Mark K. Olson, “Strange Bedfellows: A Reappraisal of Mildred Wynkoop’s ‘A Theology of Love'”

, , Comments Off on Mark K. Olson, “Strange Bedfellows: A Reappraisal of Mildred Wynkoop’s ‘A Theology of Love'”

[To view the footnotes on this page, scroll down to the bottom of the page. Clicking on the hyperlinked footnotes will take you off site to the notes in the original article location.]


Mildred Bangs Wynkoop (1905-1997) was a missionary and educator in The Church of the Nazarene and an influential holiness theologian. She advocated for the renewed study of John Wesley and her Theology of Love is a modern classic in holiness theology. At the time of its original release in 1972, many considered it groundbreaking in its approach as the “first modern theology of holiness.”[1] The book’s influence is demonstrated by its continued use as a standard textbook in courses on Christian holiness.[2] As Mark Quanstrom noted, “Anyone interested in contemporary discussion of holiness theology was familiar with her book.”[3]

The central aim of this paper is to examine whether Wynkoop was a faithful interpreter of John Wesley. For many, the conclusions will appear shocking. For starters, the sheer number of quotations from Wesley in the book is impressive.[4] They give the impression that Wynkoop had thoroughly read Wesley and was competent to be his interpreter. Throughout the book Wynkoop held up Wesley as her mentor and source of inspiration.[5] Even a quick reading highlights her reliance on Wesley for support of her arguments and principles. All combined, the reader is left with the impression that Wynkoop had faithfully integrated Wesley’s teachings into her program to systematize contemporary holiness theology.

In Theology of Love Wynkoop sought to place Wesleyan theology of holiness, especially entire sanctification, on a more solid theological and biblical footing: “Is there a principle of interpretation—a hermeneutic—which can explain Christian doctrine and Christian life in the same system without either one undercutting the integrity of the other?”[6] So Wynkoop’s intent was not merely to contemporize the doctrine of holiness (and entire sanctification), but to systematize its principles and teachings to be more coherent to everyday life. Her design was to give the doctrine better existential grounding.

The Credibility Gap

The heart of the problem, as Wynkoop saw it, was that traditional holiness theology created a “credibility gap” between doctrine and life. In other words, what the doctrine of entire sanctification claimed was untenable to everyday life:

“Our problem is a credibility gap. Of all the credibility gaps in contemporary life, none is more real and serious than that which exists between Christian, and particularly Wesleyan, doctrine and everyday life. The absolute of holiness theology may satisfy the mind but the imperfection of the human self seems to deny all that the perfection of Christian doctrine affirms. She believes the traditional holiness message created a ‘credibility gap’ between doctrine and life.”[7]

Wynkoop gave several reasons for the credibility gap. To begin with, traditional holiness advocates had made the colossal mistake of placing too sharp of a wedge between justification and sanctification. There was a tendency to isolate the two into separate, unconnected, crisis experiences. This led to placing too much confidence in “‘crisis’ experiences to solve all human problems.”[8] Wynkoop felt traditional holiness theology encouraged a kind of “spiritual magic” when it came to relating holiness to everyday life. Consequently, the correlation between grace and real-life issues had been neglected, or, at least, strongly muted.

However, as Wynkoop probed deeper, she saw the root cause that holiness theology drew upon Greek concepts, not Hebraic ones, to formulate its understanding of human nature. Ancient Greek perspective viewed humanity in substantive categories. That is, human nature was seen as a divine soul trapped in a material body that is evil. From this perspective the goal of salvation is to escape the body. From this substance view of human reality, Wynkoop argued, the American Holiness Movement interpreted sin as genetically propagated. This entailed that sin was a substance that needs to be eradicated. By contrast, the Hebrew perspective viewed humanity in relational terms. As Wynkoop put it, “Man is a unity, not a union of parts.” Therefore, “sin is something wrong with the whole man, not just his body or human nature…sin is not a substance.”[9] Accordingly, Wynkoop argued the substantive position understood salvation to involve a kind of magic—a “sub-rational, psychological mutation” that supernaturally removed sin from the person as if it was a substance.[10] In contrast, the relational perspective saw salvation as thoroughly moral to the core. If I read Wynkoop correctly, this distinction between substantive and relational served as the axial theme of her entire program to systematize holiness theology.[11]

Wynkoop’s Relational Program

In every essential doctrine Wynkoop applies her axial theme with tight logical consistency. We begin with humanity’s creation in the imago Dei. Wynkoop contends that traditional holiness theology erred by holding a “substance theory” of the image of God. The substantive perspective sees the image as “something in man,” either a “corporeal substance or some function…or being in possession of a spirit as well as a soul and a body.”[12]  This view also defines the image by identifying those qualities or characteristics that distinguish humanity from the animal kingdom. The fundamental problem, as Wynkoop sees it, is that this perspective leads its advocates to view the fall as a loss of some thing or function in man before God and creation. Salvation then becomes a recovery of that which was lost. Salvation and sanctification become an ontological issue.

In contrast the relational theory interprets the image as “man before God.[13] The image is viewed holistically and relationally. It does not reside in human nature but refers to all that is essential to human beings dynamically involved in moral relationships.[14] Therefore, Wynkoop affirms the image was never lost, since to affirm so implies a substantive transformation to human nature:

“We do not find any biblical reference to the loss of the image of God. Hence, as would be expected, there is no word regarding the ‘restoration’ of the image…To avoid this untenable position, theologians have divided ‘the image’ into two aspects, a natural and a moral image, the first sustaining a ‘hurt’ in the Fall, the second being lost…If the image is lost so that man is totally depraved, then redemption must be in principle only, not in experience.”[15]

This redefinition of the imago Dei shapes how sin and holiness must be understood. The substantive position sees sin as “some alien substance clinging to (the) soul.”[16] But sin, Wynkoop counters, is perverted love—love locked into a false center—and holiness is love locked into Christ, the true center.[17] Consequently, and significant to our study, Wynkoop believes the substantive perspective understands holiness to involve a sub-volitional transformation.[18] But this is wrong, says Wynkoop. Since holiness is relational, and relationships involve volition, salvation cannot mean an alteration in the sub-volitional nature, because this is not a relational change but an ontological one. This makes salvation appear as magic. Wynkoop believes that when Scripture calls attention to the heart as evil, it is not some “thing” in human nature that is being referred to, but to sinful dispositions.[19] This leads to her often repeated statement that “holiness and sin are personal relationships.”[20] Her point is that salvation is relational to the core. People interact and engage each other and God on a relational plane.

