John Wesley and the Means of Grace: Historical and Theological Context
Author(s)Thompson, Andrew Carl
Contributor(s)Heitzenrater, Richard P
Means of Grace
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AbstractDoctor of Theology
This dissertation examines the historical and theological context of the means of grace in the theology of John Wesley with the aim of identifying its central role in his soteriology. Examining the means of grace in its historical context requires locating the emergence of the means of grace in the English theological lexicon prior to Wesley and tracing Wesley's own inheritance of that tradition. The task of placing the means of grace within the context of Wesley's broader theological framework involves explaining how the means of grace, as disciplined practices engaged within the community of faith, lie at the heart of his soteriology as it finds expression in the Christian life. It is argued that the best way to conceive of the means of grace in Wesley's theology is as the "sacramental grammar" of his thought, grounded in the Wesleyan idea of social holiness, which names both the communal arena in which the means of grace are practiced and the salvific reality experienced by those joined together in such practice. Chapter 1 introduces the topic and explains the thesis. It describes the plan and scope of the dissertation, which is to locate John Wesley's doctrine of the means of grace in its historical and theological context. It lays out the approach, method, and sources for the project with reference to major scholarly texts that are engaged as well as the primary source material utilized. The chapter concludes by noting that, in addition to elucidating aspects of John Wesley's understanding of the means of grace not present in scholarship up to this point, it also intends to serve as a way to bring discipline to the use of Wesleyan language for the means of grace in contemporary Wesleyan scholarship. Chapter 2 - "The History of the Means of Grace: 16th and 17th Centuries" - analyzes the emergence of the language of the means of grace in the Church of England after the period of the Reformation. The chapter argues that the concept of the means of grace emerged as a way to describe the way God can be experienced through activities of devotion and worship, specifically after the loss of the full Roman Catholic sacramental system. It traces the particular use of the means of grace in Puritan practical divinity and examines its inclusion in the Book of Common Prayer. The chapter concludes with a study of John Norris' use of "means of grace" as an example of doctrinal development at the beginning of the 18th century. Chapter 3 - "The Reception and Development of the Means of Grace in John Wesley" - demonstrates Wesley's reception of the means of grace during the period of Oxford Methodism. It then goes on to trace Wesley's development of the means of grace specifically in relation to the influences of mysticism and Moravianism. The period it covers is from 1731 to 1746, at which time, it is argued, Wesley's doctrine of the means of grace had reached a level of maturity as embodied in his publication of the sermon, "The Means of Grace." Chapter 4 - "The Content of the Means of Grace in John Wesley's Theology" - analyzes the means of grace in Wesley's theology with respect to two main considerations: the nature of grace and the nature of the means themselves as "practices." It also examines Wesley's categories of instituted means, prudential means, and general means, noting aspects of Wesley's distinctive understanding of each category. Chapter 5 - "The Character and Context of the Means of Grace" - brings the preceding work of the dissertation into a consideration of the nature of salvation in Wesley, specifically in relation to Wesley's understanding of present salvation as the recovery of holiness of heart and life. It then argues that Wesley's doctrine of the means of grace is best characterized through an intersection of the notion of "social holiness" as the environmental context in which the means of grace are practiced and holiness becomes manifest in the Christian community. Conclusion - The dissertation ends with a conclusion that summarizes the preceding chapters and underscores the significance of social holiness in understanding the context of the means of grace in Wesley's theology and practice of ministry.