense we could say that Calvin saw himself as a defender of correct doctrine, this was part of his vocation.  Calvin says regarding this self understanding that “the welfare of this church…lay so near to my heart that for its sake I would not have hesitated to lay down my life.” (McKee, 62) One way he ensured the continuing welfare of the church is through his doctrinal and biblical writings. Much like so many other important figures in the history of the church, Calvin devoted much attention to Romans. There he lays out the Apostolic teaching of the church, especially when it comes to justification. But perhaps even more than in his commentaries or preaching we see Calvin’s understanding of the importance of defending apostolic teaching in the way in which he responds to heretical teaching. Chief among the examples of Calvin’s polemic against those who don’t follow the apostolic teaching is his treatment of Servetus’s work. In Calvin’s mind those who spare heretics and blasphemers are themselves blasphemers (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3157). Though it seems as if Calvin did not want Servetus to die, the Servetus incident shows how seriously Calvin takes the apostolic teaching of the church.

It should be noted that Gordon’s biography sheds light on each of these four marks, but Gordon’s strength in the area of ecclesiology is his contribution to our understanding of the apostolic nature of the church and the unity of the church. In particular, his chapter on Servetus sheds light on Calvin’s motivations to maintain the apostolic teaching of the church, especially within the context of contemporary political and theological thought, in how he treats heretics. Gordon does much to dispel the myth of a bloodthirsty Calvin out to get Servetus. Secondly, his chapter, “European Reformer,” shows how much Calvin did (at times unintentionally) to bring unity to the Reformed churches ranging from churches in Britain to Poland to the Low Countries and even to the Palatinate. Reformed churches throughout these lands were heavily influenced by Calvin and his reforms in Geneva. Many leaders in these countries wrote to Calvin for advice and some, including John Knox, even came to Geneva to learn from Calvin. Thus even though he never achieved the unity in the church he desired, his contributions went a long way towards establishing some sort of unity based upon his Reformed understandings of the faith and church polity.

CONCLUSION

            There are many ways to approach Calvin’s ecclesiology. We could define it in terms of the two marks he mentions (right distribution of the sacraments and the word properly preached), he views on the current state of the church vs. God’s intention for the church, or even his perceived role in building up the church, however we have chosen to examine his ecclesiology in terms of these loci classicus. Hopefully this heuristic has helped to shed light upon Calvin’s understanding of the church within a historical context.


[1] At least given our readings, and my prior knowledge of Calvin’s work I am not familiar with him organizing his ecclesiology in light of these four marks.

Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition

Pentecostal Outpourings! That definitely doesn’t sound like the title of a book which has a major emphasis on the puritans in the reformed tradition. Nevertheless, it’s a term that’s quite appropriate for describing a number of revivals in the Reformed Tradition during the 18th and 19th centuries. After all, what exactly happened at Pentecost? Well what happened was that God the Father poured out his Holy Spirit onto the church. That’s not something that only Pentecostals, charismatics, or continuationists believe. And its not something that’s exclusive for people of those theological persuasions to seek out. Whether it’s the reformed churches of the “old world”, i.e. Welsh Calvinistic Methodistpentecostal__69435-1446558671-1280-1280s, Irish Baptists, Calvinistic English Baptists, Scottish Presbyterians or the reformed churches of the “new world”, i.e. Baptists, Presbyterians or Dutch Reformed – there is a long history of seeking out revival and more importantly seeking out a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His people.  This book – Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition – traces the history of precisely those things….

The book, edited by Robert Smart, Michael Haykin, and Ian Clary is divided into two parts: 1)Revival in the British Isles and 2)Revival in America. The first part covers revivals among Welsh Calvinists, Irish Dissenters, Calvinistic Baptists, and Scottish Presbyterians. Most people familiar with this sort of literature will be familiar with revival among the latter two groups, but as evidenced in these chapters there is much to be learned about revival in the first two groups. Also, and sadly, the former groups haven’t really carried that revival tradition into modern day ministry. The second part covers revival in America. Much of this consists of recounting what happened during the 1st great awakening among various groups including: Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and the Dutch Reformed. Again, many will be familiar with the happenings of revival among the first three groups, but revival among the Dutch Reformed will be new territory for many readers.

