Thomas C. Oden was a leading Wesley scholar and Methodist theologian. If all you read are Calvinist authors, I think you would appreciate Oden. Many of us in the Free Grace movement are far closer to Wesleyan theology than we are to Calvinist theology. For example, we both believe that God loves everyone, Jesus died for everyone, that man has free-will, and that spiritual growth is conditional on man’s cooperation with God. So you’ll often find yourself agreeing with theologians like Oden.
But you’ll also be frustrated.
At least, that’s how I felt as I read through Oden’s summary of John Wesley’s theology, entitled, John Wesley’s Teaching, Volume 2: Christ and Salvation. Here is a quote from p. 75. I’ve included the headings, too, because they illustrate the problem I see. Here is the quote:
Faith is “the sole condition of justification,” and in fact “the only necessary condition” of justification. Without faith one is still under the curse of the law. Faith is counted to the believer as righteousness.
- The Terms on Which Saving Grace Is Received
a. Simply Repent and Believe
“The terms of acceptance for fallen man are repentance and faith. ‘Repent and believe the gospel.’ Repent and believe. Repentance turns away from sin, while faith turns toward grace, so as to view this as a single turning (Christ and Salvation, p. 75).
Do you see the contradiction?
At first, Oden quotes Wesley as saying faith is “the sole condition of justification.” That seems very clear. And that is very right. We are only justified by faith.
The word “sole” means “being only one” or “having no companion.” When you say that faith is the sole condition, you mean there is nothing else to add to faith to be justified. There is no “companion” to faith. It is by faith alone.
But then immediately after saying faith is the “sole” condition, what does Oden write? Look at the headers!
“4. The Terms on Which Saving Grace Is Received.”
As in, plural? More than one term?
Wait, isn’t faith the “sole” condition?
And then the next header—“a. Simply Repent and Believe.”
I thought faith was not supposed to have any companions—but here comes “repent”!
And if there’s any doubt that repentance is not being used as a synonym for faith, Oden defines it this way: “Repentance turns away from sin…”
Turning from sin is not the same thing as believing something, is it? Breaking off an adulterous relationship, flushing the drugs down the toilet, or picking up the phone to apologize is not the same as believing that something is true.
If I heard this being taught in a Methodist church, I would be confused. One Sunday I might hear that faith is the sole condition. Another Sunday I might hear that I also had to repent of all my different sins to be saved. What would I come to believe? I’m saved by faith plus turning from my sins. In other words, I would believe in works salvation.
Are you Methodist? Have you heard this kind of contradictory teaching too?