Thirteen Reasons To Go Wesleyan

Thomas J. Oord

Tripp Fuller’s 2017 interview of theologian Thomas J. Oord may stanch the bleeding and lower the evangelical body count. Which can only be good. The casualty lists burgeon each and every day: Former zealots are not only abandoning the partisan-tinged label, they’re shredding the underlying heritage and theology.

This doesn’t have to be. There’s an alternative path that still wends its way through mainstream Christianity. The trail smells of roses; you hear chirping birds; you can walk barefoot on soft clover.

Many so-called “ex-evangelicals” were raised in an especially scholastic form of Calvinism incubated at Princeton Theological Seminary during the 19th century. The Old Princeton theologians (primarily Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and BB Warfield) flourished powerful intellects and gave cogent arguments in the face of unorthodox theological Modernism, which largely originated in Germany. But they frowned on anyone who didn’t color inside their rigid lines. Warfield (1851-1921), who still looms like a giant nearly a century after his death, was especially critical of Pentecostals and anyone else who didn’t line up with the 17th-century Westminster Confession. Warfield was eventually lifted high as a fundamentalist hero (to be fair, he may have rolled in his grave at that). He’s practically canonized among today’s neo-fundamentalists and restless Calvinists.

There are, indeed, congenial Calvinists such as Tim Keller and Richard Mouw, who’ve inherited the mantle of the more genteel Dutch Calvinism. And, really, Warfield himself should not be dismissed. He did his best and, like Hodge, he was civil.

Unfortunately, many of his followers snub all other Christians as theological inferiors. They seek out errors, ignore their own logical inconsistencies and dubious biblical interpretations, and portray their own theology as orthodoxy’s only valid stream. Most frustrating, they read their opponents in the worst possible light. You’d swear they’re deliberately misunderstanding  them.

Some reared in Princetonian Calvinism eventually see its curled lip, flee, and then bray from ex-evangelical land.

And I whisper “If only.” They’ve missed that orthodox alternative, nurtured in 18th-century British Methodism under the leadership of John Wesley.

Traditional Calvinists tend to anchor themselves in God’s sovereignty (which they define as God’s control over everything); Wesleyans embrace sovereignty as well but center in on God’s love. Traditional Calvinism was birthed the Reformation’s fiery, take-it-or-leave-it polemics; Wesley was an eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman in Post-Puritan England, born in era weary of religious wars. He tapped into German Pietism and Eastern Orthodox church fathers and plumbed wisdom from all orthodox Christian traditions. He once pleaded: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

Oord describes thirteen reasons to “go Wesleyan.” The theology is wider and richer. There’s more latitude for questions, less fear of accusation. Perhaps that’s why Wesleyans bend more easily than some rigid Calvinists but often don’t break. At least that’s what I’ve seen.

A couple of caveats: Oord himself is a nice guy and a sincere child of Jesus, but he has ventured beyond the comfort zone of many orthodox Wesleyans. He advocates Open Theism (the future doesn’t exist yet and, therefore, is flexible: God doesn’t exhaustively know it) and flirts with Process Theology. His definition of Process Theology is fairly innocuous (and enigmatic — find it in a two minute video here), but many of its champions hold a semi-pantheistic view of the universe in which creation can actually change God. I can’t go there. Greg Boyd gave a sound argument for Open Theology in God of the Possible, but I’ve chosen not to die on that mountain — partly because there are equally sound arguments against it.

And a word about the Wesleyan quadrilateral (we arrive at our theological conclusions via the Bible, traditional teaching, reason, and experience): The term was coined not by Wesley but by American Methodist theologian Albert Outler (1908-1989). Wesley viewed himself as a biblical theologian.

Oord also says Wesleyans are more open to alternatives to traditional marriage. I disagree. Both the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America endorse homosexual marriage. Their roots are firmly planted in Calvinism. The United Methodists recently rejected a pro-gay proposal.

Caveats aside, Oord’s invitation is well articulated. I urge disappointed Calvinists to come to the party. There’s a broader orthodox Protestantism awaiting. Think of it as an alternative mainstream. Smell the flowers and hear the birds as you watch the video.



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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

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9 Comments on “Thirteen Reasons To Go Wesleyan”

  1. David Says:

    No thanks, I prefer biblically correct theology as opposed to a “broader” alternative.


    • Charles Redfern Says:

      Your comment is characteristically high Calvinist, which assumes that Calvin and his descendants offer the only “biblically correct” theology. The German Pietists and early Methodists would disagree — and they embed John 17 in their theology, recognizing that legitimate Christians can disagree with one another.


      • David Says:

        Do you believe there is only one correct interpretation of Scripture? I do. Any honest person knows that is true.

      • Charles Redfern Says:

        David: Honest people have different interpretations of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc. Christians throughout the millennia have recognized the differences between essential and inessential doctrines.

      • David Says:

        I didn’t say that they didn’t. I asked if you believe there is only one true interpretation of any given passage?

      • Charles Redfern Says:

        You seem to be an expert at drive-by comments that score debating points while totally missing the theme of the post. Of course there is only one true interpretation of any given passage. That goes without saying, but the larger Christian community has seen that honest exegetes disagree on what are called “inessentials.” Witness Luther’s and Zwingli’s disagreement on communion, for example. That’s why we need humility as we approach the Scriptures — and humility means that we listen to the larger Body of Christ.

      • David Says:

        We agree on that point Charles. But I don’t think salvation is a non-essential and that is what the crux of Calvinism deals with.

      • Charles Redfern Says:

        We both agree on justification by faith, right? And you mention on your site that you’ve preached at United Methodist churches, which indicates that you’re willing to go outside the pale of high Calvinism.

      • David Says:

        I am at a UMC church that is UMC in name only. Can’t get out because of stupid Trust Clause.

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