Westminster Captivity, “New Calvinists,” and the Spirit

By: Dale M. Coulter
Friday, May 7th, 2010

Gifts of the Spirit, Pusey House, Oxford

Photo by Lawrence OP

I see that my initial post on a “Westminster Captivity” has raised an eyebrow or two, and also an amen. In addition, this week my Regent colleagues, Richard Kidd and Scott Pryor have entered the discussion with Kidd talking about Reformed roots and Pryor suggesting that I may have a point with respect to forensic justification while at the same time challenging me on the importance of penal substitution.

In this post I wish to renew my invitation to the “New Calvinists” by a brief look at Reformed pneumatology in light of my two concerns: the possibility of being Reformed and charismatic and the possibility of an evangelical core centered upon a theology of conversion. The Reformed readers of my blog rightly intuited that my “beef” is with the way Reformed theology–and by extension evangelicalism–has been co-opted by a particular stream that can cloud its rich diversity. It is most definitely not an assault on Reformed Christianity, but a call not to allow one interpretation of the Reformed faith to define the whole.

The kind of Reformed Christianity I hope the “New Calvinists” will embrace is a particular stream that moves from the early Reformed thinkers to the Puritans and into the present. This does not mean that other streams must be rejected, but that this stream should become the interpretive lens rather than Old Princeton/Westminster (OP/W).

First, another confession: As a sympathetic outsider to Reformed Christianity, I admit that my brush strokes were a bit broad. Hart has helped me to see that, in some respects, the current faculty of WTS PA may be more in my corner than I realize. I still do not think I’m chasing ghosts, but, rather, exorcising spirits. The cessationist wing is alive and well, and telling people you can’t be Reformed and charismatic; the forensic folks are still emphasizing the juridical over the participatory; and the literature spawned by OP/W continues to be cited frequently. If I have the “spirit” of Thomas Muntzer (a ghost from the past to be sure), then other spirits remain with us as well, and it begins to make me wonder whether Westminster CA has not become “possessed” with the drive for doctrinal purity. In addition, there are some fine Reformed theologians operating today who have been connected to WTS, but not captive to its penchant for doctrinal purity.

And, some clarification: If you pay attention to the verbs I used with respect to forensic justification (emphasized, embraced, dominate) you’ll notice that none call for repudiation. Some may wish that I had because it would make life much easier for them; they could dismiss me as a “radical” Anabaptist, a theological judgment that lacks such historical sensitivity I know not what to do with it. In an ironic twist, the penchant to highlight forensic justification and classify me with the “enthusiasts” suggests that I was on the right track. As Edwards remind us, the choice between spiritual experience and justification is a false dichotomy. As to the Bierma thesis that Olevianus does not fit Heppe’s older paradigm of two covenantal streams, well, it was not even on the radar and is inconsequential to my point.

Bucer, Pneumatology, and the Puritans

Martin Bucer

The reason why I said that Bucer never really embraced forensic justification has to do with the question of whether the righteousness of Christ is extrinsic or intrinsic to the believer rather than the language of imputation. As Oberman made clear in an early article on Luther’s mysticism and the New-Finnish perspective has affirmed, imputation language does not forensic justification make. Bucer certainly uses the language of imputation within his scheme of double justice, but his pneumatological framework places the righteousness of Christ within the believer.

First, Bucer talks about a “living and efficacious faith,” which involves an interior motion generated by the Holy Spirit. He carefully distances this movement from the medieval scholastic idea of an infused habitus. He also indicates in several places that by this motion the individual apprehends the mercy in Christ and senses (sentire) that his sins are forgiven. The verb sentire seems experientially driven to me because Bucer will say that this person cries out (clamare) to God Abba. It is quite close to what came to be defined in the 18th century by Francis Hutcheson, among others, as a moral sense, which Jonathan Edwards employed to talk about the “sense of the excellency of God.” In other words, the Spirit makes the language of family possible, and the believer senses that s/he is a child of God. There is a conscious awareness on the part of the individual that is connected to his/her affectivity, regardless of whether that awareness involves “ejaculatory prayer,” as it did with Edwards, or some other emotive reaction.

