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by Simon

Lien-yueh Wei

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Introducing Wesleyan Theology
to the Christian Community in Taiwan

 

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I. Introduction

The Christian community in Taiwan (my country) can be named a Calvinist community in terms of the quantity of believers and churches adhered to Calvinism in comparison with that to other theological beliefs. In this context, Calvinist theology is the mainstream and dominant theology. The most popular theological books are those which present Calvinist thought. On the contrary, the adherents of Wesleyan or Methodist churches are quite few. In Taiwan, there are only 33 Methodist churches. (The total number of Protestant churches is about 2,600). The total number of their adherents is not over 3,000. (The total number of Protestants is about 500,000.) It is also hard to find a book which presents Wesleyan theology systematically and clearly. 

Influenced by the most famous Calvinist theologian, Dr. Tang, many Taiwanese Christians believe that Calvinism is the only true Christian theology. Other theologies, if they conflict with Calvinism, should be seen as ¡§unorthodox¡¨ thought which would not benefit Christians and churches at all. Many Calvinist theologians even regard Wesleyan theology as semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism and condemn it as heretical.

Ironically, Wesley¡¦s thought and writings are neither valued nor popular within the Methodist community in Taiwan. Under the severe challenges of Calvinists to Wesley¡¦s doctrines, many Methodist pastors rarely mention Wesleyan thought in either Sunday worship or Christian education.[1] Only Wesley¡¦s life and his movement can be heard in public. Moreover, only about five books which present or mention Wesleyan theology can be found in the Methodist book store. All of them are booklets, rather than systematic theology books. The only version of the anthology of Wesley¡¦s sermons has been out of print for twenty years. The publisher of this book has not found the reason and market value for reprint.

No wonder Wesleyan theology could not be known by Christians in this context. Strictly speaking, Wesleyan theology has never been landed at the island of Taiwan and introduced to the Christian community in which Calvinist theology has dominated over a century. What Taiwan has are only the Methodist churches which benefit from Wesleyan movement and the supports of the United Methodist Church, not from Wesleyan theology.

I am not a Wesleyan or Methodist. However, I have found that Wesleyan theology is very helpful and significant for the Christian community in Taiwan. First, it can help Christians, especially laypersons, easily understand Christian faith. William Cannon, a bishop of the United Methodist Church in the Atlanta area, points out that ¡§Wesley wrote theology for the common people to whom he preached, and his teachings were geared to their level of comprehension and understanding.[2] Wesleyan theology is not only for scholarly theologians or pastors but also for lay people who do not have any theological training. In this sense, it reveals the distinct characteristic of universality.

Second, Wesleyan theology can balance the theological setting in Taiwan which extremely clings to Calvinism and excludes other Christian thoughts. Wesleyan theology synthesize Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) Christian traditions. It extracts the piths from the Bible and orthodox theological thoughts, especially thoughts of early church fathers. It promotes ecumenism and discards extremism, sectionalism, sectarianism, and schism. It is able to solve many controversial issues of theology. 

Third, most importantly, Wesleyan theology is practical and useful, rather than only theoretical or academic. Wesley¡¦s understanding of Christian faith has helped a large number of people meet Jesus and their lives be altered. His theology results in a powerful and influential movement of spiritual revival which enables the church (not the building of the church, but the assembly of God¡¦s people) to grow up and be vigorous. The history of the Methodist movement has attested to the practical efficacy of this theology. If the theological task or the church mission is to convert people¡¦s lives and strengthen the church, then Wesleyan theology should be used as an efficient tool to achieve this goal.

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to introduce Wesleyan theology to the Christian community in Taiwan. Wesley¡¦s thought holds two primary theological convictions or norms: God¡¦s grace and human responsibility. Based on these two norms and through the basic Christian doctrines (including God, Christology, Pneumatology, Humanity, Soteriology, and Eschatology)[3], this study tries to demonstrate 1) that Wesleyan theology corresponds with the Bible completely although it may conflict with Calvinism at some points, 2) why it has been viewed as a distinctive Christian thought and is able to help Taiwanese Christians understand Christian faith deeply, and 3) how it can assist the growth of both Christian life and the church.    

