{18}     Rationalism, spiritualism, pietism

ERA 6 << Modern Church (2): Revival & Missions (AD 1700-1900) >> SESSION 1

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 21-23

        18.1.1  Enlightenment

·         Definition: The word describes the period in Western philosophy and culture beginning in 17th-c when reason was advocated as the primary source and basis of authority. Rationalism was the representative philosophy, while deism was the representative religious expression. At its core was a reexamination of traditional institutions, customs, and morals; and an attempt to replace the traditional authority of aristocracy and established churches. Its political aspiration was governmental consolidation, nation-creation, greater rights for common people.

·         Rationalism: It was a philosophy characterized by: [1] an interest in the physical world, [2] an emphasis in human sensory perception, and [3] confidence in the powers of reason. It reached the apex in 18th-c and continued in 19th-c. It was partly a reaction against cold orthodoxy in 16th and 17th centuries.

·         Emphasis in perception: One point that contrasted Aristotelianism and Platonism was Aristotle’s emphasis in the importance of sensory perception, meaning that the observation of the world could lead to true and significant knowledge. The distrust of speculation in the late Middle Ages, and the appreciation for the beauty of the human body and of the world in the art of the Renaissance were both expressions of this interest. In 17th-c, many thought that the goal of reason was the understanding of the world of nature.

·         Power of reason: Parallel to the interest in the world was a growing confidence in the powers of reason. This may be seen in the work of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) who was convinced that the entire natural world was a system of mathematical relations, and that the ideal of knowledge was the reduction of all phenomena to their quantitative expression.

        18.1.2  Descartes & Cartesianism

·         Rene Descartes (1596–1650)—father of rationalism, French philosopher and mathematician—He had a profound distrust of all that is not absolutely certain. His system was based on a great confidence in mathematical reasoning. He compared his philosophical method to geometry, a discipline that accepts only what is an undeniable axiom, or has been rationally proved. His famous book was Discourse on the Method [1637].

·         On universal doubt: Descartes felt that he ought to begin by an attitude of universal doubt. Once he found something that could not be doubted, then he could be absolutely certain of its truth. He could doubt everything but not that the doubting subject actually existed. “I think, therefore I am”—in Latin, cogito, ergo sum—became the starting point for his philosophy.

·         On God: He felt that he could prove the existence of God. He found in his mind the idea of a “more perfect being” and since his mind could not produce such an idea, which was above itself, it must have been placed there by God. He was a profoundly religious man, hoping that his philosophy would be useful for theologians.

·         On spirit vs matter: Cartesianism (Descartes’s philosophy) led to the question of the relationship between spirit and matter. Descartes affirmed that man consists of two parts: one that thinks and one that occupies space, or traditionally, soul and body.

·         Solutions: There were 3 solutions to the relationship between the two:

o        [1] Occasionalism (supported by Flemish Arnold Geulincx, 1624–1699)—The body and the soul do not communicate directly, but only by divine intervention. It is God that moves the body “on occasion” of the soul’s decision, and the soul “on occasion” of the body’s feelings and requirements. But this seemed to blame God for all events and thoughts.

o        [2] Monism (supported by Dutch Jew Baruch de Spinoza, 1632–1677)—Thought and physical extension are not two different substances, but two attributes of a single substance, e.g. red and round. God and the world are merely different attributes of one substance which is the universe. This denied the existence of a personal God.

o        [3] Pre-established harmony (supported by German Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, 1646–1716)—An infinite number of substances (called “monads”) exist independent of each other. Monads are to the metaphysical realm what atoms are to the physical/phenomenal realm. Monads cannot communicate with each other, nor does God make them communicate. God created these monads so that they may act in seeming interdependence. The soul and body too do not communicate but they all work according to the pre-established order set by the clockmaker. It seemed that God had foreordained all things, both good and evil, and that there was no human freedom.

        18.1.3  Locke & Empiricism

·         John Locke (1632–1704)—English philosopher—In his book Essay on Human Understanding [1690], he held that all knowledge is derived from experience. He asserted that the mind of a baby is a blank. The word empiricism comes from the Greek word for experience (empeirismos).