In Bucer’s 1542 On True Reconciliation and Agreement of Churches, he connects pistis and its verbal cognate to fides and takes them to mean a “firm persuasion” the Spirit brings. Fiducia (confident trust) is linked to the verb peitho and its cognates, which Bucer finds expressed in Eph. 3:12. Bucer goes on to suggest that fuducia is an affective movement of the human spirit. Thus what gives faith its confidence is the interior affective movement generated by the Holy Spirit. In other words, faith is both cognitive apprehension and affective reliance. So, my point still stands about a robust experientially-driven encounter with affectivity at its center. Word and Spirit must always be held together.

Second, the entire point behind “double justice” is to hold together imputed and inhering righteousness by placing them in a pneumatological framework. The participatory precedes the judicial. Union with Christ as a pneumatological event gives rise to everything else. In addition, both types of justice are present within the believer–albeit in different modalities–through the Spirit who makes Christ to dwell within. Imputation occurs because Christ shares his own alien righteousness with the believer not in some mystical way (as Osiander was want to suggest), but through the power and presence of the Spirit (see Stephens). This sets the tone for the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper in which the Spirit makes Christ present in the bread and the wine. As the psychological and experiential ground of justification and sanctification, pneumatology allows Bucer to hold both together, rather than privilege one over the other. He was, after all, an Erasmian, and his very first work was on love and faith (not justification), and he did promote the reform of life and morals. I’ve always come back to Steinmetz’s provocative thoughts that Bucer is the spiritual, and possibly direct, ancestor of John Wesley, and that the Puritans could consider Bucer one of their “seminal” thinkers.

By way of conclusion, the Puritans would exploit the connection to affectivity in order to construct their ‘experimental’ piety. If experience is Anabaptist, then the Puritans are Anabaptist too. How quickly we forget that the Baptists and Quakers both came out of non-conformist Puritanism (as did John Owen, who found a way to affirm the ongoing validity of the charismata in his Pneumatology). There is much here to connect the Reformed and the Wesleyan streams. A common pneumatology centered upon faith as an affective movement that makes Christ present within and holds together justification and sanctification without privileging either. So, again, I call for an end to the captivity that over emphasizes juridical models so that it obscures the gospel as the living power of God.

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Dale M. Coulter
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22 Responses to “Westminster Captivity, “New Calvinists,” and the Spirit”

  1. TomPier says:

    great post as usual!

  2. Bob Withers says:

    I found the first post on the subject refreshing in its tone and helpful in its analysis of the major Reformed streams. With all due (and serious) respect to Systematic Theology, I suppose we all face the temptation to remove Biblical arguments from their context which can lead to overemphasis and/or their expression in isolation from their textual surroundings. An example: The forensic argument for justification in Romans is part of a trajectory that includes life in the Spirit (Romans 8) and life in community – (Chapters 12 – 16). My point is that the call to graciousness and forbearance that we find in Chapter 14 should inform our communication of the truth of justification in earlier chapters. I am not equating the doctrine of forensic justification with eating and drinking (Chp. 14), but I am suggesting that the prayer of Christ in John 17 and its outworking in Romans Chapters 12 – 16 should inform our praxis.

    I write this as one who considers himself Reformed theologically but who is not always comfortable with Reformed culture – which is one reason why the initial posting was helpful to me.

    Realizing that Jonathan Edwards is like Abraham Lincoln in that everyone wants to appropriate him; it seems to me that Edwards strove to honor the objective transcendent truth of our faith, while at the same time honoring its outworking in the lives of the people of God through the indwelling Christ and the Holy Spirit. Could he have conceived of one without the other?

    • Bob,

      Thanks so much for these comments. Very helpful. I might add that one of the reasons we remove scriptural arguments from their context is because we read scripture through the lens of a particular tradition or even a slice of a particular tradition. Of course, we are convinced that this particular tradition is the “most biblical,” which is why we embrace it, but it is not always clear to us whether we embrace it because we remain convinced it’s the most biblical or we think it’s the most biblical because we have embraced it (if that makes sense). I am just suggesting that semper reformanda is there for a reason.

      As to Edwards, you are no doubt correct there too (the mark of a great thinker). And yes, Edwards strove to hold the objective and subjective poles of the gospel together, maybe because he became convinced the same Spirit who came upon Mary and breathed forth the scriptures was also at work in the great awakening where he found himself. He wanted to take the awakening seriously and yet also recognize that discernment is needed.

