Sanctification: Overlap and Differences Between Wesleyan and Reformed Understandings


As this series of reviews on Michael Allen’s Sanctification heads to a conclusion, a couple windows into areas where Wesleyan theology[1] overlaps with Allen’s Reformed presentation and where it differs from his presentation may be appropriate.

1.   Areas a Wesleyan-Arminian Biblical Theology of Sanctification overlaps with Allen’s Presentation in affirming

1.1.   union with Christ as the ground of all salvific benefits, including sanctification.

1.2.   positional sanctification through union with Christ.

1.3.   progressive sanctification—one’s character becoming increasingly like Christ and the potential for increasing relational intimacy to God

1.4.   the ongoing sanctification of those who have been made perfect positionally (τετελείωκεν Heb. 10:14).

1.5.   the NT describes believers as holy ones who testify on the basis of a good conscience (2 Cor. 1:12; Acts 24:16; 1 Tim. 1:19) rather than describing them with terms that focus on what remains to be transformed (e.g., “sinners”; “sinners saved by grace”).

2.   Areas a Wesleyan-Arminian Biblical Theology of Sanctification differs from Allen’s Presentation in

2.1.   Seeing divine love and human love as central to sanctification: as motivation, goal, and method in familial (adoption, regeneration), nuptial (participation, indwelling, communion, consecration), and body metaphors.

2.2.   Affirming that believers can be teleios (Phil. 3:15) though believers will not be made teteleiomenos personally until we are resurrected (Phil. 3:12). [2]

2.3.   Distinguishing intentional and unintentional sins, culpability and non-culpability, confidence/security on the grounds of Christ’s sufficiency and observable faith-evidencing fruit (obedience, love, Spirit’s presence; cf. 1 John).

2.4.   Affirmation that the entire sanctification of 1 Thess. 5:23 is a relational development possible prior to death.[3]

2.5.   Denial that Romans 7:14-25 describes a post-conversion experience, though this denial is hardly unique to Wesleyans.[4]

In my concluding post I will outline how a biblical theology of sanctification looks when viewed through a Wesleyan-Arminian lens.

Originally published at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

[1] Allen mentions John Wesley only once in the book and that in a footnote noting that “even John Wesley observed the crucial distinction between the justifying grace of God and the sanctifying grace of God” (189). I wasn’t sure what to make of this lack of retrieval from Wesley. Despite differences, Wesley and Wesleyan-Arminian theologians have a good deal to contribute to understanding sanctification. For an accessible entry into Wesley, Tom Oden’s four-volume John Wesley’s Teachings is a good starting point. Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons is a good entry point for primary source reading. Additional contemporary articulations that I recommend include, John Oswalt, Called to be Holy (Evangel Publishing House, 1999) and Thomas Noble, Holy Trinity, Holy People (Cascade Books, 2013).
[2] Notice the complete omission of reference to Phil. 3:15 on p. 234 where Allen discusses Phil. 3:12-16.
[3] For a defense of this position vis-à-vis Warfield’s critique of perfectionism, see my paper “Is a Wesleyan Interpretation of 1 Thess. 5:23 Exegetically Tenable?: Responding to Reformed Critiques.”
[4] Reformed theologians who regard Romans 7 as describing Paul’s pre-conversion state include: J. A. Bengel, H. A. W. Meyer, F. Godet, M. Stuart, Sanday and Headlam, J. Denney, J. Oliver Buswell Jr, A. Hoekema, M. Lloyd-Jones, Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Thomas Nelson, 1998), 1127. Douglas Moo, NICNT, ad loc.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).