Thursday, August 25, 2016

Does a Wesleyan view of grace lead to a more missional worldview?

*For Part 2, "Does a Corporate View of the Doctrine of Election lead to a more missional worldview?" click here.

In his “Framework for Missional Christianity” series, Missional leader Alan Hirsch writes (bold mine):
One of the most basic assumptions of the incarnational missionary is to assume God is already involved in every person’s life and is calling them to himself through his Son. Our mindset should not be the prevalent one of taking God with us wherever we might go. Instead, our mindset should be that we join God in His mission.

This means that the missionary God has been active a long time in a person’s life. Our primary job is to try to see where and how God has been working and to partner with him in bringing people to redemption in Jesus.
This is basically the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace.

Of course, there is no need to call it Wesleyan. Nor is it unique to John Wesley. But unfortunately, this is not an assumption that all Christians share.[1]

How does Wesleyan Theology change our worldview?

I have written before that compared with Calvinism, I have found that Arminianism/Wesleyanism tends towards a more missional and evangelism-focused worldview.

While Calvinism tends towards a deterministic worldview, leading to what I and others have called a “theology of resignation”, Arminian theology encourages us to wear a “Gospel-lens” over all of our interactions, and thereby becomes a "theology of practice".[2]

As another Arminian blogger points out:
Arminianism, and especially Wesleyan-Arminianism, is missional in nature.  […] Arminianism very naturally gives expression to missionary endeavors, as God loves each and every person, and desires, according to Scripture, the salvation of each and every person. This biblical truth motivates the believer to witness to her or his faith in Christ toward the salvation of others. Evangelism is the heart of God and of Arminian theology.
United Methodist Pastor Omar Rikabi likewise has written,the gospel doesn’t discount anyone from grace and salvation […] If we believe in prevenient grace—that Jesus is pursuing every person—we can only know what he’s up to by entering into their story through holy love.

Arminianism, then, drives us, everyday and with every part of our lives, to engage those around us with the Gospel, knowing that God is already seeking them and we are cooperating in His pursuit.

What about Calvinism’s worldview?

Calvinist theologian Wayne Grudem, in his popular Systematic Theology, writes that Calvinism should encourage evangelism since it “guarantee[s] that there will be some success” (p 674):
Election is Paul’s guarantee that there will be some success for his evangelism, for he knows that some of the people he speaks to will be the elect, and they will believe the gospel and be saved. It is as if someone invited us to come fishing and said, “I guarantee that you will catch some fish – they are hungry and waiting.”
But does this actually work out in practice? In my estimation, this turns evangelism into a game: to a Calvinist’s mind, evangelism never really “snatch[es] them out of the fire” of judgment (Jude 23), since only those elected from eternity will respond, and those same will respond eventually to God’s irresistible grace/effectual call regardless. At best the Calvinist can take comfort in that they were the means God used to save the elect.  However, with this view, it is understandable why there is little real motivation for evangelism, especially in the face of persecution.  If it is only a game, maybe some might opt to play, but most seem content to pass.

What about those great gospel preachers Whitefield and Spurgeon?

As I’ve written before, both of these men were accused by the other Calvinists in their day of being “Arminian”-ish.

Leading Calvinist John Piper writes that to the Calvinist Baptists, “Whitefield’s Calvinism was suspect, to say the least, because of the kind of evangelistic preaching he did. The Particular Baptists spoke derisively of Whitefield’s ‘Arminian dialect.’”

Of Spurgeon, Baptist historian AC Underwood wrote (A History of English Baptists):

His sermon on “Compel them to come in” was criticized as Arminian and unsound. To his critics he replied: “My Master set His seal on that message. I never preached a sermon by which so many souls were won to God.... If it be thought an evil thing to bid the sinner lay hold of eternal life, I will yet be more evil in this respect and herein imitate my Lord and His apostles.”
Given these accusations from their contemporaries, it is obvious that Spurgeon and Whitefield were the exceptions to Calvinism’s practice of evangelism, rather than any sort of rule.

[1] While most Calvinists hold to "common grace", that is, grace common to all, this is not understood to have any salvific purpose.  As leading Calvinist scholar Tom Schreiner has written, "The Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace differs from the Calvinistic conception of common grace in one important area. In the Calvinistic scheme common grace does not and cannot lead to salvation. It functions to restrain evil in the world but does not lead unbelievers to faith. For Wesleyans, prevenient grace may lead one to salvation."; see also: Ben Witherington, “The Reformed View of Regeneration vs. the Wesleyan Theology of Prevenient Grace”.

[2] For more on Wesleyanism vs Calvinism in practice, I recommend: Don Thorsen, Calvin vs Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice (Find in a library). You can read a review from Seedbed here, and one from Dr Olson here. There is also a short article online by the author here.

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