The redefinition of salvation leads to a change in how grace works in the heart. Saving grace is practical, not abstract.[21] It engages the whole person, because that is how moral beings interact and relate.[22] Proponents of the substantive view often conceptualize the Holy Spirit as “being added numerically and substantially to the human spirit” for the purpose of suppressing inherent sinful impulses and implanting new holy ones.[23] But Wynkoop argues that a Hebraic understanding rejects this view of grace working in the person:

“When God’s grace begins to operate upon the person, it is at this point of moral responsibility. Grace awakens into sharp awareness everything that moral means. Both persons, God and man, confronting each other maintain personal integrity…The coming of the Spirit does not occasion an eclipse of human rationality and consciousness.”[24]

So, the substantive and relational camps understand salvation quite differently. But that is not all, for Wynkoop challenges the substantive view of faith. Faith is not a “thing” but an “essential element of personality.”[25] Faith serves as the “rational link” between the divine and the human.[26] It is not a new power supernaturally infused, as the substantive position holds, but a “changed direction of confidence and affection.”[27] Therefore, faith is not passively implanted in the person, but is an “act which engages the whole of man” and “operates on the personal level.”[28]

This brings up the subject of what it means to have sin purged from the human heart. Substantivalists see inner cleansing as a divine work in the sub-rational realm. That is, God does “‘something’ to the soul to make it pure.”[29] But, Wynkoop counters, in the moral realm cleansing must refer to the integrity of one’s love: “A clean heart is one whose deepest purpose has been centered in Christ.”[30] Holiness is single-minded devotion of the whole person to God, not the removal of some “thing” within the human spirit. Sanctification is moral union, the “very real commitment of the self to God so that there is no contrary purpose in the heart.”[31] Moral integrity, defined by love, is the heart of entire sanctification:

“Evangelical perfection…is fundamentally moral integrity and is consistent with human probationary status. It lies in the context of moral responsibility and proceeds in human life as moral capacity waxes and wanes. It never sacrifices moral and rational awareness to irrational emotional states…It is an emphasis on moral integrity defined by love.”[32]

Wynkoop goes on to define perfect love as “unalloyed sincerity,” relative to the believer’s moral capacity.[33] So Wynkoop’s relational theology concludes sanctification is “right relationship.”[34] She is certainly correct that the American Holiness Movement tended toward a reductionism by turning biblically rich terms, like holiness and sanctification, into abstractions severed from the complexities of real life. This reductionism led to a severing of sanctification from justification in a manner not taught by Wesley:

“Wesley’s concept of justification is very high—so high indeed that it may seem to some that he is confusing it with sanctification. BUT THIS IS JUST THE POINT. Wesley insisted that sanctification began in justification—not only is Christ for us, but He is in us…Justification and sanctification are not two kinds of grace, but two dimensions of the experience of God’s love and grace.”[35]

But Wynkoop moves away from Wesley when she says that salvation is potentially complete at justification. Her point is that God does not give only a part of himself at conversion (justification and new birth). There are no “higher or lower levels of grace”[36] and no “states of grace”[37] as Wesley taught.[38] The second moment is neither a “correction of the first nor a completion of a partially realized work of grace.”[39] Consequently, Wynkoop believes there is no necessary reason for a second sanctifying moment.[40] Yet, a second moment is usually needed. Though sufficient grace is given in the new birth for the believer to consecrate their whole person to God, they usually fail to fully appropriate this grace. The problem is not on God’s part but with human weakness. So, the Christian consecrates to God at conversion and later establishes their devotion by “locking” their consecration on Christ.[41]

From beginning to end Wynkoop builds a holiness theology by demarcating between substantive and relational categories. There is no doubt what most concerned her was the idea of introducing materiality into the realm of moral relationships. For Wynkoop this was the “error of errors”[42] when constructing a viable theology of holiness.

Faithful Interpreter of Wesley?

We can now pause and evaluate her overall argument. For starters, has Wynkoop been faithful to John Wesley? She continually reaches back to Wesley for support and legitimacy. This is demonstrated by the sheer volume of quotations and her admiration of Wesley as a theologian.[43] As was already pointed out, she does capture many important emphases in Wesley’s thought. These include, among many, his synergism, imago Dei motif, Adam’s federal headship, prevenient grace, the centrality of love, sanctification rooted in justification, perfection as the single intention, and the crisis/process conjunctive. There is no doubt that Wynkoop was heavily influenced by Wesley in the systematizing of her relational theology. So, it would not be correct to say that Wynkoop failed to enunciate many of Wesley’s motifs and themes on holiness.

But when we take a closer look, strong disjunctives emerge. For starters, Wynkoop failed to acknowledge how much Wesley differed from her on core doctrines. Let’s look at some examples.

