Friday, 27 March 2009


I discovered this excellent essay on Wesleyan evangelism at the Wesley online site. It is quite long but if you are interested in either Wesley or Evangelism it is well worth the read.The second part has been put on as a comment. Be inspired. AK

Our task in this essay is to consider a theology of evangelism that will be

1. Biblically based; 2. Historically Wesleyan; 3. Of Contemporary Significance.

Initially, it seems necessary to work with some definition of the task and the key words "theology" and "evangelism." One could, of course, develop a three-hundred page opus with a full Prolegomena to all of the classifications of theology. The Wesleyan heritage has by and large not engaged in that kind of exacting effort, although we could cite John Fletcher, Richard Watson, John Miley, Randolph Foster, or Luther Lee, as notable exceptions.

Our effort here will require a simple approach to theology. For the philosophers of religion, theology is "God talk"; for the systematic theologian it is the rational analysis of the ways of God, through consideration of His self-revelation in Christ, in Scripture, and in the natural order. The cynic has described the work of the theologian by a biting analogy: it is, said Diderot, the story of a man wandering lost in a dark forest at midnight with a flickering candle to provide a little light. Along comes a theologian and blows out the light. In a more positive vein, the definition employed in this essay will be functional: "Theology is telling the faith of the fathers in the language of the children."

Now, "evangelism"-a word which has the highest and most honorable significance, but which like many words has fallen prey to the abuses of certain persons who sometimes stress a theology of human wretchedness that would upstage Karl Barth or a do-it-yourself religion that might have driven Pelagius into the arms of Augustine. The consequences of such abuse is the state of affairs that exists today concerning evangelism. A company of "cultured despisers" of evangelism has emerged over the years, thinking of evangelism in the narrow terms set by the unlearned and ignorant.

It is easy for us to rationalize our neglect of this essential Christian work, by appealing to such unattractive examples. Mr. Wesley (not Dr. Wesley), a man of the people, saw these types in his age. On one occasion he wrote:

"Let but a pert, self-sufficient animal that has neither sense nor grace, bawl out something about Christ, or his blood, or justification by faith, and his hearers cry out, 'What a fine gospel sermon.' "

But what Wesley judged to be an aberration of the gospel and an embarrassment to a reasonable person, did not become the guideline for his Christian activity. He engaged in an incessant effort to "reform the nation and especially the Church and to spread Scriptural (note, Scriptural) holiness across the land." He became the evangelist-reformer without peer in the eighteenth century (with all due credit to Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield). He rode up and down the land for more than fifty years, telling the faith of the fathers in the language of the children; expressing it in an admirable union of the "reasonable man" with a cool mind and style (the typical 18th century Englishman) and the man whose heart was strangely warmed, who shared God's good news wherever he went. It is all too easy for us to accent "cool mind" and ignore warmth of spirit. In our world many (most?) persons live and act on the largely affective level. To preach or teach on the rationally coherent and logical level alone i8 to miss the mark with many. This is the Wesleyan concern: to appeal to heart and mind, emotion and intellect on the level where real communication occurs. Wesley wrote this introduction to the Standard Sermons:

I design plain truth for plain people: therefore of set purpose, I abstain from all nice and philosophical speculations, . . . from even the show of learning, unless in sometimes citing the original Scripture.... I have accordingly set down in the following sermons, what I find in the Bible concerning the way to heaven. 1

This is evangelism in the Wesleyan manner and spirit.

This focus upon evangelism is found continually in Wesley's writing and preaching. His preoccupation was with evangelical tasks, but he did not construe that narrowly, as a few spiritual laws by which someone is converted to Christ. Wesley sought to develop the full Christian character and the mature, witnessing, sharing believer.

This is spelled out especially well in four appeals that Wesley wrote in 1744-1745. "An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion" was written first, followed by three "Farther Appeals." The content of these essays so admirably summarizes Wesley's thought that they may be taken as the summa of Wesley's theology of evangelism. Indeed, I see the title "An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion" as a definition of the Wesleyan approach to evangelism.

In these essays, Wesley is actually engaged in a polemic with certain "men of reason and religion." He appeals to them to recognize some of the essentials of evangelical faith, i.e., the heart of evangelism.

His concern is about:

1. The doctrines of Christian faith;

2. The manner of teaching them;

3. The effects which should follow the teaching of these.

In developing these concerns, we should recognize the ways they are pursued.

1. Doctrine. Three themes:

a. The doctrine of the faith that saves and that opens up new evangelical and ethical possibilities and expectations.

b. The life of Christian love (sanctification, perfect love) which enlarges the Christian's personal and social awareness and capacity for service.

c. The work of the Holy Spirit as a present (contemporary motivating) reality and presence (as opposed to those who relegate the Spirit's work to the ancient era of church history).

2. Manner

a. The reasoned approach to evangelism

b. The gracious appeal to the will; to an uncoerced free decision recognizing the essential freedom of persons. The right to say Yes or No. Right of private judgment.

c. Going where the people are-Field Preaching.

