Wesleyan Studies - Book Reviews by Tharwat Maher, PhD

Wesley and the Quadrilateral: Renewing the Conversation

Wesley and the Quadrilateral: Renewing the Conversation. By W. Stephen Gunter, Scott J. Jones, Ted A. Campbell, Rebekah L. Miles, and Randy L. Maddox. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1997. Pp. 174. $22.99, ISBN: 978-0687060559.

“Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason” – The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1996 (p.74). These four aspects; Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, present together what Albert Outler called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.”
According to Outler, the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” describes the methodology by which Wesley crafted his theological conclusions. Wesley and the Quadrilateral, a book by five Wesleyan scholars, is a theological text that aims to revive conversations on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
The first chapter examines Wesley’s historical and ecclesiastical context in order to set the stage for the subsequent chapters. The second chapter, by Scott Jones, explains the centrality of Scripture in Wesley’s theology. For Wesley, Scripture is both “source” and “norm.” Jones explains that Wesley’s most controversial doctrines – perfection and apostasy – are based primarily on Wesley’s interpretation of Scripture. In his chapter on “tradition,” Campbell highlights that Christian Antiquity and Church of England represent the most prominent aspects of the content of Christian tradition for Wesley. Campbell asserts that Wesley’s post-Constantinian examples of pure Christianity were Eastern ascetic writers, on the other hand, Augustine was “conspicuously absent.”
In chapter four, Miles highlights the centrality of “reason” as a tool in Wesley’s thought. He explains that “reason does not generate knowledge on its own, but only processes data and knowledge that originate in experience.” For Wesley, “there was no inconsistency between reason and faith.” Miles also explains that Wesley’s stress on reason often came in response to his opponents who accused Wesley and Methodists of their enthusiasm (in their context, “enthusiasm” was equal to fanaticism and irrationality). Randy Maddox ends this book by an interesting chapter on the fourth side of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, “experience.” Maddox’s chapter highlights how “experience” is crucial in Wesley’s theology. The heart of Wesley’s theology is manifested through the experiential transformation into the image of God.

By Tharwat Maher Nagib, PhD

The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today.
By Theodore Runyon
The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today. By Theodore Runyon. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1998. Pp. 270. $19.75, ISBN: 978-0687096022.

Theodore Runyon’s The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today offers a theological reading of John Wesley’s soteriological thought. Runyon argues that Wesley’s views regarding society and social change are rooted in Wesley’s soteriology. He asserts that the renewal of the creation and the creatures through the restoration of the image of God in humanity is what Wesley identifies as the very heart of Christianity. In The New Creation, Runyon attends to apply Wesley’s views to the contemporary context. Runyon’s methodology suggests that Wesley’s theology must be first examined within Wesley’s own historical theological and socio-cultural context, hence it could be insightfully applied to contemporary communities. Therefore, the author dedicates the greatest portion of his book to examine major themes in Wesley’s theology, such as imago Dei, original sin, prevenient grace, etc.
Through his discussion of the Methodist structure of societies, classes, bands; within his broader endeavor to examine Wesley’s social witness, the author argues that Wesley abandoned mysticism early in his ministry. Runyon’s claim may need further examination. A dialogue with Robert G. Tuttle’s Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition could enrich the discussion regarding this point.
In The New Creation’s final chapter, Runyon discusses contemporary themes, such as human rights, religious freedom, poverty, women’s rights, and ecumenism, in the light of Wesley’s writings. Runyon’s understanding of Wesley’s views regarding human rights and religious freedom could enhance the theological discussions on these issues in the Middle East and the Arab World, especially after the Arab revolutions during the second decade of the 21st century. Moreover, the discussion on “sanctification” in terms of “participation in the energies of God” – within Runyon’s discussion of the Wesleyan tradition potential contribution in ecumenism – opens future trajectories in the dialogue between the Wesleyan and the Cappadocian traditions. Runyon concludes his book with a proposal for rethinking the Wesleyan belief of sanctification. In this final proposal, the author deviates from the main Wesleyan stream by suggesting abandoning the instantaneous aspect of the entire sanctification experience, in order to harmonize Wesley’s thought with contemporary theological trajectories.
By Tharwat Maher Nagib, PhD

The Theology of John Wesley:
Holy Love and the Shape of Grace.
By Kenneth J. Collins. 
The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. By Kenneth J. Collins. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2007. Pp. 423. $28.00, ISBN: 978-0687646333.