 

150px-appletons_frelinghuysen_frederick_theodore
A picture of Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen – one of the Dutch Reformed Pastors who played a major role in the 1st Great Awakening.

Out of these chapters, (as I hinted at in my twitter feed – @Cwoznicki ) the chapter on revival among the Dutch Reformed was my favorite. Apart from the readability and depth of research of this chapter, I stepped away from it very encouraged and hopeful. The Dutch Reformed revival shows us that there isn’t a split between sound doctrine and revival, that revival can flourish in established churches, and that revival can open up fellowship among peoples of different theological traditions as well as ethnic backgrounds. The Dutch reformed churches not only received African-Americans into their membership, but they even permitted Native Americans to preach from their pulpits. That was truly surprising to me! But above all, what I drew from this chapter was a better picture of the Dutch Reformed ethos. Reading the words of these pastors, I felt as though they were speaking my heart. Let me list a few things that they stressed (231-233):

1)Orthodox Biblical Doctrine + Vital Piety

2)Experience that overflows from the heart in practical obedience.

3)Word and Spirit

4)An emphasis on Evangelism and Discipleship

5)Holiness in the ministry

Reading about our forefathers in the faith has encouraged me to pray for and seek revival along these lines. Revival, contrary to common opinion, is in fact possible among the Reformed churches. In fact, “Reformed ministers have exercised a central role in the major revivals since the Reformation.” (254) I hope that this book will encourage those like me who find themselves within the tradition to lead the efforts in seeking and promoting revival throughout the entire world, not just in our own churches but in all the churches who call upon Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior.

Universal Atonement & The Sin of Unbelief

In a recent blog I posted I summarized Oliver Crisp’s recent argument that there is significant room within some key reformed confessions for one to hold on to a doctrine of atonement that excludes limited atonement and is open to universal atonement. I.e. that Christ died no just for the sins of the elect, but for the sins of all humanity. Essentially the argument goes like this:

1-Atonement is sufficient for all of humanity.

2-Faith is a necessary condition to receive salvation.

3-God intends the work of Christ, i.e. atonement, to be effective for all those who have faith.

4-Faith is a divine gift.

5-God provides faith for the elect.

6-Thus only the elect, who have been given faith, receive salvation i.e. the effective work of Christ.

However another blogger made a great observation, he said that the argument logically makes sense, however it has one major fault, he said that I had ignored the fact that Jesus died for the sin of unbelief…

If you’re atoned for all your sins, that must include the sin of unbelief – which is the sin of rejection and hatred of God and everything that He stands for. If you’re atoned for everything except faith, then you still have pretty much everything left to be atoned for!

This blogger certainly brings up a good point! Essentially he is making an argument similar to one that John Owen (the Puritan) had made. Here is what Owen says…

Unbelief is it a sin or is it not? If it be not how can it be a cause of damnation? If it be, Christ died for it,or he did not. If he did not, then he died not for the sins of all men. If he did, why is this an obstacle to their salvation? Is there any new shift to be invented for this? Or must we be contented with the old, namely because they do not believe? That is, Christ did not die for their unbelief, or rather, did not by his death remove their unbelief, because they would not believe, or because they would not themselves remove their unbelief; or he died for their unbelief conditionally, that they were not unbelievers. These do not seem to me to be sober assertions. (Works, 144)

A Portrait of John Owen - author of the "The Death of Death in Christ"
A Portrait of John Owen – author of the “The Death of Death in Christ”

Or elsewhere, Owen says…

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men or all the sins of some men or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved… If the second, this is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe. But this unbelief is it a sin, or is it not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent punishment for it or not. If so why mus that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins. Let them chose which part they will. (The Works of John Owen, 173-74)

Essentially Owen is arguing that unbelief is a sin – therefore it is cause for damnation. If Christ died for the unbelief of all of humanity then all of humanity would be saved, because he would have atoned for all the sin of humanity (unbelief included.) However, not all of humanity is saved, therefore Christ could not have died for everybody’s unbelief – therefore we need limited atonement to make sense of why we don’t claim universalism.