Wynkoop quotes several of Wesley’s writings to support her relational view of the imago Dei. Yet, when we carefully read these same quotations it becomes evident that Wesley did support the substantive position. We saw that Wynkoop defined the substantive position to mean the image pertains to “either a corporeal substance or some function of the human person.”[44] She then includes three pages of quotations from Wesley that supposedly supports her relational position. But in the very first quotation Wesley speaks of the image as involving the “innate principle of self-motion.” This is clearly a substantive statement. Wesley then identifies the image with human faculties:

“He was, after the likeness of his Creator, endued with understanding; a capacity of apprehending whatever objects were brought before it, and of judging concerning them. He was endued with a will, exerting itself in various affections and passions. And, lastly, with liberty, or freedom of choice…”[45]

These functions agree with Wynkoop’s definition of the substantive position. This conclusion is bolstered by Wynkoop’s admission that Wesley followed standard Reformation practice by dividing the image into three categories—natural, political, and moral—that can be damaged, lost and restored.[46] Once again, this is explicitly contrary to Wynkoop’s relational view.[47] Yet, she never acknowledges this fundamental difference between her position and his. As Wynkoop argues throughout the Theology of Love, the substantive and relational perspectives regarding the imago Dei are foundational to developing all other doctrines of redemption, including holiness.

Wynkoop does acknowledge Wesley held to a substantive concept of sin.[48] In On Sin in Believers Wesley defines original sin according to the Articles of the Anglican Church, “‘Original sin is the corruption of the nature of every man, whereby man is in his own nature inclined to evil so that the flesh lusteth contrary to the Spirit.’”[49] This is the substantive position regarding sin. Moreover, in opposition to Wesley’s teaching Wynkoop denies the idea of states and degrees in regard to deliverance from sin.[50] This is one of the implications of her relational perspective. Since Wesley viewed sin as evil dispositions that need to be removed and replaced by loving ones (pure love), he would not have supported Wynkoop’s relational views regarding sin and holiness. Just as Wynkoop’s relational theology deplores the idea of saying sin can be “destroyed,” Wesley had no qualms using such language:

“Every one of these (i.e. adult believer) can say with St. Paul, ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’—words that manifestly describe a deliverance from inward as well as outward sin. This is expressed both negatively, ‘I live not’—my evil nature, the body of sin, is destroyed…”[51]

A significant difference between Wynkoop and Wesley regards how each understood perfection and entire sanctification. As we saw above, Wynkoop defines holiness in purely relational terms. Perfection is viewed as full consecration. Her famous definition of love as “locked” into Christ confirms this. Sanctification is simply “right relationship”: the believer consecrates at conversion and later “locks” this consecration in a second moment. As she acknowledges, there is not an intrinsic reason for a second moment. But Wesley understood perfection, pure love, and entire sanctification differently: perfection is a deeper transformation of the dispositional nature—the replacing of sinful tempers with holy ones. The believer then becomes “all love.”[52] The following quotations from the Plain Account illustrate his substantive understanding of holiness:

“It is that habitual disposition of soul, which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness…the being cleansed from sin…the being endued with the virtues of Christ.”[53]

“Heavenly Adam, life divine,

Change my nature into thine;

More and spread throughout my soul,

Actuate and fill the whole.”[54]

“This is the glorious privilege of every Christian, yea, though he be but a babe in Christ. But it is only of grown Christians it can be affirmed, they are in such a sense perfect, as Secondly, to be freed from evil thoughts and tempers…purified from pride…desire and self-will…anger.”[55]

“The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies, that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love.”[56]

These quotations illustrate what John Wesley understood sanctification to be: the transformation of the dispositional nature. As Randy Maddox reminds us, Wesley understood “temper” to be a ruling disposition or affection.[57] A couple of related points necessarily follow. First, dispositional transformation involves a change deeper down in the human person than what conscious consecration implies. While conscious consecration must be included in any reconstruction of Wesley’s perspective, a transformation of the tempers involves more, for it reaches deeper, even into the “sub-rational” realm of the human person (using Wynkoop’s terminology). Only a substantive conceptual framework of human personality and motivation can do justice to this understanding of inner renewal and cleansing.

But Wesley’s substantive perspective becomes even more evident when we turn to his views on original sin. He continually refers to inbred sin as a “corruption of nature,” from which the “seeds” of “sin of every kind” spring.[58] This kind of language does not favor a purely relational view of sin and holiness; at least, not from Wesley’s perspective. To the contrary, Wesley argues that sin’s “roots” go much deeper in human nature than the relational/cognitive level.[59] This perspective of sin profoundly shaped his understanding of holiness as inward purity and dispositional transformation.

Furthermore, the kinds of sin removed in the grace of perfection demonstrate that Wesley held a substantive view of sanctification. In the above quotations Wesley lists pride, (sinful) anger, self-will, and (unwholesome) desire; the “roots” of which reach deeper than merely the “rational” level.[60] An important lesson emerges at this point: Wesley’s doctrine of entire sanctification should never be summarized solely in terms of consecration (i.e. the single intention).[61] Holiness is perfect love—holy tempers purifying and ruling in the heart and life. As Maddox so aptly concludes, Wesley taught a view of perfection in which the believer’s “love for God and others becomes a ‘natural’ response.”[62] Perfection as holy tempers is one of the constants in Wesley’s theologizing throughout his lengthy career.

It is amazing to this author that for all the study of Wesley’s writings that Wynkoop did, she would deviate so far from his core principles and then claim his mantle. Besides the doctrinal points covered above, we could add others to the list.[63] Where Wynkoop went wrong in her interpretation of Wesley was with her axial theme. By driving a sharp wedge between substantive and relational concepts on human nature, sin, holiness, and perfection (and other related doctrines), Wynkoop necessarily departed from John Wesley. But she did more. Wynkoop not only failed to faithfully interpret John Wesley, but with her claims to the contrary she leads unwary readers to misread Wesley on fundamental aspects of his theology. This is the danger when novices on Wesley’s theology rely upon Wynkoop’s work to interpret and understand Wesley on holiness.