·         On knowledge: Knowledge comes from reflection on sensations which come from his senses. True knowledge is based on 3 levels of experience: [1] our own selves, whose existence we continually experience; [2] outer realities that are presently before us; and [3] God, whose existence is proved at each moment by the existence of the self and its experiences. Apart from these, there is no certain knowledge. This is a materialistic approach to life.

·         On judgment: There is another level of probable knowledge. We cannot apply the strict proofs of reason, but rather those of “judgment” which we use to conduct most of the affairs in life.

·         On faith: Faith is assent to knowledge that is derived from revelation but not from reason. Although it is highly probable, it is never certain. Since this is not a certainty, he defended religious tolerance and opposed “fanatical enthusiasm”. The state does not have the authority to limit the freedom of its citizens in a matter as personal as religion.

·         On Christianity: In his book The Reasonableness of Christianity [1693], Locke claimed that Christianity is the most reasonable of religions. However, based on his analysis, Christianity was only a very clear expression of truths and laws that others could have known by their natural faculties.

        18.1.4  Hume & Skepticism

·         David Hume (1711–1776)—Scottish philosopher—He was very pessimistic about the powers of reason. He held that the scope of true knowledge was much more limited than the rationalists claimed. What was affirmed from observation and reason was simply the result of irrational mental habits. The mind takes for granted many things, such as substance, and cause and effect. His most famous work was An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding [1748].

·         On cause & effect: No one has ever seen or experienced what we call cause and effect. We see a billiard ball arriving at the place where another one is lying. Then we hear a noise and we see the first ball stop and the second one move. We get similar results if this experiment is repeated several times. Then we say that the movement of the first ball “caused” the movement of the second ball. But the truth is that we see a series of phenomena, and our mind has linked them by means of the notion of cause and effect. But this linking of phenomena has no basis in empirical observation. It is rather the result of our mental habits. Therefore, according to the empiricists’ definition, it is not rational knowledge.

·         On substance: As for the idea of substance, we see an apple. But in truth, what our senses perceive is a series of attributes: form, colour, weight, taste, smell, etc. We also perceive that those attributes coincide in one place. Our mind, by habits that are not truly rational, declares that all these attributes reside in a substance that we can apple. But we actually have not experienced the substance itself. Pure reason does not allow us to affirm that there are such things as substance in which the various attributes that we perceive reside.

·         Influence: Such critique of empiricist rationalist undercut deism. If the relation of cause and effect is not truly rational, the proof that the deists use for the existence of God, that is, that someone must have caused this world, is no longer valid. Similarly, notions such as “soul” and “God” have little meaning if we cannot rationally speak of anything but attributes, and never of substances beyond them.

        18.1.5  Voltaire & Rationalism

·         Voltaire, pen name of Francois-Marie Arouet (1694–1778)—He was an enemy of all fanaticism. Voltaire believed in the use of reason as common sense. Although he considered himself a deist, he was often taken as an atheist because of his criticism on organized religion. His books Candide [1759] and Philosophical Dictionary [1764] attacked religious and philosophical optimism. He witnessed the persecution of the French Protestants so he devoted his wit and his literary ability to promote religious tolerance. The history of mankind is no more than the history of progressive understanding of ourselves and our institutions, and our efforts to adjust to that ever-clearer understanding. This means progress in the understanding and safeguarding of human rights. Monarchy is not intended for the benefit of the sovereign, but rather for that of the subjects, whose rights all must respect and defend.

·         Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755)—He tried to apply the principles of reason to the theory of government. In his book The Spirit of the Laws [1748], he concluded that a republic is a better form of government than either despotism, which is based on terror, or monarchy. He suggested the balance of 3 powers of the government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial.

·         Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)—He believed that so-called “human progress” is actually a departure from its natural state and a fall into artificiality. We must return to the original order, whose purpose was to serve the governed by safeguarding justice and freedom. In his famous book Social Contract [1762], he stressed that rulers are in truth employees of the people, and their task is to defend freedom and justice. He believed that dogmas and institutions in religion are part of the corruption. It is necessary to return to natural religion, consisting of belief in God, the immortality of the soul, and the moral order.

·         Forerunners of the French Revolution: The philosophy of these 3 people established the foundation of thought that led to the revolution.

        18.1.6  Kant & Idealism or Kantianism

·         Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)—German philosopher—He was one of the greatest philosophers of all time. His philosophy is sometimes called transcendental idealism or critical idealism.

