Locating Wesley Theologically

An important concern for many when considering a seminary is the theological perspective of that seminary.  You might guess from the name Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University that our seminary stands somehow in the tradition of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  But what exactly does that mean as far as you are concerned?

One key aspect of the Wesleyan tradition is the belief that God in His graciousness gives everyone an opportunity to choose Him, while also allowing anyone to reject Him.  As a result, we have a robust understanding of God’s love and believe God prefers to romance and woo the world to himself rather than force it to conform to His will–at least for now.  What this approach means in practice is that, while we are clear about what we think, we are comfortable for you to disagree and to work out your own understanding in connection with your own tradition.  Whether you are very conservative or very liberal, whether you are Calvinist, Lutheran, or Catholic, you are welcome here as long as you are willing to play nice.

Another key aspect of the Wesleyan tradition is an emphasis on heart formation and life transformation as the first order of business.  Far more of what we are lies beneath the surface of our conscious minds than the mere ideas to which we assent.  We believe Jesus to have said something similar when he taught that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7:21, NRSV).  We are thus very interested in who you are, in what you are becoming, in how you walk with God.  The primary order of business in a Christian’s life is Christ-likeness: heart first, head second.

Nevertheless, we affirm the importance of what we believe, and we have strong Christian beliefs.  We confess with the Christians of the ages the faith that God created the world and made humanity in His image.  We affirm that God is one even while eternally existing as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We affirm that the eternal Son took on full humanity through the Virgin Mary and that he rose bodily from the grave.  We affirm that God in His wisdom has chosen to reconcile the world to himself through Christ alone and that Christ will one day come again to set the world right.  We derive these beliefs from our reading of the Scriptures alongside the Church of the ages, and we stand under the authority of that reading.

Alongside these core, common Christian beliefs is much room for diversity of opinion.  Our sponsoring denomination, The Wesleyan Church, allows for a wide spectrum of positions on many issues as we all seek the Spirit’s empowerment to a life fully devoted to the love of God and our neighbor.  We have within our fellowship those who practice believer’s baptism, infant baptism, and those who prefer not to partake in outward ritual at all.  We have those who believe God wants to make the world better and better through the Church and those who believe things will get worse and worse until a time of Great Tribulation.  We have those who believe communion is purely symbolic and those who would like to think the elements somehow embody the real presence of Christ.  We strongly affirm the full empowerment of women for ministry and leadership, but we respect those in our midst who disagree.

In the end, we like to think of ourselves in terms of an old motto: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  John Wesley put it this way, “If your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine.”  Together, in whatever we do, let’s “do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

  • Roger Freed

    Great statement! It succinctly state why I am a Wesleyan.

  • Jeff Brady

    I am living proof of this statement, although I am a member of the Disciples of Christ church. I feel as though I am thriving at Wesley Seminary even if I’m not part of the Wesleyan tradition (you could call me a bit of a closet-Wesleyan, though, what with undergrad and graduate work from IWU). I especially liked the Unity, Liberty, and Charity statement, especially since it’s so near and dear to the Disciples.

  • Well said. The Wesleyan Church is the big-tent denomination of conservative evangelical Christianity.

  • David,

    Perhaps I am reading your statement wrongly, but I would prefer to see “conservative evangelical Christianity” as a large tent that houses SOME Wesleyans, but not all.

    In a lot of ways, I think the Wesleyan Church has gotten a little too cozy with “Evangelicalism” (however we define it) and lost its own distinctiveness in the process. And certainly many of us within the Wesleyan Church would not consider ourselves “conservative evangelicals.”

  • Certainly we will not subscribe to John Piper’s definition of evangelicalism. You are certainly right that Wesleyans have an odd relationship to it, some liking the term and some not. In my opinion, it all depends on how you define the words, much like inerrancy. Some of our general officials have defined us as evangelicals, and that carries a good deal of weight (although not the weight of the Discipline). So I am content to use the word with the recognition that some of us will feel more comfortable with the term than others and that some of us will define it more radically than sociologically–meaning we will use the word as individuals who are committed to the missio Dei, the mission of God to bring good news (the euangelion) to the world.

  • By the way Mike, thanks for the work on the article in In Trust. It turned out really well… I was a little nervous when I saw the first proof 🙂