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II. The God of Grace

It may be appropriate to show Wesley¡¦s understanding of the doctrine of God by discussing his view on predestination. While Calvinism promotes the doctrine of predestination, Wesleyan theology opposes it strongly. For Wesley, the excessive emphases on the sovereignty and justice of God may imply the cruel and tyrannical characteristics of God. Therefore, God¡¦s justice and love should be presented without separation or unbalance in the doctrine of God.

On the issue of predestination, Calvinism claims, ¡§Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God¡¦s choice of the sinners, not the sinner¡¦s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.¡¨ ¡§The Father chose a people, the Son died for them¡KThus God, not man, determines who will be the recipient of the gifts of salvation.¡¨[4]

Wesley disagrees with the doctrines of predestination and limited atonement in Calvinist theology. His most characteristic complaint about these two doctrines is their incompatibility with the nature of God. According to Wesley, these two doctrines are inconsistent with the impartiality of Divine justice and mercy, and especially conflict with the universal love and goodness of God. If salvation is in no way conditioned by human response, then why does merciful God not save all?[5] Obviously, these two doctrines could not reconcile divine love with the belief that God created most people for eternal damnation and reprobation. For Calvinists, the defining model of God is a sovereign monarch (God as an almighty tyrant). By contrast, Wesley more commonly employed the model of a loving parent (God as a Sustainer, Physician and Provider). A loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e. limited atonement).[6]

For Wesley, a divine Being could be omniscient and omnipotent while being indifferent to humanity, or even maleficent. But the Christian God¡¦s character should be one more aptly defined by words like caring, loving, forgiving, and gracious. [7]The attributes of this God converge in two central virtues: justice and love. Yet justice must be grounded in God¡¦s love, while defining God¡¦s love should respect justice and accountability of humanity.

Indeed, theologians should not veil God¡¦s love in order to highlight God¡¦s justice. The Bible asserts, ¡§God is love,¡K There is no fear in love (1 Jn 4:16-18. NRSV).¡¨ The God of love would never coerce humans to choose accepting or refusing God¡¦s grace. Likewise, the God of love would never give God¡¦s grace only to a particular group of people in the world while predestinating all others to be those who would never have an opportunity to receive God¡¦s grace and would be eternally condemned. Rather, God is willing to save all humanity (2 Pet 3:9). Like divine justice, God¡¦s love and grace is universal.    

At the same time, God expects people to respond to God¡¦s grace while giving them the response-ability to do so (through the prevenient grace of God). Based on this ability, humans find their responsibility for responding to God¡¦s grace. The fact that humanity has the ability (and thus responsibility) to choose accepting or refusing God¡¦s grace does not degrade or conflict with God¡¦s sovereignty. On the contrary, it is through the correlation and interaction between God¡¦s grace and human responsibility that God¡¦s love and almightiness is manifested. When God is willing to give humanity this ability, it reveals that God is willing to run the risk for humanity and to make God¡¦s self vulnerable. That is, God creates the possibility in which God could be refused and humiliated by humanity. But God is willing to suffer for humans.

In fact, God has been suffering for humans from the very beginning of creation to the present time. In order to remain bound to people, God has participated in the exiles, persecutions, and death of people. God is a God who always walks with and journeys with, and suffers with people.[8] By comparison, other divine Beings may have the power to control without the power to suffer and sacrifice. They may also not have the full power of love since love requires suffering and sacrifice. Their power is deficient and, in this sense, is not really ¡§omnipotent¡¨ or ¡§sovereign¡¨. Therefore, it is because this willingness and capability to give human ability and responsibility to choose or deny God¡¦s grace and thus to suffer for humanity that the Christian God is proved as love and almighty. The act of this God has converted the definition of divine sovereignty. Without the suffering love, God cannot be almighty or sovereign. 