·         Failure of Descartes & Locke: Cartesianism could not overcome the difficulties posed by the problem of the communication of substances. Eventually, Leibniz could only accepted that all ideas are innate and there is no communication between the mind and other realities. Empiricism could not overcome Hume’s skepticism which concluded that knowledge acquire through experience is in fact not true knowledge.

·         Critique of Pure Reason [1781]—Kant’s book proposed a radical alternative to both systems. He believed that there is no such things as innate ideas; but there are fundamental structures of the mind, and within those structures we must place whatever data the sense provides us. Those structures are, first of all, time and space; and then 12 categories including causality, existence, substance. The sense provides a chaotic multitude of sensations. It is only after the mind orders them within the structures that they become intelligible “experiences”.

·         On knowledge: In knowledge, what we have is not things as they are in themselves, but rather things as our mind is able to grasp them. Therefore, there is no such thing as purely objective knowledge, and the pure rationality of rationalists is only an illusion.

·         Impact on Christianity: If Kant’s work is accepted as truth, many traditional arguments for Christianity will be no longer valid. As existence is not derived from reality, but only one of the categories of the mind, there is no way to prove the existence of God or of the soul. On the other hand, this does not mean an absolute denial of God, the soul, or eternity. If these things are true, reason cannot know them, just as the eye cannot hear and the ear cannot see.

·         Critique of Practical Reason [1788]—Kant in his book argued that, although pure reason cannot prove the existence of God and the soul, there is a “practical reason” that has to do with man’s inherent sense of moral obligation or conscience which Kant called the “categorical imperative”. This practical reason, whose fundamental principle is “act in such a manner that the rule for your action can be made a universal rule,” does know the existence of God as the judge of all action, of the soul and its freedom as the occasion for moral action, and of life after death as the means for rewarding good and punishing evil. This represents Kant’s weak attempt to ground religion on morality.

        18.1.7  Deism

·         Underlying factors leading to deism:

o        Religious alternative: Some people were tired of the endless squabbles among religious movements. They sought an understanding of religion that went beyond narrow and quibbling orthodoxy. Explorers and traders brought back to Europe the knowledge of non-Christian religions. When comparing religions, scholars found similarities in principles, leading to the possibility of a basic natural religion.

o        New cosmology: The scientific horizon was greatly expanded. The old theory of geocentric universe was replaced by the theory of heliocentric universe developed by Nicholas Copernicus (1743–1543), Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), and Isaac Newton (1642–1727).

o        Natural laws: Newton’s book Principia Mathematica [1687] developed the idea of the law of gravitation which provided the key to unify the phenomena of physics. People came to look on the universe as a machine that operated by inflexible natural laws. The principle of natural laws discovered by reason were applied to other disciplines, such as political science, economics, and religion.

o        Inductive method: Empiricists, positivists, and pragmatists such as Francis Bacon (1561–1626) developed an inductive method (scientific method) of interpreting nature, replacing the deductive method of Aristotle. Rationalists believed that knowledge can be obtained by unaided reason outside religious faith.

·         Dogmas of deism:

o        Clockmaker: Deism is the belief that there is a God that created the physical universe but does not interfere with it. They often use the analogy of God as clockmaker who created the universe but then left it to be governed by natural laws (which can be discovered by reasoning). Virtue (ethical life) and piety are the most important worship that one could give to God.

o        On reason: Deists (“freethinkers”) believe that God’s greatest gift to humanity is not religion, but the ability to reason. Lord Shaftesbury (1671–1713) insisted that Christianity is not mysterious but can be proved by reason. What can not be proved by reason should be rejected. Deists supported a natural religion, a primitive religious faith, based on the use of reason. Traditional religion and its Scripture could be important in providing moral guidance but they must be judged by human reasoning.

o        Against atheism: Deists rejected what they considered the aberrations of the atheists. Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583–1648) held that true religion must be universal and natural to all mankind, that is, based on natural instincts of everyone. Its 5 basic doctrines are: the existence of God, the obligation to worship God, the ethical requirements of such worship, the need for repentance, and reward and punishment both in this life and the next.

o        Anti-supernaturalism: Deists do not accept anything supernatural; hence, there is no place for miracles, the Bible as revelation from God, prophecy, providence, or Christ as God-man.