3. Effects-Moral change-Social transformation. Physical relief for sick and poor.

Gerald R. Cragg writes of Wesley's theology:

The particular emphasis of his theology derived from his preoccupation with evangelism. He included all the traditional elements of the Christian system of belief, but he so arranged them as to bring into the sharpest relief the doctrine of salvation.2

I. The Doctrines of Christian Faith

A. The Doctrine of Faith

Wesley's theology was an attempt to "describe the true, the scriptural experimental religion...."3 It was a theology of evangelism attuned to human failure and disorder and to God's grace and love. It was existentially sensitive, for Wesley had walked the way himself. Before he became an evangelist, he had to wrestle with his own failure, his angst, his lack of contact with Christian reality and certitude. He could not tell the way of faith until he saw with "spiritual sight," to use his metaphor, until he received the gift of faith. He could not tell the good news until he moved beyond the pre-understanding of his Oxford years to the liberating fulfillment of Aldersgate. "Experimental religion!": Religion that corresponded with life! With psychological, rational, and spiritual needs! A religion of love that calls a person into a service of love to the neighbor! Religion that works faithfully, hopefully, lovingly!

Without being too certain about the years from 1725-38 (on which good men differ), it is claimed that Wesley became an evangelist after Aldersgate. Before Aldersgate, he did not know or understand the preaching of faith. Peter Bohler had counseled Wesley in the early days of 1738. "Preach faith until you have it: then, because you have faith you will preach it." Albert Outler comments: "Wesley had preached faith until others had it-and that was what broke the drought in his own spirit."4

May I suggest that Wesley, like Luther and St. Paul before him becomes a mirror and an exemplar of the struggling ascents to faith; struggles that St. Paul depicts in Romans 10 and Luther in his anguished search to find a gracious God. Each man in his own way portrays the anguish of the human quest for the treasure that finally is seen and known as gift. St. Paul wrote, certainly out of his own experience:

But what the Scripture says about being put right with God through faith is this: 'You are not to ask yourself, who will go up into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down). 'Nor are you to ask, who will go down into the world below?' (that is, to bring Christ up from death). What it says is this: 'God's message is near you, on your lips and in your heart'-that is, the message of faith that we preach (Rom. 10:6-8).

Paul continues to claim that all who call on Christ will be saved, that to call they must believe, that faith comes out of the context of hearing the good news, that the good news must be proclaimed. The good news is Christ in whom faith discovers a spirit-transforming personal presence. And this faith is the gift of God made alive in the catalyst of preaching the Word. Those who seek the glory of the divine-human encounter by their own struggles or contributions to the relationship are only candidates for futility and despair. Doubt is sometimes a necessary preparation for spiritual illumination, for the moment of grace. However, it must finally become self- doubt and self-surrender to the giftedness of faith. Doubt is an understandable stage along the way. It is often a step in a person's progress from self- trust to confidence in God. To doubt the Almighty is not surprising; it is the shadow side of our own self-sufficiency. Soon enough, self-trust leads to the despair of human emptiness. The nakedness of Adam and Eve portrays the existential and spiritual finitude of all. We stand before God and one another naked, without recourse. Preeminently contingent or dependent, we require an adequate structure of trust. That structure is not found in our subjective resources. It is only in God whose image and likeness we bear and which bears us. We are marked by an infinite need for an infinite God.

1 comment:

Andrew Kenny said...

How does Mr. Wesley articulate this need for faith, this mark of our image? To summarize this we may observe:

1. Faith is described in experimental terms. Faith is viewed empirically. Faith is defined by Wesley by an analogy from sensation. As a student of the epistemology of John Locke, Wesley accepted the view that innate ideas do not exist; all natural knowledge comes from sense impressions or reflection on them. They cannot transcend the physical world. However, the sphere of faith is another thing. There are spiritual sensations which bring impressions or illumination from the spiritual world. What is faith? Citing Hebrews 11, he states that "faith is 'the demonstrative evidence of things unseen,' the supernatural evidence of things invisible, not perceivable by eyes of flesh, or by any of our natural sense or faculties. Faith is with regard to the spiritual world, what sense is with regard to the natural. It is the spiritual sensation of every soul that is born of God "5

Using the sensation analogy, Wesley describes faith as the seeing eye of the soul; the ear by which a sinner hears God's voice and lives; the palate of the soul by which he tastes the powers of the coming age; the feeling of the soul which perceives the power and presence of God.

2. Faith is set forth in evangelical terms. Faith is viewed evangelically. Here Wesley sees faith as a gift from God. It is a work, God's work, not ours. If it is asked why everyone does not have faith, Wesley responds that it is not a matter of human choice. Faith is not a simple human possibility. It is not a question of human merit.6 Faith is the free gift of God to anyone who freely owns his/her "mere sin and misery," who truly repents, evidencing the reality of an awareness of personal sin. Repentance and "fruits meet for repentance" precede faith.7 Repentance is not a good work; for it does not spring from saving faith. But it is a stage which God evokes in the soul, leading to faith.

3. Faith is presented in rational (logical) terms. Following his earlier stress on sensation Wesley affirms the full use of reason in searching out the things of God. Proper reasoning, says Wesley, presupposes true judgments already formed, or else any argument is groundless. One must have a clear understanding of the things of God in order to form a true judgment of them. You must have senses which operate on this level: "a new class of senses opened in your soul." These senses are from God and are the avenues to the invisible world. Without physical sight you cannot reason properly concerning objects of sight. So with spiritual sight, without which you cannot reason concerning spiritual sight. Only by faith or internal sensation may we receive the data by which to understand the spiritual world.

