More and more, I hear from young doctrine hungry Christians who turn to the young Reformed pastors in order to understand doctrine and theology. Unfortunately, many United Methodists seem to have abandoned the practice of teaching and preaching theology in compelling ways. Scott Kisker gives people from a Wesleyan background a strong place to begin recovering the practice of teaching a uniquely Methodist doctrine of salvation in Chapter 3.
In Kisker’s opening brief summary of the best Methodist preaching, he describes the content as “full salvation and the message of grace.” Our Wesleyan heritage, “offers us a model of salvation that is more than simply being born again, or being forgiven.” A Wesleyan approach agrees that forgiveness and being born again are essential parts of salvation. However, in the same way that there is more to marriage than the wedding (ht Kevin Watson), Wesleyans recognize there is more to salvation than the first moment of being reconciled to God.
Using the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15, Kisker details a Methodist understanding of God’s character and grace. For Kisker, the abundant love of the father in this story is key to understanding the love of God. Unlike the Reformed position that places God’s sovereignty as his primary attribute, Wesleyans have always understood God’s love as primary. This doesn’t deny God’s sovereignty, but suggests that God’s sovereignty is conditioned by God’s love.
Wesley puts it this way,
For what end did God create man? [The Westminster Assembly’s] answer is, ‘To glorify and enjoy him forever.’ …Do the generality of common people understand that expression, ‘to glorify God?’ No, no more than they understand Greek…’He made you; and he made you to be happy in him; and nothing else can make you happy.’
Kisker then describes a position, not completely different than the Reformed position,
God created us to know, desire, and choose what will make us happy. And yet we don’t make the choice. There is something radically wrong with us. Wesley has no trouble talking about the ‘entire depravity’ of human beings in our ‘natural state.’ Left to our own devices we are completely hopeless, looking for love, looking for happiness, but only in the wrong places.
God’s grace is his loving response to this condition,
Without the assistance of God, we will never use our liberty in such a way that it leads us to real happiness, we will never understand or desire or choose what will make us happy. That assistance comes in the form of God’s love, which is grace.
Finally, Kisker does a terrific job describing preventing (his distinction between Wesley’s language of preventing and Outler’s language of prevenient is really helpful), convincing, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Preventing (or prevenient) grace allows us to respond to God in the first place, convicting and justifying grace are what are often described as being saved or being made right with God. Essential as these experiences are, there is an abundant life of grace after we receive grace and actively respond to God. This is sanctifying grace.
…the unmerited love of God desires not simply that we be welcomed back into the familiy, but that we be healed of all that led us into misery in the first place. [Salvation in a Wesleyan context] is the complete restoration of who we have been created to be, here and now, in this life.
It sanctifies us, makes us into saints, leads us into real, substantial happiness, not based on the externals of our circumstances, but on the unmerited love of God in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps the closing quote from John Wesley sums it up best,
Thus it is by manifesting himself, he destroys the works of the devil, restoring the guilty outcast from God to his favour, to pardon and peace; the sinner in whom dwelleth no good thing, to love and holiness; the burdened miserable sinner, to joy and unspeakable, to real, substantial happiness.
Methodism, at its best, also provided tools to engage people with God and help them experience this salvation. In chapter 4, Kisker will turn his attention to that subject.