A Final Round With Larry Wood

A Final Round With Larry Wood

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A Final Round with Larry Wood

Donald W. Dayton

I regret that I must renege on a promise made in my last contribution to this dialogue with Larry Wood about my review of his book on John Fletcher, The Meaning of Pentecost in Early Methodism , in which he argued for the appropriateness of Fletcher’s “pentecostalizing” of John Wesley’s late theology. There I vowed to lay down my pen (or perhaps better computer) and say no more about the question. But in Larry’s most recent contribution I am accused of misquoting sources, misunderstanding them, drawing strange inferences, relying on unsubstantiated typologies, failing to read (my sources, his book, the rest of several books—when I have read most of them several times), and so on. All this while Larry misquotes me, distorts my position, argues by reduction ad absurdum (making me say what I do not say and then refuting what he construes me to have said rather than what I have actually said) and so forth. I am reluctant to let that be the last word on the question and so must enter this final comment and protest.

I am sure this detailed argument has become somewhat tedious to readers—as it has to me. Rather than respond to all nine of Larry’s points (I am convinced that I can, but at the cost of making points that I have already made and overwhelming the reader with minutiae), I would prefer to concentrate on the basic questions of the interpreta- tion of texts that lie behind this argument.

Before doing that I would like to grant Larry two small points. Larry is right that W. E. Sangster’s Path to Perfection analyzes thirty, rather than forty (as I said) key biblical texts that Wesley uses to ground his doctrine of Christian Perfection. He is also right that Arnold Ehlert’s bib- liographic history of dispensationalism is more aware of the identity of John Fletcher than I implied. Actually, I had tried to confirm both facts in the Fuller Seminary library, but both books were missing when I checked and, under deadline pressure, I relied on my memory at both points.

© 2006 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden pp. 265–270


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I regret the errors, though I don’t think they vitiate the larger points that I was making. I only wish Larry had taken more seriously the larger ques- tions. And I stand behind the rest of the essay: my reading of Pilmore, Fletcher’s letter to Mary Bosanquet, Wesley’s Eschatology, the book of Acts, etc.

As I have indicated, the basic issues seem to revolve around the reading of texts—both primary and secondary. I am reluctant to say it, but I think that Larry reads them as poorly as he reads me. He contrasts his objective “documentary evidence” with my “characterizations based on unsubstan- tiated typologies and general impressions.” If it were not such a slur on my favorite snack food, I would be inclined to say that I consider this pure poppycock; so I will avoid that particular characterization of his reading of texts. I am convinced that his reading of texts is as tendentious and problematic as any I have seen—and that readers of his book should be so warned.

Larry suggests that I have paraded my credentials as a church historian— and seems to miss the point that I was making. Actually I do not claim to be a “church historian” and never have. I was trained in “Christian theo- logy” and not the “history of Christianity” at the University of Chicago. I was trying to describe the roots of my theological method in the Swedish “Lundensian” theology (Aulen and Nygren) and the typological analysis of my mentor James Gustafson and his mentor H. R. Niebuhr at Yale— theologians all. Actually, I was trying to be kind to Larry by softening elements of personal attack and grounding our differences in the more objective arena of theological method. Apparently I failed in this effort and so now will say flat out that I find Larry’s way of reading texts impos- sible in that he often takes marginal texts of Wesley and makes them (often in his own distorted reading) characteristic or central to Wesley (or whomever). He, moreover, interprets, texts not in the context of other texts by the same writer, but by importing the understanding of others (usually later).

I pointed this out in my last response where I discussed Larry’s argu- ment that texts from the late Wesley show that he adopted Fletcher’s artic- ulation of the doctrine of “Pentecostal sanctification” (that the disciples were “entirely sanctified” at Pentecost—and that this “separation” of becoming a disciple from the “reception” or “baptism” of the Spirit was normative for successive ages of the church and not just the primitive church). I have argued that Wesley was all his life nervous about that position because he was committed to the more classical position that since Pentecost this separation was no longer required and that all receive



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A Final Round with Larry Wood

the Spirit in initiation or conversion, though one may speak of a second blessing that represented the fullness of the work of the “sanctifying Spirit” already received in “justification.”