Strange Bedfellows: Wynkoop and Finney

So, if Wesley does not support Wynkoop’s argument, who does? If Wesley disagrees with Wynkoop on fundamental points, then who embraces them? If Wynkoop’s system is not congruent with Wesley’s, then who shares her principles? The immediate answer is Charles G. Finney. This will come as a shock to many. After all, Wynkoop never once quotes Finney, nor even alludes to him in the entire work. But as I read and re-read Wynkoop’s book, I kept asking myself: between Finney and Wesley, who would stand and applaud Wynkoop’s argument? No doubt it would have been Charles Finney. Though Wynkoop never quotes Finney, she nevertheless embraces the core principles of his theology. This makes for strange bedfellows; for Wynkoop would never have imagined that her system aligned more with Charles Finney’s than with John Wesley’s (her professed mentor).[64] This shows just how far she deviated from Wesley.

Wynkoop’s affinity to Finney becomes evident when we list the major agreements between the two systems in six areas:

First, Wynkoop’s relational/substantive conjunctive parallels Finney’s physical/moral government axiom. Both authors use the same axial theme to methodologically interpret core doctrines and develop their theological systems.

As readers of Finney are aware, in his Lectures on Systematic Theology he grounds his entire system on a distinction between physical and moral law. Physical law governs the material universe, including the human body, constitution, and involuntary mental states. Moral law is the law of liberty, of motive and free choice.[65] Finney then defines physical and moral government in terms reminiscent of Wynkoop’s relational/substantive conjunctive. Physical government is the government of “substance…whether the substance be material or immaterial.” It “presides over and controls…changes of substance or constitution, and all involuntary states and changes.”[66]  Moral government is the guidance of “free will by motives…it presides over intelligent and voluntary states or changes of mind.”[67] Like Wynkoop, every aspect of Finney’s system is organized around this axial theme.

So Wynkoop’s and Finney’s systems use the same axial theme to develop their respective theologies. This is true even though Finney’s work is more philosophical in argument while Wynkoop’s is more psychological.[68] As a consequence, a comparative reading demonstrates how both theologies take on the same flavor and characteristics as logically structured systems.  One of these characteristics is that both authors find it necessary to defend themselves against the charge of Pelagianism in their description of the Christian life.[69]

In the end, Wynkoop agrees with Finney on the most significant aspect of systematics—the choice of axial theme. So, according to Wynkoop and Finney, God works in the relational and cognitive realms in salvation, not deeper down in the constitution itself. This logically leads to point two.

Second, Wynkoop and Finney embrace a thoroughly moral view of holiness that rejects any kind of sub-volitional transformation in sanctification.

Finney argues this point repeatedly in his massive tome, “Sanctification does not imply any constitutional change, either of soul or body. It consists in the consecration or devotion of the constitutional powers of body and soul to God, and not in any change wrought in the constitution itself.”[70] In regard to regeneration Finney’s position is clear, “It is not a change in the substance of soul or body…The words conversion and regeneration do not imply any change of substance, but only a change of moral state or of moral character. The terms are not used to express a physical, but a moral change.”[71]

As we saw above, Wynkoop agrees, “Holiness is not metaphysically conditioned substance, but a proper relationship to God by the Holy Spirit.”[72] Again, she explains that “a clean heart is a single heart…purity cannot be a sub-rational, impersonal ‘something’ that happens to the substance of the soul.”[73]

So, both authors explicitly deny any kind of sub-volitional, sub-cognitive transformation in the work of sanctification (and regeneration). Grace transforms on the relational and cognitive levels. Since Wynkoop and Finney view holiness as single-minded devotion of the whole person to God, then logically sin must mean it’s opposite.

Third, Wynkoop follows Finney by defining sin as moral selfishness. Her well-known definition of sin as “love locked into a false center, the self” confirms the point.[74]

In keeping with her relational program Wynkoop sees sin as perverted love, “Sin is love, but love gone astray.”[75] While this statement can be read in a manner that Wesley would support, her overall program precludes such a conclusion. Her commitment to the relational/substantive conjunctive (her axial theme) compels her to deny any kind of sinfulness deeper down or further back than the cognitive powers: “Original sin is not ‘deeper down and farther back’ than our moral responsibility. It is not a thing, but a commitment of the self to a controlling center, always itself personal.”[76] Her primary concern is that to espouse a substantive view of sin logically leads to a belief that sin is a “substructure of some alien substance clinging” to the soul and not one’s “own alienation from God.”[77]

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Wynkoop is beside the point. What is important is that she acknowledges that her views are different than Wesley’s.[78]  Yet, Charles Finney is in full agreement with her, as the following quotations demonstrate:

“All sin or disobedience to moral law is a unit, and that it consists in selfishness, or the choice of self-gratification as an end…To make sin an attribute or quality of substance is contrary to God’s definition of sin. ‘Sin,’ says the apostle, “’s anomia,’ a ‘transgression of, or a want of conformity to, the moral law.’ (1 Jn 3:4) That is, it consists in a refusal to love God and our neighbor, or, which is the same thing, in loving ourselves supremely…To represent the constitution as sinful, is to represent God, who is the author of the constitution, as the author of sin…This doctrine represents sin as a disease, and obedience to law impossible, until the nature is changed by a sovereign and physical agency of the Holy Spirit.”[79]

Once again, we see that Wynkoop and Finney are theological bedfellows. They both place holiness and sin on the personal and relational levels. In agreement with their axial theme sin can not refer to a sub-volitional, sub-cognitive dynamic of the soul or constitution (i.e. a sinful inclination in human nature). Therefore, Finney and Wynkoop do not favor the church’s language of a sinful nature inherited from Adam.[80]

Fourth, Wynkoop and Finney define holiness or perfect love as the full consecration of a person’s present constitutional powers. While this is Finney’s terminology Wynkoop agrees with him in principle. We begin with Finney’s definition:

“Sanctification may be entire in two senses: (1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or consecration to God; and, (2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established, confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of consecration to God.”[81]

“Disinterested benevolence is all that the spirit of moral law requires, that is, that the love which it requires to God and our neighbor is good-willing…this willing is a consecration of all the powers, so far as they are under the control of the will, to this end.”[82]

