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Peter Althouse: Wesleyan and Reformed Impulses in the Keswick and Pentecostal Movements

Evangelical Calvinism was conceived with the power that change[d] depraved, selfish men from rebels against God to loving servants of God. Such power [could] not derive from education, worldly experience, prudence, or moral self-discipline. True holiness or benevolence toward God [was] so ineffable, so indescribably different from anything we [could] know from worldly, sensual experience that it [could] not come to us through the intellect and understanding. The link between man and God [was] not reason, the head, but the heart (italics mine).24

Reinterpretation of predestination theology was an adaptation of covenantal theology which allowed for human response to God’s grace. By arguing for a “conditional” covenantal theology, the new-lights argued that predestination was not absolute. There was a human response necessary in God’s act of grace, so the human being needed to prepare the heart, accept God’s grace and live morally. These activities did not guarantee redeeming grace, but fulfilled the prerequisites for salvation. Hence, the person participated in the process of regeneration.25 In other words, new-light theology was still covenantal because only God could offer salvation, but whether this offer was accepted or rejected depended on human agency, an agency made possible by the grace of God.

The importance of the first great awakening and new-light Calvinist theology for the later Keswick movement was its emphasis upon the experiential in salvific regeneration, distinct from a strictly rational assent to doctrinal beliefs. Thus there was a certain affinity between the Wesleyan emphasis upon the experience of salvation, moral purity and the growth of grace manifested in perfection26 and the new-light Calvinist emphasis upon the experience of salvation as an act of grace which resulted in the imputation of righteousness. Of course, within the new-light Calvinist tradition, this righteousness was not fully realized until the believer faced Jesus Christ in the day of judgment.27 The emphasis upon human response, however, was to become an even more important issue in the second great awakening when the New School Calvinist theology of Charles F. Finney and Asa Mahan rocked Oberlin college to its core, and this revival was to have a direct influence upon the Keswick understanding of sanctification.

Donald Dayton, in agreement with Richard Carradine, contended that the Calvinist revival of the second great awakening was primarily the result of an encroachment of Methodist ideas and practices into Calvinist theology. The revivalist theologies of Charles G. Finney and Asa Mahan with the controversy they created in the Oberlin school were, in Dayton’s view, a Wesleyanization of Calvinist doctrine. He argued:

…Charles G. Finney began to turn to the Wesleyan tradition for clues to achieving the experience [of holiness], preaching up the topic before personally experiencing the ‘blessing,”…. Oberlin perfectionism was basically Wesleyan in character, though influenced by its context (explicitly or implicitly) in the Calvinist New Divinity to give greater weight to ‘moral law’ (reflecting Mahan’s moral philosophy and tendency toward Kantianism) and ‘free-will’ (especially in Finney, who emphasized the call to perfection implie[d] the ability achieved in the nineteenth century.28

Yet while there was certainly an influence of Wesleyan perfectionism upon Calvinist predestination doctrine, Dayton’s assertion did not account for the vitality and dynamics of Reformed theology to interact with American culture.

Timothy Smith maintained that Finney’s emphasis upon human agency in responding to God’s offer of salvation and his interest in personal holiness was less a conversion to Wesleyan perfectionism than a general acceptance of the perfectionist ideals implicit in American culture.29 Granted, the perfectionist ideals were influenced by Wesleyan spirituality in the United States, but they were also influenced by the experiential nature of Edward’s revival a generation earlier. So Smith argued that there were four theological streams within the matrix of the second great awakening: the Traditionalists (High Church Episcopalians and Old Lutherans), Orthodox Calvinists (Old School Presbyterians, Anitmission Baptists and some conservative Congregationalists and Presbyterians), Revival Calvinists (New School Presbyterians, most Congregationalists, Low Church Episcopalians, Regular Baptists, Disciples of Christ and New Lutherans) and Evangelical Arminians (Wesleyan). While Smith suggested that Revival Calvinists and Evangelical Arminians differed more in practice than creed, he was careful to argue that Revival Calvinists mostly drew upon Reformed theology except to adopt an Arminian position on election and free will.30

McLoughlin made a similar argument, but seemed less willing to credit Revival (Evangelical) Calvinists with adapting its own Reformed heritage. He stated:

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Category: Church History

About the Author: Peter F. Althouse, PhD (University of Toronto), is Assistant Professor of Religion at Southeastern University. He is the author of Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann (T & T Clark, 2003), and has written many articles on eschatology, pneumatology and Pentecostal studies. Faculty page. Facebook.

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