In his book The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace, Kenneth J. Collins offers a profound study of John Wesley’s theology through a systematic framework. In a dialogue with Albert Outler’s “A New Future” and Randy Maddox’s Responsible Grace, Collins proposes “holy love” – Holiness and grace – as the “axial theme” in Wesley’s theology. The author shows other binaries in Wesley’s thought, such as “work of God alone/synergism” and “instantaneous/process,” in order to highlight the conjunctive character of Wesley’s theology.
Collins begins his book with an examination of the doctrine of God in the Wesleyan theology. In the following chapters, depending on his systematic approach, the author presents a perspective on Wesley’s anthropology, Christology, pneumatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. At the close of each chapter, Collins examines Wesley’s thoughts in respect of contemporary issues. In the anthropological section, Collins offers a very insightful discussion on “prevenient grace” in Wesley’s thought, in which he compares Wesley, Arminius, John Cassian, and Augustine regarding original sin and free will. Collins shows how “prevenient grace” bridges the gap between total depravity and free will in Wesley’s thought, through enabling sinners to accept or refuse the Gospel, thus it represents the only kind of “irresistible grace” in the Wesleyan theology.
Furthermore, in the pneumatological and soteriological sections, Collins differentiates between terminologies used in the Wesleyan studies, such as acceptance and justification, faith of servant in its broad and narrow usage within Wesley's writings. In the ecclesiastical section, Collins, in consistence with Maddox’s Responsible Grace, highlights the “receptionist” understanding in the Wesleyan Eucharistic thought, in which “the Spirit brings Christ to us, expressing the grace and love of God towards us through the means of bread and wine.”
Although there is no doubt that Collins’ text is an outstanding work, a few suggestions could be provided here in order to improve future editions. Collins’ discussion on the gifts of the Spirit in Wesley’s thought tends to depict Wesley as cessationist – such claim needs further discussion, especially in the light of Wesley’s letter to Conyers Middleton dated 4 July, 1749. In addition, on page 150, the word “Vincent” must be replaced by “Vinson” in Collins’ reference to Dr. Vinson Synan.
By Tharwat Maher Nagib, PhD

Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology. By Randy L. Maddox. Nashville, Tennessee: Kingswood Books, 1994. Pp. 416. $26.00, ISBN: 978-0687003341.

Responsible Grace:
John Wesley's Practical Theology
Randy L. Maddox’s Responsible Grace is a well-articulated theological text that offers an insightful reading of John Wesley’s theology. Maddox’s methodology initially depends on his understanding of the Eastern characteristic of Wesley’s theology (in a dialogue with Wesley’s historical context), as well the theological nuances which penetrated the course of Wesley’s theological journey over the years. Therefore, Maddox tends to distinguish among three phases in Wesley’s theological thought (early, middle, and mature). Maddox arranges his study in a systematic framework. He begins with an examination of Wesley’s understanding of the knowledge of God (revelation), which also includes a discussion on the Wesleyan quadrilateral. The following chapters offer a reading of the Wesleyan understanding of the doctrine of God, humanity, Christology, pneumatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology respectively.
An insightful soteriological discussion is found in the third chapter of the book, in which Maddox explains that Wesley’s understanding of saving grace “resonates strongly with the Eastern notion of uncreated grace.” Maddox’s claim opens trajectories to engaging Wesley’s understanding in the discussion on the Greek Orthodox concept of “divine energies” – a doctrine that differentiates between the “essence of God” and “divine energies/power.” Furthermore, Maddox’s observation that the latter Wesley defended the continuity of the gifts of the Spirit should be discussed in a dialogue with other arguments that depict Wesley as cessationist (e.g. Collins’s argument in The Theology of John Wesley). In the final chapter of his book, Maddox presents an interesting eschatological discussion on Wesley’s millennial belief, in which Maddox explains, on the one hand, how the middle Wesley abandoned the “amillennial” belief, but, on the other hand, Maddox leaves the reader, through various evidence, wondering whether Wesley’s mature position was “postmillennialism” or “premillennialism.” Responsible Grace ends by more than 110 pages of insightful endnotes and a very beneficial comprehensive bibliography including primary and secondary works.
 By Tharwat Maher Nagib, PhD

Wesley and Sanctification: A Study in the Doctrine of Salvation. By Harald Lindström. Nappanee, Indiana: Francis Asbury Press, 1998 [edition]. Pp. 228. $2.50, ISBN: 978-0916035723.
Wesley and Sanctification:
A Study in the Doctrine of Salvation.
By Harald Lindström.