      I also affirm the ecumenical spirit (if I can put it that way) of your post. Pneumatology has changed much for me, even the way I think about forensic justification. For example, one could claim that the declaration of righteousness is made on the basis of a juridical decision in the heavenly court to apply the human righteousness of Christ to the believer. In other words, it all happens outside of us, and even Christ’s righteousness remains external and is simply applied forensically and embraced in faith. Or, and I suspect this is where Bucer is, one could say that through the Spirit we receive the human righteousness of Christ because we receive Christ and thus the pronouncement is based on something internal to us–the presence of Christ. Thus through the Spirit we are “in Christ” and all that is Christ’s becomes ours because we now share his life. As I suggested, there is much here to connect Wesleyans and Reformed, and it is a theological center, not simply an “experiential” one. I think the center can hold.

      • Jeff Doles says:

        Lately, I have been thinking more about the righteousness of Christ as the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Already present and at work in us because the Holy Spirit is now present and at work in us to bring forth His fruit — the character of Christ.

      • I think that’s right Jeff, at least, as it relates to sanctification, which is what the fruit of the Spirit is all about. It is all about the way in which the Spirit transmits the righteousness to Christ in what I suggest are two modalities: internal yet alien and internal and infused. To me that was what is helpful about the idea that faith is an affective movement generated by the Spirit (and this goes back to my previous post on rectification). On the one hand, we can say that faith is a distinct affective movement the Spirit generates and thus affirm sola fide. On the other hand, we can affirm that since faith is an affective movement, there are other affective movements the Spirit generates as well. Hope, patience, etc., all begin as affective movements and when we act upon these movements consistently they become patterns of behavior (character traits). I would say they are the fruit of the Spirit, i.e., what emerges from the Spirit’s activity and our cooperation with that activity (of course I’m tipping my hand here in a particular direction).

  3. Scott Pryor says:

    Glad to see you’re affirming the possibility of the forensic and the subjective/experiential.

    • I’ve never really been against justification by faith alone, just certain formulations. As McGrath’s work (and others) makes clear, the early Protestant reformers did not all agree on how to formulate justification. I like Bucer’s formulation; I don’t like Melanchthon’s. It seems to me that some ways of formulating justification by faith alone lead precisely to the overemphasis on the juridical that I would be against.

  4. Kenbrec says:

    Thank you for these post. I am one of those who became reformed about 4 years ago while in a Pentecostal Church and I have had to deal with much rationalism from the writings of Old Princeton/ Westminster folks. I was recently told that I’d be considered a troll on another blog which connected your other post on the Westminster Captivity. Basically, it was their way saying our way or the highway and name calling. I don’t think anabaptist name calling, etc is that helpful at all, it’s a form of bullying and reveals a type of sectarianism.

    Do you think that the form of radical cessation coming out of Old Princeton/Westminster is dispensational? Reformed do not like Evangelical types who are dispensational in their eschatology, but from what I see they embrace it with the deduction of passages concerning the charismata.

    You mentioned the mystical union with Christ. Would you agree that this reformed doctrine is undernourished because of it’s lack of Pneumatology?

    Thank you for these post,


    • Ken,

      Thanks for the post and the reflections. To answer your first question, no. The Reformed argument against the charismata is very much connected to the covenantal framework of Reformed theology, at least, its modern expression is. I am going on memory here, but as I recall, the modern Reformed approach was connected to Gerhardus Vos (a Dutch Reformed scholar who taught at Princeton until the 1930s) and then O. Palmer Robertson and Meredith Kline. At least, those were the persons I read in concert with the covenantal approach when I was in seminary. Robertson (The Final Word) , and also NT scholar Richard Gaffin (Perspectives on Pentecost), both made the modern argument for the cessation of the charismata. The basic framework of the argument is that Pentecost is a redemptive historical event and thus is non-repeatable. The gifts themselves are part of the foundation laid from this redemptive historical event and as such are no longer necessary a la Eph. 2:20. There are several subsidiary issues here like what one’s definition of prophecy is, etc. This was part of the debate back in the 1990s between Don Carson and Wayne Grudem (on the one hand) and Gaffin et al. (on the other hand). However, I have always thought that the covenantal framework makes it much more difficult for Reformed scholars to argue for the cessation of the gifts. The gifts are given as part of the New Covenant so why must they be confined to the first century? I also find it interesting that in the 1990s Vern Poythress (who was at WTS PA then) was saying while the gifts in 1 Cor. have ceased, there are contemporary versions of them analogous to those gifts, which is the same move John Owen makes.