Only by the sensation of faith may we understand, know reason concerning spiritual realities.

The logical approach which Wesley employs here builds on a questionable psychology. Wesley was employing the resources of his liberal learning, and expanding it to amplify the avenue of faith. He is appealing to cultured men of reason and religion pressing on them the way of faith, driving for a reasoned choice, asking for decision. His is the logic of evangelism, a call to those especially "who do not receive the Christian system as of God."8 If we cannot buy Wesley's analogy, let us not make the mistake of failure to develop our own ways to evangelize. How do you appeal to persons? There must be language which strikes a responsive chord. Communication is the issue.

Reuel Howe is the communication specialist, par excellence. He asserts the principle of dialogue as the necessary means of linking person-to- person. A sermon may be monologue, dealing in glittering generalitites. It may be dialogical even if one person is speaking. We must be more than the "answer-dispenser" in preaching or teaching. Yet an exaggerated use of the non-directive approach, the questioned becoming questioner, can force the servant of the Lord to become like a spectator at a tennis match, head swivelling back and forth watching the flow of the match. The evangel must be in the match-giving, taking, faulting, penetrating. Howe writes: ". . . the purpose of dialogue and therefore of communication, is to help the person participating in it make a responsible decision, whether that decision be a Yes or No in relation to what is being considered.... We worry too much about the No or negative response. It is necessary sometimes to say No before we can say Yes."9

Mr. Wesley practiced this principle of dialogue. It is said that he would often preach newly prepared sermons to his maid, an uneducated girl, and have her stop him when she did not understand. That is communication!

The doctrine of faith in Wesleyan thought is the immediate goal of evangelism. Evangelism means the announcement of the vital word which is the mediate source of faith. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God."

When faith comes, there is opened up in the life of the believer a whole range of ethical possibilities. It is impossible to negate the significance of the new life with its new relationships to God, man, and self. Faith alone saves, and faith alone opens the human spirit to the way of service and love. Faith alone is the quality of spirit which overcomes the human pattern of self-trust and independence, for it is the confession of need, of weakness, of human limitation. It is the admission of the "imagedness" of man, the absolute priority of God. With this recognition, persons participate in the new humanity, begin new life.

The Methodist heritage has too often strayed from Wesley's biblical foundations. Forgetting the cruciality of faith, the ethics of love and good works has been exalted. It has sought to raise the structure of sanctification without the ground of justification by faith alone. In its linear movement it has progressed from the Reformation position which Wesley held to the Enlightenment perception of moral man. In its evangelism may be perceived the neglect of Wesley's proclamation of human inability. Often it has applied inadequate medication to the symptoms of sickness, dispensing aspirin when radical surgery is required for restoration and healing. Wesley wrote: "By salvation I mean . . . a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity....10 Ernest Campbell has written: "A Church so busily at work correcting the massive injustices of society that it cannot or will not make the effort to win men and women to an allegiance to Jesus Christ will soon become sterile and unable to produce after its kind.""

B. The Life of Christian Love which Enlarges the Christian's Personal and Social Awareness and Capacity for Service

A second major doctrinal and ethical position in Wesley's thought concerns Christian love. If justification by faith alone opens the way, the way itself both at the beginning and the end is faith active in love (sanctification, good works, holiness). Wesley was not a sectarian, or a cultist, emphasizing one or two pet doctrines, but he did see his task in particular terms. Analysis of his thought shows full balance on trinitarian insights, Christology, the Spirit, and a concern for a full-orbed theology. If we remember his primary calling-evangelism, not the systematizing of theology-we understand his response to the charge against the Methodists. "They make it their principal employ, wherever they go, to instill into people a few favourite tenets of their own; and this with such diligence and zeal as if the whole of Christianity depended upon them." "A few favourite tenets!" What were these tenets? "I frequently sum them up all in one: 'In Christ Jesus . . . neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love' (Gal. 5:6)." Sometimes he taught the Commandments to love God and neighbor; sometimes that God is love, again the rule called the Golden Rule.

The grace of love is consistently viewed by Wesley as the epitome of the Christian love. It wag his familiar definition of religion, although religion (as in "Appeal to men of Reason and Religion") may be defined as formal religion. The religion he sought for many years was love: "But all this time seeking wisdom we found it not . . . and being now under full conviction of this, we declare it to all mankind; . . . that they may go . . . the straight way to the religion of love, even by faith."

The holiness movement, tracing its lineage to Wesley, has frequently failed to emphasize or define sanctification as love. Instead there has been a strong tendency toward a scholastic definition. Wesley's view is generally dynamic, and personal or relational. It is true that aspects of his thought (e.g., his metaphor "circumcision of the heart," or his sometimes Augustinian definition of original sin), led to a "hardening of the categories." However, the normative Wesleyan category is love, a definition which preeminently expresses a relationship to a person-GOD-and to persons-our neighbors. Too often the inheritors of Wesley's teaching have been preoccupied with the personal self-what takes place within?; or with experience-how vital is my experience? Experience became objectified, an end, a goal. A series of visits to the altar was the appropriate ritual, the formalized manner of achieving the desired end. In spite of these restrictive structures, the Spirit of God blew mightily and moved gracefully among these people.

