Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases

November 17, 2017
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What Makes United Methodists Unique - “Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases”
What We Believe series

“The underlying energy of the Wesleyan theological heritage stems from an emphasis upon practical divinity, the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.” (The Book of Discipline, 2016, p. 51)

While the early roots of the Methodist experience emerge from John Wesley’s experience in the Church of England, he never thought his responsibility was to “reformulate doctrine.” (p. 51) “Informed by the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer, early Methodists believed their “tasks were to summon people to experience the justifying and sanctifying grace of God and encourage people to grow in the knowledge and love of God through the personal and corporate disciplines of the Christian life.” (p. 51)  They felt called to “spread scriptural holiness over the land.” (p. 51)

Former Duke Divinity School Dean Thomas Langford captured this sense of call in his book, Practical Divinity: Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition.  The Book of Discipline describes this as “distinctive,” noting that this places an “emphasis upon the Christian life - faith, and love put into practice” (p. 51).

Distinctive Wesley Emphases
(Excerpted from 
The Book of Discipline, 2016, p. 51-52)

Although Wesley shared with many other Christians a belief in grace, justification, assurance, and sanctification, he combined them in a powerful manner to create distinctive emphases for living the full Christian life. The Evangelical United Brethren tradition, particularly as expressed by Phillip William Otterbein from a Reformed background, gave similar distinctive emphases.

Grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and life. By grace, we mean the undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit. While the grace of God is undivided, it precedes salvation as “prevenient grace,” continues in “justifying grace,” and is brought to fruition in “sanctifying grace.”


Click to watch a video of Rev. Gary Henderson talking about prevenient grace
We assert that God’s grace is manifest in all creation even though suffering, violence, and evil are everywhere present. The goodness of creation is fulfilled in human beings, who are called to covenant partnership with God. God has endowed us with dignity and freedom and has summoned us to responsibility for our lives and the life of the world.

In God’s self-revelation, Jesus Christ, we see the splendor of our true humanity. Even our sin, with its destructive consequences for all creation, does not alter God’s intention for us—holiness and happiness of heart. Nor does it diminish our accountability for the way we live.

Despite our brokenness, we remain creatures brought into being by a just and merciful God. The restoration of God’s image in our lives requires divine grace to renew our fallen nature.


Prevenient Grace - We acknowledge God’s prevenient grace, the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses. This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God’s will, and our “first slight transient conviction” of having sinned against God.

God’s grace also awakens in us an earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death and moves us toward repentance and faith.