These quotations confirm that Finney delineated the Christian life along the contours of consecration to benevolence (love). According to this scheme the “goal of the Christian seeking entire or permanent sanctification is to maintain this benevolent heart from moment to moment without returning time and again to selfishness.”[83] We now let Wynkoop speak for herself:

“Holiness is love locked into the True Center, Jesus Christ our Lord…Sin is love locked into a false center, the self…Purity of heart in itself is the loving of God with the whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is not the suppression of human impulse but the centering of the entire heart and life and activity in God…(Sanctification) means separation from sin to total devotedness to God.”[84]

The parallels between the two are evident. Wynkoop agrees with Finney that the goal of the “second ‘moment’ is a crucial, midpoint correction which ‘locks’ the compass to the Morning Star.”[85] The essence of entire sanctification is to establish the believer’s consecration to God and thereby secure their cognitive obedience to the known will of God. Once again, we see that sanctification is wholly a relational concern. While Finney uses the language of “permanent consecration” and Wynkoop of “love locked,” their meaning is the same and confirms that their doctrines of sanctification are essentially identical.

Fifth, Furthermore, the above quotations demonstrate that Wynkoop follows Finney by collapsing entire sanctification into the moment of justification and new birth. Now, it is true that Wynkoop and Finney espouse a second sanctifying moment. But this moment is so nuanced in their systems that there is no qualitative difference between the moment of initial sanctification (justification) and the moment of entire sanctification. This is due to their conceptual delineation of the Christian life as consecration.

At the moment of justification, says Finney, the repentant believer offers a “present full consecration to God.”[86] But in the second moment the believer offers the same full consecration to God. So what has changed? Finney answers that in the second moment the believer’s consecration becomes “permanent.” So it logically follows that the quality of the believer’s consecration (holiness) remains essentially the same in both moments. This is surely a collapse of entire sanctification into the moment of justification. When one is justified they are also entirely sanctified in the sense that they offer a full complete consecration to God. There is no change in the nature of the consecration in both moments, just its consistency.

Wynkoop’s system parallels Finney’s at this point. While she articulates it in a manner different than Finney, her conclusion is the same:

“In no sense is one “work of grace” limited for the purpose of reserving a place for another ‘work of grace.’ God does not partially save and fully save. Men do not respond with part of the personality and then later with the rest of it. Sin is not partially destroyed at one time and fully destroyed at another, nor is a second work of grace for the purpose of correcting the defects of the first.”[87]

There is nothing inherently defective in the Christian’s consecration in the moment of justification. Since sin is a “rupture of fellowship with God,”[88] and holiness is “personal communion…(and) fellowship with God,”[89] it logically follows that when that relationship is restored the believer is fully sanctified. In this way Wynkoop is led to “deny any essential distinction between the first crisis of justification and the second crisis of entire sanctification.”[90] Once again, we see just how far Wynkoop inadvertently embraced the core principles of Finney’s theology.

Sixth, Wynkoop agrees with Finney regarding the nature of the Spirit’s work in salvation and sanctification. She makes this plain when she rejects any notion of the Spirit working deeper down than the moral and relational levels. We need to first look at her argument to appreciate her affinity to Finney.

When discussing the divine-human interaction in sanctification, Wynkoop argues correctly that the substantive perspective holds that “certain impulses” in human nature are “in themselves right or wrong,” that is, people are born with a sinful nature that inclines them toward sin. In salvation and sanctification God’s grace comes as a “supernatural force” and “acts sub-rationally,” that is, by a “sort of spiritual operation of the Holy Spirit” to change these sinful impulses into holy ones.[91] Wynkoop decries this view of sanctifying grace since it implies that God works below the relational/cognitive level. At one point she links it to “magical manipulation.”[92] Later, she summarizes her perspective:

“Although all Christians ‘have’ the Holy Spirit, there is a unique and proper sense in which one may be said to be ‘filled’ with the Spirit only when the total commitment has been reached. In statements like this, any corporeal concept of the self or Spirit must be resolutely avoided. These are personal relationships only—not personality ‘invasions.’”[93]

Charles Finney would stand and applaud Wynkoop’s argument. He was a tireless opponent of what he called “physical regeneration”—that the Spirit of God produces a dispositional inclination deeper down than the cognitive, relational level. Instead, he advocated the Spirit works by means of “divine moral suasion.”[94] Though he speaks of the Spirit personally indwelling the believer,[95] when Finney describes the nature of the Spirit’s work he nearly always does so in terms of “influence.”[96] Like Wynkoop, Finney decries any concept of sin or of the Spirit working in the sub-rational realm:

“I object to the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness, that it makes all sin, original and actual, a mere calamity, and not a crime…This doctrine represents sin as a disease, and obedience to law impossible, until the nature is changed by a sovereign and physical agency of the Holy Spirit, in which the subject is passive.”[97]

As was noted above, Wynkoop’s affinity to Finney makes for strange bedfellows since she never once quotes or alludes to Finney, and few have taken note how close her core principles agree with his.[98] But there can be no doubt that in several ways Mildred Wynkoop presents a modern version of Finney’s theology.[99]

Let me add that it matters little if we agree with Wynkoop and Finney on the six points or in other areas. This is not the purpose of this study. What is important is to note how far Wynkoop strayed from John Wesley in developing her theology of holiness.

John Wesley’s Response

We have already pointed out the sharp differences between Wesley and Wynkoop. So it will come as no surprise that Wesley parts paths with Wynkoop and Finney on the above six points. Since we have already covered several of these areas, and they are logically linked, we can briefly summarize Wesley’s response:

1. Wesley did not use the conjunctives of substance/relational or physical/moral government to develop his theology of holiness.[100] This alone guarantees that Wesley would theologize and develop his understanding of holiness differently than did Wynkoop and Finney.