      As to the second question, I’m not really sure. I do think OP/W has gone with the Word side of Word and Spirit in reaction to the revivalist stream. You can see this not only in B.B. Warfield, but in his heirs like Van Till who says in his advice to the Reformed pastor (The Defense of Christianity and My Credo), “It has become more apparent now that our Reformed pastor cannot, as he defends the Christian faith, cooperate with the Arminian any more than he could cooperate with the Roman Catholic.” I have never seen much pneumatology in Van Till’s writings although I am happy to be corrected by someone on that point. However, Darryl Hart’s blog has alerted me to an intramural debate between forensic folks and so-called unionists, who wish to stress union with Christ. I will say that the union motif is always viewed with suspicion because of its implicit connection to the mystical tradition within Western Christianity. If one speaks of union in terms of pneumatology, it can (I think) remove some of the concerns about what kind of union we’re talking about.

      Well, I’ll stop there.

      • Kenbrec says:

        Thank you so much for that Dale. I’m still trying to work all this out. I am in debt to both my pentecostal upbringing and the calvinistic revival that I’ve experienced in the last 4 years. Two years ago I moved from North America to Asia and have seen with my own eyes the charismatic renewal. Cessation isn’t really the topic among the christian populous here as far as I know given statistically from what I understand that up to 2/3 asian christians are pentecostal/charismatic. Given the majority of christians sit outside of the west, that’s a large number of charismatics!


  5. John Yeazel says:


    If you really are interested in understanding the Old Princeton/Westminster position better you probably have to do more reading then you may be willing to do. I would suggest Darryl Hart’s The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, Darrly Hart and John Muether’s Seeking a Better Country (which does a lot of comparing and contrasting between the old school Presbyterians who leaned towards an emphasis on the forensic which did not exclude the experiential and the new school Presbyterians who were enthralled with revival and the experiential). He traces the history of Presbyterianism between about 1740 and the present and the arguments which took place among these battling factions in the denomination.

    Richard Muller’s Reformed Dogmatics is also must reading. He shows how the so-called scholastics of the 17th century were really a continuation of the main reformers thought- particularly Calvin. This is often misunderstood by critics of the Reformers.

    I would suggest you also read Kim Riddlebarger’s Phd thesis on B. B. Warfield. He brings a lot of the misunderstanding of Warfield into a clearer focus. His appendix section on Scottish Common Sense Realism was a real eye-opener for me. He has this paper posted on his blog site. Just google Kim Riddlebarger and and you will find it on the Riddleblog.

    Going through Scott Clark’s books and Michael Horton’s book and picking out ones which might be of interest to you would also be helpful in understanding their position.

    Luther’s thought is also very influential in their thinking- you really cannot just call it Old Princeton/Westminster. If you have not read any of the Lutheran confessions, Luther’s Bondage of the Will , Luther’s Commentary on Galatians and Luther’s writings against the Anabaptist’s then you should probably check some of these writings out too.

    You can always subscribe to Modern Reformation magazine and listen to the White Horse in too.

    Finally, you should probably read David Van Drunen’s Natural Law and Two kingdom theology. This is the most clearly written book on this topic along with Darryl Hart’s A Secular Faith.

    It is always best, as Scott Clark often says, to go to the primary sources rather than reading what secondary sources say about them. Come to think of it, Calvin’s Institutes might be a good place to start also.

    Sorry for the deluge of books but if you are interested in really understanding their positions these are the best sources that I know of and which they speak of all the time.

