On the Methodist Addition to the JDDJ

Christianity Today published a review on Protestant-Catholic relations that focused upon two books, the first written by Protestant-turned Catholic Peter Kreeft, the other co-authored by Protestants Kenneth J. Collins (Catholic converted to Wesleyanism) and Jerry L. Walls, a Baptist. Both books address the JDDJ, with Kreeft calling it, “the greatest ecumenical achievement in the five hundred years since the Reformation.” Collins and Walls dedicate an entire chapter to the JDDJ, in which they echo the concerns of the LCMS and hit the same points that I addressed in my previous post.

The World Methodist Council adopted the JDDJ in August, 2006, with some additions to reflect distinctly Wesleyan understandings of justification. It is interesting that the Methodists constantly cite John Wesley to express their theological points and scriptural interpretation; the Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed all cite their exegetical tradition or confessional statements, not individual theologians.

The Methodist additions to the JDDJ, like the Lutheran comments, functionally defer to the Catholic structure of understanding justification. Any notable doctrinal difference between the Methodists and the initial JDDJ undercuts the common consensus on the foundational nature of justification that the Lutherans and Catholics are attempting to achieve. Unless, of course, those differences are arbitrarily declared non-essential. From a confessionally Reformed perspective, the Methodist additions are not welcome ones, and fundamentally look much more like a twisted version of Catholicism than the classic Protestantism represented by the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. The Methodists are also more accurate about their own convictions than the Catholics and Lutherans in their comments, making it easier to see their tradition’s divergence from the others.

For instance, in addition 4.1,

According to John Wesley the doctrine of original sin is an essential Christian doctrine. The corruption of human nature cannot be cured by ourselves. The destructive effects of the Fall are countered by the universal availability of prevenient grace…That people are able to respond to God’s call is due only to God’s prior work. According to Wesley, the grace of God “assists” but does not “force” the human response.

This is classic Wesleyan and Arminian doctrine, but troubling nonetheless. It certainly does not comport with the Lutheran or Catholic understanding that humans are incapable of responding to God apart from his saving grace, though Lutherans recognize the instrument of salvation being God-given faith, and Catholics the dispensing of grace through the sacraments. The Methodists assert here that all humans, by the gift of God, have the ability to choose or reject salvation, full stop. The work of God in drawing people to him ends with giving everyone the ability to choose or reject him. The work of Christ is reduced to assisting people to choose salvation, not actually saving them.

It is terrifying to think that my choosing becomes the basis of my salvation, not the finished work of Christ. Of course the Reformed position is not that God “forces” people to choose him, but that through the call of the Spirit, those whom Christ purchased have their sin-deadened will restored, and so we are enabled to choose him, and do so gladly (WCF 8-10, WLC 67).

The idea that the exercise of my will is all that differentiates me from the non-Christian will inevitably lead to a pursuit of holiness in order to ensure that I remain saved. This is the application of “Christian Perfection” or “entire sanctification” articulated by Wesley and set forth by addition 4.4. Sin is possible to escape in this life through the exercise of my will (equipped by God’s prevenient grace to all people), and salvation possible to lose if I fall back into sin. In Wesleyanism, assurance of salvation comes from the outward expressions of God’s love and grace, but left unsaid about this doctrine in their addition to the JDDJ is that this assurance is not built upon Christ’s finished work, but upon being held by God on the basis of my pursuit of holiness. If what separates me from the non-Christian in salvation is the exercise of my will, that continues to be the case once saved.

Rather, our assurance of salvation comes from faith upon the finished work of Christ, evidenced, not built upon, our growth in sanctification (WCF 18, WLC 77-81).

The Methodist addition to the JDDJ is disappointing, though a more accurate representation of their theological tradition than the Lutheran and Catholic portions. If the Methodist addition was taken seriously by the different parties to the declaration it would be clear that there is no consensus on the foundations of the doctrine.