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.