Vic Reasoner, “Gliding With Grider”

, posted by Jon Gossman

The most recent attempt to state the Wesleyan interpretation of theology is found in Kenneth Grider’s A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1994). Among Grider’s positive contributions:

1. He interprets “the old man” as the unregenerate life, not original sin. Grider first made a case for this interpretation in the Nazarene Preacher’s Magazine in February, 1972 and again in his 1980 book on entire sanctification. Thus we put off the old man or old life when we are born again (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9).

2. In harmony with Arminius and early Methodism, Grider understands that Romans 7 is the picture of an unregenerate man.

3. He understands that salvation is not an act of human will. He cautions the Arminian-Wesleyan evangelist not to tell a congregation, “You do your part and God will do His part.” He also argues against the promise that “God will meet you halfway.” Grider explains, “We cannot initiate our own salvation. . . . God must come all the way to where we are and initiate in us our ‘first faint desire’ to turn to Christ.”

4. He is an authority on the life and teachings of James Arminius and this contributes to the richness of his presentation. He has a very adequate sections on original sin and prevenient grace.

5. He presents the view that “predestination does not have to do with a pre-decision of God regarding the eternal destiny of people, but that it has to do with what God graciously decides for believers temporally – only having to do with Christians.”

6. He teaches that saving faith must be “durative.” Scores of New Testament passages exhort us to a present tense or continuous faith. It is possible to cease to believe and then suffer the loss of saving grace.

7. He advocates a return to the historic Wesleyan eschatology of postmillennialism or realized eschatology.

However, since Grider claims to represent the Wesleyan-Arminian viewpoint in this authoritative 589 page theology, I am concerned that our position is not adequately represented at the following points:

1. Grider refuses to take a position that the Bible is totally without error. The fact that we do not have the original autographs is a fact accepted by all parties. However Grider asserts that “no doubt the Holy Spirit guided writers to make certain changes in the New Testament between autograph and canon.” He declares,

Our canon is richer than the autographs had been. It contains what the Holy Spirit had persuaded people to add to the autographs. It might even contain deletions from the autographs, if the original writers did not write precisely what the persuading, not coercing, Spirit had wanted them to write. It contains changes in the writing that the believing communities had found to be functional.

But how can Grider know that changes were made if he has never seen the original? I thought there was a warning not to add anything to Scripture. He claims that “even if the inspired autographs had read quite different from our canonical Scriptures, that would not greatly matter.”

But only the original manuscripts were inspired by the Holy Spirit; no theologian extends inspiration to the transmission of copies. Grider seems to teach that the Holy Spirit may have not quite got it right the first time and had to redo it. Grider seems to have more faith in the copies than in the original.

Grider seems to labor under a false assumption that the Scriptures are authoritative because they are declared to be by church councils. They are authoritative, however, because they are God-inspired.

Grider concludes that the Scriptures are “basically genuine” and are “inspired and inerrant on doctrine and practice matters.” But if the Bible has one mistake in it, it may as well have a thousand. Wesley taught if there was one falsehood in the Bible, it did not come from the God of truth. If the Bible is a fallible record, then it could be a false witness. Who determines what parts of the Bible are then in error? What is the purpose of inspiration if not to insure infallibility?

This basically comes down to an issue of who we trust. Do we believe that God inspired holy men of old to accurately write His words or do we put our faith in theologians who tells us not to worry, the alleged mistakes are of no consequence? Will someone operating on Grider’s premise someday “discover” a mistake of consequence?

Grider then carries his own premise to a dangerous conclusion. Based on his view of the written Word, he then argues that “Christ was sinless, not that He was totally errorless on unimportant matters.” In 1978 there were a series of editorials in the Convention Herald expressing concern over Grider’s teaching. Grider wrote a letter to H. E. Schmul stating, “I have never taught either in a class session or in any publication either that the Bible autographs were in error of any kind whatever, or that Christ erred in any way whatever.” However, his recent “Wesleyan” theology book seems to leave the door open to both positions.

2. Grider’s discussion of “the first work of grace” has very little to say about faith. The only discussion of “the witness of the Spirit” occurs in relationship to entire sanctification. Grider devotes 17 pages to the new birth and 102 pages to entire sanctification. Yet we cannot go on unto perfection until we have entered the kingdom. Early Methodism spent more time getting people started right, believing the Holy Spirit was able to lead them once they entered the kingdom.

3. Grider does not adequately emphasize victory over sin.

Even homosexuality, as a tendency, will not always be extirpated when we are converted or when we are sanctified wholly. . . . It cannot be a characteristic of carnality, else all persons would experience it. When carnality is extirpated, therefore, homosexuality as a tendency might or might not be corrected.

No doubt the newly formed Wesleyan Holiness Gay and Lesbian Network will find this position reassuring.

Grider also states that the inclination toward tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs are acquired desires and are not necessarily extirpated when one is converted or when Adamic depravity is expelled. To what extent, then, do we put off the old life when we are born again? In what sense do we teach complete cleansing from sin?

4. Grider recommends the term “baptism with the Holy Spirit” for the second work of grace, but admits John Wesley did not make this connection. After giving an excellent overview of what Wesley believed, Grider takes a different view, claiming the teaching of the Holiness Movement is superior.

He is overly impressed with the historical research of Paul Bassett who concluded that the early church fathers almost universally taught that entire sanctification is received through the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We must avoid reading nineteenth century presuppositions back into earlier literature. I considered Bassett’s research in my dissertation and concluded that up until the nineteenth century American holiness movement no one had ever arrived at a comparable position. In fact Thomas Oden, in stating the consensual core of Christian belief from the first five centuries of the Christian church, concluded that though indwelling is not precisely the same as baptism, sealing, and filling of the Spirit, none of these is detachable from the new birth through the Spirit and baptism in the Spirit. . . . The New Testament understands baptism of and by the Spirit as the privilege of all who have faith, all Christian, all who belong to the body of Christ.

5. Grider denies the progressive side of entire sanctification. In his preface Grider asserts “entire sanctification as instantaneous only and not also gradual.” His chief argument for this position is that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is not gradual. Grider therefore builds one untenable position on the foundation of another untenable position. Grider knows this is not Wesley’s position, but submits this as another “improvement.”

I find it interesting that he claims the writings of Macarius, a fourth century mystic, are “even closer to the Holiness Movement understanding of entire sanctification than to Wesley’s view.” However, Macarius taught degrees of perfection and that a person grows and comes to a perfect man only gradually, “not as some say, ‘Off with one coat and on with another.'”

The hyphen in the title Wesleyan-Holiness indicates the hybrid nature of Grider’s theology. Grider knows they are not one and the same. Yet hybrids cannot reproduce. Grider is too Wesleyan to be accepted by the holiness movement and differs with Wesley on too many points to be the true Wesleyan standard bearer.


From: Reasoner, Vic. “Gliding With Grider.” The Arminian Magazine: A Publication of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, 1996, vol. 14, no. 1. Print.