Harald Lindström’s Wesley and Sanctification is a well-articulated theological text that offers a profound understanding of Wesley’s Ordo Salutis and situates the Wesleyan doctrine of “Sanctification” in the broader Protestant theological context. Lindström proficiently creates conversations between the Wesleyan theology on one hand, and the Lutheran and Calvinist theologies on the other hand, and engages other scholars and theologians; such as M. Piette, F. Loofs, and Eicken, in the dialogue as well. Lindström’s methodology depends primarily on examining many of Wesley’s books, sermons, and journals, in addition to Wesley’s letters (covering the years from 1721 to 1791), while considering the year 1738 – Wesley’s Aldersgate experience – as a pivotal event in the development of Wesley’s thought.
In Wesley and Sanctification, Lindström offers a clear explanation of Wesley’s understanding of the original sin, in terms of total corruption and the need for healing. Wesley understood the original sin not only as a guilt that needs justification, but also as a corruption that needs healing and restoration. By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, while by sanctification we are saved from the root of sin and restored to the image of God. Through his emphasis on the therapeutic perspective of the Wesleyan theology, Lindström, perhaps unintentionally, stands at the same camp of other scholars, such as Ted A. Campbell, K. Steve McConnick, and Randy L. Maddox, who emphasize a Greek/Eastern perspective of Wesley’s theology. Among many other noteworthy emphases, Lindström’s emphasis on the distinction between “primary justification” and “final justification” in Wesley’s thought (and in Fletcher’s thought as well) opens significant trajectories in understanding the centrality of the second experience (second blessing, second rest, etc.) in the Wesleyan theology. This crucial distinction could also enrich the discussion on the subsequent Pentecostal distinction between the “non-Spirit-filled believers” and the “bride” in the early Pentecostal movements.
 By Tharwat Maher Nagib, PhD

The Scripture Way of Salvation:
The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology.
By Kenneth J. Collins.
The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology. By Kenneth J. Collins. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1997. Pp. 256. $27.00, ISBN: 978-0687009626. 

The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology, a very insightful theological text by Kenneth J. Collins, offers a comprehensive study of John Wesley’s doctrine of salvation. As the title of his book indicates, Collins initially wants to highlight the centrality of “Scripture,” in Wesley's theology, as the ultimate norm and guide for the Christian life. The author also sees that many scholars read and understand Wesley selectively, therefore Collins’ methodology depends on a thorough examination of Wesley’s entire literary corpus – theological treatises, letters, journals, sermons, and notes on the Old and New Testaments. Collins begins his book with a brief – but deep – anthropological discussion, in which he discusses Creation and the fall of humanity in Wesley’s thought, offering a Wesleyan perspective on understanding imago Dei, original sin, total depravity, and prevenient grace.
In The Scripture Way of Salvation, Collins argues that Wesley understood both Justification and Sanctification to be marked by instantaneous and processive elements. Collins also argues that the general structure of the order of the Wesleyan way of salvation – Ordo Salutis – is marked by parallelism. For instance; Faith, grace, the role of works, the moral low, repentance, assurance, and the activity of the Holy Spirit are all elements that could be found in terms of both justification and entire sanctification. Collins explains that this parallelism doesn’t mean that these elements are indistinguishable in both justification and entire sanctification experiences. There is a distinct due to the growth in grace that has taken place in the interim. Although Collins does not prefer to focus on the Eastern theological aspect of Wesley’s theology, Collins’ emphasis on the processive element in Wesley’s theology, even in justification, may reminder the reader of the Eastern perspective of salvation.
By Tharwat Maher Nagib, PhD

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