Larry cited three texts from the sermons to support his argument, only two of them from the late Wesley. It is significant both that Larry cites only two texts from the late Wesley and that they say what he claims they say only when one imports into the discussion what Fletcher (or his wife Mary Bosanquet—or whomever) means by certain expressions. I do not read the texts in question to teach what Larry says they teach. This same method of argument is found in his last response, where he argues that Wesley adopted Fletcher’s Trinitarian doctrine of “dispensations.” Here I would like to give an extended quotation from Wesley and let the readers make their own decision about Larry’s claims as to the meaning of the texts.

In this last cycle of discussion, Larry cites two sermons (again, only two!) from the late Wesley, and most elaborately “The Wisdom of God’s Counsels.” Larry quotes extensively from Sections six and seven, as follows:

We may in some measure trace this manifold wisdom from the beginning of the world: from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Moses, and from Moses to Christ. But I would now consider it (after just touching on the history of the church in past ages) only with regard to what he has wrought in the present age, during the last half century; yea, and in this little corner of the world, the British islands only.

7. In the fullness of time, just when it seemed best to his infinite wisdom, God brought his first-begotten into the world. He then laid the foundation of his church, though it has hardly appeared till the day of Pentecost. It was then a glorious church; all the members thereof being ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’, ‘being of one heart and one mind’, and ‘and continuing stead- fastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers”. ‘In fellowship’, that is, having ‘all things in common’, no man counting ‘anything he had as his own’.

Meek, simple followers of the Lamb, They lived, and thought, and spake the same; They all were of one heart and soul, And only love inspired the whole.

This is Larry’s key text to prove that Wesley adopted Fletcher’s doc- trine of dispensations. I don’t see this at all. The word “dispensation” is not in the text, all such references in Larry’s text are imported by him- self. There is no Trinitarian division of history to correspond to Fletcher’s most characteristic pattern of thinking, as reflected in The Portrait of St.



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Paul. One could better argue for the influence of biblical genealogies in his divisions of history; or more farfetchedly, for some anticipation of British-Isrealitism in his emphasis in the climax of God’s work in the British islands; or more appropriately, the continuing centrality of “Pente- costal communism” in the life of the church. But I don’t find evidence of Wesley having adopted Fletcher’s articulation of dispensations. But I shall let others judge this for themselves. Nor do I find evidence for Wesley’s adoption of “Pentecostal sanctification”; the whole text is com- pletely consistent with my reading of Wesley on these questions.

The other point to which I wish to return is Larry’s claim that it was not until 1970 that anyone doubted that Fletcher was an appropriate inter- preter of Wesley. I said explicitly in my last essay that I did not know what would count as evidence for Larry in such a discussion; most did not put it in those terms. But the substance of the issue was debated and denied if one means that Wesley adopted Fletcher’s doctrine of “Pentecostal sanctification.” That latter issue was regularly debated and many disputed the later holiness adoption of Fletcher’s position, saying that Wesley claimed the reception of the Spirit came in justification, conversion and the “new birth.”

I have regularly pointed Larry to the emergence of the “three blessing heresy” (the middle term between the holiness movement and the holi- ness Pentecostal movement) and especially to the writings of Canadian R. C. Horner, in particular to From the Altar to the Upper Room (1891, reprinted in 1984 in my Garland series, “The Higher Christian Life”). R. C. Horner was the founder of three different holiness denominations or movements, and the whole “three blessing heresy” is a protest against the doctrine of “Pentecostal sanctification” by claiming that after con- version one needs two more experiences, “entire sanctification” and “bap- tism in the Holy Spirit” as separate experiences. In an appendix on the “history of the doctrine” Horner comments that “most professors of reli- gion know no difference between the blessing of entire sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (p. 133). “Sound commentators,” how- ever, “have not attempted to make holiness and the baptism of the Holy Ghost one and the same blessing. What God hath set apart they have not ventured to join together” (pp. 135–136). And, “Wesley taught that holi- ness was salvation from inbred sin, and he knew that the disciples were not told to wait for cleansing” (p. 138). I have regularly pointed Larry to this material (before he wrote his book, in another essay directed to him and in this dialogue); I have yet to hear him comment on this movement.



