Wesleyan Sanctification and Theosis  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The Wesley brothers, commemorated today in the Episcopal calendar, taught a doctrine known as entire sanctification (for Charles this was largely expressed in his hymns).  It is often compared to the Orthodox concept of theosis.  Methodist theologian Michael J Christensen addresses this issue in his essay "John Wesley:  Christian Perfection as Faith Filled with the Energy of Love", pp 219-229 in Partakers of the Divine Nature:  the history and development of deification in the Christian traditions, Michael J Christensen and Jeffery A Wittung, eds, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2007.

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Entire sanctification (holiness, perfection) in the Wesleyan tradition refers to John and Charles Wesley's doctrine of spiritual transformation and Christian perfection, which is available by grace through faith in this life.  It is understood by many Wesleyan theologians as as a religious experience and transformation occurring subsequent to justification, with the effect that the Holy Spirit takes full possession of the spirit, cleanses the soul, sanctifies the heart, and empowers the will so that one can love God and others perfectly and blamelessly in this life.  As creatures set apart for a holy purpose, the holiness of God (along with other divine attributes) is believed to be actually imparted and not just imputed to the believer's life on the basis of what Christ accomplished on the cross.  The power of sin in one's life is rendered inoperative as one participates in the higher life of the divine.

The doctrine of entire sanctification admits to at least two models of interpretation:  (1) instantaneous perfection, involving an "eradication" of sin and a "blameless" walk with God; and (2) progressive sanctification, or gradually "going on to perfection".  The ...more broadly defined doctrine of Christian perfection as full redemption from sin and mortality [was] through what John Wesley described as a heart "habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor".  This longing for perfect love is most beautifully embodied in the last verse of Charles Wesley's famous hymn "Love Divine All Loves Excelling" [number 657 in the Episcopal Church Hymnal 1982]:
Finish then, thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 3, 2016 at Thursday, March 03, 2016 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 comments

Very interesting. I have never come across a comparison of 'entire sanctification' and 'theosis' before. Well done for bringing this to light - I will read on this further.

Also, I am a Byzantine iconographer and I have done a couple of icons of John Wesley, and I am about to embark on one of Charles.

March 5, 2016 at 1:36 PM

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