At this point, Wesleyan theology presents its profound understanding of God and its correspondence with the Bible. Through this understanding, Christians in Taiwan are able to know God and Christian faith more deeply and to be aware of their responsibility to respond to the profound grace and love of God.

  

III. Christology

Calvinist Christology stresses mainly on Christ¡¦s death as the perfect atonement while Wesleyan emphasizes Christ¡¦s work not only from the dimension of gracious atonement but also from the dimensions of human responsibility and spiritual growth of Christians.

In Calvinism, Christ¡¦s death became the defining part of his mission. God allows Christ to become the sinner¡¦s substitute, imputing the guilt of sin to Christ and the righteousness of Christ to the justified people. In this way, the Christian¡¦s entire salvation rests on the merits of Christ alone. If there had been no human fall, it may be assumed by Calvinists that there would have been no incarnation.[9]

Wesley agrees that it is only through the Jesus― the incarnate God― that humans are graciously reconciled with God. Humanity makes no merit in this regard. In his sermon ¡§Salvation by Faith¡¨ Wesley proclaims, ¡§Now they are ¡¥justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past (Rom 3:24-25)¡¦¡K ¡¥There is therefore no condemnation now to them which believe in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:8).¡¦¡¨[10] In the sermon ¡§The Means of Grace¡¨ he says, ¡§Every believer in Christ is deeply convinced that there is no merit in him¡K¡¥Christ is the only mean of grace.¡¦...He is the only meritorious cause.¡¨[11]

However, Wesley also believes that through Christ we are not merely freed from our slavery to sin but also recovered the Likeness of God in our lives. The main purpose of Christ¡¦s work is to reclaim human life, free us from our slavery, and restore our participation in God. It is the divine active grace that embraces the whole world, changing our relationship with God. Hence, the importance of the incarnation and the mission of Christ should not lie merely in Christ¡¦s death for atonement (or for human sin) but also in Christ¡¦s life for the essential need of transforming humanity.

In addition, Wesley rejects publicly the imputation of Christ¡¦s righteousness to believers.[12] What is at issue here is Wesley¡¦s practical concern that an improper understanding of the imputation of Christ¡¦s righteousness leads to undercutting the place for responsible Christian growth in response to God¡¦s grace. If Christ¡¦s personal obedience becomes ours from the moment we believe, then what can possible be added in our spiritual growth? For Wesley, Christ¡¦s death is not primarily a forensic need of dealing with human guilt. Rather, by his death Christ reclaimed fallen human nature, and through his resurrection and ascension he transformed and exalted it, providing our spiritual healing and renewed growth.[13]  

At this point, Wesley makes another contribution to Christology by his emphasis on the connection between Christ¡¦s atonement and moral influence. Wesley is aware of this connection from the governmental model of atonement. This model assumes that the reason why God must uphold personal accountability is to preserve the moral order. Christ¡¦s death takes the place of human punishment, fulfilling its governmental purpose. God can now mercifully restore repentant sinners without irresponsibly endangering the moral order of the universe. However, Wesley agrees with this view only when it regards God¡¦s concern for moral government as an expression of God¡¦s intrinsic nature as holy love, rather than a constraint to an external norm. Further, Wesley also concerns an adequate explanation for how Christ¡¦s death may actually inspire alienated humanity to renewed discipleship. For Wesley, Christ¡¦s voluntary sacrifice is put forward by God as an exhibition of divine forgiving love, in hope that this would remove our lingering fear of God¡¦s wrath and engender responsive love for God and others.[14]

From the doctrine of Christology, we find that Wesley¡¦s understanding of Christ¡¦s role and work corresponds to the biblical thought. Through this understanding, Taiwanese Christians are able to know a balanced view on Christ¡¦s life and death which reveal the close correlation between Christ¡¦s atonement and human responsibilities for responding to God¡¦s grace, for growing spiritually, and for loving one another. Because the awareness and then the practice of our responsibilities, our lives and churches are able to grow in Christ through God¡¦s grace. 

