The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley

(Paperback - Jun 2003)
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Is There a Way to Heaven? The great evangelist John Wesley believed there is, and he developed his theology to help people make the journey from sin to salvation. In Wesley s order of salvation, God s grace is the keynote from start to finish. The Way to Heaven is a twentieth-anniversary revision of John Wesley s Message for Today. Dr. Steve Harper presents Wesley s writings and the ideas of Wesley scholars in language that is clear and accessible but never simplistic. Written in the spirit of Wesley, here are plain words for plain people. The heart of this book is a thoughtful and inspiring look at Wesley s theology of grace and its power to transform. Included are two new chapters. Vision and Means explores Wesley s mission and methods, and To Serve the Present Age considers the impact and relevance of his message today. In addition, an updated reading list facilitates further study, and questions at the end of each chapter stimulate personal reflection and small group discussion. Ideal as a textbook or for personal study and reflection, this book will advance your knowledge and piety as you travel the way to heaven. "


  • SKU: 9780310252603
  • UPC: 025986252601
  • SKU10: 0310252601
  • Title: The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley
  • Qty Remaining Online: 19
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Date Published: Jun 2003
  • Edition: #2
  • Pages: 160
  • Weight lbs: 0.30
  • Dimensions: 8.00" L x 5.40" W x 0.50" H
  • Features: Price on Product, Bibliography
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Subject: Christian Theology - Soteriology

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

A Pilgrim
on the Way

Wesley offers a treasure to
the church of tomorrow
that will leave it poorer if ignored.


When you meet John Wesley, you meet someone who understands you. When you get to know him, you feel as though you've known him all your life. In the same way that you are on a journey to know God and to live for Christ, you find that he is also a pilgrim on the Way. This makes a study of Wesley much more than an intellectual pursuit or an academic assignment. It is a conjoining of minds, hearts, and spirits. It is a sharing of resolve to live life for the glory of God.

For many of us, understanding theology as a "way to heaven" is a new way to look at it. Many of us were taught to understand theology in a topical fashion, moving from subject to subject. And we were almost surely taught to study theology with little or no understanding of the person who wrote the theology in the first place. On both accounts, we make a mistake if we try to study Wesley this way.

For one thing, he was not a topical theologian. While we find every customary doctrine in his writings, we do not find them organized by topics or chapters. Instead, we discover a pilgrimage motif-theology interpreted in relation to the story of God's grace and in relation to our experience of this grace as we move through the days of our lives. And for another thing, we cannot understand the message apart from the messenger. Wesley's theology flows from his own life and experience of God. So, in this first chapter, we ask, "Who is John Wesley? What difference will it make in our Christian lives to come to know him and the message that comes to us through him?"

On the biographical level it is helpful to mention some basic facts. John Wesley was born on 17 June 1703, the fifteenth child and second surviving son of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. His early life in Epworth, England, was largely shaped by the example of his parents and in particular the educational program Susanna operated in the rectory.

When he was six, he was rescued from the burning rectory in so remarkable a fashion that Susanna believed the hand of God was upon him in a special way. Accordingly, she felt a particular responsibility to nurture the life of her son. What she did had its lifelong effects. And even today John Wesley's life at Epworth is rightly considered the "cradle of Methodism."

In 1713 Wesley moved to London to attend Charterhouse School. In comparison to other periods in his life, his years at Charterhouse were of lesser significance. However, while there he continued to read his Bible and say his prayers daily. After six years at Charterhouse he matriculated to Christ Church College at Oxford, where he received the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1726.

Wesley's early Oxford years saw the beginning of his spiritual pilgrimage. In 1725, after reading Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Thomas à Kempis's The Imitation of Christ, he resolved to dedicate his life to God. The next thirteen years were an agonizing attempt to work out the implications of that resolution. However, it all came together in the now-famous Aldersgate experience on 24 May 1738. There Wesley found the personal assurance necessary to give life and power to his faith.

