Wesleyan Theology: Arminianism

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

The founder of the Methodist revival in England, and of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, was Fr. John Wesley, a priest of the Church of England. John Wesley was a brilliant theologian and preacher, a professor at Oxford University and an open-field evangelist, who had a deep and abiding interest in applying theology to the everyday life. Early on in his ministry Wesley became an Arminan in his theology of salvation, modifying it some as he applied it to his own life and to the life and faith of his Methodist Societies. This theological understanding has generally become known in Systematic Theology as "Wesley's Order of Salvation" and can be outlined as follows:

Prevenient Grace:
Human beings are totally incapable of responding to God without God first empowering them to have faith. This empowerment is known as "Prevenient Grace." Prevenient Grace doesn't save us but, rather, comes before anything that we do, drawing us to God, making us WANT to come to God, and enabling us to have faith in God. Prevenient Grace is Universal, in as much as all humans receive it, regardless of their having heard of Jesus. It is manifested in the deep-seated desire of most humans to know God.

Justifying Grace:
After we are drawn to God and enabled to respond, with faith, to the offered gift of Salvation, and -- most importantly -- when we actually say "yes" and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are given "Justifying Grace," which wipes away our sin and incorporates us into the Body of Christ. This is the point of "Full Regeneration," in which humans are returned to the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden. It is sometimes referenced as that point and time in one's life when they are "saved." In Justifying Grace we are judged to be "not guilty" of sins, even though we are VERY guilty and even though we STILL commit sins. Jesus nevertheless forgives us our sins and, through His Grace ,we are viewed by God as being as IF we were as righteous as Christ.

Sanctifying Grace:
Justification by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior doesn't end one's walk in Grace, however. One hasn't "arrived" when one is saved. Justification is the point at which God judges us "As IF we were Christ." The Perfection, the Righteousness, of Jesus is not yet PART of who we are, even though we are viewed by God as IF we were righteous. Sanctifying Grace comes to make the outward judgment of "Righteous" PART of who WE are. The Righteousness of Christ is, through our openness to God's Grace, made an increasing part of WHO we are. We become MORE and MORE like Jesus. In other words, the Love and Will of God in Jesus Christ is grafted into our lives and we become more and more like Jesus.

While none of us can be perfect by our own ability or will, nevertheless we believe that through Sanctifying Grace we are transformed into a greater and greater likeness of Christ Jesus. As we grow in Sanctifying Grace, we approach the Will of God for us and, in Glory, we can trust that we will be in total conformity with God's Will for us. We also believe, however, that through Sanctifying Grace we are blessed by occasional moments, fleeting instances, of knowing and living in God's perfect Will. This is what Wesley means when he says that we are all to be "Moving on toward Perfection."

© 2000 Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.