2. We already noted that Wesley did embrace a sub-volitional transformation of the dispositional nature in his doctrine of sanctification. Therefore, any reading of Wesley that fails to grasp this point misinterprets him.

3. Wesley’s understanding of sin (and holiness) is much more comprehensive than either Wynkoop or Finney embrace. Sin involves a corruption of human nature, which he often refers to as “inbred sin.” Wesley believed every person is born with a sinful nature that inclines them toward sin.

4. Therefore, Wesley’s position on Christian perfection goes beyond consecration. Holiness is more than the single intention; it is love made perfect and involves the rooting out of sinful tempers from the dispositional nature: perfect love is a deeper transformation of the dispositional nature than experienced in the new birth at justification.

5. Wesley consistently maintained a definite ordo salutis within a larger via salutis. From 1739 and thereafter he consistently maintained (1) an ongoing path of discovery, growth and maturation in salvation, (2) the distinct moments of justification and entire sanctification within this larger journey, and (3) the proper order of these twin moments and their cognates.[101] Therefore, Wesley did not collapse sanctification into justification.[102]

6. Wesley did believe that divine grace works at a deeper level than the relational and cognitive, as the following quote confirms: “The Holy Spirit works the same in our hearts, not merely creating desires after holiness in general, but strongly inclining us to every particular grace, leading us to every individual part of ‘whatsoever is lovely.’”[103] In agreement we can add what John Wesley so often prayed:

“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open,

all desires known, and from whom all secrets are hid;

cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,

that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify

thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”[104]

So, we are on solid ground to conclude that John Wesley would never have supported Mildred Wynkoop’s articulation of holiness in her Theology of Love. His fundamental convictions naturally led him to theologize in a different manner, and to conceptually articulate holiness according to different principles.


There is no doubt that Mildred Wynkoop formed a system of holiness theology that she believed was congruent with John Wesley’s principles. But in her attempt to remain logically tight in her principles, specifically, with her axial theme, she inevitably moved quite far from Wesley’s principles. Probably unaware to her, she ended up embracing several core aspects of Charles Finney’s New Divinity theology. This makes for strange bedfellows since Wynkoop would never have imagined that her primary arguments in A Theology of Love fit better with Finney’s theology than with Wesley’s.

In the end Wynkoop blends Finney’s theology with Wesley’s to form a distinct modern theology of holiness. Yet, not withstanding all her quotations of Wesley and her claims to wear his mantle, her theology differs from his in very significant ways, leading to a Wesleyan theology that is more in agreement with the core principles of New Divinity Calvinism, which Charles Finney represents. This confirms just how far many heirs of Wesley have drifted from their professed mentor without even recognizing it.[105] Therefore, novices of Wesley’s writings should not rely upon Wynkoop’s study to learn his theological principles, for they will inevitably walk away with a great many misconceptions.

Nevertheless, Wynkoop’s presentation does remain a viable option within the Holiness Movement, and deserves to be regarded as a classic, since that tradition has been shaped as much by Charles Finney, Asa Mahan, Phoebe Palmer, and others, as by John Wesley.

This article was previously published in the Wesleyan Theological Journal 45-2 (2010), 196-217.

[1] Paul Orjala, On Doing Theology vs. Rehashing Theology (1-2 Nazarene Archives).

[2] The book was added to The Church of the Nazarene’s Ministerial Course of Study in 1986.

[3] Mark R. Quanstrom, A Century of Holiness: The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene 1905-2004 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2004), 141.

[4] There are about 115 indented block quotations of Wesley’s writings. Some of the indented blocks involve more than one quotation from Wesley. This does not include the many quotations throughout the text.

[5] For example, see the chapters “What is Wesleyanism?” and “A Hermeneutical Approach to Wesley.”

[6] Mildred Wynkoop, A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1972), 15.

[7] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 39.

[8] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 47.

[9] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 49.

[10] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 49.

[11] Kenneth Collins defined an axial theme as a “soteriological leitmotif that serves an integrating role in light of which other key doctrines are best understood” (The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007, 5).

[12] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 105; italics hers. This definition will become very important later in the essay as we attempt to locate Wynkoop’s theology within the larger stream of holiness theologians.

[13] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 105.

[14] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 146.

[15] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 146-47.

[16] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 164.

[17] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 158.

[18] This is Dr. Richard Taylor’s point, “Part of the problem was Dr. Wynkoop’s earnest desire to refute what she considered a false concept of sin, viz., the concept of materiality in sin. She understood that general holiness teaching to imply such materiality. But this is a straw man. The ‘substantive’ view of sin in the sense of a material entity or a thing has never been espoused by reliable Wesleyan advocates of holiness” (Why The Holiness Movement Died, unpublished article).

[19] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 167.

[20] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 167. It is interesting that both sides in this debate lay claim to dispositional transformation in the work of sanctification but differ on how to interpret this transformation. Relationalists (like Wynkoop) and substantivalists (like Wesley) interpret such transformation in keeping with their axial themes.

[21] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 187, 214.

[22] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 191-193.

[23] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 215-216.

[24] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 220; emphasis hers.

[25] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 224, 227, 243.

[26] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 227. It is surprising that Wynkoop never defines faith as trust in A Theology of Love. It is one factor that makes her approach appear as overly moralistic in tone, even Pelagian.

[27] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 225. What Wynkoop is opposing is the perspective that faith is a gift of divine grace, an impartation from God to the person. Instead, faith is an inherent, natural attribute of relational beings. See footnote 63 below.

[28] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 230, 232, 238.

[29] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 250, 266.

[30] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 266.

[31] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 319.

[32] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 277.

[33] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 296.

[34] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 329.

[35] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 311; emphasis hers.

[36] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 332.

[37] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 334.

[38] Many examples could be given from Wesley’s middle and late periods; cf. sermons: “Christian Perfection” (1741); “On the Discoveries of Faith”(1788); “On Faith” Heb 11:6(1788); Journal entry1/25/39.