From that point onward Wesley became England's greatest preacher and organizer; multitudes responded to his preaching, and he sought to nurture them through the united societies, which he organized. The last sixty years of his life were a constant motion of traveling and preaching that took him over 250,000 miles (mostly on horseback) and gave him the opportunity of preaching more than 44,000 times. Erwin Paul Rudolph has observed, "In Wesley's work we see the figure of a great preacher, an untiring worker, and a popular but autocratic leader. He reveals a mind that is shrewd, but capable of humor, and that is filled with the sense of divine mission."

Wesley rested from his labors on 2 March 1791. His last words served not only to capture the quality of life he lived but also the kind of life he wished for others. He died saying, "The best of all is, God is with us!"

While these facts are important, they do not fully capture Wesley, the man. There are other qualities we should be familiar with if we are to meet John Wesley in these opening pages. For me, the most appealing thing about him is that he is a fellow pilgrim in the faith. He was in search of vital faith, just as we are. When you read his diary, journal, and letters, this comes through loud and clear. He faced struggles similar to ours. He made his share of mistakes. He asked questions during times of doubt and depression. He knew the elation of victory. In a very real sense, Wesley was one of us.

Furthermore, Wesley was a practical theologian. This doesn't mean he was unfamiliar with theology on a scholarly level, or that he could not handle himself with the so-called theological heavyweights of his day. One reading of his Appeals to Men of Reason and Religion is sufficient to dispel this notion. What it does mean is that Wesley was primarily concerned about developing a faith that worked in everyday living. He was in search of a "scriptural Christianity" that was confirmed by human experience. The fact that his theology is biblical gives it a timelessness; the fact that it is confirmed by experience gives it an authenticity that theology in the ivory tower sometimes lacks. Wesley's theology has been road tested, and found effective.

To know Wesley is also to know a person of intense and meaningful discipline. Every day counted; every moment was a "God moment." Consequently, he gave himself daily to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and devotion. But discipline was never an end in itself. It was the means to a vital relationship with God and the resulting power that comes from that relationship.

As the Methodist movement began to grow, Wesley sought to instill this same spirit of discipline into his followers. The bands, classes, and societies were all organized on explicit disciplinary principles. Members were held accountable for living up to the disciplines. And through the sense of personal and corporate discipline, early Methodism had both a vitality and a stability that contemporary church life sometimes fails to exhibit. To know Wesley is to know one who echoes the saying, "The soul and the body make the man; and the spirit and discipline make a Christian."

As you read this book, keep in mind the word daily. Wesley's life and theology pulsate with this word. For over sixty years he faithfully engaged in devotional living. He calls us to do the same. He challenges us to break out of any compartmentalized concept of Christianity. Jesus is Lord! Every moment is to be lived in his presence. While we won't exactly match his methods, we should strive to imitate his discipline.

Knowing John Wesley requires that we see him in a community sense. Wesley was a churchman in the highest and best sense of the term. It's important that we see this early in this book. Too often he is cast in the light of a malcontent just looking for a good reason to start a new church. Never forget that he lived and died an Anglican. He did not inaugurate a new denomination, and he discouraged his followers from doing so. In the very first annual conference that Wesley held in 1744, he declared his allegiance to the Anglican Church and exhorted the Methodists to constant attendance of "both the word preached and the sacraments administered therein." And throughout his lifetime, Methodism was a renewal movement within the larger Anglican Church.

Having said this, it is equally important to stress that Wesley's ultimate loyalty was to God. As much as he loved the Anglican Church, he loved God more. Where he felt the church had strayed, he stood against it. He was a true "son of the Reformation." The point to be stressed is that his disagreements with the Church of England were not institutional, they were scriptural. He felt that eighteenth-century Anglicanism had drifted from important scriptural norms, and he viewed the Methodist movement as simply describing "the plain, old religion of the Church of England." His goal was not defection, but rather renewal. His constant prayer was that the renewal could take place within Anglicanism. That it did not is a fact of church history, not a fact by Wesley's design. To know Wesley is to know a churchman.

Because his churchmanship was based on Scripture rather than on contemporary doctrinal formulations, his theology has a dynamism. He abhorred stagnant orthodoxy. He sought a scriptural Christianity energized by the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit. While his theology comes from the eighteenth century, it is not bound by it. Furthermore, it moves in harmony with Christian experience. In his preface to the Standard Sermons, he wrote, "I want to know one thing-the way to heaven." For Wesley, that "way" was dynamic, moving from sin to glorification. In this book I have tried to capture this feature of Wesley's theology by basing the chapters on the "order of salvation" that emerges in his writings. Wesley never produced a systematic theology in the formal sense, but what he did produce is systematic and consistent. My goal is that the organization of this book will help you know Wesley in that light.

