I have recently finished Part I of John Wesley's "Doctrine of Original Sin", his longest theological work. He was responding to the writings of one John Taylor who contended that man has reached a point of enlightenment so as to be able to cast off the assertion that the species is marred by sin. From what I can gather from Wesley's work, Taylor believed that man was in the 18th Century to be in the same state as Adam before the Fall. Wesley begins with a history of man derived from Scriptural and secular history. The evidence, according to Wesley, is that man has not undergone any significant reformation in his nature. From the period of the Judges in Israel to the time of the Apostles, Israel and the Gentile world has always rebelled against the laws of God. The ancient pagan world, so celebrated in Wesley's time by Enlightenment thinkers, had a shameful, violent past, especially in regards to the treatment of the most vulnerable, the young and old. Wesley then analyzes the behavior of man in the eighteenth century by describing the practices of the non-Christian world. It is not a pretty picture regarding the religious practices nor the behavior toward the vulnerable. Then he continuously narrows his focus as he examines the Christian world. First, he condemns the spirituality of both the Catholic and Protestant countries. Then he focuses on England and its many sins. He refers to the lack of true religion in all sects, in the ministry and the laity. He talks of the injustice and the dishonesty that prevails not only in government, but in the business world. As long as the world is continuously at war, then sin reigns supreme, Wesley contends. Then he narrows the focus to the family and its practices, and then to the individual reader. This arguement runs nearly fifty pages, yet it is not a boring read. The next seventy pages offers a scriptural support to the evidence he has marshaled in Part One.
Why am I reading this now?. I have wanted to start my Wesleyan (not the Wesleyan denomination) studies elsewhere. However, as I read the blogs of certain Wesleyan scholars and their explanations of Wesley's view of sin, I come to a troubling contrast. I was taught in my seminary that while Wesley viewed man as losing the image of God in the Fall, man did not totally lose that image as Calvin contended, or else, how could man respond to God's grace in salvation? The scholars I have been reading on the blogosphere claim that Wesley shared Calvin's view and that perhaps after all Wesleyan theology should be considered an adjunct of Calvinism. I naturally lean toward Wesley's view as I learned it in seminary. Not because Wesley taught it (supposedly), or because my professor told us it was Wesley's real view. One of the root meanings of the word "sin" is "twisted"; the image of God is still in man, but has been twisted. That is what I learned from the pulpit. (My pastor at the time is well versed in Hebrew and Greek.) Yet I need to clear up this point before I go further in my studies of Wesley. While I hope to learn once and for all what Wesley taught on the subject, I'll also determine for myself what scripture says.