Andrew Sullivan, “Harmony of the Arminian Faith: A Proposal to the Global Methodist Church” (Full Thesis)

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      John Wesley left the people called Methodist a trio of doctrinal standards: The Twenty-Five Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Fifty-Two Standard Sermons and his Notes on the New Testament. This trio of doctrinal standards have always been our official doctrinal standards. The Articles being the law of our doctrine and the other two being the spirit of our doctrine. The former being an enforceable creed used to expel heretics, the latter containing our Wesleyan-Arminian distinctives.
     However, a problem with this Anglican way of “doing theology” (something Wesley simply inherited being a minister in the Church of England) is that it is deeply flawed. Our Articles only lay out a simple and basic Protestant theology (and yet even that, we former United Methodists, now Global Methodists, couldn’t even get right! Shame on us!). A Book of Homilies, or Standard Sermons,  have also been proven difficult to enforce (and how much more so Wesley’s New Testament Notes!). Yet the solution is not to abandon our traditional doctrinal standards. Indeed, to do so is to open the floodgates for every theological opinion under the sun. By proposing to abolish our trio of doctrinal standards, the Global Methodist Church has been swept away by a theological version of a Bolshevik and Jacobin revolution. Now everything goes, everything is up for grabs. There have been many suggestions as to what the future theology of the Global Methodist Church should be. They can be categorized as follows (although there can be overlap in the schools):
  1. Crypto-Romanists and Semi-Papists. Supporters of this school tend to consider themselves “Anglo-Methodists” or they tend to have a misplaced obsession with Eastern Orthodoxy. This school of theology in the Global Methodist Church tend to support things like Baptismal Regeneration, Canonical Theism, the use of Icons, Justification by Faith and Works (i.e., an Initial Justification by faith, but a Final Justification by works) and/or a blatant denial of Sola Scriptura, even elevating tradition and/or the early creeds to equal footing with Sacred Scripture. They tend to allow their political, social, and cultural disliking of the Religious Right and distaste for Baptist types to drive them to an opposite extreme.
  2. Neo-Socinians and Soft Liberals. This school of theology in the Global Methodist Church denies that the Bible is the written Word of God. They tend to see the Bible as only authoritative and accurate on matters of faith (i.e., Soteriological Inerrancy). They likewise tend to see the Bible as a human document, a human witness to God’s divine revelation, but not God’s divine revelation itself (i.e., Neo-Orthodoxy). This school of thought is also incapable of answering the following question correctly: Is the Bible true because it is authoritative, or is the Bible authoritative because it is true? They likewise affirm the existence of hell, but will never preach it from the pulpit. They likewise affirm the existence of sin, and the need for repentance, but will never mention it from the pulpit.  They tend to allow their political, social, and cultural disgust for the Religious Right and hatred towards Christian Nationalism (whatever that is!) to drive them to an opposite extreme.
  3. Semi-Pelagians. This school of theology in the Global Methodist Church tend to call themselves “Wesleyan-Holiness” (i.e., Finney-Palmerists) and tend to be more influenced by the Oberlin School of Theology of Charles Finney and by Phoebe Palmer, who was the key by which Finneyism entered into and corrupted Wesleyan-Arminian theology. This school of thought tends to use the doctrine of Prevenient Grace as a way to deny Total Depravity.
  4. Calvinistic-Dispensationalists. This school of thought in the Global Methodist Church tends to support the Dispensationalism of John Nelson Darby and his heirs. They likewise tend to be influenced by popular contemporary Calvinistic preachers such as John MacArthur and others.
  5. Closeted Free-Will Baptists. This school of theology in the Global Methodist Church, while being orthodox Arminians, tend to reject infant baptism and an episcopal church government. They are Zwinglians.
  6. Generic American Evangelicals. This school of theology in the Global Methodist Church simply follows whatever is popular and common in the broader culture of American evangelicalism. Thus, this school can encompass many contradictory things. This school is the most prevalent among lay people.
  7. Paganists. This school of theology in the Global Methodist Church is mostly a problem in Africa, as many forms of African Christianity seek to synthesize local pagan beliefs and practices with Christianity. Most pagan Methodists in the United States have by and large remained in the United Methodist Church where hymns worshiping Mother Nature over God will remain, if not increase in the coming future.
     My proposal (see the attachment) is an alternative to the seven schools above. What I am proposing is that we reclaim our own Wesleyan-Arminian heritage. The strengths of my proposal are as follows: 1.) Wesleyan-Arminian theology is actually in accordance with the Scriptures, 2.) Wesleyan-Arminianism is what dominated Methodist theology prior to the arrival of Theological Liberalism, 3.) Therefore, my proposal has precedent and is in line with our own theological tradition as Methodists, 4.) My proposal does not abolish our trio of Doctrinal Standards given to us by John Wesley himself (thus closing the doors to the Pandora’s box we Global Methodists opened up), 5. My proposal supplements the defects of our trio of Doctrinal Standards, 6.) my proposal evades the difficult task of determining who it is that is alive today that is worthy or qualified enough to write out a confession of faith that will determine the future of Methodist theology (since my proposal puts that question into the hands of Simon Episcopius, with us contemporaries simply cleaning up parts here and there), 7. The Arminian Confession of 1621 was written in the Age of Creeds and Confessions, we contemporaries are out of practice and would not do a good job in writing one, 8.) Given today’s culture, a modern creed or confession will be too shallow, it will say nothing in order to appease everyone and not give offense, 9.) 20th century and early 21st historiography has so overemphasized Wesley, or been so corrupted by Liberalism, that we have ignored and forgotten what our own theological tradition is, thus how can we spell out our own theology in a confession when we ourselves are but babes re-learning, or barely learning for the first time, what that theological tradition is! and finally 10.) Given the diversity of contradictory schools in existence in the Global Methodist Church, it is clear that we are not in a position to write out a new confession or creed.
     While a Th.M. student in Church History at Regent University, I wrote out my post-graduate thesis paper to see if the Arminian Confession of 1621 was compatible with our Methodist doctrinal standards. The answer is yes, with some modifications and improvements, the Global Methodist Church can (and should) adopt a modified and improved form of the Arminian Confession of 1621 and by doing so create the first ever Wesleyan-Arminian confession of faith that can rival the Calvinistic Westminster Confession and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession. Whereas part one was merely the introduction to my proposal, this second part contains my thesis paper from Regent in its entirety.