·         Opposition to deism:

o        William Law, in his book Case of Reason [1732], argued that man cannot comprehend the whole of religion by rational processes because God is above reason.

o        Joseph Butler, in his book The Analogy of Religion [1736], showed that arguments that the deists used against God of the Bible would apply similarly against the God of natural laws if reason were the authority. He demonstrated that orthodox Christianity answered problems better than deism.

o        William Paley (1743–1805) used the argument from design to prove the existence of a God who revealed Himself in the Bible, Christ, and miracles so that man might be led to a good life of obedience to God and of preparation for immortality.

·         Influence of deism:

o        Rationalists: Many of the rationalist philosophers were in fact deists, believing in a God but not the Christian God.

o        French Revolution: Deism spread from England to France, manifested in the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau. These deists provided the rationalization for the French Revolution.

o        American Revolution: Deism spread from England to America through migration. Some leaders of the American Revolution were deists, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. Their influence can be observed in the American Constitution. Paine’s book Age of Reason [1795] helped to popularize the ideas of deism.

o        Liberalism: Deism helped to develop the concept of man’s essential goodness and perfectibility so that continued human progress toward a more perfect order on earth would be a natural result. This unduly optimistic thinking led to modern liberalism which ignores human sin. It also helped to create higher criticism of the Bible.

o        Religion: Deism led also to the rise of religious tolerance. Rationalism and deism also led to the improvement of the Biblical text through textual criticism and the application of grammar and history to a correct exegesis.


        18.2.1  Background of Spiritualism

·         Reaction: Sometimes, arguments and explanations on correct doctrine proved too complicated for the common people. In addition, criticisms by Christians against other Christians led some to seek refuge in a purely spiritual religion that emphasized prayer and contemplation. These were Christian spiritualists or mystics.

·         Impact: As a whole, the spiritualist movement had little impact on the church and on society at large, for its interests were individualistic and otherworldly.

          Christian spiritualism is distinct from the occult spiritualism that frequently attempts to contact spirits of the dead.

        18.2.2  Jakob Boehme (1575–1624)

·         Life: Boehme was a German Lutheran. In his teens, he had visions and became a wandering cobbler. He concluded that the leadership of the church had built a veritable “tower of Babel” with its continuing debates. He determined to cultivate his inner life.

·         Works: In his book Brilliant Dawn [1613], he asserted that he was writing what God had dictated word for word. While he did not publish the book, a manuscript copy caused him to be censored by the magistrates. One of his followers published 3 of his works [1618]. In the court of Saxony, several theologians examined his teachings without reaching a conclusion because they were unable to understand exactly what he meant.

·         Teaching: His teachings appeared to be an odd mixture of traditionally Christian themes with others taken from magic, alchemy, occultism, and theosophy (belief in universal consciousness).

·         Emphasis on inner life: It was a reaction against the cold dogmatism, exalting the freedom of the spirit, the inner life, and direct and individual revelation. He declared that since “the letter kills,” believers ought not to be guided by Scripture, but by the Holy Spirit. He explained: “I have enough with the book that I am. If I have within me the Spirit of Christ, the entire Bible is in me. What would I wish for more books?”

        18.2.3  George Fox (1624–1691) & the Quakers

·         On inner light: English pastor Fox was convinced that all the various sects in England were wrong, and their worship was an abomination before God. Hymns, orders of worship, sermons, sacraments, creeds, ministers—they are all human hindrances to the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Over against all these things, Fox placed the “inner light”, thus the name theology of the inner light. This is a seed that exists in all human beings, and is the true way we must follow in order to find God, apart from the Bible. It is the capability we all have to recognize and accept in the presence of God. By it, we are able to believe and understand Scripture, and to communicate with God.

·         Growth: Fox declared that he had been ordered by the Holy Spirit to announce his spiritual vision of Christianity. He was often faced with contempt and hostility. But his followers increased. They were first called “children of light”. Fox preferred the name of “friends”. Others saw their religious enthusiasm causing trembling and called them “quakers”. The group was organized into the Quakers [1652].

·         Worship service: The Quakers believed that any structure in worship could be an obstacle to the work of the Holy Spirit. Their service usually took place in silence. Any who felt called to speak or pray aloud were free to do so. They did not practice sacraments of baptism and communion, fearing that physical water, bread, and wine would draw attention away from the spiritual. This is why they were in conflict with the Boehmenists who accepted sacraments, though they called these “ordinances”.

