Tuesday, April 28, 2015

John Wesley on justifying faith: not only a divine ... conviction that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself;” but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for “my” sins

“However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness”   Romans 4:5, NIVUK

Here is John Wesley on “Justifying faith”, from his sermon based on Romans 4:5 (Link, Part IV, Para 2, bold mine):

2. Faith in general is a divine, supernatural “elegchos,” “evidence” or “conviction,” “of things not seen,” not discoverable by our bodily senses, as being either past, future, or spiritual. Justifying faith implies, not only a divine evidence or conviction that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself;” but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for “my” sins, that he loved “me,” and gave himself for “me.” And at what time soever a sinner thus believes, be it in early childhood, in the strength of his years, or when he is old and hoary-haired, God justifieth that ungodly one: God, for the sake of his Son, pardoneth and absolveth him, who had in him, till then, no good thing. Repentance, indeed, God had given him before; but that repentance was neither more nor less than a deep sense of the want of all good, and the presence of all evil. And whatever good he hath, or doeth, from that hour when he first believes in God through Christ, faith does not “find,” but “bring.” This is the fruit of faith. First the tree is good, and then the fruit is good also.

Wesley concludes the sermon with an invitation to repent and believe the gospel:

9. Thou ungodly one, who hearest or readest these words! thou vile, helpless, miserable sinner! I charge thee before God, the Judge of all, go straight unto him, with all thy ungodliness. Take heed thou destroy not thy own soul by pleading thy righteousness, more or less. Go as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell; and thou shalt then find favour in his sight, and know that he justifieth the ungodly. As such thou shalt be brought unto the “blood of sprinkling,” as an undone, helpless, damned sinner. Thus “look unto Jesus!” There is “the Lamb of God,” who “taketh away thy sins!” Plead thou no works, no righteousness of thine own! no humility, contrition, sincerity! In nowise. That were, in very deed, to deny the Lord that bought thee. No: Plead thou, singly, the blood of the covenant, the ransom paid for thy proud, stubborn, sinful soul. Who art thou, that now seest and feelest both thine inward and outward ungodliness? Thou art the man! I want thee for my Lord! I challenge “thee” for a child of God by faith! The Lord hath need of thee. Thou who feelest thou art just fit for hell, art just fit to advance his glory; the glory of his free grace, justifying the ungodly and him that worketh not. O come quickly! Believe in the Lord Jesus; and thou, even thou, art reconciled to God.

Related posts:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

NT Wright on Predestination, Election and Romans 9

In this video, NT Wright answers the question, “What do you think Paul means when he uses language like ‘election’, ‘chosen’, ‘predestination’?” (HT: @DerwinLGray)

Also see Michael F Bird, N.T. Wright on Election in PFG, where Dr Bird includes two excerpts from NT Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  My own understanding of Romans 9 is very close to the view Dr Wright presents.

Ronald Stone, "Wesley’s demand for mercy and justice in the economic world"

I adopted Arminian Theology after leaving Calvinism because it provided the most compelling explanations of those texts which had once drawn me to Calvinism.  It is only recently that I have begun to discover the rich social ethic and social justice emphasis within the Wesleyan-Arminian theological stream.

This emphasis makes perfect sense. In Calvinist circles, I could see clearly God’s call to justice, but this call was always at odds with Calvinist Soteriology.  We would invite people to follow a God of compassion, justice and mercy, yet at the same time believed this God provided only superficially for the larger part of humanity; that is, while God provides for their physical needs he withholds from them the only thing that really matters: reconciliation.

On the other hand, if you believe that God desires the salvation of all people, and has done everything necessary to provide His salvation for them, even going so far as to die to offer them reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19), then imitating His pursuit of justice and mercy in our world makes sense.  As Walter Brueggemann commented in his commentary on Jeremiah:

…one takes on the character of the god one follows…. Loyalty one has toward any god is decisive for the shaping of human life. We become like the god we serve. Pursue a bubble and become a bubble. The object of love determines the quality of love. [1]

Over the summer I am planning to dive into Wesleyan writings on ethics and justice. I’m hoping along the way to find a popularly written book that does a good job of grounding the Christian call to justice in the character of God, and which carries that over consistently in the area of soteriology (your recommendations are welcome!). [2

I’ve picked up a number of books on this topic; one is John Wesley’s Life & Ethics by Ronald H Stone.  Dr Stone makes a few interesting remarks on the relationship between Wesley's ethic and his theology. One, for example, is in his discussion of Wesley’s essay Thoughts Upon Slavery where he suggests, “The motivation for the essay was in his closing prayer: it was his own love for God, who loved all and desired all to be loved by one another" (p 196).  Another comes in the opening paragraph of his last chapter where he writes:

Against the predestinarians and other determinists, he [Wesley] argued for human freedom or liberty as a necessary precondition of the gospel and of ethical discourse.  His insistence on human freedom in theology had ethical consequences for his passion for the abolition of slavery and his toleration of other religious opinions and systems. (p 208, emphasis in original)

And later, "The second [theological controversy of Wesley’s life] is over predestination, which in its more stark Calvinist forms doomed both ethics and evangelization in his view" (p 216).