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Larry has responded to the material by James Mudge that I have pointed out to him, and he has responded by including a chapter on Mudge in his book. Mudge was a New England figure that fought the adoption of the doctrine of “Pentecostal sanctification” in the late 19th century holiness movement. In his response Larry objects to my use of Mudge against him because Mudge does not explicitly mention a difference between Wesley and Fletcher. But the substance of the question is again there. Mudge wrote two books on the question, Growth in Holiness Toward Perfection, Or, Progressive Sanctification (1895) and The Perfect Life in Experience and Doctrine: A Restatement (1911). In the former he devotes a chapter to the “Baptism with the Holy Ghost” and explicitly denies the doctrine of “Pentecostal sanctification”; it is in this context that he comments that John Wesley had occasion to “reject this very error.” And Mudge com- ments, “We do not believe that view has any sanction from the Scriptures” (p. 238). The later book elaborates similar themes.

Similarly, I stand behind my interpretation of W. E. Sangster and his comment about Wesley’s failure to link perfection sufficiently with the Holy Spirit (1943). It may be worth noting that Charles Carter in The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit: A Wesleyan Perspective (1974) gives it the same interpretation that I have. And Sangster gives several pages later in The Path to Perfection to describing Wesley’s view, con- cluding that “Wesley did not care to describe the gift of perfect love as “the reception of the Holy Spirit,” as some later teachers have done, “because he held that the Holy Spirit was given when a man first believed” (p. 195).

George Turner’s 1940’s Harvard dissertation, published most recently as The Vision Which Transforms (1964) disputes Larry’s position. Turner comments that “John and Charles Wesley said or wrote little about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This emphasis is relatively recent. It is not easy to find Wesleyan writers devoting much space to it or associating it with entire sanctification and evangelical perfection.” (p. 149).

It is absolutely not true, as Larry claims, that Charles Carter cites (apart from Sangster) only works after 1970 in his sections on “The Problems of the Neglected Emphasis upon the Baptism in the Spirit” and “The Problem of Wesley’s Apparent Reluctance to Use the Term ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ in Relation to Sanctification.” He cites, in addition to Sangster, Charles Brown of the Church of God (Anderson) (1945) and Mildred Bangs Wynkoop (1967). And Leo Cox, in John Wesley’s Concept of Perfec- tion, based on his Iowa dissertation, says explicitly, contrary to Larry, that



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Wesley did not teach “Pentecostal sanctification,” commenting that “this teaching of Wesley may appear strange to some who insist that the Holy Spirit is given subsequent to regeneration at the time of a ‘second bless- ing,’ but in this concept Wesley is at one with most Reformed teaching” (p. 135). Cox does, however, give Fletcher the credit for making “Pentecostal sanctification” explicit, as Larry says. On the basis of such material I claim that that many scholars have doubted that Fletcher is a natural inter- pretation of Wesley. Indeed, such a position has been a staple of Wesley scholarship for over a century and is not a response to debates that began in the early 1970s.

This is not to say that Pentecostals cannot be Wesleyan. They can. Actually, I would wish they would be more so. But I don’t believe that Fletcher is the way they should go to find that path. Nor do I believe that Larry’s book is a good guide to the discussion. I believe that Wesley’s articulation is superior and a better guide to how Pentecostals should be Wesleyan. And with this comment I do lay down my pen (computer) in my dialogue with Larry’s book.



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