·         Individualism: Fox was aware that his emphasis on the freedom of the Holy Spirit could lead to excessive individualism. He therefore emphasized the importance of community and love. They were also staunch pacifists. Because of their religious practices, they were often accused of blasphemy or conspiracy against the government, and subsequently persecuted. Thousands were imprisoned and hundreds died in prison.

·         Shortcomings: The lack of interest in doctrine and the absence of an objective historical standard, such as the Bible, sometimes brought excessive mysticism or vague theism in which the person of Christ was not sufficiently exalted.

·         William Penn (1644–1718)—He was a follower of Fox; Pennsylvania was named after him. He planned to found a new colony with religious freedom. He bought land in Pennsylvania from King Charles II. He even paid the Indians for the land that the king granted him. He hoped to establish such cordial relations with the Indians that the settlers would not need to defend by force of arms. He called the capital city “Philadelphia”—the city of “fraternal love”. Many Quakers, who were persecuted in England and in North America, joined his experiment.

·         Robert Barclay (1648–1690)—He was the theologian of the movement. He believed that the Holy Spirit was the sole Revelator of God, the Source of the Inner Light within man, and the source of spiritual illumination. The Bible was but a secondary rule of faith. However, revelations should not contradict with the Bible, or with right and sound reasoning.

        18.2.4  Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772)

·         Vision: Swedenborg was a Swedish aristocrat. After many years of scientific inquiry, he had a vision about his presence in the spiritual world, where he had been able to see eternal truths. Afterwards, he wrote voluminously on the true meaning of reality and of Scripture. He believed that all that exists is a reflection of the attributes of God, and that there is a corresponding invisible spiritual world behind the visible physical world of nature. Communication between these two worlds is possible through conversation with spiritual beings. The Scripture which reflects truths can only be known by those who have entered the spiritual world.

·         On new era: He was convinced that his writings would be the beginning of a new era in the history of the world and of religion. He claimed that his experience of receiving his revelations was what the Bible meant when speaking of the second coming of Christ. His most famous work is Heaven and Hell [1758].

·         Followers: His followers founded the Church of New Jerusalem [1784], 12 years after his death.


        18.3.1  Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705)—father of Pietism

·         Emphasis: Pietism was a response to the dogmatism of the theologians and the rationalism of philosophers. It emphasizes that Christianity was more a way of life than intellectual knowledge. It was the daily manifestation of Biblical truth in a life of practical piety and good works. Stress was laid on an internal, subjective, and individual return to the Bible study and prayer, and the Holy Spirit as the Illuminator of the Bible. Pietists also sought improved morality; moderation in food, drink, and dress; and rejection of dances, cards, and the theatre.

·         Work: Spener was a Lutheran aristocrat and later became a pastor in Frankfurt. He founded groups of Bible study and devotion that he called “colleges of piety.” His book Pia Desideria (Pious Desires) [1675] outlined a program for the development of piety.

·         On laity: Based on the Lutheran doctrine of universal priesthood of believers, he suggested that there be less emphasis on the differences between laity and clergy, and more on the common responsibility. There should be among the laity a more intense life of devotion and study.

·         On preaching: He emphasized that the objective of preaching is to call believers to be obedient to the Word of God, not to instill polemical and academic knowledge. While he agreed with the doctrine of the church, he insisted that doctrine is not to serve as a substitute for personal faith.

·         On devotion: Similar to Luther, Spener insisted on the need to return constantly to the Bible, and to read it with a spirit of devotion and piety. On the other hand, he was closer to the Calvinist in his emphasis on sanctification. As a result, many orthodox Lutheran theologians declared him a Calvinist.

·         On requirement of God: Orthodoxy preached that God requires of believers nothing more than correct doctrine and a decent life. In contrast, the Pietists insisted on the contrast between what society expects of its members and what God requires of the faithful. This has always been an uncomfortable challenge for a comfortable church.

        18.3.2  Spread of Pietism

·         August Hermann Francke (1663–1727)—He was a follower of Spener. He emphasized on the joy of Christian life which should be a song of praise to God. He organized free education for poor children, set up a home for orphans, and published the Bible [1719].