What I really enjoyed reading was the way in which Wesley recognized and responded to the injustice he saw in the 18th century world around him. To illustrate, here is an excerpt from Dr Stone's closing chapter, "Ethics" [3]:
Evangelical Economics

John Wesley’s passion rang through his writing on economics.  Whether he was describing the inexcusable suffering of Africans forced into slavery by Europeans or the vile conditions of the English poor imposed by government and establishment, he was never temperate.  His language, syntax, and argument called for fundamental economic changes.  Some of his writing was descriptive, but with his eye on the kingdom of God, he saw clearly and described the squalor of human life.  Africans were thrown off slave ships to the depths of the Atlantic and English were forced to find their food among the dung heaps because of sin expressed in greed.


Wesley’s demand for mercy and justice in the economic world followed from his observations, study, and work with the despised of the world. There was an immediacy to his pleas for justice that in the contemporary world has resonated in the theologies of liberation.  Yet most of his pleas were for reform.  He did not expect king and Parliament to be overthrown; in fact, he dreaded revolution, whether in America or France. His specific recommendations were for reform, and in most cases they could be achieved without revolution.  Historically, most of them have been approximated, even if not sustained, without revolution.

His advocacy of the abolition of slavery was the most far-reaching of his reforms as some of the prosperity of England rested upon the wretched practice of the triangular trade. Whether wealth would be served or not, slavery was wrong, and all were admonished to end it.  Europeans were guilty of worse practices than any of the pagan empires Wesley knew about, and economic necessity was not a valid argument for maintaining slavery.  The fact that it was supported by human law was irrelevant in the confrontation with God’s law.  As with Bartolom√© de las Casas and Pope Paul III in the sixteenth century, those subject to slavery were potentially subject to Christ, and they had to be freed for their evangelization.  For Wesley and the best of sixteenth-century Spanish Catholicism, humanity was free by nature, and freedom was sought out of the evangelical thrust of the gospel. The arguments of the establishment for keeping slaves were arguments in terms of economic necessity; in fact, slavery stemmed from greed, not need.

Monopolies in agriculture and consumption of grain by horses desired by the wealthy as a sign of luxury drove food prices for the poor to formidable heights in Wesley’s analysis. The monopolies in agriculture needed to be broken up and the luxurious keeping of horses ended by legislation to restore small agriculture and fair food prices. In Wesley’s eyes, unnecessary military expenses, especially unneeded fortifications, had pushed up the national debt, raising interest rates. The wasteful military expenditures needed to be curtailed and the national debt retired. Hence, he recommended policy changes for employment. His particular passion was to reduce the price for food, which consumed nearly everything the poor could earn. Taxes, prices of land, prices of food, and so forth, he reduced to governmental expenses and resultant government debt accrued in military expenditures.

Wesley wrote of thousands in England starving, and their starvation was rooted in unemployment. Without funds for anything but food, the poor could not buy the goods that the unemployed might have produced. Because he regarded all property as subject to the will of God for its wise stewardship, the luxuries of the rich were regarded as both unnecessary and a drag on the economy. He advocated steep taxation of luxuries. Believing in the wisdom of the day regarding supply and demand, he advocated getting resources into the hands of those whose demand would create more products. Thwarting the needs of the poor was the establishment's passion to live in luxury and the use of the government towards that end. He knew that certain practices (e.g., the overuse of grain in the overconsumption of alcohol) needed to be stopped, and other privileges of the rich (e.g., luxury, size of estates, and horse consumption of grain) limited to achieve a healthy economy. So he advocated for his own religious compatriots lives of economic discipline and effort with the goal of earning all one could without harming self or others, saving all one could without deprivation to family, and giving away through the church and then to the broader population all one could after family needs had been modestly met.

Wesley did not make contributions to economic theory.  He did not, at length, present any systematic perspective on economics.  But he had no reservations about relating faith and its consequences directly to contemporary economic practice.  His call for economic change toward justice and for the poor were very bold.  He knew that Christian economics was about getting scarce resources in an abundant land to those without economic power.  Furthermore, on each page of his economic writing one feels the dialectic of organization and self-help for the poor and the criticism of the powerful establishment for failing to practice just stewardship.

[1] As quoted by Craig L Adams, It Matters What God You Trust – Psalm 115:8, 9.
[2]  Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice does a good job of what I am looking for. However, knowing his personal position on soteriology is Calvinistic, I am not sure how to reconcile his soteriology with the character of God as Dr Keller rightly describes it in his book.
[3] Ronald H Stone, John Wesley’s Life & Ethics, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), p 223-226.

Further Reading Online:

Friday, April 10, 2015

NT Wright, "How do you answer someone who says...that there is no point trying to bring justice to the world?"

