According to the essential tenets of the Wesleyan Doctrine, the phenomenon of holiness is the direct product of faith. Therefore, the Wesleyan theory implies that the internal change will inevitably cause outward positive changes (Leclerc, 2010). Focusing on the notion of the continuous improvement and spiritual progress, Wesley emphasized that the descried change is preferred to the idea of perfection and the idea of sanctification that is inherently connected to it (Dieter, 1996). Therefore, in the Wesleyan perspective on sanctification, the pursuit of impeccable compliance with Christian principles is impossible and, therefore, pointless. Instead, according to the Wesleyan doctrine, one should focus on being one’s best self and strive to improve continuously.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The Wesleyan perspective is intuitively understandable even to an outside viewer, which makes it readily accessible and, thus, represents one of its main advantages. However, the multiple disadvantages of the Wesleyan approach outweigh its limited range of strengths. Namely, the focus on the personal experience, which the Wesleyan Doctrine prioritizes, weakens the argument significantly. In addition, the implication that the sanctification is only possible after the transition from the old Christian ideas to the new ones, which are strongly associated with the Pentecost, appear to undermine the foundational principle of Christian principles (Dieter, 1996). By asserting that the traditional Christian discourse needs amendments in order to serve the goals of Christian people properly, the Wesleyan Doctrine reduces its value and, therefore, does not allow promoting unity across Christian communities.
Nevertheless, the Wesleyan Doctrine also has several important strengths worth mentioning. Namely, the idea of connecting the opportunity for salvation solely to faith introduces a greater range of chances for an individual to approach the desired sanctification and, ultimately, be salvaged (Leclerc, 2010). In addition, the focus on the inward regeneration of an individual’s spirituality allows increasing motivation and promoting a more personal connection with God.
Overall, the author has conveyed his point quite convincingly, making the Wesleyan Doctrine seem rather reasonable as an approach toward promoting personal spirituality and spiritual development. In its essence, the argument concerning the need to focus on the development of both inward and outward holiness seems to be a legitimate position in advancing one’s spiritual growth (Leclerc, 2010). However, the incongruences with the existing perspective on the Christian faith, including both crucial aspects of it, such as the rejection of old Christian ideas, and minor issues such as the distinction between a mistake and a sin, make the Wesleyan philosophy rather questionable.
The concept of the entire sanctification, which is often represented as the central one in the Wesleyan theology, suggests that the process of learning needs to occur either with meticulous guidance from the Lord or with the focus and willpower of an individual. Although the Wesleyan philosophy insists upon the latter as the natural progression of the spiritual development and the growth of an individual, it may misalign with the Christian doctrine, namely, the discourse surrounding the issue of free will: “having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18, , New International Version). Specifically, in Philippians, the following is stated: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13, New International Version). However, whether the Bible offers only one perspective on free will is debatable., For instance, the following passage can be interpreted as the one that encourages an individual’s agency: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36, New International Version). Consequently, the notion of the entire sanctification as the path toward spiritual growth driven by personal willpower becomes a debatable concept (Snider, 2016). Personally, I believe that the notion of the entire sanctification should be the outcome of both, with the willingness of an individual being a central constituent, and the guidance of the Lord being an essential component.
Wesleyan Theology Is Optimistic
There is a general perception of the Wesleyan Theology as an optimistic outlook on Christianity, which seems to be a rather broad yet quite substantial generalization. Due to the emphasis on the role of an individual in the progress toward sanctification and, therefore, the opportunity for personal redemption and salvation, the Wesleyan philosophy appears to introduce a certain element of optimism into the process of spiritual redemption.
Moreover, the general perspective on the human condition that the Wesleyan Theory offers is also brimming with optimism given the fact that it acknowledges and reinforces the notion of the human agency (Leclerc, 2010). Specifically, the described interpretation of the concept of free will suggests that a Christian believer can focus on improvement in order to rise to a higher level of spiritual development, thus, approaching salvation.
Approaching Christian faith and philosophy from the described angle, one might find the opposite interpretations of it to be rather pessimistic. Namely, the concept of people being predisposed to sin due to the human nature, with the following impossibility of complete redemption, seems to be rather pessimistic compared to a more generous Wesleyan theory. In addition, the standpoint that does not acknowledge human agency and suggests that people are incapable of controlling their actions and fate also seems to provide a rather grim perspective on the relationships between an individual and God.
“The Whole Tenor of Scripture”
The idea that Biblical texts are interrelated is far from being original, yet the Wesleyan philosophy elevates into a new level. By introducing the idea of the whole tenor of the Scripture, Wesleyan theology suggests that the Old and the New Testaments are connected with a single message, which supports the individual spiritual development and the pursuit of ultimate holiness (Leclerc, 2010). Therefore, whenever one emphasizes the interdependence of Biblical texts across the Old and the New Testaments, the notions of spiritual development, redemption, and the ultimate salvation are typically placed at the forefront of the discourse.
