Podcast listener Ian writes in to ask this interesting question: “Pastor John, who have been the most influential Arminian writers in your life?”
I think I am going to fudge a little if I understand the question. I have read Arminians dead and alive, but they have not by and large been very influential. The reason for that is that I don’t find the Arminian wing of the church to be the most careful exegetes. They tend to be philosophical in their approach to the Bible rather than exegetically rigorous. Over and over it is the Calvinists, in my experience, who seem to deal with the Bible most thoroughly and deeply and rigorously and carefully and in detail. So, my forays into Arminian writers don’t tend to yield the fruit I find in the other direction, because I am a Bible guy. Tell me what the Bible means by this sentence. Don’t tell me what your general opinion about the love of God implies. I want to know what the Bible means.
“I don’t find the Arminian wing of the church to be the most careful exegetes. They tend to be philosophical.”
Now, I could give numerous examples of articles and books that I read over the years trying to see the other side from where I stand, only to be regularly disappointed by the absence or the weakness of exegesis of particular texts. But the question doesn’t ask me about which ones didn’t influence me. The question says: Which Arminian writers have influenced you the most? And there are a few. So, I will answer this question, but there are not many — though they are significant.
The Wesley Brothers
Right in the front of the line stand John and Charles Wesley, especially Charles, because I have sung his words hundreds of times. How can you not be influenced by “And Can It Be?” or, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” or, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” or, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” or, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” right? I mean, how can you not go from season to season for 60 years and not be influenced by Charles Wesley?
So, thank you, God, for this Arminian who wrote such magnificent truth about the things we hold in common that I have zero hesitation to be blessed season in and season out by the hymns of Charles Wesley. And his brother John didn’t write the poems, but good night, what an inspiration from his life mainly. Not so much from his writings or his sermons, which I have read some of. But his life.
Thank you, God, for this Arminian Charles Wesley who wrote such magnificent truth in his songs.
He was the Arminian counterpart to George Whitefield during the Great Awakening, and what a passion they shared to preach the gospel in season, out of season, outdoors, indoors to a dying culture in Britain and America and to dying people. Wesley was unparalleled in his tirelessness. And I say that even with Whitefield in mind just because he outlived Whitefield, all right? Whitefield died early. Wesley lived forever. I mean, he was riding his horse and riding his horse and preaching from stumps into his 80s. And so, he is a model for me of incredible passion for the gospel, incredible stick-to-it-iveness, suffering in the overcoming of amazing obstacles. A couple of obstacles that I think about that have always inspired me is he was short. What was he, 5’2”? I didn’t look it up, but something like that.
Now, you can picture a barrel chested Whitefield and a barrel chested Spurgeon heralding the gospel to 3,000 or 30,000 people. You cannot picture a 5’2” skinny man heralding the gospel to 30,000 people — and he did. How in the world did he do that? I mean, I would rather, I think, if I had one choice to hear Wesley address 20,000 or Whitefield address 20,000, I would almost choose Wesley for the phenomenon of it. Whitefield, I would rather hear what he said and watch his emotions. But how in the world can a person that diminutive do that? Which has only helped me.
I went in for a physical checkup the other day and she said: How tall are you? She said: Never mind. I have it here, 5’7”. I said: 5’7”? I used to be 5’9”. Where did you get that? She said: That is what the nurse said. I am shrinking. I am just kind of short/average, but others who are shorter should be so encouraged. Who cares, right? Wesley made a massive difference for the gospel in his little shortness.
And the other obstacle I thought of is his marriage. It was awful. And it was so dysfunctional. How many people would have just given up entirely in ministry with this difficulty? And he didn’t.
“John Wesley made a massive difference for the gospel in his little shortness.”
One last thing. I said two. There is more than two. He was utterly devoted, as I want to be, to a simple lifestyle, a wartime lifestyle. So much so that I think I read when he came to the end of his life and they were taking stock of his estate, he didn’t have hardly anything. He had given it all away. I think he had a few silver spoons left over, and that is just the way I want to live and the way I want to leave like Wesley did.
Chesterton and MacDonald (and Lewis?)
I said I was going to fudge a little. Here is another fudging on this question. I am going to include here G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald. Now, I know Chesterton is a Roman Catholic. George MacDonald just hated Calvinism, because he grew up in it. So did Chesterton. Chesterton mocked Calvinism. George MacDonald mocked Calvinism. So, they qualify as non-Calvinists at least. And I mention them because of the impact that they have had on me. I almost included C.S. Lewis, but Doug Wilson made such a strong, compelling case for the Reformed thinking of Lewis at our conference a couple of years ago that I will leave Lewis out, because Lewis is massively influential to me — and he is not your run-of-the-mill Calvinist. But Chesterton and MacDonald were verbally abusive of Calvinists, and I have found this one thing when I read them both: their aliveness to the wonders and the paradoxes and the surprises and the oddities of the world in which we live.
G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald were alive to the wonders of the world in which we live.
MacDonald wasn’t even orthodox on his view of the cross. He just falls short of Arminianism. But when I read those two men’s sense of wonder in the real world in which we live, I am brought more alive to the Bible, more alive to the wonders in which I live. I feel like a healthier human being. In fact, I wrote about this on the blog. It is back there somewhere a couple of years ago, I think, called “The Sovereign God of Elfland: Why Chesterton’s Anti-Calvinism Doesn’t Put Me Off." So, if somebody wants to see more of what I mean by the influence of Chesterton and MacDonald they could look there.