The larger "church" segment of the Wesleyan heritage failed to sort out the wheat from the chaff. John Mackay, president emeritus of Princeton Seminary in his Christian Reality and Appearance contrasts "Christian Reality and the Shadows that Betray It." Four distinctive facets of Christian reality – "The Christian Quadrilateral" – are recognized and contrasted with substitutionary shadows:

Christian Reality

l. God's Self-Disclosure

2. The Transforming Encounter

3. The Community of Christ

4. Christian Obedience


l. Theologism-The Idolatry of Ideas

2. Impression-The Idolatry of Feeling

3. Churchism-The Idolatry of Structure

4. Ethicism-The Idolatry of Prescripts

Shadow l-Transforming ideas into realities. Loyalty to ideas about Christ, about the Bible, about the revelation of God in Christ, but without real discipleship. Reification-hardening of the categories.

Shadow 2-The thrill of the encounter is replaced by emotional thrill; the sights and sounds. Some recall the original meeting of long ago, belong to the cult of emotion.

Shadow 3-The institution becomes formalized. The Church is a place, an institution. Instead of the koinonia, the fellowship, it is the place, the hierarchy.

Shadow 4-Obedience to the Lord Christ is equated with obedience to codes, ceremonies, etc. Loyalty to a particular church, or to a political order is substituted.12

These are some of the problems which have vexed Methodism. In various sectors of the Wesleyan heritage, each of these "shadows" has fallen across the way. We must find and grasp Christian reality. If the Church experiences God's self-disclosure in a transforming encounter, shares in the vitality of the community, and practices obedience to Christ, it will be a community of evangelism.

But what does the doctrine of love-perfect love-have to do with evangelism? Is there a relationship between holy living and evangelism? There is, clearly articulated in Scripture and logically expressed in theological analysis. The significance of Pentecost is the message of evangelism which is the expression of the Spirit's presence: "You shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you and you shall be witnesses to me, in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth." In the Acts of the Apostles there is a definite link between the life of the Spirit and the empowerment of believers to be evangels.

Expressing it more in Pauline terms, we may see the way faith leads to love. Every Christian believer, in whom faith is a dynamic reality is moved to love-faith active in love. The mark of faith is good works or love.

The Christian man is moved to love-faith matures in love. Faith is contagious in acts of love and in the spirit of love. The believer's trust in Christ is communicated to his neighbor in many ways, specifically in the Christian's life-style, in a compulsion to share the meaning of the life that is in them. Faith active in love is equally a source of evangelism and social concern.

The Wesleyan heritage moved along these twin tracks in Wesley's era and in much of the 19th century. The anti-slavery crusade was sparked by the revolutionary spirit of perfect love, as Timothy Smith has demonstrated. The prominent anti-slavery voices in Methodism-from Wesley to Orange Scott and Lucius Matlack, to Jesse Peck, Gilbert Haven, B. T. Roberts, and more-were themselves persuaded that faith becomes active in works of love. The Wesleyan heritage pushed these evangelical themes apart during much of the last century. One part of the church amplified faith without concern for social ethics, while the other stressed ethics with minimal attention paid to faith (justifying faith).

Do you find yourself in the position of a friend of mine? He examined his sermons preached over a 20-year period. To his dismay he found almost no sermons on the doctrine of justification by faith or conversion, while there was an overwhelming number on love, ethics, or the Christian lifestyle. He preached love much and faith little. Ethics? Yes! Faith? No! That is the sure way to a hardening of the life of the church into formalized structured. Faith is the opening of life. The new creation precedes the works of love-evangelism and social concern.

Wesley speaks in the "Appeals" concerning the error of teaching sanctification prior to jugtification.13 That the Church of England in Wesley's age held this position has been made clear by William R. Cannon. Gerald Cragg has spoken, too, of the work of the seventeenth century Bishop George Bull which reflected the Pelagianism of the Church during the century. Wesley wrote: ". . . when I say, Faith alone is the condition of present salvation, what I would assert is this: (l) That without faith no man can be saved from his sins; can be inwardly or outwardly holy. And, (2) That at what time soever faith is given, holiness commences in the soul. For that instant 'the love of God' (which is the source of holiness) 'is shed abroad in the heart.'" 14

The doctrine of perfect love is the theological completion of the doctrine of faith. To leave off at faith is to fall into antinomianism, or to fail to provide norms for the Christian life. Faith without lovelethics is truncated faith and will mean the dwarfing of the church. It means that evangelism dries up and faith becomes an intellectualized credal statement. Here it becomes of greater import what you believe than how you live.

The church in evangelism must tell the good news of love in process. This too is part of the Wesleyan genius. There i8 a dynamic life to be lived, moving, ascending; there is a "going-on" to love's perfection. A static message challenges no one, but this word from Wesley places us on the road to that personal and social health which is the end of Christ's Gospel. The nineteenth century Wesleyans in America-Gilbert Haven, Jesse Peck, Orange Scott-saw this with prophetic clarity. They were convinced that universal love is the ultimate outworking of the Wesleyan message. However, the pessimism of adventism, and millenarianism, and later the dark despair of the early Barth, Overbeck, and their spiritual kin, shadowed the luminous word of perfect love taught by the Methodists, and their grand dream of the triumph of Christ's gospel was hidden in the dark night of this century's holocausts. Were they wrong? Perhaps in their timing, but not in their vision! Was the ancient prophet wrong when he saw the day when the nations would "beat their swords into plowshares"?