This is exactly what this thoughtful blogger pointed out!

However one might want to say that even if unbelief is dealt with at the cross, under universal atonement, faith is still required for the application of the atonement that has been accomplished. If this is the case, then Christ has surely died for even the reprobate’s sin – unbelief included – however if they do not have the faith necessary to have the benefits of his death applied to them then they suffer the just punishment for their sin.

Faith is a necessary condition for appropriating the saving benefits of Christ’s death.

Creating Wiggle Room for Calvinists (Deviant Calvinism Book Review)

The anti-Calvinist blogs will never stop spinning the same message – Calvinism as a system is cruel, it creates a monster God, its fatalistic, and it is pessimistic (just to name a few “characteristics” of Calvinism). Roger Olson, a proponent of anti-Calvinism (who sort of reminds me of hard-nosed pro-Calvinist fundamentalists) has said that

If Calvinism is true, God is the author of sin, evil, innocent suffering and hell. That is to say, if Calvinism is true God is not all-loving and perfectly good.

These anti-Calvinists seem to forget that Calvinism or better yet, the Reformed tradition, is a lot broader and more varied than it is often portrayed. At least Oliver Crisp seems to think so.

In Deviant Calvinism, Crisp argues that Calvinism really is a confessional tradition, however it is a confessionalism that tolerates doctrinal plurality within certain parameters. In this new book he aims to,

Commend to those within and without the ambit of the Reformed community way of looking at several central and defining doctrines of Calvinistic theology and broaden out what is regarded as appropriately Reformed doctrine.

Crisp acknowledges the fact that some myths about Calvinism just don’t seem to go away (no thanks to some in the neo-Puritan camp, Crisp didn’t say that, I did – Calvinism is so much bigger than just neo-Puritianism or being “Young, Restless, & Reformed”). For instance the myth that Reformed Christianity is anti-experiential, that it demands a doctrine of double predestination, that it is atheologically deterministic system, that it denies human freedom, that atonement must be definite in scope, etc.

The cover art for "Deviant Calvinism" was painted by Oliver Crisp himself!
The cover art for “Deviant Calvinism” was painted by Oliver Crisp himself!

Here Crisp takes some of these myths head on by going back into the standard confessions of the Reformed faith and by retrieving the theology of various Reformed theologians across the centuries.

Here are a few things Crisp shows throughout the book:

  1. That one can be both a Calvinist and a libertarian about human freedom.
  2. That one can be an Augustinian and a Universalist.
  3. That there are resources within Calvinist theology that can resist an Augustinian Universalism.
  4. That the scope of atonement need not be “limited.”
  5. That the major objection to the doctrine of universal atonement, the double payment objection, actually fails miserably

And he argues that all of these things fall well within the scope of Reformed confessionalism!

Review

I could not put this book down. I was so enthralled by it and the possibility moving past funadamentlistic neo-Puritianism (i.e. Johnny Mac and his cronies) that I read through it in a day and a half. Not only was it interesting though, it was very well argued. As is well known, Oliver Crisp is at the forefront of Analytic Theology – the theological method which applies the rigor and clarity of analytic philosophy to systematic theology. This method allows the author to make logically tight arguments; the strength of his method is especially on display in his chapter on Hypothetical Universalism (i.e. universal or unlimited atonement). He makes a strong case for how Calvinism does not require the doctrine of limited atonement; he does so by retrieving the theology of 1700’s British theologian John Davenant, The philosophy of John Martin Fischer, Mark Ravizza, and of course Harry Frankfurt. This particular essay is a superb example of what Analytic Theology ought to look like – it interacts with Scripture, historical resources, and contemporary analytic theology.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. It is the type of book that will cause you to think deeply about why you hold to the doctrines that you do, and it will challenge you to think outside of the box. I know it has certainly done this for me, in fact I will be posting some more thoughts about the book on my blog over the next few days.

(Note: I received this book free of charge from Fortress Press in exchange for an impartial review.)