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IV. Pneumatology

Calvinist Pneumatology may imply the Holy Spirit as an impersonal power which is an endowment given to Christians, regardless of their response or resistance to God¡¦s grace. But Wesley views the Holy Spirit as a personal presence of the divine indwelling in Christian lives. Through the Holy Spirit, Christians are able to respond to God¡¦s grace and, to grow continually, and to be responsible Christians.

Calvinism declares, ¡§Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ¡KBy means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man¡¦s will, nor is he dependent upon man¡¦s cooperation for success.¡¨[15] This belief may indicate that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal power whose main work is to override human freedom in order to bring God¡¦s grace to humans.

However, Wesley disagrees with this view. Wesley sees the Holy Spirit as fully personal, not merely a force or energy. He also places the Holy Spirit at the center of Christian life.[16] For Wesley, in addition to the work of enabling people to believe in God (or respond to God¡¦s grace), four essential works of the Holy Spirit in Christian faith and lives should also be stressed.

First, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. Wesley claimed that he was ¡§seeing many other text, with the experience of all real Christians, sufficiently evince that there is in every believer both the testimony of God¡¦s Spirit, and the testimony of his own, that he is a child of God.¡¨[17] One of the texts he uses to support his argument is 1 John 4:13, ¡§Hereby know we dwell in Him,¡Kbecause He hath given us of his Spirit.¡¨

Second, the Holy Spirit sets Christians free, move out their doubts, and gives them hope. According to Wesley, ¡§¡¥where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17)¡¦; such liberty ¡¥from the law of sin and death,¡¦ as the children of this world will not believe.¡¨[18] Moreover, God sealed us with the Spirit of promise, by giving us the full assurance of hope; such a confidence of receiving all the promises of god, as excluded the possibility of doubting; with that the Holy Spirit, by universal holiness, stamping the whole image of God on our hearts.[19]    

Third, the Holy Spirit is an empowering divine presence in Christian lives. Wesley thinks that if fallen humanity were left to respond to God¡¦s grace from our own ability, we would never overcome our spiritual infirmity, because our capabilities are debilitated. Therefore, God has graciously provided not only salvation but also the Holy Spirit, a renewed strengthening divine Presence, in our lives.[20]

Wesley also interprets the grace of God as ¡§the power of his Holy Spirit.¡¨[21] It is the power (or the grace) that enables Christians to believe and respond to God¡¦s grace. When people respond to God¡¦s grace, they experience a deepened participation of the divine presence in their lives through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As they continue to respond within this participation they are progressively empowered and guided in transforming their sinful nature. Namely, the work of the Holy Spirit is not merely a forensic declaration. Neither is it a matter of imputing Christ¡¦s virtues to Christians. It is a process of transforming human nature and thus enabling Christians to grow spiritually and respond to God¡¦s grace continually throughout their lives.[22]

Finally, the Holy Spirit helps believers become responsible Christians who bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit and obey God¡¦s will. Wesley criticizes that some Christians ¡§who have much love, peace, and joy, yet have not the direct witness; and others who think they have, are, nevertheless, manifestly wanting in the fruit [of the Holy Spirit].¡¨[23] He argues that since God has given the Holy Spirit to us through whom we are able to become like Christ, we should take our responsibilities to walk with God in justice, mercy, and truth, to do the things which are pleasing in God¡¦s sight, and to be witnesses of Christ in this world.[24]

In short, Wesleyan Pneumatology follows the biblical teaching completely. It is able to help Christians in Taiwan understand the gracious work of God through the Holy Spirit in our lives deeply and thus perceive that we are able to have the ability to become like Christ through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in us. Then, we will find our responsibility for witnessing Christ in our society. If we know our ability and practice our responsibility, as a result, our churches will be growing and strong.

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V. Humanity

Wesley¡¦s view on the doctrine of Humanity agrees with many fundamental beliefs of the Calvinist view. However, his emphasis is not on the human condition, but on the correlation of this condition 1) with the dynamic nature of present human spiritual and relational development and 2) with the practical dimension of Christian mission and responsibility.