If perfection is not the goal, what is? This teaching is the special contribution of Methodism. Why has the church distorted or ignored this word? Why is not the church of Wesley interested in Wesley? A Methodist bishop told me five years ago that the Methodists were not tuned in to the teachings of those nineteenth century prophets of Methodism who preached and taught in the era of Civil War and who confidently announced slavery's demise. Why? Caught up in the fashion of Ritschl and Harnack, Troeltsch and Hermann, Wellhausen and Lotze, the apparently archaic and simple gospel of Wesley seemed to be benign and primitive aspects of Methodist history. We could declare with some pride that he anticipated the anthropology of Schleiermacher by his emphasis on feeling, emotion, or experience as central to theological reflection. We ceased to believe that he and his kin-Watson, Fletcher, Pope-had much to offer. The voices of Albert Outler and Frank Baker are still crying in the wilderness, but they are being heard increasingly by persons unfulfilled by the latest fads in theology.

C. The Work of the Holy Spirit as a Contemporary Reality

A third major theological strand found in the "Appeals" is the persuasion Wesley held of the contemporary, immediate reality of the Holy Spirit. In this our own era, when we are inundated by literature on the Spirit and on the gifts of the Spirit, we may profit by the sensible position which Wesley generally maintained.

He addressed the general skepticism of his century regarding the gift of the Spirit. The prevailing opinion was expressed: The "extra-ordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were granted to the first Christians only, but his ordinary graces to all Christians in all ages...."15 To argue against this opinion was judged enthusiasm or fanaticism. The Church of England feared enthusiasm more than sin. Order was the keynote of the Church from the very beginnings of the English Reformation. Wesley was charged with a violation of the "sacred" principle.

To counteract this teaching and to show that the Spirit's presence is authentic today, Wesley cited at length the Gospel of John 14, 16, Romans 8, I Corinthians 2 to show that the presence of the Spirit may be expected, indeed, that it is the benefit of Christians in all ages.16

He then proceeded with a lesson in patristics appealing to Chrysostom, Jerome, Origen, and Athanasius. Finally he called upon the authority of Bishop John Pearson (1613-1686), one of the luminaries of the Church of England, equal in influence to Richard Hooker.

Relentlessly, Wesley appealed to the Book of Common Prayer, to ten collects, including: "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name" (from the "Communion Office"). He searched out the teachings of the authoritative "Homilies of the Church" (written in 1549 and 1562), quoting ten times from seven sermons, thus appealing to Thomas Cranmer and other Reformation theologians to support his claim. If, by believing in the immediate inspiration and assuring presence of the Spirit, Wesley is an enthusiast, then he belongs to a select fel1owship of moderns as well as Reformation and patristic leaders.

And what is enthusiasm as defined by Wesley? He critiques his critics: It is "a false imagination of being inspired by God; . . . one that fancies himself under the influence of the Holy Ghost, when, in fact, he is not."17

It is important for us to note the insistence that the Holy Spirit's work is immediate, assuring, and empowering The significance of these concepts is evident when we refer to evangelism. For Wesley these had a precise relation to effective evangelism. The immediacy of the spirit means that the element of the "holy" is present, evoking wonder. As Rudolph Otto states it, the "holy" is characterized by a "numinous" quality, or a category of feeling which eludes a full comprehension in rational terms. The "numinous" involves a deeply-felt experience; to be rapt in worship, to see the Lord as Isaiah saw Him. This numinous quality manifests itself in several modes:

l. The mysterium tremendum-an experience of the holy which may be like a gentle tide or a crashing wave in the spirit of worshippers. It sometimes bears the elements of:

a. Awfulness-the hallowing of the name; the power of the presence. Otto uses the analogy of shuddering or shivering to express it. Kierkegaard speaks of the shuddering before God or as Walter Lowrie translates it "anguished dread."18

b. Overpoweringness-majesty-Isaiah 6: "Woe is me, for I am undone."

c. Energy-urgency-passion, excitement, fire, force.19

This immediacy of the Spirit is an aspect of the church in evangelism, as we see in Acts 2: "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit," and in the community of the Spirit which was a growing community. This community evoked amazement by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Hendrikus Berkhof, in a superb study on the Holy Spirit, comments:

Whenever Luke, in his Gospel or in Acts, speaks of being filled with the Spirit, he lays full emphasis not on the inner emotions caused by this event, but on its external consequences: People began to prophesy, to exclaim, to praise God, to be Christ's witnesses, to speak in tongues, to . . . speak the Word of God with boldness....

The filling by the Spirit means that the justified and sanctified are now turned, so to speak, inside out. In Acts they are turned primarily to the world; in Paul primarily to the total body of Christ; but this is merely a difference in situation and emphasis.20

Secondly, we recognize the element of assurance. We have recognized this dimension of the Spirit's work in Wesley's thought. The little brochure from Tidings entitled "Four Great Emphases of United Methodism," declares: "God's Spirit Brings Assurance That We Belong to Him." And it asserts: "The 'witness of the Spirit' is more than an emotion that we feel, or a voice that we hear. It is an inner confidence that God is faithful and that He does indeed keep His promise with us. This inward confidence is confirmed by outward change-i.e., a new style of life."

Many people have agonized over this aspect of Wesleyan thought. It seems so subjective and conducive to an introspection which may produce the opposite of out-reaching love. In fact, Wesley's emphasis stresses the subjective and the objective; the root and the fruit. It is not theologically safe to separate the two.