Limited Atonement vs. “Unlimited” Atonement

Most people tend to think that if one is reformed one is required to hold to the doctrine of limited atonement, the doctrine which says that the cope of Christ’s atoning work is accomplished on behalf of and applied only to the elect.

Stations of the Cross

In a recent article on “hypothetical universalism” (hear unlimited or universal atonement, not universalism), the doctrine by which the atoning work of Christ is universal in its sufficiency but applied only to an elect number less than the total number of fallen humanity Oliver crisp argues that there is significant room within some key reformed confessions in which one can hold to a doctrine of atonement that excludes limited atonement and is open to universal atonement. In this article (found in his most recent book Deviant Calvinism) he makes the historical case that this is so, there have been reformed theologians throughout history who have not compromised reformed orthodoxy by holding on to universal atonement. How is this the case? Essentially it hangs on a Lombardian dictum that Christ’s atoning work is sufficient for all humanity yet effective only for the elect, i.e. those that are predestined. Briefly the argument goes like this:

1-Atonement is sufficient for all of humanity.

2-Faith is a necessary condition to receive salvation.

3-God intends the work of Christ, i.e. atonement, to be effective for all those who have faith.

4-Faith is a divine gift.

5-God provides faith for the elect.

6-Thus only the elect, who have been given faith, receive salvation i.e. the effective work of Christ.

Do you think this argument works? What are the flaws in the argument?

Book Review – Wesley on the Christian Life: A Heart Renewed in Love by Fred Sanders

Trust me I am not one of those reformed guys. I’m young, I’m reformed, but I’m not restless. I love other Christian traditions, I’m not a reformed or nothing kind of guy but at times I have been tempted to have a superior attitude towards Methodism and the other Wesleyan traditions. Let me explain why, I think I have a good reason for it.

Back in 2012 I took a summer class with a visiting systematic theology professor from Asbury (a seminary rooted in the Methodist tradition). As we were making our way through Soteriology and a Wesleyan ordo salutis our Methodist professor explained that Wesley believed that you could lose your salvation. I think that is a very harmful doctrine but I certainly will not break communion with somebody who holds that sort of belief. What this professor said next about Wesley permanently gave me a bad impression of Wesley.  This professor said that Wesley believed that one is saved by faith (so good so far) but that one stays saved by one’s works (oh heck no). In essence Wesley was a 18th century covenantal nomist. Staying saved by one’s good works! In that moment I started turning my nose towards the Methodist/Wesleyan traditions. Thankfully Fred Sanders came along with Wesley on the Christian Life and readjusted my impression of Wesley and his theology.

Summary

The Theologians of the Christian Life series attempts to provide introductions to major teachers/theologians/pastors within the Protestant tradition all the while keeping an eye towards practical living. Wesley on the Christian Life: A Heart Renewed in Love is Fred Sanders contribution to this series. Towards the beginning of the book Sanders lays out two tasks he will attempt to complete in this book: 1) introduce Wesley’s theology and spirituality and 2) recommend a generally Wesleyan  approach to living a balanced Christian life.Wesley on the Christian Life

In this volume Sanders gives the reader a brief spiritual biography, an in depth understanding of Wesley’s “heart religion,” and a look at the role 1 John had on Wesley’s theology (he was a practical theologian who began with John and moved to Paul). Sanders then moves to what Sanders does best, systematic theology. He takes us on a journey into the confusing, strange, and often misinterpreted land of Wesley’s Soteriology. Often accused of being a crypto-catholic or denying imputed righteousness, Sanders shows that Wesley is far from being those two things. Wesley was a preacher of justification by faith alone. Also Wesley loved the law but the law stood upon a foundation of Grace. We are then treated to a brief chapter on the Means of Grace (once again we find that for Wesley Grace comes first, not our human efforts). Then we are taken back into the realm of Soteriology proper; Sanders unpacks Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection. Sanders concludes with two “ecumenical chapters” he shows that Wesley was concerned with maintain unity and fellowship with the catholic (not Roman) church and that Wesley is a resource for doing Trinitarian theology across ecumenical lines.

