Kenneth Collins on Wesleyan Theology

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Wesleyan theology is powerful in that it mediates the salvific graces of Jesus Christ in an abundant way, such that people are transformed. Those most in need of grace can get free. Also, Wesley’s message of sanctification draws attention to bondage and freedom, which this generation connects with because of its felt needs. It is soteriologically optimistic in terms of what the grace of God can do. John Wesley didn’t tell God what he can or cannot do—he received the grace of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit, and his shackles were broken in a way that empowered him for great ministry.

Dr. Kenneth Collins on the power of Wesleyan Theology.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe I could get a little help here from my Wesleyan brothers.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. But I tend to struggle with Wesleyan presentations of freedom from sin, especially as regards the so-called second work of grace, because there typically seems to be a reluctance to proclaim with the same fervor, and as an effect of the same cause, our freedom from the Law; that is, a reluctance to proclaim the impossibility of our guilt and the complete eradication of sin’s power for all those who are in Christ. It’s as though there is a fear that if the cover is blown, if people actually discover that the Law can no longer condemn them, then they will use grace as a license to sin [a temptation Paul himself addresses concomitant to his declaration of Christian freedom from the Law; cf. Rom. 6]. So, e.g., Romans 8:4 becomes the contingency [and almost the concession] of grace, not the fulfillment, such that unless by the Spirit we fulfill the Law, the Law will condemn us…or at least keep us out of the prestigious category of the “sanctified.” To put it another way, it’s almost as though the work of the Christ only frees us from guilt of sin, but that same work has not freed us from the power of sin. A second work is required. Only those to whom the Spirit gives a special empowering can be freed from sin’s power. There is then really no objective victory in Christ over the power of sin and thus no de facto subjective victory for all those in him. The sense in this scheme is that Christ conquered sin and empowered us to do the same, rather than Christ conquering sin and empowering us to live into that reality. The indicative moves from the basis of the imperative to the goal.

    I find this to do damage to Paul’s logic in Romans. In my reading of Romans, and ultimately the the Bible as a whole, apart from Christ God and his Law stand against humankind in our disobedience, declaring us to be enemies of God (cf. Rom 5:6-11). But Christ, the one who was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh…condemn[ing] sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:4; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21), came behind enemy lines and ended the war by taking the very bullet he himself shot, becoming at once Condemned and Victor. Now, being raised from the dead, ascending to the throne to become Lord over those who were once his enemies, he sends his Spirit to transform the heart of his people, who never again have to fear crossing enemy lines, because, for them, no such line exists. It’s not because the line of transgression made by the Law has been erased, but because the line of transgression no longer demarcates the line as an enemy line. It’s not that there is no longer a category for sin; it’s that since Christ became our comrade and died on the sinner’s side, the guilty side, the enemy side, and from this side, too, was he raised: he puts us in right relationship/makes us righteous/reconciles us to himself, and then by his gracious self-giving presence guides us into and empowers us for reciprocity, to love like him, forgive like him, ultimately to live like him. But since the Law is not the context of this transformation process, there is no contingency hanging over our freedom from sin’s power (indeed “the power of sin is the law”; 1 Cor. 15:56). The fact of our freedom from sin depends precisely on its power being loosed objectively from us before we ever attempt to live into the reality of that fact.

    It seems to me that it is only when we no longer see the holy Law hanging over us, waiting to declare our guilt, with sin threatening to enslave us at the moment we transgress, that we can we begin to see this same holy Law embodied in the One who stands beside us and calls us friends, and even in some sense brothers, but in every sense free, and gives us his power to move forward into newness of life (Rom. 6:4). So Christ makes the Law our friend by condemning sin (Rom. 8:4). It no longer stands over us to condemns us but has rather been placed inside us to transform us (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Rom. 2:14-16; Heb. 10:16).

    Okay, I agree whole heartedly minus the last line. Seems to me like the shackles were broken under the weight of a giant rolling tombstone.

    ***[I should preemptively say that Romans 6:16 cannot be read in isolation. Insofar as slavery is possible for the Christian it is self-imposed and based on a deception that is contrary to the reality of freedom. It is like an Israelite who stayed in Egypt because he didn’t really believe Egypt had lost all power over him.]

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