Friday, March 25, 2011

Wesley vs. Wesleyan

The title of this post could be taken in a number of different ways, but I wish simply to ask the following questions:

1. What was Wesley's view of Hell?
2. What is a 'Wesleyan' view of Hell?

The answer to the first questions seems entirely clear. Wesley believed that Hell is a place of eternal torment. This is proved by the following quotations.

"[Both we Protestants and Roman Catholics believe that the] unjust shall after their resurrection be tormented in hell for ever" (Letter to a Roman Catholic)

It is a vain thought which some have entertained, that death will put an end to neither the one nor the other; it will only alter the manner of their existence. But when the body "returns to the dust as it was, the spirit will return to God that gave it." Therefore, at the moment of death, it must be unspeakably happy, or unspeakably miserable: And that misery will never end. (Sermon 'On Eternity')

The answer to the second question is, perhaps, more difficult. Are Wesleyans bound to agree with John Wesley about everything? I don't think even Wesley would be comfortable with such a notion. I think, as Outler argued, Wesley would want us to continue to pursue truth through what we call the 'Wesleyan Quadrilateral.' We are to find truth primarily through Scripture, but also by using reason, tradition, and experience.

If the 'Wesleyan' view is to pursue the truth using the quadrilateral then we may, in fact, come to different conclusions than Wesley did on a given doctrinal subject, including that of Hell. I, for one, believe the best Scriptural case (our primary tool for finding truth) can be made for a view that doesn't include eternal torment. I also believe reason supports this position. I think tradition is more open to alternatives than Wesley may have imagined.

So Wesley believed hell was a place of eternal torment, but a 'Wesleyan' may very well come to a different conclusion.

No comments: