Wednesday, October 31, 2007
What I question is Wesley's focus on holiness rather than on relationship. I appreciate Wesley's drive to seek to be holy and loving, but I question his notion that this in fact the central aim of religion. I would say that the central aim is in fact relationship, and the holiness is subordinate to and the product of a relationship with God. It is crucial that a genuine relationship with God leads to us loving others as a fruit of the genuineness of our relationship. I am concerned however that by his putting the focus on works of holiness and thus in many ways having a focus on performance and law that Wesley is giving us an incorrect and unrealistic focus on holiness over relationship that reflects his own particular perfectionist personality (and that of his mother) rather than the thrust of the New Testament.
Said differently, it seems that Wesley was always driven towards works of holiness and that his relational encounter with God was focused on assurance and relationship with God through the indwelling of the Spirit, but that he was continually drawn to seek holiness. First in thinking that the new birth would result in his immediate and total sanctification and then after he discovered he was mistake, in his continual preaching and striving towards holiness. In the same way that Luther really only and always talks about faith and not works, Wesley only and always talks about holiness. As I've said, there are many good things about this seeking after holiness especially when it means seeking to love God and others, but it also strikes me as a weakness of Wesley's as well, a drive that can become a foil possibly leading to legalism and a lack of compassion for those who are fallen. Just as Luther's drive and constant need for justification lead him to great heights, so did Wesley's drive, but Luther's drive was also an occation for the devil to continually torment him. A thorn in his flesh that continually prodded him to be dependent on grace. We might say that "genius has its origin in neurosis".
I think it is vital that we keep in mind that driving passion, both is good parts and its bad parts that lie behind the great theologians so that we can have a theology that takes into account their real human striving and struggles, rather that one that systematizes their thoughts into an abstract system of doctrine. I think this approach is very much in keeping with the raw passion of Luther and the experiential and practical faith of Wesley.