Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wesley and Campbell: A Study in Contrasts

Interestingly, our theology affects our preaching styles. For example, because John Wesley believed that the Holy Spirit must act in a special way to save people, he allowed for emotionalism when he preached. Wesley believed that faith is more than intellectual assent, and he believed the Holy Spirit affects all of a person, including the emotions. In contrast, because Alexander Campbell believed that the Holy Spirit does not act in a special way to save people, he did not allow for emotionalism when he preached. Campbell believed that faith is simply intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel. Wesley was one of the first preachers of the First Great Awakening to see emotional responses in his audiences, and Methodist preachers became the leaders of the camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening. Campbell was critical of the emotional preaching and the emotional responses to that preaching that he saw during the camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening in America.

The Moravians influenced Wesley to a great extent. Mark Noll mentioned their influence on Wesley in America:

“While in Georgia, Wesley was taken aback during an interview with the Moravian leader, Spangenberg, in which the latter asked if Wesley had the witness of the Spirit of God in himself.”

Mark A. Noll, “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance” Bibliotheca Sacra 132, no. 526 (April-June 1975): 165.

Bonamy Dobree said that Wesley’s theology changed after a Moravian, Peter Böhler, helped him understand that conversions were instantaneous acts of God:

“How could faith be given in a moment, how could a man be turned at once from darkness to light, from sin and misery to righteousness and joy? ‘Look at the Bible,’ Böhler said; and to his astonishment Wesley found that nearly all the conversions recorded there were instantaneous. . . . Wesley promptly declared his new belief in this faith.”

Bonamy Dobree, John Wesley (London: Duckworth, 1933), 62-63.

Dobree said that Wesley came to understand that faith is more than the intellectual assent that his mother had endorsed:

“Faith had been an assent, even if an assent to what God had revealed because He had revealed it; but this, now, was a sensation, a warming of the heart; it felt like a physical embrace.”

Dobree, 65.

This belief affected his preaching. Wesley understood that preaching should be more than a rational presentation of the facts. He came to the conclusion that preachers should make allowance for a special act of the Holy Spirit on the hearers of the sermon.

A group of people in Scotland known as the Sandemanians (also known as the Glassites) influenced Campbell’s theology. Samuel Rogal discussed the Sandemanians’ origin and John Wesley’s evaluation of the group’s theology:

“Wesley preached in the town on Wednesday, 2 June 1779, to nearly ‘as large a congregation as at Dundee [on June 1], but nothing so serious. The poor Glassites here, pleading for a merely notional faith, greatly hinder either the beginning or the progress of any real work of God’ (Journal, 6:236). John Glass . . . published, in 1729, a tract . . . in which he attempted to prove that the civil establishment of religion is inconsistent with the Gospel. . . . As a result, the Church of Scotland expelled him, and those who rallied to his cause were termed Glassites. Glass’s son-in-law Robert Sandeman (1718-1771), carried on the founder’s work in London and in America, where the group became known as Sandemanians.”

Samuel J. Rogal, John Wesley’s Mission to Scotland, 1751-1790, vol. 3 in Studies in the History of Missions (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1988), 185-186.

William Whitsitt explained that Greville Ewing, a Sandemanian, was influential in causing Campbell to theologically depart from Presbyterianism:

“He renounced Presbyterianism forever. . . . The conquest of Greville Ewing and of his particular type of Sandemanianism was then first firmly established.”

William H. Whitsitt, Origin of the Disciples of Christ (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1888), 60.

According to Whitsitt, young Campbell eventually accepted Greville’s notion that faith is mere intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel:

“Alexander rejected, for a while, the conceit of Ewing and the Sandemanians, that faith is nothing other than mere belief, which is preceded by testimony alone. . . . But the period was near at hand when he should accede to the notion of his master.”

Ibid., 74.

According to Granville Walker, Campbell’s theological view of faith affected his view of preaching:

“He defined preaching by an appeal to what he regarded as the New Testament conception of faith: simple belief in the testimony of credible witnesses.”

Granville T. Walker, Preaching in the Thought of Alexander Campbell (St. Louis: The Bethany Press, 1954), 28.

The lesson to be derived is obvious. We should understand the tremendous influence of our theology on our preaching. Conversely, we should understand the tremendous influence of our preaching on the theology of our hearers. We should be good stewards of the opportunities God has given us to both learn and teach correct theology.


Blogger Grosey's Messages said...

G'ay Mike,
Thank you for that helpful material.
I have recently been pondering the
Sandemanian viewpoint.. and pondered over its position on the atonement (which in its pesbyterian form would be Limited atonement I guess). Did this enhance gospel preaching by helping people embrace the freeness of God's grace, so as not to make faith a work?
How does this impact also upon the age old chestnut, "Does assurance partake of the nature of saving faith?"

These are just ponderings on my own part, and if you have some insight here I would be really glad to hear it.

Do you think there are lessons a Baptists we can learn here..?


Thu Dec 28, 03:31:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Grosey's Messages said...

that was G'day not gay.. sorry I missed a letter on my edit run...

Thu Dec 28, 03:32:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Baptist Theologue said...


Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I have enjoyed reading your comments on other blog sites. I have not studied the Sandemanians in regard to their view on the atonement. Considering the fact that they came out of strong Scottish Calvinism (including their founder, John Glass), I am not surprised when you say that their position includes limited atonement. There’s an interesting article about a debate that Andrew Fuller had with a Sandemanian at the following link:

My impression is that Glass mostly agreed with the Westminster Confession, but his son-in-law (Robert Sandeman) began teaching that saving faith consists only of intellectual assent to the facts of the Gospel.

You mentioned making faith a work. I think most five-point Calvinists in America see faith as more than intellectual assent, but they would not say it is a work because they would argue that it is caused by God’s act of regeneration. John MacArthur is an example of a five-point Calvinist that advocates “lordship salvation” over “easy believism,” and he would say that such faith is not a human work.

I think we Baptists continue to react to Campbell’s influence and ultimately the Sandemanian influence. The dispute has been healthy and has caused us to sharpen our doctrinal parameters. I believe the same thing is about to happen in regard to modern tongues, which consists of babbling, etc. We (the SBC) are either a babbling-tolerant denomination, or we are not. If we do not sharpen our parameters, by default we will be considered to be a babbling-tolerant group. I don’t believe that the babbling seen in Pentecostal and charismatic groups is the biblical gift of tongues, so I am not tolerant of it.

Fri Dec 29, 06:50:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Baptist Theologue said...

P.S.: When I say that I am not tolerant of babbling, I don't mean that I cannot cooperate with Christian babblers under some circumstances. I can indeed cooperate with them at times. I cannot, however, cooperate with them under all circumstances. Just as Campbell and the Sandemanians caused a reaction, I think the babblers are causing a reaction, and that reaction will eventually be reflected in many of our official theological position statements.

Fri Dec 29, 07:25:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Grosey's Messages said...

Thanks Mike,
I appreciate very much your position and I am completely of the same mind on babblers.
I am VERY glad that you feel the SBC will not go down that road.... My aussie denom did and we are in chaos.
To explain the chaos would take years of writing.
I agree fully with John Macarthur's positon by the way.. but wonder (and I haven't studied Sandemanianism enough)if in some degree their position (reactive as it is to decisionism .. having just preached a sermon strongly calling for decision on matt 7:13!) may not be a slgiht corrective.... still pondering.. I'll read that reference with eagernes after service today.. Thank you for hunting it out.

Sat Dec 30, 04:10:00 PM 2006  

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