Calvinism assumes that humans were created in a complete and perfect state. They should be and should be able to retain this perfection. However, Adam and Eve used free will to turn away from God and to sin. This led to the fall with its devastating effects: all humans are no longer free not to sin. This fallen condition became universal. Generally speaking, Calvinist focus of the human condition is on the guilt and powerlessness of humans apart from God¡¦s grace.

For Wesley, human were originally innocent, but not perfect. Humanity was created with the potential (the image of God) to develop to its perfect state (the likeness of God) by the communion with God through God¡¦s grace. Therefore, Wesley¡¦s focus of the human condition is on the potential nature of human spiritual development, rather than on the original perfect or on present powerlessness.[25]

Moreover, although Wesley agrees with the Calvinist view on human condition after the fall, his primary concern is how this condition can correlate with the practical dimension of Christian mission and responsibility. First, ¡§original sin¡¨ is strongly emphasized by Wesley. He asserts that sin should be understood not only as a deed of humans which destroys their relationship with God but also as the power which destroys the life of humanity. As a result, their relationship to themselves, to their fellow humans, and to the entire creation has been disturbed (Gen 3-4). Therefore, the real existence of sin and its power must be both spoken very concretely and speak publicly by Christians and the church as Christian mission and responsibility.[26]

Second, according to Wesley, all sorrow comes from sin. People who live under the sway of sin are not only its propagators but also its victims. The sovereignty of sin also manifests itself within the structures of unrighteousness, which become anonymous cause of want, suffering, and illness (Eph 2:1-3). Wesley thinks that all life lost its original immortality through the sin of humanity. The destructive power of sin is most radically revealed in the fact that through its rule even death has attained its power over humanity (Rom 5:12-18).[27]

Sin is exposed as the essential condition of human existence, but the broken relationship of humanity toward God is not recognizable and understandable for all humans. Therefore, Wesley stresses the significance of revealing this condition in kerygma. He also criticizes that the danger within the Christian community is ¡§the neglect or even denial of the dimension of guilt, and thus the preaching of ¡¥cheap grace.¡¦ ¡¨[28] He indicates that Christians should take their responsibility for sharing this essential condition and perching the invaluable and powerful grace of God to others.  

Although Wesley recognizes the reality of this human condition, he does not pessimistically view sin as invincible power. One of Wesley¡¦s central theological concerns is that the victory over sin is a reality that is really experienced in the life of Christians (1 Cor 15:55-58). God¡¦s grace and love are able to help people overcome sin and the most horrible suffering caused by it.[29]

Further, Wesley¡¦s main emphasis of the human condition is not on the state before or after the fall, but on a third state: the gracious and gradual restoration of humanity to the likeness of God. Through God¡¦s grace, we are capable of true relationships with God, other humans, ourselves, and other creatures. We can find our true meaning of existence and our responsibility in those relationships.[30]

Again, we find Wesley¡¦s view on the doctrine of Humanity coincides with the Bible. His view is able to help Christians in Taiwan understand both the reality of human corrupted condition and the human potential to overcome sin and to develop human nature to its perfect state (the likeness of God) through God¡¦s grace. This view kindles us to restore our true relationships through God¡¦s grace. This view also highlights the responsibilities of Christians and the church for preaching this condition and this potential to others. If we believe in this view, develop our potential, restore our relationships, and practice our responsibilities, our lives and churches would grow up gradually and firmly.

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VI. Soteriology

Calvinist Soteriology primarily holds three convictions: predestination, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. Wesley impugns these convictions critically. For him, God¡¦s grace is universal for all people. God¡¦s grace works powerfully, but not irresistibly. It empowers people¡¦s response-ability without overriding their responsibility.