[39] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 349.

[40] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 334. Wynkoop writes, “It must always be held possible that the spiritual insight of some individuals is great enough, at the moment, to make the total human commitment which moral experience requires and the second distinctive kind of act performed.”

[41] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 347.

[42] This was Count Zinzendorf’s response to John Wesley on the subject of inherent holiness. The Works of John Wesley. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984-Present, 19:212 (Hereafter: Works).

[43] Cf. note four. Wynkoop indulges in hero worship of Wesley in chapters four and five.

[44] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 105.

[45] Works of John Wesley, 106; Sermon: “The General Deliverance” I.1.

[46] Works of John Wesley, 109. That Wesley supported a relational perspective is not in dispute (“Justification By Faith” I.1; Works 1:184). The point is he also supported the substantive perspective too (“The New Birth” I.1; Works 2:188). Accordingly, the image was damaged (natural and political) and lost (moral) in the Fall, and restored by redemption in Christ. Wesley’s relational and substantive perspectives can be harmonized when we note that he relates the relational to the moral category of his substantive perspective (Compare the two sermons referenced above).

[47] Cf. quote and footnote 15 above.

[48] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 153.

[49] On Sin in Believers I.2; Works 1:318.

[50] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 198, 206-07. On Wesley’s use of the idea and language of “state” and “degrees,” see his letter to Henry Stebbing (Journal,7/31/39); his journal comments March 28 & May 5, 1740; his letters to Miss March (3/14/68), Ann Bolton (8/12/70, 11/16/70), and Joseph Benson (3/16/71); and his sermons “Christian Perfection,” “On Faith” Heb.11:6, “On the Discoveries of Faith.” For a thorough discussion of this subject see my John Wesley’s Theology of Christian Perfection: Developments in Doctrine & Theological System. Fenwick: Truth In Heart, 2007, 2009 (Revised).

[51] “Christian Perfection” II.25; Works 2:118 (emphasis mine). Wesley told Joseph Benson, “I use the word ‘destroyed’ because St. Paul does” (Letter 10/5/70, Telford 5:204). Wesley uses the same language in his Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

[52] “Thoughts on Christian Perfection” (Olson, Mark A Plain Account of Christian Perfection: The Annotated Edition [Hereafter: Plain Account] 15:13, 19:44.Fenwick: Alethea in Heart, 2005; 82, 126).

[53] “The Circumcision of the Heart” Plain Account 6:2 (p 31; emphasis mine).

[54] “Hymns and sacred Poems I” Plain Account 9:5 (p 42; emphasis mine).

[55] “Christian Perfection” Plain Account 12:29, 33-34 (pp 61, 64; emphasis mine).

[56] “Thoughts on Christian Perfection” Plain Account 19:5 (p 114; emphasis mine).

[57] “He (Wesley) was using ‘temper’ in this connection in a characteristic eighteenth-century sense of an enduring or habitual disposition of a person” (Responsible Grace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994; 69).

[58] The Firstfruits of the Spirit II.5 (Works 1:239). Cf. On Sin in Believers I.3 (Works 1:318).

[59] In The Repentance of Believers III.1 Wesley links the themes of sin’s roots to its destruction and to salvation from the carnal mind, inward sin, and the “bent” to backsliding (Works 1:350).

[60] Wynkoop continually stresses the “rational” throughout A Theology of Love. Of course, this fits her view of entire sanctification as full consecration at the conscious level.

[61] When it comes to interpreting Wesley on holiness this is the “error of errors” of the Holiness Movement (once again, using Zinzendorf’s response to John Wesley; cf. note 42 above). Part of the problem is that modern holiness exegetes often build their interpretations of Wesley on the opening chapters of the Plain Account but fail to see that Wesley is telling his story of how his views developed over time. These chapters introduce the subject of holiness, as the single intention, but do not represent his full-orbed views on the subject. When we purview the rest of the Plain Account (along with Wesley’s sermons, letters and other writings) and keep in mind his dispositional psychology, dispositional transformation is the core idea of his views, not full consecration. This insight must inform our understanding of his perspective of perfect love.

[62] Maddox’s full quotation further clarifies this point, “Wesley was convinced that the Christian life did not have to remain a life of continual struggle. He believed that both Scripture and Christian tradition attested that God’s loving grace can transform our lives to the point where our own love for God and others becomes a ‘natural’ response” (Responsible Grace, 188). Wesley’s continual appeal to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to delineate perfect love confirms Maddox’s point.

[63] An example would be on the nature of saving faith. We saw above that Wynkoop explicitly rejects a passive reception of faith in the heart. Yet Wesley demonstrates a strong identification with Moravian views and with Martin Luther at this point. One can note the passivity of Wesley during his Aldersgate “heart-warming” (Journal, May 24, 1738), his understanding of faith as a temper or disposition (e.g. “Salvation By Faith” I.4; Works J 5:9; “On Faith” Heb 11:6 P.1; Works J 7:195) and its link to assurance (e.g. Plain Account 8:1-2; 13:16; “The Scripture Way of Salvation” II.1, 3; Works J 6:46-47). Wesley’s affinity to Luther at this point is strong when he declares faith is a “work of omnipotence” (An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion §9 (Works 11:48). Because Wesley tended to view faith as received passively as a gift of God, he relied even heavier on the Spirit’s direct witness to confirm that faith lives in the heart. Wynkoop’s view of faith relies little on the Spirit’s direct witness because the believer is active in the saving moment: faith is a conscious, deliberate act of the will. Of course, in this scheme the person knows if they have made the decision of faith. This is not an insignificant difference between Wynkoop and Wesley. It shows just how deep the divide is between the two theologies.

[64] Laurence Wood makes an excellent point in a recent article, “Scholars who treat Wesley’s writings as a consistent system of thought are more likely manufacturing a myth…” (“The Origin, Development, and Consistency of John Wesley’s Theology of Holiness” in Wesleyan Theological Journal, Vol. 43, Num. 2, Fall 2008, 33).

