John Wesley: Christian Perfection as Faith filled
with the Energy of Love
by Michael J. Christensen
by Mykhailo Ozorovych
• Michael J. Christensen (M.A., Yale,
Ph.D., Drew) is Director of the
Shalom Initiative for Prophetic
Leadership and Community
Development, and Affiliate
Associate Professor of Spirituality
and Religious Studies at Drew
University (Madison, New Jersey).
• Dr. Christensen’s Ph.D. dissertation
and expertise is on “Apocalyptic
Interpretations of the 1986
Chernobyl Disaster.”
• An ordained United Methodist
minister. Married to Dr. Rebecca
Laird. They have two teenage
daughters.
• John Wesley (1703–1791) was an
Anglican cleric and Christian
theologian. Wesley is largely
credited, along with his brother
Charles Wesley, as founding the
Methodist movement.
• Charles and his brother John did
not always agree on questions
relating to their beliefs. Charles
Wesley is chiefly remembered for
the many hymns he wrote.
• “Eastern orthodoxy and Wesleyan
theology are natural conversation
partners because they drink from the
same stream, and both are returning to
the sources of their respective
traditions”.
• Author’s focus is on the question: to
what extend does John Wesley’s
doctrine of perfection or “entire
sanctification” is influenced by Greek
patristic conceptions theosis
Theosis and Sanctification
• Wesley drank from both wells (of classical
theology and of Enlightenment rationalism)
and appropriated a vision from the East
(Clement, Origen, Macarius, Ephrem) and
reformed it in the West in the programmatic
interest of what seemed practically
attainable “by grace through faith” in this
life.
• Subsequently, a distinctive Wesleyan
spirituality characterized as “faith filled with
the energy of love” emerged in the early
Methodist movement in continuity with the
older patristic tradition of deification
• Entire sanctification
(holiness, perfection) in the
Wesleyan tradition refers to
doctrine of spiritual
trasformation and Christian
perfection, which is available
by grace through faith in this
life.
• It is understood by many Wesleyan
theologians as a religious experience and
transformation occurring subsequent to
justification, with the effect that:
1. Holy Spirit takes full possession of the
spirit,
2. cleanses the soul,
3. sanctifies the heart,
4. and empowers the will so that one can
love God and others perfectly and
blamelessly in this life
• The holiness of God (along with other
divine attributes) is believed to be
actually imparted and not just imputed
to the believer's life on the basis of
what Christ accomplished on the cross.
• The power of sin in one’s life is
rendered inoperative as one
participates in the higher life of the
divine.
John Wesley’s reformulation of a
Patristic Doctrine
• Albert Outler first alerted Wesleyan scholars to the
influence of the Greek Church Fathers on Wesley
especially by the Spiritual Homilies attributed to
Macarius of Egypt but actually written by a fifth
century Syrian monk under the influence of Gregory of
Nyssa.
• “Classical Methodist doctrine of entire sanctification is
probably Wesley’s adaptation of the Patristic doctrine
of theosis” - Charles Ashanin.
• It “has significant parallels with the Eastern Orthodox
theme of deification (theosis)” – Randy Maddox
• According to Ted Campbell Wesley’s use of
patristic sources was “programmatic” – he
revised and edited his sources rather that
preserved their original meaning, and did so
with a pastoral motivation and agenda of
church reform.
Wesley’s reformulation of
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
John Wesley
Ascent of the soul to
God is by means of
On spiritual pilgrimage
of human being toward
the state of perfection
the mystic powers of
love can perfect the
soul intent to cross
over into the simple
Divine life.
faith and
contemplative
knowledge and
wisdom (gnosis)
• “John Wesley taught as Christian perfection, holiness, or
entire sanctification is both historically derivative and
dependent on the more ancient doctrines of
deification…The 18th century had new problem to
address theologically, and Wesley made an appropriate
shift in doctrinal formulation. The affect of Wesley’s
reconstruction of gnosis and theosis…was to make
perfection in love more reasonable and more accessible
in this life. By replacing the Platonic notion of
assimilation and union (becoming god according to
grace) with less esoteric and ambitious notion of
imitation and communion (becoming like God by grace
through faith), Wesley promoted a vision and a
movement of “going on to perfection”
• “…Wesleyan sanctification appears as a domesticated
(or democratized) version of the more ancient doctrine.”
Charles Wesley’s forgotten stand
• For Charles perfection is when human beings are
“changed from glory into glory” – an earlier
model of patristic theosis.
• The Wesley brothers disagreed about the nature,
time, manner and extent of perfection in this life
and the next.
• Charles was speaking of theosis as a mystic,
having poetic vision of a mystical union in which
Christina soul is divinized and “lost in God”. He
wrote “Change my nature into Thine”.
• Because of the disagreements that the brothers
had not all of Charles’ hymns that yearn for
full redemption made it into John’s published
collections.
• According to John Tyson, John expected to go
on to perfection in this life, Charles at the
threshold death or in the next life.
A postmodern Wesleyan agenda
• “Wesley must be read in light of his sources – and
therefore with larger ecumenical perspectives of
historic Christianity”
• Author finds “it fruitful to go behind and beyond
John Wesley” and stand with him in his openness to
new light of revelation within the tradition.
• “Wesleyan theologians can then go back to Charles
and beyond John (and back to Scriptures to exegete
anew passages allegedly pointing to deification) in
order to construct a more biblical, global, Wesleyan
spirituality for the Third Millennium of
Christendom”
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Ozorovych Mykhailo – Presentation on John Wesley