    • Well thanks John for the list. I guess the short answer is that I’ve read much of what you list. In a blog post it is difficult to spell out all the careful arguments. Also, I had John Muether in class when I was at RTS. I liked John then, and have no reason not to like him now. I’ve read Calvin’s Institutes (more than once), many of his commentaries, theological treatises, and the sermons since, as Muller points out in the Unaccommodated Calvin, you cannot simply go by the Institutes if you want to understand Calvin. And I’ve read most of Muller’s books. I have also read much that is untranslated since, as a medievalist, I can read Latin. So, I’ve read a lot of Melanchthon that is not available and I’ve looked at a lot of Luther’s early works, especially in light of the New Finnish Interpretation, and I’m about to plow through Luther again for my fall class on the Reformation. The mystical Luther comes out quite clearly in the early Psalms commentaries as Oberman pointed out. Let’s see who else: Oecolampadius, Musculus, Beza, Turretin, Perkins, Owen, and Baxter come to mind. I understand the distinctions between old and new Presbyertianism, and have also read John Witherspoon, a Scottish Presbyterian who was president of the College of New Jersey. His lectures on moral philosophy are quite fascinating for the way he combines the moral sense approach of Francis Hutcheson with the common sense realism of Thomas Reid. The Scottish enlightenment had a pretty big impact on the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Let’s see, I’ve read a lot of Zwingli and Bullinger’s Decades as well as selections from Bullinger’s commentary on 1 Corinthians. Oh, I also have all of Van Till’s works from my RTS days and have read through them (but it has been a while so it’s not as fresh to me), as well as most of Machen and Warfield. I worked through a lot of John Murray’s works while at RTS in Orlando and the new crop of Westminster folks, i.e., Gaffin, et al. I think I’ve read pretty deep in Reformed theology, especially given that I am not Reformed. This is why I have such a strong appreciation for the Reformed tradition. Since I teach on the Reformation, I try to stay up with the latest research in a number of areas.

      I have not read the Riddlebarger thesis, since, as you suggest, my aim has been the primary sources. And I have not kept up with some of the most recent writings by Westminster CA authors because I am primarily a medievalist whose direct area of specialty is the 12th century.

      Since you’ve suggested a list, let me suggest a list: 1) you should read Peter Martyr (most of his works are in translation) and everything Frank James (now at Gordon Conwell) has written on him and the Reformation. It is quite revealing to see what an Italian Reformed thinker does. You should also read Oberman and some Lutheran scholars like Tim Weingert (who is the best scholar on Melanchthon in English). And, from the English scene, I would read Peter Stephen’s work (he is a Methodist), Duffy’s important contribution Stripping of the Altars, and everything by MacCulloch. Another Methodist Reformation scholar is, of course, David Steinmetz, whose work in invaluable.

      I mention this because either it seems you don’t think I really do understand or you’re trying to help me in light of my response to Ken. If it is the latter then thanks, but if it’s the former I want you to know that I’ve made quite a lot of effort to do so. Of course, I don’t think I understand everything about Reformed theology or even about the thinkers I have read. But I hope I’ve made a good start.

      • John Yeazel says:


        Wow, I was not expecting a response like that but I appreciate you taking the time to do so. I am not a scholar like yourself, just a layman who loves to read. Your humility with me was impressive, again, I appreciate it. I probably should have inquired more before making the suggestions that I did- sorry about that!! I do have a tendency to stick my foot in my mouth on occasion.

        I am interested in hearing and reading more about your criticism of the Old Princeton/Westminster position and why you think it is “holding captive” the New Calvinism, which you say, allows for more freedom for the charismatic experience within the Reformed tradition. I am assuming that you do realize that the faculty at Westminster- Ca. are just trying to stay faithful to the reformed confessions they adhere to and are bound by through their ordination vows. As far as I can tell they do not see much of the charismata in the their confessions or in Luther and Calvin. I am sure they read and interpret the scriptures differently than you do too. Or, they may define the charismata differently than you do. So, I guess I am miffed at to why you use the “holding captive” type language. That seems a bit sensationalist to me. They definitely do not allow for the separation of Word and Spirit which is what I think is one of their biggest criticisms of the Anabaptists of their time. Their form of worship is certainly quite different then what the charistmatics adhere to.

        I will continue to tune in to your blog site from time to time and try to follow the argument as best as I am able. I will take in your suggestions in regards to your reading list and would appreciate any more you might have in the future. I am supposing that the writers you suggested are the ones you agree with and draw from the most. Is that correct?