[65] Finney, Charles G. Lectures on Systematic Theology, 2 Vols. Fairfax: Xulon Press, 2002, I:36.

[66] Finney, Lectures I:49, 50.

[67] Finney, Lectures I:50.

[68] This reflects the difference in eras that both authors lived. Finney (1792-1875) is a child of the Enlightenment, which still held a strong sway in the popular mind in antebellum America. Wynkoop is a product of the twentieth century when Freudian ideas have gained ascendancy.

[69] Anyone familiar with Finney’s ministry and writings on theology are well aware of the accusation that he was Pelagian. See the series of articles recently republished from the Princeton Review in the 1830’s that charge Finney and others in the New Divinity Movement of Pelagianism (Princton Versus The New Divinity, Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001). Mark Quanstrom makes the same point about Wynkoop’s work (A Century of Holiness, 145). See also Wynkoop’s response that her work is not Pelagian (A Theology of Love, 171).

[70] Finney, Lectures, II:784.

[71] Finney, Lectures, I.546.

[72] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 177.

[73] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 266.

[74] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 158. If in doubt the reader should peruse once again the section above on Wynkoop’s relational program.

[75] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 157.

[76] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 150.

[77] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 164. But see note 18 above.

[78] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 153.

[79] Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, I:340, 524-25.

[80] Finney writes, “Moral depravity, as I use the term, does not consist in, nor imply a sinful nature, in the sense that the substance of the human soul is sinful itself. It is not a constitutional sinfulness…a constitutional appetency or craving for sin (Lectures on Systematic Theology, I:500, 507). Wynkoop writes, “Sin is a rupture of fellowship with God…original sin is not ‘deeper down and farther back’ than our moral responsibility. It is not a thing, but a commitment of the self to a controlling center, always itself personal” (Theology of Love, 156, 150). Mark Quanstrom confirms that Wynkoop did not favor “sinful nature” terminology (A Century of Holiness Theology, 146).

[81] Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, II:785.

[82] Finney, Lectures, I:198.

[83] Gresham Jr., John Charles G. Finney’s Doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987, 30.

[84] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 158, 253, 328.

[85] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 347.

[86] Lectures on Systematic Theology, II:736. Finney continues, “Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject…By sanctification being a condition of justification, the following things are intended. (1.) That present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and his service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present acceptance with God. (2.) That the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues” (Lectures on Systematic Theology, II:736-37, 739).

[87] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 206-207.

[88] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 156.

[89] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 154.

[90] Quanstrom, 147.

[91] A Theology of Love, 216. Though Wynkoop holds up Dr. Graham, hence the Baptists, as exponents of this view, in reality this is the substantive perspective on human nature: People are born with a sinful nature that inclines the soul toward sin. As we saw above, this is John Wesley’s position. I would add that Wynkoop’s argument that in the moment when grace “operates” the person must be passive agrees with Wesley’s conception of free grace received in a moment of simple faith. See his Aldersgate memorandum.

[92] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 166.

[93] Wynkoop, Theology of Love, 351.

[94] Lectures on Systematic Theology, I:567. Finney discusses the substantive position under the headings of “the taste scheme” and “the susceptibility scheme.” In both cases he argues against a “constitutional relish, taste, or craving for sin” in fallen human nature (I:554).

[95] Finney, Lectures, I:633.

[96] Finney, Lectures, I:415-16, 567-70.

[97] Finney, Lectures, I:525. Concerning human passivity in the moment when divine grace works see note 91 above.

[98] One of those few was Richard Taylor, who identified Wynkoop’s concept of sin as the same as Finney’s (cf. Why The Holiness Movement Died).

[99] One of the main differences between Wynkoop and Finney concerns prevenient grace. Finney explicitly rejects the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace under the rubric of “Gracious Ability” (Lectures on Systematic Theology, I:663ff.). But this authors believes that Wynkoop’s system does agree with Finney’s concerning the freedom of the will as a inherent attribute of human nature, not a gift of prevenient grace (as in Wesley). This propensity in both authors is one reason their theologies are at times labeled Pelagian (see footnote 69 above).

[100] Kenneth Collins identifies grace and holy love as the axial themes of Wesley’s theology (The Theology of John Wesley, 5-12).

[101] In relation to justification, new birth and sanctification Wesley maintained a clear ordo salutis within a larger via salutis of renewal in God’s image: cf. “Justification by Faith” II.1 (Works, 1:187); “The New Birth” P.1 (Works, 2:187); “The Scripture Way of Salvation” I.3-4, 8-9 (Works, 2:157-58, 160); “On God’s Vineyard” I.5-6 (Works, 3:505-06); “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” II.1 (Works, 3:203-04).

[102] Of course, Wesley did collapse entire sanctification into justification for a short time during his Aldersgate period (1738). Theologically, this was the primary cause behind his struggles following his evangelical conversion on May 24th and later became the central issue of the stillness controversy in 1740. For a full discussion see my John Wesley’s Theology of Christian Perfection: Developments in Doctrine and Theological System. Fenwick: Truth In Heart, 2007, 2009 (Revised); 120-129.

[103] “Farther Thoughts on Christian Perfection” Q.34 (Plain Account, 221); emphasis mine.

[104] White, James F. John Wesley’s Prayer Book: The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. Akron: OSL Publications, 1991; 125.

[105] The merger of Wesleyanism with moderate Calvinism on core principles is evident in the recent presentation on sanctification by Melvin Dieter (Wesleyan) and John Walvoord (Augustinian-Dispensational) in Five Views on Sanctification, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987. When one gets past the differences in terminology, Dieter and Walvoord disagree on very little, if anything, of substance. This is evident in their responses to each other in the book.

[This article was taken with permission from Mark K. Olson’s website where the original version can be found.]