Calvinists always detest the belief that people have the ability to choose accepting or refusing God¡¦s grace. They worry that this belief makes ¡§man¡¦s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man¡¦s own work and, because his own, not God¡¦s in him.¡¨[31] Therefore, they argue that Christ¡¦s redeeming work is intended to save the elect only (i.e. the doctrine of predestination and limited atonement). The call of the Holy Spirit (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected (i.e. the doctrine of irresistible grace). The entire process of salvation is the work of God alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be saved.[32]        

Wesley also believes firmly that salvation is made possible only through God¡¦s grace.  Humanity makes no merit in this regard. However, he disagrees with the Calvinist view on salvation in many aspects. First, Wesley is aware of this view¡¦s incompatibility with the nature of God. This view also presents God as a sovereign tyrant, rather than a loving parent. (This problem is addressed in the doctrine of God.)

Second, Wesley points out another problem of this view: there is nothing a human being can do. This can lead to fatalism and passivity. Whereas Calvinists have seen in these doctrines grounds for assurance, Wesley sees this view as undercutting assurance by leaving open for all the question of whether or not people are of the elect.[33]

Third, Wesley questions about the doctrine of irresistible grace strongly. For Wesley, the God of love is willing to save all humans (2 Pet 3:9) but will not force them to accept salvation. Moreover, this doctrine undercuts authentic responsibility. God¡¦s grace inspires and enables people, but not overpower them. It empowers people¡¦s response, but does not coerce that response.[34] Because it is resistible, people find their own responsibility for responding to it (Rom 10:15; Eph 2:8). 

With regard to the forensic view on salvation, the first dominant explanation in Western Christianity is the divine satisfaction or penalty satisfaction. In this explanation, Christ satisfies any penalty due human sin through his death. God can now pardon humans without infringing divine honor (Anselm) or divine righteousness (Aquinas). The other mainstream explanation is that God allows Christ to become the sinner¡¦s substitute, imputing the guilt of sin to Christ and Christ¡¦s righteousness to the justified people (Luther and Calvin).

Wesley disagrees with these two explanations at many points. First of all, the first explanation overrides emphasis on God¡¦s wrath. It also focuses more on God¡¦s provision for restoring the fallen order than on the issue of individual justification. It deals almost exclusively with the possibility of our forgiveness in Christ. For Wesley, the core of God¡¦s salvation or Christ¡¦s work should fundamentally be the love of God, rather than God¡¦s wrath. In Christ the issue of guilt due to human sins has been fully addressed; therefore, God can mercifully offer us pardon without violating divine justice.[35]

Further, Wesley rejects the imputation of Christ¡¦s righteousness or obedience to believers because this idea will undercut the place for responsible Christian growth in response to God¡¦s grace. He claims that any actual righteousness that we may display is a result of our response to the Holy Spirit¡¦s present work in our lives, not an imputation of Christ¡¦s righteousness.[36]

According to Wesley, the major effects of salvation are: 1) prevenient grace provides people a partial restoring of their corrupted faculties, sufficient that they may sense their need and God¡¦s offer of salvation, and response to that offer. 2) God¡¦s specific overtures to individuals, inviting closer relationship. If these overtures are accepted, a divine-human relationship co-operative and progressive transformation sets forth.[37] 3) justification gives us a new standing before God, and new birth gives us a new power to deal with sin and live in and for Christ, and 4) initial sanctification begins the authentic development of Christ-like character and provides a base for the Holy Sprit to purify and empower our lives.  

From the doctrine of Soteriology, we recognize that Wesleyan theology is proved by the Bible. It is also practical and powerful because Wesley¡¦s emphasis both on God¡¦s grace and on people¡¦s responsibility is able to urge people to respond to God¡¦s salvation actively when they hear the gospel. The history of the Methodist movement has testifies that Wesley¡¦s understanding of salvation is able to help the preachings of Wesley and Methodist preachers more powerful and effective. A large number of people have been influenced by their preachings and thus have responded to God¡¦s grace. If Taiwanese preachers adopt in this understanding, their ministries could also be fruitful.

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VII. Eschatology

Calvinist Eschatology focuses on the Last Judgment while Wesleyan on the reign of God and the ultimate hope of humanity. Wesley believes that God has reigned in this world and is coming to this world to make everything new (i.e. New Creation). This belief is able to give people hope and to strengthen Christian faith.