        I heard Scott Clark regard you as a formidable foe so he seems to respect your scholarship. I had better stop there though and let him speak for himself. I will be interested in following the debate if it unfolds.

      • Well, John, thanks for this further reply. I always appreciate it when someone comes back to a blog after their initial post.

        I suggested the particular list for three reasons: 1) Frank James is an excellent Reformation scholar who is also Reformed, but would have a different slant on what’s happening in the Reformation (or as the title of Frank’s most recent book indicates, “reformations”), so I wanted you to read someone who is Reformed, but reads the same sources a little differently because it gets at the diversity; 2) the English sources provide another take, which I discovered when I was at Oxford and the debate was raging about exactly how the Reformation in England happened (was it imposed from the top by Cranmer or was it more from the bottom); 3) Oberman, Steinmetz, et al. represent looks at the Reformation from Lutheran and Methodist scholars. Oberman in particular is a nice source for me because of his desire to situate the Reformation within late medieval developments. My study of the Middle Ages has caused me to approach the Reformers differently simply because I have begun to see the history behind the Latin terms they employ and this helps to contextualize them more. So, it’s not necessarily the case that I agree with the more or less, but that I believe in reading from a number of different perspectives in order to get a richer picture of a moment in history. So I read the primary sources and then I try to read secondary sources that represent different angles because the differences get at a different set of questions.

        I do not doubt the intentions of any of the Westminster CA folks as I did not doubt any of the intentions of the RTS Orlando faculty when I was there. I learned much from RTS faculty and they were (are) Christian men whose commitment to Christ came through clearly (I never doubted that). So I have no reason at all to doubt that WTS CA want to hold to historic Reformed Christianity as they understand it (and they are a formidable bunch!), and I would think that they have concerns about the dilution of Reformed theology that I have about the dilution or modification of Wesleyan theology (not Arminian, which I have never used to describe myself). In the same way, I have no doubt that Warfield wanted to preserve Reformed Christianity as he understood. I have just come to think that Reformed Christianity is much broader than this interpretation. For example, the EPC denomination holds to the gifts and has a position paper on the Holy Spirit in which it seeks to situate such a perspective within a Reformed framework. You could easily go to the EPC website and find it. There is also the concern about spiritual experience and my reading of Old Princeton/Westminster is that there is an inherent suspicion of spiritual experience even though everyone (I presume) would admit that on some conscious level a believer must know experientially that s/he is a child of God.

        As to my title, well, it was intentionally provocative wasn’t it. It’s like the title of one of David Well’s articles that has always stuck with me: “The DMinization of the Ministry.” Now that’s pretty provocative! Wells has a flair for that sort of thing. In any case, thanks for tuning in to the blog.

      • John Yeazel says:

        After rereading your last response I cannot help but notice the methodology you seem to use when doing your scholarly work. I do not want to sound arrogant here, so that is not my intention. I am just making an inquiry. Do you think it is possible to arrive at any type of truth and assurance in your pursuits? I am not talking about in your historical scholarship but in your theological convictions.

        In the opening section of Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Luther faults Erasmus for never making any assertions and Erasmus accuses Luther for “being over-bold in making assertions- he quotes Erasmus in this regard, which Luther says is taken from his preface: “you find so little satisfaction in assertions that you would readily take up the Sceptics’ position wherever the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the Church’s decisions permit; though you gladly submit your judgment to these authorities in all that they lay down, whether you follow it or not.” Luther then tells Erasmus that, “That is the outlook which appeals to you.” I guess I would ask you the same question- is that the outlook which appeals to you? If that is the outlook you take I find it ironic that you would pick the fight so to speak. The main thing the Reformers were fighting for in their battles with the Catholics and Anabaptists was assurance in their standing with God and peace for their condemning consciences. They did not find this type of assurance and peace in the theology of the Catholics or the Anabaptists. The historical evidence for this seems overwhelmingly obvious- even with the recent scholarship from the new perspective on Paul. How much freedom the Reformers allowed for the Holy Spirit in their worship services seems like a mute point when compared to this. Although I think the worship issue does follow from what the Reformers found in their theological pursuits.