·         Growth: Pietism had many followers in the Lutheran church as well as the German Reformed church. It flourished in Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia. It was also a factor in the Great Awakening in North America.

·         Social work & missions: Pietists were active in meeting the needs of their fellow Christians by founding schools and institutions to serve orphans, the poor, and others in need. They were later awakened to the need of missionaries to spread the gospel in the non-Christian world. The University of Halle, where Francke taught, became a centre for training missionaries who preached the gospel in Africa, America, and Asia.

·         Impact: Pietism stimulated the scientific study of languages and church history in order to get the true meaning of the Bible for daily life. However, indifference to doctrine led some to adopt the philosophy of idealism.

        18.3.3  Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760)

·         Life: Zinzendorf was the godson of Spener. He had been profoundly religious from childhood. He later declared that he had never felt separated from God, and could speak of no experience of conversion. He studied in the University of Halle under Francke. Later, he served at the court of Dresden. He was known for his passionate, poetically expressed devotion to Christ.

·         Herrnhutt: At Dresden, Zinzendorf met a group of Moravians. These were Hussites who were forced to leave Moravia because of persecution. Zinzendorf offered them asylum in his lands. There they founded the community of Herrnhutt and Zinzendorf joined them.

·         Missions: A group of Moravian missionaries were first sent from Herrnhutt to the Caribbean [1732], followed by more groups to Africa, India, South America, and North America—where they founded the communities of Bethlehem and Nazareth in Pennsylvania, and Salem in North Carolina. But there were constant tension between the Moravians and the Lutherans.

·         Influence: It is interesting to note the circle of influence between England and Bohemia. Wycliffe’s teaching had influenced Huss, the founder of the Bohemian Brethren which later became the Moravian Church which then influenced the spiritual life of John Wesley.


        18.4.1  John Wesley (1703–1791)—founder of Methodism

·         Holy club: John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley (1707–1788) formed a religious society seeking holy and sober life, including taking communion once a week, being faithful in their private devotions, visiting prisons and homes of the poor regularly, spending 3 hours together every afternoon studying the Bible and devotional books. They were mocked as a “holy club” or “methodists”.

·         Assurance of salvation: He travelled to Savannah, Georgia [1735] to be a pastor, but had to return to England after personal problems. In 1738, he attended a meeting of the Moravians at Aldersgate Street and obtained assurance of salvation and a spiritual revival. The assurance of salvation based on the inward witness of the Holy Spirit became a main doctrine of the Methodists.

·         George Whitefield (1714–1770)—He was a member of the holy club, and had become a famous preacher in Bristol. He often preached in evangelistic meetings in open air. He asked John Wesley to help. Wesley’s preaching would cause occasional emotional outbursts in confessions of sin from the listeners.

·         Arminian: Because Wesley preferred the Arminian position on the issue of predestination and human free-will, Wesley and Whitefield decided to part ways. Wesley remained an Anglican minister all his life. His idea was that Methodist meetings would serve as a preparation to attend Anglican worship.

·         Organization: In Bristol, his followers were organized into “societies” and “classes”. The leader was not necessary to be wealthy or educated. Some women were also given leadership duties. Later, the societies would be organized into “circuits” whose representatives would meet in an Annual Conference.

·         Horseback preacher: As the movement grew rapidly, Wesley had to travel on horseback throughout British Isles, preaching and organizing his followers. It is estimated that Wesley travelled over 200,000 miles on horseback, and 42,000 sermons.

·         Preaching the gospel: Like the pietists, Wesley’s objective was to awaken and cultivate the faith of the masses by preaching the salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. In the Anglican Church, unbelief was fashionable and many clergymen preached little more than a barren moralism. When the bishop of Bristol tried to limit Wesley’s activity, Wesley responded, “The world is my parish.” This later became the Methodist motto for missions.

·         Opposition: There were violent acts against Methodists from the clergy and the nobility. Wesley’s life was occasionally in danger. They resented the new movement for: [1] giving authority to people from lower classes, [2] breaching the parish boundaries by preaching everywhere, [3] unruly worship held in open air.

·         Perfection: Besides supporting the Arminian position in salvation, Wesley emphasized the doctrine of Christian perfection or perfect love. It was a belief in the possibility of absolute Christian perfection in motive in this life because the love of God so filled the heart of the believer that God’s love would expel sin and promote absolute holiness of life. This progressive process was to be initiated by an act of faith. Wesley made it clear that this was not sinless nor infallible perfection but rather sinlessness in motive.