There is an aspect of the witness of the Spirit that needs to be stressed. namely, the assuring relationship to God which the witness gives, making it possible to live confidently in the world, witnessing to our fellow citizens of this world in the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit came, as Luke records it in Acts 2, the believer's manner before the world was entirely changed. Peter's sermon in Acts 2; the Christian's response to commands to desist from preaching Jesus; St. Stephen's shining face in the midst of his stoning, and the empowered preaching among the Judeans, Samaritans, and the uttermost parts of the earth; all of these show a new assurance experienced by these believers. This characterizes the vital Christian in witness.

A third element in the Holy Spirit's work is empowerment. Carl Michalson, perhaps the premier theologian in Methodism in his day, professor at Drew until his tragic death in a plane crash in 1965, has given voice to this spiritual command-presence which the Spirit gives. Recognizing a powerful other-worldliness in Wesley, he asserts the presence of some signs of Christian worldliness. Worldliness, itself, is defined as "loving the world" in competition with the love of God.

Christian worldliness removes the distraction of idolatry and thus liberates a man to assume responsibility for the world. Without that liberation (through holy love), one could turn the world into an idol to which he felt responsible, thus losing his capacity to be responsible for it.

Holiness, without disparaging the world, is committed to orienting the world to God in order not to turn the world into the very idol, exclusive devotion to which obstructs the sense of responsibility for it.21

The person who stands in trepidation before the world, lacks any kind of world-transforming potential.

The Holy Spirit not only removes the distractions of idolatry, but bestows the positive power to bear the Christian faith hopefully and lovingly before the world. Assurance and empowerment are linked to evangelism. "Ye shall receive power." John Macquarrie's superb discussion in his book Paths In Spirituality has a chapter entitled "Spirit and Spirituality" which must be read. Defining "Spirit" as "a capacity for going out of oneself and beyond oneself," he argues that this is true both of the Holy Spirit, and the human spirit liberated by God's Spirit. He argues:

But surely Christian spirituality envisages a broader strategy than the spiritualization of the individual. In calling the church the 'community of the Spirit' we are implying that here there is ... a society with the capacity to go out from itself.... Thus, wherever the church is this community it is introducing a new dimension into the social situation, one that gives hope for an eventual transformation.22

The point is that the Spirit and the community of the Spirit are reaching out and drawing others into the koinonia. The "fellowship of the Spirit" is the empowered communion of the Spirit. Luther described the sinful life as the self-enclosed life. The spiritual life is the opening outward to human community. This is a central affirmation of the work of the Spirit in the church empowering for evangelism.

Some persons are anxious about the present potential for a unitarianism of the third person of the trinity in which the Spirit overshadows Jesus Christ. That is a fear with a genuine base. A helpful, if partial, answer comes from the late Samuel Shoemaker: "Time was when people apparently came to the Holy Spirit through Christ. Has not the time come when many of them might better be brought to Christ through the Holy Spirit?"23

II. Manner of Teaching These Doctrines

A. The Reasoned Approach to Evangelism

Wesley's education, temperament, and age all contributed to his genteel character. He approached his work including evangelism with this quality of dignity. Even when he "submitted to be more vile" and took up the work of field preaching he always maintained his calm, moderate style. To see Wesley as a "hot-gospeller," screaming at the top of his lungs and turning purple in the face, is to misunderstand him. Communicate he did not by bluster, but by plain speech. For him the Word became flesh, and Words in evangelism must take on flesh. (After a heavy theological presentation at Evanston to the World Council of Church Bishop Berggrav of os1o said to an aide: "The word became theology and did not dwell among us." Jurgen Moltmann introduced a lecture by stating that a German lecture has three parts: l. What the hearers understand. 2. What is understood by the speaker. 3. What no one can understand.)

Wesley was persuaded that plain, rational speech is the medium of evangelism. He was a cool-minded man, thoroughly trained in logic (which he taught at Oxford, using Henry Aldrich's well-known text)24 and he used it repeatedly to test the claims of his opponents. He also used this logical approach in preaching (e.g., his sermon-"The Means of Grace"). His empirical definition of faith (sight, taste, hearing, feeling) was a reference to the logic of religious experience. He was well-informed about the Cambridge Platonists, especially Richard Norris, having read many of his books between 1725-1734. This seems evident in Wesley's appeal to some who had had some intimation of the reality of grace: "Do you not remember the time when God first lifted up the light of his countenance upon you? Can it ever be forgotten? the day when the candle of the Lord first shone your head."25 The reference "candle of the Lord" in this context ("The Appeals") can hardly be accidental. Evidently Wesley recalls the rational theology of Norris, Whichcote and John Smith. The Cambridge Platonists "are celebrated for their appeals to 'Reason': Reason, which in the text that Whichcote never tires of quoting, is 'the candle of the Lord', and to follow which, John Smith declares, is to follow God." So writes an expert on seventeenth century thought, Basil Willey.26 Wesley also appeals to the theology of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, called the "father of Deism." His purpose is to reason with and persuade the "men of reason and religion," to nudge them toward a confession of rational faith, to the end that they might enter the realm of saving faith. His style is similar to Jesus' parabolic approach in which he works to the point of decision. Like the parable of the prodigal son, where the fervent and tender appeal of the father to the elder son to come into the house for the celebration becomes to the prideful Pharisees an appeal to forgiveness and salvation.

