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Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives IV

Published Date: October 3, 2016

Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives

 The Little Sisters of the Poor have made headlines because of their opposition to being forced to purchase abortive contraceptives. What is less known about the Little Sisters is that they do not take just the three fold vows of nuns (poverty, chastity and obedience). They add a fourth vow of “hospitality.” They argue that unless the virtues of the gospel are turned outward in service and mission, then we can become inwardly focused. In the case of the Little Sisters, their mission is the indigent elderly poor. But, it is an excellent point they make. Our theology has no lasting power unless it thrusts out into the world. Thus, the last in this four part series focuses on a neglected theme within Wesleyan circles; namely, our heart for the world!

“The world is our parish” is not merely a slogan, but the heart-cry of who we are as the people of God.  

Part Four:

The Wesleyan view of the world.  Our movement has never been committed to a precise theological system which becomes an overlay through which we view Scripture and the world.  The reason we do not have our version of TULIP is not because we are not clever enough to come up with five points, the first letter of which spells a word. Many of us have actually worked out the “five points of Wesleyanism.” But upon reflection, Wesleyans have rejected that kind of systematic overlay which creates a lens between you and the Scriptures. Those systems tend to domesticate the text, sand down all the mysteries, and rob us of all the necessary tensions. The Wesleyan vision of Christianity is not at root a theological system trying to solve theoretical theological problems and make everything fit into a single coherent system, which is put forth over against other systems like dispensationalism or covenant theology, and so forth. Rather, our movement is fundamentally missional. Our theology is soteriological framed and driven, not epistemologically framed and driven. Thus, our theology thrusts us out to a lost world. It is acknowledging that the Scriptures are, at root, a missional document which brings good news of salvation to the ends of the earth, or, as Wesley would put it, helping people to “flee from the wrath to come.”

Our vision for the world might be called mobile holiness because it is never static, but always moving us to the ends of the earth, since “the world is our parish.” We declare the year of Jubilee for those who are enslaved by human trafficking in Bangkok. Mobile holiness announces the good news to the Alagwa people of north-central Tanzania who have never heard of Jesus Christ.  Mobile holiness shines the light of justice on child labor in China! Mobile holiness establishes peace in broken homes in America. Mobile holiness sets the drug addicts free wherever they may be. Mobile holiness acts on behalf of the 40,000 Iraqis left to die on Sinjar Mountain. You see mobile holiness is viral and there is no part of creation which it does not declare under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! We claim the “whole field” – no privatized religion for us! Remember how Jeremiah had the courage to purchase a field even as the Babylonians invaded and were taking everyone into exile. That’s the kind of global vision we need. We look at the most dismal situation on the planet and we declare, in faith, that we will buy that field. We will buy the field of Anathoth even as the Babylonians are moving in! We’ll buy the field of hope even when the drugs still hold on. We’ll buy the field of faith, even while the Alagwa are still resistant! We’ll buy the field of reconciliation, even when the divorce papers are on the table. Because we hear the strains of the New Creation! We have been caught up in a greater narrative!

A Wesleyan, neo-holiness vision does not fall into the trap of an over-realized eschatology which fails to take seriously the full force of human – personal and systemic – rebellion against God. However, it also avoids the trap of an under-realized eschatology which can only rehearse the bad news and does not see the New Creation already breaking in – in the faith, life, experience and witness of the church of Jesus Christ. We have a vision for the power of transforming righteousness in the world. 


In conclusion, it takes courage to occupy and hold the high ground of Wesleyan faith. It will empower us to announce the gospel, even as it is being decried as outrageous and offensive.  It will send us into a world enmeshed in deep spiritual and moral chaos. But, let us take up the charge with grace and hope! May each of you pick up a trowel and re-build the broken walls of Wesleyan faith. 

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2 responses to “Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives IV”

  1. Max Wilkins says:

    Thank you Dr. Tennant for all of these essays on the Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives. All four of them are not only well written, but also extremely important in helping to refocus the dialogue currently taking place in our tribe. Fidelity to the covenant (which is largely absent in our tribe today) must include an understanding of what is peculiar to us, and an embrace of those particularities. Thank you so much for helping to bring clarity to the conversation.

  2. William M. Johnson, ATS Board 2000-15 says:

    Dr. Tennent has once again reminded the Church that it is God’s primary agent to accomplish His Mission. The book of James was strategically placed in our Bible to remind us of the importance that “… Faith without works is dead”. The great prescription for renewal and revival is for the Body of Christ to obey the Great Commission according to the Great Commandment and the Great Plan (Acts 1:8).

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