All in all, by taking us on a tour of Wesley’s theology, Sanders shows us that Wesley was a very practical theologian always concerned with guarding fellow Christians from the Scylla and Charybdis of formalism and antinomianism all the while cultivating true religion in the hearts of his fellow Christians

Pros

There are many things that I enjoyed about this book but I will only mention four:

  1. Sanders knows his audience well. This book is published under Crossway, a reformed-evangelical publisher which means that its primary audience will be reformed readers. If you know anything about Crossway you know that they are one of the biggest “gospel-centered” publishers, Sanders is very aware of this and constantly writes with an eye towards this particular audience. Thought the book Sanders makes an effort to relate Wesley’s theology to the Reformed and Calvinian traditions. For instance we find this quote by Wesley pop up around the book many times, “I do not differ from Calvin a hair’s breadth.” We also find a vast number of quotes by Calvinist heroes like Ryle, Spurgeon, and Whitefield giving their stamp of approval on Wesley. We also see that the appreciation runs both ways, Wesley is often portrayed as being a big fan of a lot of Calvinist authors, like Edwards and Goodwin.
  2. The book is filled with wisdom for “gospel centered” readers. I won’t elaborate upon this much but I found it delightful that Wesley offers so much wisdom for people who are gospel centered. Like any other way of thinking “gospel-centeredness” as a theological system often lacks in certain areas, it has it weaknesses. It tends to be nomophobic (it “fears” the Law) but Wesley offers a wise corrective. It tends to be divisive but Wesley makes a case for staying within one’s own communion. It tends to call into question the seriousness of other people’s conversion, Wesley suffered from this fault early on even to the point of calling into question whether he was saved before his Aldersgate experience, but Wesley eventually grew out of this way of thinking.
  3. Sanders presents Wesley as a great resource for doing evangelical theology. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Wesley’s Trinitarian theology. One particular line really caught my eye: “Wesley’s Trinitarianism was also uniquely experiential” (245). There are two things I know (as generalizations) about evangelicals: 1) They have anemic theologies of the Trinity and 2) They are into having experiences. According to Sanders (he doesn’t really unpack the implications) Wesley’s Trinitarian theology is a resource the evangelical church really needs.
  4. A (sort of) clear explanation of Wesley’s “Christian Perfection.” This doctrine is utterly confusing (maybe Wesley shouldn’t have used the word “perfection”) and I must admit that I still don’t get it. Nevertheless Sanders presents a clear (as clear as I think you can get) explanation of this doctrine. After reading Sanders explanation I still don’t buy it, but at the very least I can now see Wesley’s motivation behind it.

Cons

I will only mention one thing that I found lacking in this book, part of the problem might be due to the intended audience though. Above I mentioned that, Sanders is very aware of his audience and constantly writes with an eye towards this particular reformed group. I am concerned that this particular slant might have caused Sanders to sugarcoat some things in Wesley that reformed people might have a hard time swallowing. In other words I think that Sanders might have made Wesley look more reformed than he really was. As one reviewer on The Gospel Coalition said, some of the similarities that Sanders draws between reformed theology and Wesley’s theology might not actually be similarities but “wishful thinking” on Sanders part. I don’t think Sanders is hoping that Wesley is more reformed than some of his interpreters have made him look, but I do think he is trying to make a case to his reformed/gospel-centered readers that Wesley isn’t all that bad and that we need to learn from him. I agree with the fact that we need to learn from Wesley but there would be things to learn from him even if he radically disagreed with reformed theology. In other words I don’t need a Wesley who is a crypto-Calvinist.

Conclusion

I love the heart behind the series and I love the heart behind this book (there I go, I guess I am a believer in Wesley’s “heart religion”). There is much to learn from Wesley whether or not you agree with his theology, Sanders makes a strong case for that. So should you buy this book and read it? Yes absolutely. There is something in here for everybody whether you are a lay person, a pastor, a theological student, “Young Restless and Reformed” or “Old  Relaxed and Wesleyan.”

(Note: I received this book from Crossway in exchange for an unbiased review.)