      • After your last response John, I don’t take it as arrogance; it’s probably more a genuine curiosity on your part (but I may be wrong there). As I see it, John, there are two questions in your post: 1) do I think I can arrive at theological truth and have a sense of confidence about what I proclaim is the truth; 2) does this sense of confidence I have also related to the question of assurance of my relationship with God (as it did for the Reformers).

        The answer is unequivocally yes. This should be obvious from the fact that I am still an ordained minister in a Classical Pentecostal denomination after going to RTS and doing a doctorate in medieval theology at Oxford. I have remained Pentecostal for reasons beyond “it was the Christianity of my youth.” My mining of the history of Christianity has confirmed to me the truth of my Pentecostalism, which is not to say that Pentecostalism has the corner on the market, and there’s the rub isn’t it. The degree of confidence I have about the “truth” is directly related to what doctrine one is talking about. For example, I have a high degree of confidence in the truthfulness of Christ’s claims and thus in the triune nature of God, and thus in the nature of salvation. As a Protestant I have a degree of confidence in the truthfulness of its understanding of salvation; as a Wesleyan, I have a degree of confidence in its understanding of salvation; as a Pentecostal. . . . In relationship to my reading, I guess I would have to say that I stopped reading in a narrow slice of Christianity a long time ago, and I’ve been enriched because of it. I do not see why I cannot remain firmly located within one stream of Christianity and also have a great appreciation for other streams. After all, Bucer and Melanchthon both did. It is deeply ironic that Luther disliked Erasmus while at the same time seemed to tolerate Melanchthon’s similar strategy with respect to Reformed churches and the Catholic Church. Luther never wavered on his friend even though the subsequent debates between the Phillipists and the Gnesio-Lutherans suggest that many faithful followers of Luther did. I’m not sure why it is that when a person tries to reach out and recognize common ground with others that s/he somehow is seen to be leaning toward some sort of relativism.

        So, let me be clear: I do not think that OP/W has the corner on the market with respect to historic Reformed Christianity. In other words, I think the historical truth about Reformed Christianity is richer than what that stream has represented, and this has been one of my primary points. If that historical claim holds, and it’s still being test by others, then my second claim that it is indeed historically and theologically true that there is more common ground between Reformed Christianity and Wesleyan Christianity (and Pentecostalism) than has been generally thought. If it is true the being charismatic is not antithetical to Reformed Christianity as the OP/W stream has claimed, then there is more common ground.

        Second, as to the question of my assurance, ironically for some (not necessarily you) who think Wesleyans can’t be sure, as a Wesleyan Pentecostal, I have never been more confident of being in relationship with God. My confidence in my own personal relationship stems from a variety of sources (e.g., tradition, reason, experience, and scripture–the Wesleyan quadralateral stemming from the old Anglican three-legged stool of tradition, reason, and scripture).

        The question of the assurance of personal salvation is an ongoing pastoral challenge for both Reformed Christianity and Wesleyan in any case, right? I mean you cannot presume your own election so to what do you look? You can look for “signs” of your election that stem from “making your calling and election sure,” and this can give you some degree of confidence, but at the end of the day, according to the warnings in Hebrews, all the signs (having tasted the fruit of the coming age in the covenant community, etc.) can turn out to be false positives. This is one of the reasons why the Puritans developed such an “experimental” piety and rehabilitated the spiritual disciplines. It was about the signs of election. The pastoral challenges remain on that point, it seems to me. As I see it, there has always been this pastoral challenge between saying that you can do nothing to earn it at all (which can bring peace) while at the same time saying that you have to make your calling and election sure because you just don’t know if you’re elect (which can bring anxiety). So, if you are elect (a big if), it’s free, but since you don’t know for certain that you are, you must look to the “signs” to provide some indication. It’s like praying, reading the Bible, and all other spiritual disciplines don’t earn you anything, but doing such things is an imperfect witness to the Spirit’s activity in your life. So, where’s the assurance of election? There is none absolutely speaking. You just cling in faith, and you trust that the fact of your clinging in faith is itself a witness to the Spirit’s activity and your election. There is the wonderful little story John Bunyan tells of bowling on the sabbath. He says that in the midst of bowling he looked up into the sky and suddenly it was as though the heavens opened up and he could feel the wrath of God coming upon him (for bowling on the sabbath). He thought for sure that hell was going to swallow him up at that very moment–you know the man who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. The assurance issue is a perennial pastoral challenge.

