Question: What do we do with the fact that there have been billions of people who died before Christ came to be among us on this earth? Or what about those who never learned about the saving power of Christ? How is it fair that these never had a chance for salvation? What guidance do the Scriptures give us on this issue, and what has the historic Church said about it?
For many years I have been fascinated by the Wesleyan theological tradition — which happens to be the theological tradition of the United Methodist Church and many other denominations. And in studying this, I discovered that the historic Methodist approach to this issue is a bit different from the ideas commonly heard in the evangelical world today.
As evidence I point to these paragraphs from Bishop Mallalieu’s article “Some Things That Methodism Stands For” published in 1903. He is discussing Methodist beliefs about the atonement. Bear in mind that Bishop Mallalieu’s whole thesis in this article (and the book from which it was drawn) is “back to the Bible and the Wesleys”. In the second paragraph he addresses these issues. (The bold type was added by me.)
Again, Methodism has always had a theory of the atonement. At least it has steadfastly believed that in the fall of Adam all his posterity has been disastrously affected; that moral depravity has touched every soul; that this depravity has been universal rather than total. Then it has held that the atonement is coextensive with the needs of man, and that the claims of Divine justice have been so fully satisfied that God can be just, the moral government of the universe vindicated, and at the same time all can be saved who comply with the easy terms of redemption’s plan. All prison doors are open, all chains and shackles unloosed, so that any soul may be delivered from the bondage of Satan, and come to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.
Experimentally, Methodism, from the very first, has had a plain, practical, Scriptural faith. Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.
The basis for this view is here: (more…)
I have previously written about spirituality in what might be called a generic sense: as a human capability. A simple way of understanding the spiritual side of human nature is to see it as the capacity for self-transcendence.
As I say, it is possible to see all of this as “spirituality” in a generic sense. It’s a human capacity.
But, to go further in discussing this, I need to draw on ideas explicitly from Christian theology. At this point, the Christian perspective gives us some help in understanding how human spiritual capabilities connect us with God and with the world around us. The helpful concept in this case is the idea of the Holy Spirit. Our human capacity — and yearning — to reach out beyond ourselves is answered by the reality of God’s Spirit reaching to us. This is only natural to expect. We have an desire to connect with a higher reality than ourselves. Our desire to breathe is answered by the air around us. Our desire for food and water are answered the reality of food and water. Our desire for a connection with God — which would give a framework of meaning to our lives and our moral choices — is answered by the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)
Study your heart in the light of the Holy Scriptures, and you will know therein who you were, who you are, and who you ought to be. If you approach the Scriptures in meekness and humility, you will really discover there both the prevenient grace by which it is possible to be inspired to a beginning, and the concomitant grace, by which it is possible to continue a journey on the right path, as well as the subsequent grace, by which one is enabled to achieve the blessedness of the heavenly kingdom.
Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God. Salvation is carried on by convincing grace, usually in Scripture termed repentance; which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from the heart of stone. Afterwards we experience the proper Christian salvation; whereby, “through grace,” we “are saved by faith;” consisting of those two grand branches, justification and sanctification. By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favour of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God. All experience, as well as Scripture, shows this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified, in the holy, humble, gentle, patient love of God and man. It gradually increases from that moment, as “a grain of mustard-seed, which, at first, is the least of all seeds,” but afterwards puts forth large branches, and becomes a great tree; till, in another instant, the heart is cleansed, from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man. But even that love increases more and more, till we “grow up in all things into him that is our Head;” till we attain “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
— John Wesley, Sermon #83: “On Working Out Our Own Salvation.”
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“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” — John 3:16 (NRSV).
JOHN CALVIN COMMENTS (my responses are in blue):
“’That whosoever believeth on him may not perish.’ It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term world, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.”
Um. Okay. I think I’m with you there, brother John. (more…)
Guest blog by Dr. James E. Pedlar. Dr. Pedlar is Assistant Professor of Wesley Studies and Theology at Tyndale University and Seminary in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The areas of his specialization are: Wesleyan theology, ecclesiology, unity and diversity in the church, renewal and reform movements.
it says on his faculty bio: “James is a Wesleyan theologian whose work focuses on ecclesiology – especially questions involving the place of renewal and reform movements in the church. His doctoral dissertation explores the use of the Pauline concept of “charisms” as a way of thinking about the unique gifts that different movements bring to the life of the church as a whole.”