A Wesleyan Theology of Religions: A Re-Reading of John Wesley Through His Encounters with Peoples of Non-Christian Faiths

Philip D. Wingeier-Rayo

Abstract


This article argues that John Wesley’s contact with and understanding of native peoples and non-Christians can be a helpful model for a Wesleyan theology of religions today, when Christians have greater encounters with adherents of Islam and people of other faith traditions. Over the course of his lifetime Wesley grew in his appreciation of indigenous people and members of other religions from an original innocence to natural depraved man to a universal grace of hopeful eschatology for humanity. The early Wesley can be described as naïve and believing in native peoples as “noble savages.” The second stage, or middle Wesley, believed that native peoples and people of other faith traditions fall into the category of “natural man.” Finally, the mature Wesley believed in an eschatological hope for humanity. One can credit Wesley’s maturation process to at least two important factors. One important factor in his growth was the personal experiences with people of a different life experience that created cognitive dissonance for his previous worldview. The other contributing factor to his growth was Wesley’s reading of travel logs, missionary letters and other accounts of the expanding global awareness in 18th century England. Wesley’s sermon “The General Spread of the Gospel” calls for the Holy Spirit to empower Christians to cease to be stumbling blocks and to witness to Muslims and people of other faiths. This requires personal encounters, similar to those that Wesley had with his Jewish parishioners in Savannah. The article closes with an exhortation to those in the Wesleyan tradition to embrace this practice of personal encounters and continual learning, while at the same time maintaining an expectant eschatology of God’s salvific work through the Holy Spirit.


Keywords


John Wesley, eschatology, missions, theology of religions, encounter, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans

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