Therefore, the described observations support the notion of the wholeness of the Scripture as it is asserted in the Wesleyan philosophy. As a result, it allows connecting the Old Testament and the New Testament into a cohesive narrative, with the former representing the premise, and the latter showing its execution. Consequently, by insisting on the interdependence of the texts, one can ensure that the principal Biblical ideas are better understood and that the essential values are accepted. As a result, one can take the Bible as the guide toward spiritual growth and the opportunity for reaching the state that can be described as holiness. However, most importantly, the specified continuity imbues the Biblical text with the meaning that allows people to accept it into their lives.
Wesleyan Philosophy and the Interpretative Tradition
Notably, there is a significant difference between the Wesleyan discourse around the Christian doctrine and the traditional interpretation of Christian principles. Among the key characteristics that make the Wesleyan theology distinctively unique compared to other approaches toward interpreting the Scripture, one should mention the concept of its wholeness as the cornerstone of the Wesleyan theology. The specified notion suggests that the Bible should be seen as a single entity and, therefore, interpreted as a whole (Dieter, 1996). The described approach opposes the frameworks that tend to use a fragmented strategy for scrutinizing Biblical passages. Indeed, the latter practice may entail misinterpretations due to the lack of perspective and the context in which specific ideas should be placed.
Moreover, in contrast to other interpretive traditions applied to developing a proper understanding of the Bible, the Wesleyan practice suggests abstaining from viewing a specific source of Biblical interpretation as the only possible authority (Hocken et al., 2019). Instead, the Wesleyan framework allows and even encouraged individuals to view, explore, and interpret Biblical passages from the standpoint of their own philosophy and perspective.
The outlined approach toward interpretation of the Bible is significantly different from mine since it tends to avoid the issue of education and cultural perspective. I believe that using a reputable source for interpreting the Bible is more reasonable than approaching it solely from a personal perspective since one may not have the needed insight and knowledge to grasp the range of meanings that a certain passage may contain.
Old Testament, New Testament, and the Bible Interpretation and Application
The link between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the interpretation of the Bible might seem as obvious since the two books represent a continuous narrative and are expected to be seen as two parts of a cohesive whole. However, due to the multiple minor narratives within the larger scope of the Biblical text, the implicit meaning of the Scripture may be lost. Therefore, it is essential to connect the Old Testament to the New Testament to represent the continuity of knowledge. Specifically, whereas the Old Testament can be considered the preparation for the process of learning, the New Testament represents a repository of spiritual knowledge and a pathway to spiritual growth.
Therefore, when interpreting the specified knowledge and applying it to the Bible, one must connect the Old Testament and the New Testament to produce the basis for learning and growing spiritually. By observing how the prophecies described in the Old Testament come true in the New Testament, one can build a more nuanced understanding of the Bible and its meaning (Leclerc, 2010). Therefore, connecting the two allows engaging with the Biblical text more actively and apply an analytical lens to it, which, in turn, offers the grounds for creating more profound relationships with God.
The notion of holiness seems to pervade the Old and the New Testaments, yet the uniformity across its interpretations is quite difficult to pinpoint. Due to the presence of multiple perspectives on the concept of holiness, there seems to be a lack of general consensus regarding its essence. For example, John suggests that the notion of holiness stems from the sacrifice that Jesus made in order to save the humankind: “Jesus prayed for our sanctification” (John 17:17, New International Version). In the Acts, the specified assumption is conformed as the following sentiment is voiced: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1, New International Version). Therefore, the general holiness message that the specified authors try to convey revolves around the possibility of redemption that emerged after the sacrifice made by the Christ.
In turn, Paul represents the concept of holiness as striving to abstain from vices, primarily, selfishness, as well as avoiding sinning. The specified message aligns with the Wesleyan Doctrine that enables an individual to choose their own path and offers people a substantial amount of agency. Finally, James confirms that the concept of holiness is rooted in complying with the ideas and philosophy promoted by Jesus, which ties every holiness-related message in the Old and the New Testaments, making it uniform.
Dieter, M. E., et al. (1996). Five views on sanctification. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Hocken, P., Richie, T. L., & Stephenson, C. A. (2019). Pentecostal theology and Ecumenical theology: Interpretations and intersections. Brill.
Leclerc, D. (2010). Discovering Christian holiness: The heart of Wesleyan-holiness theology. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press.
Snider, G. L. (2016). The use of the Old Testament in a Wesleyan theology of mission. ISD LLC.