My Frustration with John Wesley: A Difference in Calling


by Dr. Rick Boyd

I’m currently writing a paper addressing John Wesley’s understanding and use of Scripture in his sermons and writings, and I have noticed that he doesn’t spend a lot of time digging into any given passage. As someone called to teach an inductive approach to the Bible (among other courses and areas) I find it mildly frustrating that, in any given instance, Wesley doesn’t do more with the passage itself.

He embeds scriptural expressions in his sentences to the point that his text often reads like a catena of Scripture. I want to find out if he is being true to the context of the biblical passages he appropriates. I tentatively conclude that he is being faithful to the texts and contexts. He doesn’t always bring out the central point of a given verse or passage, but he also doesn’t cross the line of exegetical possibilities into misappropriation.

In teaching IBS (Inductive Bible Study) I have found that careful observation of the text leads to penetrating questions, which leads to deep and profound interpretation, which then leads to insightful appropriation and ultimately the development of an illuminating synthesis of the larger issues of the Bible. IBS, because of its holistic approach, ultimately leads to the kind of teaching and preaching that springs from a proper understanding of the Word of God, the very thing desperately needed in the church and the world today.

However, as I reflect on my frustration with Wesley’s virtually opaque exegetical method, I see that somehow Wesley understood the depth of God’s Word as well as anyone has. His conclusions fall in line with historical orthodoxy regarding the call of God and the Christian life.

Maybe my issue with Wesley’s approach involves a difference in call to ministry.

  • My specific call is to teach ministers how to study the Bible.
  • Wesley’s call, as God’s instrument, was to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.
  • I am appointed to teach the method that best fits the Bible and produces pastors and ministry leaders who interpret biblical passages with integrity and acuity. This enables them to enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord through His Word.
  • Wesley was called of God to teach and preach the wholeness of God’s Word in order to save souls.

As I continue to prepare the paper, I grow in love and appreciation of how God shaped His servant through a lifetime of seeking and listening to God’s voice through the Bible. We both approach God’s Word as the final authority for the life of the Christian. My focus is the proper understanding of Scripture in the immediate context which, if adequately pursued, leads to the treasure of the expanse of the Word of God. John Wesley utilized the end result of the IBS process to bring the overarching biblical symphony to the ears of his hearers so that the Word might have its full intended effect. Hallelujah for the manifold beauty of the call and work of God in Christ Jesus!

Aaron Burden

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