According to Jürgen Moltmann, Calvinist orthodoxy maintains the doctrine: Before the creation of the world, God resolved to elect some people in Christ, but to reject the others because their sins. In history who the elect are, and who the rejected, is hidden from humanity. ¡§At the Last Judgment, the elect and rejected will finally be revealed, for God¡¦s grace and God¡¦s wrath will then be openly manifested.¡¨[38]

Moltmann criticizes that in the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination (praedestinatio gemina), ¡§God by no means desires that all human beings should be helped and that everything should be created anew; he created human beings only in order to have ¡¥vessels¡¦ through which to reveal his grace and anger, and thus to glorify himself in this antithetical way.¡¨[39]

On the other hand, Wesley tries to disclose two significant theological thoughts through the doctrine of Eschatology. First, Wesleyan Eschatology emphasizes on the reign of God. For Wesley, God¡¦s presence and reign have been here and now, but they are veiled and unseen (Mt12:28; Lk11:20). God¡¦s reign is not begun or realized in the future, but ¡§has an active presence in our current reality through the work of the Spirit in and through believers.¡¨[40]

Indeed, Christians do not hope for God who is absent here and now, but whose presence can be seen or perceived only by faith and whose hidden coming continues to sustain the hope of God¡¦s people in God¡¦s arrival.[41] God is coming to make God¡¦s presence and reign manifest apparently and recognized universally. Moreover, since God has reigned in this world, Christians should not merely hope for the fulfillment of the divine promises but also open themselves to the new (im)possibilities of all things in their lives.

Second, Wesleyan Eschatology stresses on the ultimate hope of people that God is coming to this world in order to make all things new. In the hymn ¡§Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,¡¨ Charles Wesley writes, ¡§God, come down.¡¨[42] This description indicates that Christians long for the coming of God from heaven to this world. In his sermon ¡§The Great Deliverance¡¨ and ¡§The New Creation,¡¨ Wesley uses Gen 21:3-4 to express the ultimate hope. That is, ¡§[the] home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;¡K for the first things have passed away¡KAnd the one¡Ksaid, ¡¥See, I am making all things new.¡¦¡¨

Therefore, the ultimate destiny of humanity is not to go to heaven with God, but to stay in this world with God because God is coming toward this world from heaven. The ultimate destiny of this world is not to be destroyed, but is to be renewed as God¡¦s home in which all creatures live harmoniously, blissfully, and immortally (Rev21:3-5). The space of this world is to become God¡¦s home where it is ultimately God¡¦s resting and dwelling place, just as the time of this world is to become the time of God¡¦s eternity.[43]

God has been with God¡¦s people invisibly and is coming to be with them visibly and eternally. In this Christian eschatological conviction and hope, God¡¦s people seem to be able to see and greet the arrival of God and the full manifestation of God¡¦s shekinah (the indwelling presence) in this world. Even though they are already with God, they desire to be with God at God¡¦s home.

The fact that God is coming to convert the existential status quo of humans and to bring God¡¦s kingdom and shekinah to this world provides hope for God¡¦s people. In this belief Christians can find the divine promise in their lives and find the direction, purpose, destination of their lives toward the future. Thus, this eschatological belief can not only orientate life, but also bring hope to them. Because this eschatological hope is based on the promise of a faithful and almighty God who loves and is with God¡¦s people, it cannot be lost or taken away. It is this hope that maintains and upholds faith and outlook which embraces all things, including death.[44]

Here again, Wesleyan Eschatology corresponds with the biblical message. Through Wesley¡¦s view, Christians in Taiwan are able to understand the ultimate hope of Christianity more deeply. This hope can strengthen our faith. Because of this eschatological hope, we are able to face the difficult situations in our lives with peace and joy and thus become faithful witnesses of Christ in our churches and our society.      

  

VIII. Conclusion

Through exploring Wesley¡¦s understandings of the doctrines of God, Christology, Pneumatology, Humanity, Soteriology, and Eschatology, we testify that although Wesleyan theology may conflict with Calvinism at some points, it corresponds with the Bible and should not be regarded as ¡§unorthodox¡¨ or heretical.