      • John Yeazel says:


        Again, thanks for your thoughtful response. I find it interesting that you say nothing of the sacraments in your comments about assurance. I read a very fascinating paper by a Lutheran pastor named Kory Mass called something like Repentance and Absolution in the development of Luther’s theology. That probably is wrong but you get the idea. In the paper he claims that Luther had 3 main theological “breakthroughs” in his life. The major one was his conviction about his justification from the wrath and “righteousness” of God by grace alone through faith alone on the account of Christ alone for God’s glory alone; the second one was his distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel in his reading of the scriptures and how he found this to be a common error among biblical readers and the third and most least known was how Luther progressed in his understanding of repentance and absolution. He traces Luther’s early thought (when he first started at Wittenberg) up to the late 20′s and early 30′s. Luther’s assurance became stronger as he connected this with his conviction that repentance was a gift and that it was somehow connected with the Supper and the absolution found in the keys of the Church. You can find that paper at http://www.reformationpress.org They will download it for you if I remember correctly. The author goes through Luther’s writing, lectures and sermons in order to reach the conclusions which he did. He has dates and progression in Luther’s thinking clearly spelled out too. I believe the sources are also well documented.

        In regards to my motives- it is just a matter of my genuine curiousity. You seem like an admirable and likable guy so I am not doing this and asking questions for any other reason than my own curiosity and seeking another perspective on the matter. You have been great so far- I hope our trust can develop to a greater degree as we continue our correspondence.

        That is a great story about Bunyan. It certainly does show that he had a much more sensitive conscience than many (including myself) do have today but it also makes one wonder where he was placing his assurance and trust- it seems more on his performance and obedience than on the finished work of Christ.

  6. John Yeazel says:


    That link is http://www.newreformationpress.com not the other I have in my previous reply

    • Thanks John. I’ll take a look at the paper. Ah sacraments, well, yes, I did not explicitly mention them because I think of them as places of encounter with Christ through the Spirit, but these moments of encounter, like all moments, do not “guarantee” election from the Reformed angle, or perseverance from the Wesleyan. Part of the ongoing tension in all forms of Christianity is how to integrate the encounter with the process, regardless of whether the sacraments are the primary place of the encounter or not.

      • I might add here, John, that this is another fundamental connection that OP/W folks don’t seem to see. They pit Reformed piety against Pentecostal piety as though the latter is focused on spiritual experience and encounters while the former is not. The fundamental agreement is that Word and Spirit come together in an encounter that impacts and alters affectivity, and this holds true even with differences over whether the sacraments should be the primary vehicles of one’s encounters with God. In Reformed revivalist frameworks, the sacraments simply form part of a larger pneumatological setting in which the believer encounters God and is changed in the encounter. The difference being that sacraments are a guaranteed encounter because Christ has promised to be present there for his body. However, in terms of the impact of the encounter on human affectivity, well, it’s the same.

  7. Jeff Doles says:

    Regarding affections, my emotional aspect needs to be redeemed just as much as my intellectual and volitional aspects. I am no longer satisfied with the explanation that the emotions attributed to God in Scripture are merely anthropopathic, as if they really have nothing to do with the emotional aspect of human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing Calvinism with someone from the OP/W stream, and considering, in particular, what the love of God means. I appealed to 1 Corinthians 13, but was informed by my friend that Paul’s explanation of love in this chapter is merely about the kind of love human beings, not God, are supposed to have. I countered that, if the descriptions in the Bible concerning love are applicable only to men, then it is meaningless for John to have told us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

    Human emotions are not some relic of the Fall but are part of our makeup as creatures created in the likeness of God. Nor are they an insignificant part that can be ignored without consequence. So we need a robust theology that addresses them sufficiently, both the affections of God and of man.

    • And I would add Jeff that you just cannot separate the affective from the volitional. It is only with the introduction of a faculty psychology in the Enlightenment that these dimensions of the human person begin to be separated. Edwards, to his credit, fought against such a separation, as did Wesley. So, the only way your volitional gets redeemed is through the affective to which it is linked. This is ultimately what Christian perfection was for Wesley; the transformation of human affectivity so that love came to rule.