[I received an email asking for clarification on the general views of John and Charles Wesley, relative to Arminianism and Calvinism– the following is the question and my reply- Mack T.]
Dear Mr. Tomlinson,
After I expressed concern about a certain preacher’s approval of John Wesley’s Arminian doctrine of salvation during one of his sermons, a friend of yours told me that you told her that John and Charles Wesley actually taught a Calvinistic doctrine of salvation, so that reformed Christians were wrong to criticize him for Arminianism . . . so I figured you’d know something about this.
I acknowledge that Methodism had (and in some places continues to have) a distinctly Calvinistic strand, and even had Calvinistic beginnings preceding John Wesley’s first conference in 1744, but it is my understanding that John and Charles Wesley clearly and emphatically taught doctrines traditionally associated with the Arminian scheme of salvation such as conditional election and conditional security. Can you comment on this?
Blessings in Christ!
thanks for your email. My reply would be as follows–
The preacher you refer to is a good friend of mine, and I have ministered with him a number of times. He gives a more balanced and correct view of the Wesleys that many Calvinists do. I believe I can very accurately say that his view would be virtually identical with mine concerning the Wesleys, that they were Arminian in their doctrine, relative to election and predestination, but they were sound in their views of regeneration, conversion, and justification by faith. A person can have accurate views on those truths without viewing election or predestination properly. This is what my friend believes, as do I. He does not approve or agree with the Wesleys in relation to their rejection of those calvinistic doctrines of election and predestination and does not view that the Wesleys were ever calvinistic, in the full sense of the meaning.
I think my friend, the sister in Christ you mentioned, misunderstood me about the Wesleys; I did not say that either John or Charles believed or taught a calvinistic doctrine of salvation clearly or fully, but they were much closer to being sound and solid as to what true salvation is than Arminians are today, which usually hold to a view of cheap grace, easy-believism and decisional regeneration. The Wesleys believed regeneration resulted in a changed heart and new life, and viewed conversion as being true repentance and saving faith, which resulted in holiness of life. They probably did hold to a wrong view of election; at least we know John did, but I think it is accurate to say that Charles leaned more toward Whitefield’s views.
They were both holy and sincere men of God and were greatly used of God; Iain Murray’s book Wesley and the Men who Followed, published by Banner of Truth, is a marvelous accurate look at early Methodism. Welsh Methodism was Calvinistic, led by Howell Harris and Daniel Rowlands, but English Methodism was organized by John Wesley into its wide Methodist societies, and it was primarily Arminian.
I believe it is proper to view the 18th century Methodists as godly and truly used of the Lord, and that the more accurate view of predestination and election, which is the historic calvinistic view, was not essential to their still being holy men who deeply loved Christ and the gospel. They preached Christ passionately, they risked their lives, and at times laid them down in death through persecution, and exhibited a true zeal that took the gospel far and wide. May God give more “true” Methodists in our day!
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions;
Warmly yours in Christ