Finally, to know Wesley is to know someone you can read and understand. By his own design he avoided complex theological terminology. He wrote, "I desire plain truth for plain people; therefore, of set purpose, I abstain from all nice and philosophical speculations." As previously noted, he could deal with theology on a sophisticated level when needed. But in the general course of his ministry he desired to communicate with ordinary people in understandable ways. If you've previously shied away from reading theology, you're in for a pleasant surprise in Wesley. His simplicity will not insult your intelligence, it will increase it. His life-centeredness will touch you where you live and cause you to consider your own beliefs and actions. This is the kind of experience I hope you will have as you read this book. It is the kind of experience Wesley would wish for you.

I trust that this chapter has helped you sense something of a kinship with John Wesley. Such a kinship will enrich your reading of the following pages. In fact, the following chapters cannot be read in a detached manner. Wesley would not only want you to understand his message, he would want you to be affected by it. He would want you to experience the Christ to whom it points. Time and time again Wesley wrote that he "offered Christ." Through this reconstruction of Wesley's message, he is offering Christ to you yet again!

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Does your experience confirm (or deny) the author's
assertion that even people in the Wesleyan tradition do
not know Wesley very well? If you are not in the Wesleyan
tradition, how well do people in your tradition
know him?

2. Among the various features of Wesley's life and theology,
which is the most attractive to you? Why?

3. What are your desires and dreams as you begin this
book? What do you hope it will do for you?

For Further Reading

Outler, Albert. John Wesley. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1964; reprint edition, 1981.

Wood, Skevington. John Wesley, The Burning Heart. Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1977.

Chapter Two

The Root of
the Problem

(Original Sin)

The doctrine of universal sinfulness,
concludes Wesley, constitutes the fundamental
difference between Christianity and Heathenism.


You don't have to be a Christian to realize that something is wrong with the human race. Our most brilliant social analysts stand amazed in the presence of radical, often unpredictable experiences of man's inhumanity to man. Politicians all over the world are calling for the upholding of basic human rights. All the while an ominous nuclear cloud hangs overhead, reminding us that the entire destruction of this planet is possible. Everyone seems to be asking, "What is wrong?"

When John Wesley looked at his century, he asked the same question. He understood the original creation to have been good (see Genesis 1:31)-the result of an all-loving God expressing that love through everything that was made. The opening pages of the Bible clearly show that God made a beautiful world, one that would reflect God's glory and serve God's purposes. But, in fact, this was not the world Wesley saw around him or experienced within himself. Something had gone radically wrong.

He concluded that the fundamental problem was human sinfulness. Interestingly, this side of Wesley is often overshadowed by his emphasis on love. While it is true that he stressed God's love as a major plank in his theology, it's also true that he was aware of the dangers of emphasizing love to the neglect of other things. In a letter to Joseph Cownley Wesley made the point clear:

Is it not most pleasing to me as well as to you to be always preaching of the love of God? . But yet it would be utterly wrong and unscriptural to preach of nothing else The bulk of our hearers must be purged before they are fed; else we only feed the disease. Beware of all honey. It is the best extreme, but it is an extreme.

This statement makes it clear that Wesley's theology of love was not sentimentalism. It was love based on at least two primary considerations. First, Wesley believed that God loved man as the supreme object of his creation. Wesley believed in the original righteousness of man. He expressed this belief using the words of Thomas Boston: "With the same breath that God breathed into him a living soul, he breathed into him a righteous soul. This righteousness was the conformity of all the faculties and powers of his soul to the moral law." A belief in original righteousness gave Wesley his primary reason to believe in God's love.

Furthermore, original righteousness explained why people have to be saved-why redemption is the only option. Redemption only makes sense if there is prior value. If something is worthless, it can be thrown away and replaced. But if it has prior value, it must be found and restored. Redemption means that people have prior value (eternal value), and God's love will not permit anyone to be discarded.



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