Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

25 December 2014 A.D. Dr. Lee Gatiss v. Dr. Tom McCall: Wesley & Pelagius

25 December 2014 A.D.  Dr. Lee Gatiss v. Dr. Tom McCall:  Wesley & Pelagius

Gatiss, Lee. “More work for the Wesleyans.”  Reformation 21. 23 Dec 2014.  Accessed 24 Dec 2014.

More work for the Wesleyans

I must thank Professor McCall for his full and hearty (c.2000 word) response to what he (presumably ironically) calls my "essay" (a 500 word blogpost) on Wesley and Pelagius. Mark Jones has urged me to be brief, so even though I have lots of questions about what my learned interlocutor has written (there's lots of it!), I will stick to the main point.

"Christians may, by the grace of God (not without it)

go on to perfection and fulfil the law of Christ."

This, as I understand it, is what John Wesley taught about the Christian life. OK, it's not a 260 page book like the one my excellent Arminian friend Fred Sanders has written on that. But it says in a nutshell what he thought he was saying about grace and free will, and perfectionism.

It's also what he thought the arch-heretic Pelagius taught, as my post brought out. Again, in Wesley's own words: "I verily believe, the real heresy of Pelagius was neither more nor less than this: The holding that Christians may, by the grace of God (not without it; that I take to be a mere slander,) 'go on to perfection;' or, in other words, 'fulfil the law of Christ."

In other words, the main point is this: Wesley himself deliberately and consciously phrases his exposition of Pelagius's doctrine to sound just like his own.

He then goes on to berate and belittle Pelagius's opponent, St Augustine, while saying Pelagius was one of the holiest men of his age, and unfairly stigmatised. Which is a bit odd given how Augustinian Professor McCall (and Fred Sanders too, page 162) thinks Wesley is.


Angry Young Wesley.jpg

Possibly I am deeply mistaken, and am misleading people, even though I actually quoted the words of Wesley himself and only sought to understand and expound those.

I guess there's an argument to be had about whether Wesley was right on his own doctrine. I don't especially want to get into that here, though I do have several pages (maybe even a couple of thousand words?) on his doctrines of original sin and perfectionism in my book The True Profession of the Gospel, if anyone is interested (with plenty of backup from Wesley, Tom Schreiner, Clark Pinnock, William Lane Craig, and others in the footnotes).

I guess there's an argument to be had about whether Wesley was right about Pelagius's doctrine. I don't especially want to get into that here, especially since it's difficult to pin down exactly what Pelagius taught in his own words sometimes. Charles Hodge says that Pelagianism asserted that "when converted, men might, and numbers of men did, live without sin; perfectly obeying the law" (Systematic Theology, 3:250). I suppose if Wesley and Hodge agree on what Pelagianism is then that's something substantial to be celebrated.

I guess there's also an argument to be had about whether Wesley's doctrine was exactly the same as Pelagius's doctrine, not just on perfectionism but on other things too. Hey, guess what -- I don't especially want to get into that here either. That isn't and wasn't my point. My point is, Wesley himself thought that he and Pelagius were at one, and that's what he was saying in that sermon of his I quoted. I think he puts himself in the place of Pelagius here, not just by summarising his doctrine in the way he does, but by painting his opponents in the same way he paints Augustine (they all hate me and are nasty, horrible people etc!)

So please hear me clearly. Gatiss doesn't think Wesley was a Pelagian, or that Wesley and Pelagius "taught the same things". But Gate-iss is rather baffled about what to make of Wesley's highly unusual happy identification with the arch-heretic -- the very erudite and gentlemanly Professor McCall (whose work elsewhere I admire greatly) says I am entirely right to observe Wesley's sympathetic tone and posture towards Pelagius.

I am also curious about the way Mr Wesley appears himself to want to identify his doctrine with the arch-heretic's, and also seems to want to recover Pelagius and his doctrine as a living resource for evangelicals by praising him so highly and installing him as one of the righteous remnant in church history. That's noteworthy, isn't it?

It's possible that I have misread Wesley, and that someone who is more of an expert on him might be able to show me how his statements about Pelagius and his doctrine can be understood better, and how I summarise him wrongly here. If so, I very much look forward to reading such a response. And while you are at it, please can you put these other puzzling statements of Mr Wesley into context so that I can stop worrying about what he really meant, and drawing my own perhaps unwarranted conclusions?

  • Wesley writing to Samuel Bardsley: "Never be ashamed of the old Methodist doctrine. Press all believers to go on to perfection. Insist everywhere on the second blessing as receivable in a moment, and receivable now, by simple faith."

  • Wesley's sermon on Philippians 2:12: "allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature". I'm struggling to relate this to his supposed belief in original sin. Doesn't he think all that Old Testament stuff about everyone being born in sin has been cancelled out now that Christ has enlightened every man (see e.g. his sermon on Philippians 3:12)?
  • Wesley at the Methodist Conference of 1770: "every believer, till he comes to glory, works for, as well as from, life... We have received it as a maxim that 'a man is to do nothing in order to justification.' Nothing can be more false." Lady Huntingdon and I are a bit worried by this, but perhaps we shouldn't be?
  • Wesley's so called Free Grace  sermon: "I abhor the doctrine of predestination." He didn't perhaps abhor it really, and it would be scandalous for me to say that's what he meant?
  • Wesley identifying Reformed believers as unbiblical blasphemers who represent God as worse than the devil, and are themselves worse than the baby-sacrificing worshippers of the false God, Moloch. (That Free Grace sermon again -- isn't it one of the confessional documents of Methodism?)
  • Wesley in The Consequence Proved: Equating the Calvinist God to a man who has his enemy's nine year old daughter raped so he can then strangle her to death because she has been 'deflowered'. I confess to being a little bit shocked by this one, even if it may be an allusion to something in Suetonius, which might officially make it clever.

Must stop. It's Christmas after all, and all the welkin rings. Or should that be herald angels sing?

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