Wesley wrote:

If therefore you allow, that it is reasonable to love God, to love mankind, and to do good to all men, you cannot but allow that religion which we preach and live to be agreeable to the highest reason.

. . . Whenever, . . . you see an unreasonable man, you see one who . . . is no more a Christian than he is an angel. So far as he departs from true, genuine reason, so far he departs from Christianity.

But what does Wesley mean by reason? He refers to "the eternal reason, or the nature of things; the nature of God and the nature of man, with the relations necessarily subsisting between them. Why, this is the very religion we preach; a religion evidently founded on ... eternal reason...."

This religion of reason is a religion of love, central and essential to the very nature of God. It is also suited to the nature of man, showing him his sin, and offering a remedy.

B. The Gracious Appeal to Free Decision

Another important feature of the "reasonable man" was the spirit of religious toleration. John Wesley strongly insisted on this reasonable approach to evangelism. Insisting upon the right of private judgment, an important Protestant motif from the Reformation, he believed that the gospel must be addressed to every person. An extensive body of Wesley's writings wrestles with the issues of liberty of conscience and religious toleration. The "Appeals" demonstrate that this dedication to human values, life, liberty, and happiness,27 was of major importance to him. Consider his reference to private judgment, the right to private choice, based on conscience; decision based not on political, social, or religious pressures, but rather out of the awareness that one must assume responsibility for his decisions. "You surely," Wesley asks, "will not say that any man's conscience can preclude mine. You, at least, will not plead for robbing us of what you so strongly claim for yourselves: I mean, the right of private judgment, which is indeed unalienable from reasonable creatures."28

From this presumed ground of agreement, Wesley proceeds to appeal to the reasonableness of love for God, for the neighbor, doing good to everyone whether friends or enemies. He speaks earnestly to their minds and their senses, employing the empirical analogy of the spiritual senses by which we see and feel God. How will these persons, who do not believe, cross the gulf from the natural to the spiritual realm? Only by the possibility of faith, that faith which has been rejected and despised. The entire progress of the "Appeals" is toward decision. Wesley's concern becomes passionate: "O no longer shut your eyes against the light! Know, you have a name that you live, but are dead."

Bear with me a little longer: My soul is distressed for you.... Because you did not commit gross sin, because you give alms, and go to the church and sacrament, you imagine you are serving God: Yet, ... you are doing still your own will.... You are pleasing yourself in all you do.29

It is not important to parrot Wesley but to capture his spirit: always pressing for a decision but never permitting unfair methods of evangelism; always gracious in manner, offering Christ. Even in the close ties of family this spirit must prevail. Wesley writes:

A man of conscience cannot condemn anyone unheard. This is not common humanity. Nor will he refrain from hearing what may be the truth, for . . . fear of his reputation. Pray observe, I do not say, every man or any man, is obliged in conscience to hear us: But I do say, every man in England who condemns us is obliged to hear us first.

Suppose your censure was just, and this was actually false doctrine. Still every one must give an account of himself to God: and you cannot force the conscience of anyone. You cannot compel another to see as you see; you ought not to attempt it. Reason and persuasion are the only weapons you ought to use, even toward your own wife and children. Nay, and it is impossible to starve them into conviction, or to beat truth into their head.... Remember what our own poet has said:

'By force beasts act, and are by force restrained;

The human mind by gentle means is gain'd

Thou canst not take what I refuse to yield

Nor reap the harvest, though thou spoilst the field.'30

Wesley pursued the question of liberty of conscience by dealing with the employer who fired an employee for following his own conscience. He cited a specific example of a person who was fired, was unable to find food, becoming sick and dying. The employer is guilty of murder. "Why, Edward Bonner [Bishop of London who persecuted the Protestants during the reign of Mary Tudor] would have starved the heretics in prison; whereas you starve them in their own houses!"

Finally Wesley insisted that the religion of love is free from bigotry. Opinions are held, but "they are peculiarly cautious not to rest the weight of Christianity there." "The weight of all religion, we apprehend, rests upon holiness of heart and life." Describing the Methodists, he stated:

They contend for nothing trifling, as if it was important; for nothing indifferent, as if it were necessary; for nothing circumstantial, as if it were essential to Christianity; but everything in its own order.31

Reason and persuasion; liberty of conscience; the right to free choice; a gracious manner. Christian evangelism respects the persons appealed to as free persons, with unalienable human rights, even the right to be wrong. Christian evangelism wrestles with the evangelical demand. It cannot but proclaim Jesus Christ in all his cosmic promise.

C. Going Where the People Are-Field Preaching

Dr. George Sweazey has stated: "The New Testament says you are to win people as fishermen or as shepherds, by hook or by crook." Mr. Wesley experienced difficulty in breaking away from the formalized structure of parish ministry. He knew that the Canon Law of 1604 restricted the granting of Holy Orders without a parish or without the Master of Arts degree with five years standing (Canon Law 33; see also Canon Law 50). It was not ordinarily permissible to be a priest without some place of service.