Related to my last post on the Christian expectation of resurrection, final judgment and new creation (link), below is an excerpt from Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by NT Wright (page 221-222, Google Preview) on why Christians should try to bring justice to our world today:
The paradigm I have set out in this book tells heavily against both sides. This is the point where a genuine biblical theology can come out of the forest and startle both those who thought that the Bible was irrelevant or dangerous for political ethics and those who thought that taking the Bible seriously meant being conservative politically as well as theologically. The truth is very different—as we should have guessed from Jesus’s own preaching of the kingdom, not to mention his death as a would-be rebel king. His resurrection, and the promise of God’s new world that comes with it, creates a program for change and offers to empower it. Those who believe the gospel have no choice but to follow. 
And if people tell you that after all there isn’t very much they can do, remember what the answer is. What would you say to someone who said, rightly, that God would make them completely holy in the resurrection and that they would never reach this state of complete holiness until then—and who then went on to say, wrongly, that therefore there was no point in even trying to live a holy life until that time? You would press for some form of inaugurated eschatology. You would insist that the new life of the Spirit, in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ, should produce radical transformation of behavior in the present life, anticipating the life to come even though we know we shall never be complete and whole until then. That is, actually, the lesson of Romans 6. Well, apply the same to Romans 8! How do you answer someone who says, rightly, that the world will not be completely just and right until the new creation and who deduces, wrongly, that there is no point trying to bring justice to the world (or for that matter ecological health, another topic for which there is no space here) until that time? Answer, from everything I have said so far: insist on inaugurated eschatology, on a radical transformation of the way we behave as a worldwide community, anticipating the eventual time when God will be all in all even though we all agree things won’t be complete until then. There is the challenge. The resurrection of Jesus points us to it and gives us the energy for it. Let us overcome our surprise that such a hope should be set before us and go to the task with prayer and wisdom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dr David Gooding and Dr John Lennox, "God's Program for the Restoration of Creation"

Below is an excerpt on resurrection, final judgment and the restored creation from Christianity: Opium or Truth by Dr David Gooding and Dr John Lennox (free ebook, Link):
But there is hope! Real solidly based hope! The Bible affirms that creation’s subjection to frustration is only temporary: one day creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:21).
Indeed, the restoration has already begun. For when man in his blindness murdered Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, the Son of God himself, God raised Jesus Christ bodily from the dead. That resurrection carries implications for the whole of creation.
The risen Christ, says the Bible, is the firstfruits of them that have fallen asleep (that is, have died). The harvest will comprise all the redeemed of every century from the beginning of time (1 Cor. 15:20-28). Creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:21). There shall eventually be a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). And who knows how many further projects the God of All Ingenuity and Creative Power will embark on thereafter?
“But why do we have to wait so many centuries for this promised restoration to happen?” says someone. “Isn’t the real reason that the promise was never any thing more than the wishful thinking of religious people?”
Well, that’s certainly not the reason which the Bible itself gives for the delay. It says that what the restoration of creation is waiting for is the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). What use would it be for God to restore creation and then put it back into the hands of the same kind of weak and sinful human beings as before? In other words, creation is waiting for the completion of what we have earlier called Stage 2 of God’s project: for the production of children of God, and then their development into fully-grown up sons of God (Col. 1:28; 1 Jn. 3:1-2), fit to take over and run the administration of the new heavens and the new earth as Christ’s executive Body (Col. 1:13-20; Eph. 1:9-10; 19-23).
The first step in this process is, as we earlier saw, that human beings having been created by God, should then become children of God. When that happens it does not mean that they are thereafter exempt from the suffering that those who are not children of God normally experience. Ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23), says the Bible. They may, in fact, find that becoming children of God additionally involves them in suffering persecution and even death for Christ’s sake (Jn. 15:18-16:4; 1 Jn. 3:13-16), as has happened so very often to Christians all down the centuries in totalitarian countries.

When it comes to the unjust suffering inflicted on them by evil men, they [believers] dare to rely on God’s promise, guaranteed by his character and affirmed by the resurrection of Christ, that there is going to be a Final Judgment where all wrongs shall be put right. Like the writer of Psalm 73 they consider the final end of evil men, and, in spite of the believers’ sufferings and the apparent prosperity of the wicked, believers would not even now change places with them for anything (Ps. 73:17ff).
Moreover Christians are not surprised when they find themselves suffering at the hands of evil men enormously more than ordinary citizens do—as happened in the USSR in the bad old days now happily gone by, and in many other countries still. For Christians know it from the start that they are called upon to follow the example left them by Christ who did no sin neither was guile found in his mouth; who when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered he did not threaten, but committed himself to him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:21- 23).
Confident that at the Final Judgment God would see to it that justice was done, Christ accepted suffering from evil men: and more than that: he prayed for his executioners and suffered the penalty of sin at the hands of God for them that all might be saved, if they would.
Christians are therefore called in their turn to suffer for Christ their Saviour’s sake as they declare boldly their faith in him, and to suffer for their fellow men’s sake as they take God’s offer of peace and forgiveness to a world that at heart is hostile to God. But Christians do not find such suffering a cause for doubting God’s love or his justice: they find it a confirmation of Christ’s forewarning (Jn. 15:18-16:4) and an honour (Mt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:40-42; 1 Pet. 4:12-14).

Further Reading:
  • For more on the hope of the resurrection and new creation, I recommend: NT Wright, Surprised by Hope.

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