I just finished reading William Abraham's book, Wesley for Armchair Theologians. I have been asked by several people over the years what I thought of the book; and even though I love Abraham's work, I didn't want to recommend something I hadn't read, so I decided to take up his book and read.
Abraham gives us a nice introduction to Wesley's theology. It is not a difficult read, but it is substantive. On Wesley and justification by faith he writes the following:
The crucial point to observe, surely, is that Wesley has abandoned the traditional Protestant position on justification by faith alone. He keeps the verbal and technical form of the original doctrine of the Reformation, but he has radically abandoned the substance of the tradition. His protests and denials are precisely what we would expect from a hair-splitting, competent logician, such as Wesley clearly was. They do nothing to ease the theological shift he has made.
We see here the drive to holiness that animated Wesley's theology as a whole. He is totally opposed to any vision of justification that will open a door to the denial or neglect of the moral law. Clearly, unwary doctrines of justification by faith alone have paved the way for views of the Christian life that downplay, if not reject completely, the quest for virtue and the struggle against vice. After all, if all I need is faith, then it ultimately does not matter what I do.
Now, it must be said that Wesley is not promoting justification by works. He is not remotely suggesting that salvation is something to be earned, but for Wesley our works express the reality of our justification. Thus grace is a transforming thing. It is not something that we receive passively with no response on our part. As Abraham says of Wesley, "there was no standing still; one either moved forward or backward."
There is no doubt that Wesley's account of justification by faith has been viewed suspiciously by Protestants of other theological stripes. So, here is my question for discussion: Was Wesley's account of faith and his view of its relationship to works a rejection of the hallmark doctrine of Protestantism, or an affirmation of the best of the Protestant Reformation. Why or why not?
All are welcome to comment.