When Wesley "submitted to be more vile," and went out into the fields, he began his greatest work. There he was able to reach thousands with the message that would never have been given them in the church. Criticized for going into another's parish, he argued that by ordination as a priest he was given the right to preach everywhere. Too, by the call of God he was sent into the whole world. Wesley said his "ordinary call" to preach was conferred by the bishop: "Take thou authority to preach the word." His "extraordinary call" was from God and was displayed in his ministry by the grace bestowed upon it.32 Even if man should deny him the right to preach, God's call would be heeded.

What does Wesley's example suggest to us in principle? That we must be able to break through the walls that build up between us and our age where vast hurts await healing. We are in competition with many evangelisms, which are working the frontiers of our society. Many are heretical, authoritarian, cultic, dangerous to the psychological, social, and spiritual well-being of their adherents. The issue is not: Whether to evangelize? But, what kind of evangelism can we recognize? Clearly God's call in Christ Jesus is at the heart of our work. Failure to evangelize cutg us off from the roots of creative faith and vitality.33


Before Aldersgate, Wesley's father had written urging him to become curate at Epworth. Wesley declined on the ground that at Oxford (where he was a Fellow of Lincoln College), he could foster his own spiritual life.

From all this I conclude that where I am most holy myself, then I could most promote holiness in others; and consequently I could most promote it here than in any place under heaven.

His father had written that at Epworth the sphere of ministry would be larger, with the care of 2,000 souls. John replied:

Two thousand souls! I see not how any man living can take care of a hundred. At least I could not.... Because the weight that I already have upon me is almost more than I am able to bear, ought I to increase it tenfold? . . . Nay, but the mountains I reared would only crush my own soul, and so make me utterly useless to others.34

Compare that with this commitment written in 1739:

Suffer me now to tell you my principles in this matter. I look upon all the world as my parish: . . . I judge it my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to, and I am sure that his blessing attends it.35


1 Sermons, I "Preface to the Sermons," pp. 30-31.

2 The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 11, "The Appeals to Men of Reason and Religion," Gerald R. Cragg, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 15.

3 Standard Sermons, I, p. 32.

4 A. C. Outler, Evangelism in the Wesleyan Spirit, p. 21.

5 Works, VIII, p. 4, "An Earnest Appeal," Section 6. (My emphasis.)

6 Ibid, p. 6, Sec. ll.

7 Ibid., p. 47; "A Farther Appeal," Part I, Sec. I, 2.

8 Ibid., p. 15; "An Earnest Appeal," S-c. 38.

9 Reuel Howe. "The Dialogical Foundations for Christian Education" in An Introduction to Christian Education, ed. Marvin J. Taylor (New York: Abingdon Pregs, 1966), p. 92.

10 Works, VIII, p. 47; "A Farther Appeal," Part I, 1:3.

11 Christian Manifesto (New York, 1970), p. 9, cited in Howard A. Snyder, The Problem of Wineskins (Downer's Grove: 1975), p. 43.

12 John A. Mackay, Christian Reality and Appearance (Richmond: 1969).

13 Works VIII, p. 111; "A Farther Appeal," Part I, 6:1. "I was ordained Deacon in 1725, and Priest in the year following. It was many years after this before I was convinced of the great truths . . . of the nature and condition of justification. Sometimes I confounded it with sanctification...."

14 Ibid., p. 68; "A Farther Appeal," Part I, 3:10.

15 Ibid., p. 77; "A Farther Appeal," Part I, 5:1.

16 Ibid., p. 91, Part I, 5:1-14.

17 Ibid., p. 106, 5:15-28.

18 Walter Lowrie, Kierkegaard, I (New York: 1962), p. 74.

19 Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (New York: 1958), pp. 6-24.

20 See Hendrikus Berkhof, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Atlanta: 1976), pp. 88-89.

21 Carl Michalson, Worldly Theology: The Hermeneutical Focus of an Historical Faith (New York: 1967), pp. 155-157. 22(New York 1972), pp. 40, 44, 50-52-

23 With the Holy Spirit and With Fire (Waco, Texas: 1972), p. 48.

24 Cf., Cragg, p. 56. Wesley translated Aldrich and used his work in his own compendium of logic.

25 Works VIII, p. 21, Sec. 54.

26 The Seventeenth Century Background (New York: 1953), p. 141.

27 On happiness, see Works VIII, p. 7, Sec. 16. 28Ibid., Sec. 17-

29 Ibid., pp. 19-20, Sec. 50-51.

30 Ibid., p. 125; "A Farther Appeal," Part I, 7:5. The quotation is from Matthew Prior's didactic poem: "Solomon on the Vanity in the World," written c. 1708.

31 Ibid., pp. 127-128; 202-206; 243; 207.

32 Letters of John Wesley, I (London: 1960), pp. 286-287, 322-323. These were letters to James Hervey and Charles Wesley.

33 This paper does not deal with part III, supra, on the Effects which follow evangelism. See my "The Church and Social Transformation: An Ethics of the Spirit," Wesleyan Theological Journal (Spring, 1976), pp. 49-61; "Christian Love: The Key to Wesley's Ethics, "Methodist History" (October, 1975), pp. 44-55; "The Social Concerns of Wesley: Theological Foundations," Christian Scholar's Review, IV, 1 (1974), pp. 36-42; "Evangelism and Social Ethics in Wesley's Theology," The A. M. E. Zion Quarterly Review (July, 1981), pp. 2-18.

34 Letters, I, pp. 167-174.

35 Ibid., p. 286.