        18.4.2  The success of Methodism

·         Hymns & lay ministers: Charles Wesley was perhaps the greatest English hymn writer in history. John Wesley also started to use lay preachers to help the job of preaching. He also ordained ministers to work in areas outside England [1784].

·         Response to the urban masses: The success of Methodism was partly due to its response to new needs from the industrial revolution. The mass migration led people to lose their connection with the church. The parish structure was unable to respond to the needs of the new urban masses.

·         Needs in the frontier: In North America, the westward movement of settlers gave rise to an uprooted population lacking traditional links to churches; Methodism met their needs of those living in the frontier.

·         American church: Wesley sent lay preacher Francis Asbury (1745–1816) to the American colonies [1771]. During the War of Independence, despite objection from Wesley, the Methodists in the US formed the Methodist Episcopal Church [1784]. The Methodist Church in England was formed later [1795], after Wesley’s death.

·         Impact: The impact of the Methodist revival on English society was great. The moral tone of the nation changed significantly. Wesley opposed liquor, and slavery. The gin traffic was stopped partly because of Wesley. The massive conversions of workers might have saved England from the revolution that plagued France. Wesley also influenced Robert Raikes, the popularizer of the Sunday School movement, and John Howard, the leader in prison reform.



[1] treasure our heritage

Spiritualism and Pietism led to today’s emphasis on devotions.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Rationalism and deism could not defeat orthodox Christianity.

[3] avoid past errors

The excessive subjectivity of spiritualism could lead to erroneous beliefs and lack of church life.

[4] apply our knowledge

The Methodist emphasis on the assurance of salvation and the lifelong pursuit of holiness should be the goals of all Christians.

[5] follow past saints

The great zeal of Wesley and Whitefield in preaching the gospel all their lives is our model.



        How did the different schools of philosophy affect Christianity, including: [a] Cartesianism (Descartes), [b] Empiricism (Locke), [c] Deism, [d] Skepticism (Hume), [e] Rationalism (Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau), [f] Kantianism (Kant)?

o        Cartesianism: reliance on rational proof of everything led to skepticism to Christian beliefs as faith sometimes has no rational proof.

o        Empiricism: reliance on experience led to skepticism to Christian beliefs as faith sometimes do not depend on sensory experience.

o        Deism: denial of divine revelation led to skepticism of the Bible.

o        Skepticism: skepticism to everything undercut the reality of faith as human reasoning is no longer reliable.

o        Rationalism: emphasis on natural religion undercut the foundation of Christianity as a special revelation.

o        Kantianism: emphasis in the fundamental structures of the mind undercut traditional rational proof of the existence of God; theologians after him needed to take account of his philosophy when dealing with the relationship between faith and reason.

        The leading spiritualists (including Boehme, Fox, and Swedenborg) all claimed direct revelation from God. Were these claims credible? How should we judge their works? Are they presentations of truth?

o        Boehme claimed that his book was dictated by God. Fox claimed that he was ordered by God to announce his vision about spiritualism. Swedenborg claimed that he was brought to the spiritual world and was shown eternal truths.

o        Of the three, only Fox’s claim is more credible. Both Boehme’s and Swedenborg’s book contain non-biblical and non-Christian elements different from Christian orthodox beliefs. If these are important truths, God would have revealed them long ago. In addition, God would have ensured that the truth will continue to spread.

o        Their books need to be read with skepticism. They may contain truth and some uncommon insights but at the same time some delusions and fanciful inventions.

        What were the impacts of Pietism? Can we still observe the impact of Pietism on today’s Christians?

o        Great Awakenings

o        social work: schools and institutions for orphans and the poor

o        missions to evangelize

o        Today: emphasis on progressive sanctification, emphasis on a life of devotion and study

        What were the impacts of the Moravians?

o        missionaries to the Caribbeans, Africa, India, South America, and North America

o        revival of John and Charles Wesley

        What were the impacts of the Methodists on today’s church?

o        small groups similar to Wesley’s classes—read Bible, pray, discuss religious matters

o        lay preachers

o        the emphasis on sanctification and holiness