Moreover, because of its emphasis both on God¡¦s grace and on human responsibility, Wesleyan theology becomes a distinctive and practical theology. This theology is able to help Taiwanese Christians understand Christian faith and our responsibility more deeply. When our understandings are deepened, we are more likely to become the witnesses of Christ in our churches and society.

If Taiwanese Christians regard the theological task or the church mission as converting people¡¦s lives and strengthening Christians and churches, then Wesleyan theology should be introduced to the Christian community in Taiwan and should be used as an efficient and legitimate tool to achieve this goal.

 


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[1] During this summer a friend, who is a adherent of the biggest Methodist church in Taiwan for over four years, told me that she never knew what is Wesleyan theology or thought because her pastor never talks about it, either in Sunday worship or in Christian education.  

[2] William Cannon, ¡§Forward,¡¨ in Albert C. Outler, Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit (Nashville: Tidings, 1975), vii. 

[3] This study focuses on these six doctrines because they have aroused more severely debates between Calvinist and Wesleyan theological camps than other doctrines. 

[4] David N. Steele & Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1963), 17, 19.

[5] John B. Cobb, Jr., Grace and Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 36.

[6] Randy L. Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley¡¦s Practical Theology (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1994), 56, 63.

[7] Maddox, 53.

[8] Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming God: Christian Eschatology, Trans. by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1996), 305.

[9] Maddox, 95, 103.

[10] John Wesley, ¡§Salvation by Faith,¡¨ In Albert C. Outler & Richard P. Heitzenrater eds., John Wesley¡¦s Sermons: An Anthology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 42-43.

[11] John Wesley, ¡§The Means of Grace,¡¨ In John Wesley¡¦s Sermons: An Anthology, 161.

[12] John Wesley, ¡§Justification by Faith,¡¨ In John Wesley¡¦s Sermons on Several Occasions, Vol. I (London: G. Whitefield, 1746), 81-101. Cited from Alister E. McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 6:43 (UK: Blackwell, 1995), 440.

[13] Maddox, 95, 104.

[14] Maddox, 106, 108.

[15] The Five Points of Calvinism, 17-18.

[16] The mark of the United Methodist Church also manifests the significant role of the Holy Spirit in Wesleyan tradition. This mark has two signs: a cross and fire, which indicates the fire of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3).

[17] John Wesley, ¡§The Witness of the Spirit,¡¨ In John Wesley¡¦s Sermons: An Anthology, 147.

[18] John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1966), 29.

[19] A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 91.

[20] Maddox, 119.

[21] John Wesley, ¡§The Good Steward,¡¨ In John Wesley¡¦s Sermons: An Anthology, 147.

[22] Maddox, 122.

[23] A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 92.

[24] John Wesley, ¡§The Witness of the Spirit,¡¨ In John Wesley¡¦s Sermons: An Anthology, 149.

[25] Maddox, 65-66.

[26] Walter Klaiber and Manfred Marquardt, Living Grace: An Outline of United Methodist Theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001), 128-130, 137.

[27] Klaiber and Marquardt, 147.

[28] Klaiber and Marquardt, 128, 142-143.

[29] Klaiber and Marquardt, 145.

[30] Maddox, 67-68.

[31] The Five Points of Calvinism, 14.

[32] The Five Points of Calvinism, 18-19.

[33] Cobb, 36-37.

[34] Maddox, 86.

[35] Maddox, 106.

[36] Maddox, 104.

[37] Maddox, 90.

[38] Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming God: Christian Eschatology, 246.

[39] Moltmann, The Coming God: Christian Eschatology, 247.

[40] Maddox, 239.

[41] Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introdution to Christian Theology (MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 343.

[42] The United Methodist Hymnal, 718.

[43] Moltmann, The Coming God: Christian Eschatology, 296.

[44] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatolog, trans by James W. Leitch (N.Y.: Harper Collins Press, 1991), 33.

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