Introductory Note:

What if most of the doubts that arise about who Jesus is and whether we can trust his good news are actually valid rejections of a truncated gospel? ... Or valid suspicions about people who bear the good news but haven’t been transformed by it? 

James Catford tries out an interesting experiment in this piece. He has a bit of a conversation with 18th century revivalist and theologian John Wesley about the true nature of the gospel. When we respond to the issue of doubt, James says it’s important to first ask: “What is the gospel message in question?” Often there is a lack of clarity, or some point of distortion, that needs clearing up in order to see the beauty, goodness, and trustworthiness of Jesus and his Kingdom. 

Grace Pouch
Content Manager
September 2023

Nearly three hundred years ago, the revivalist John Wesley articulated an understanding of the Gospel that, while sounding quaint in some ways, is also remarkably fresh and contemporary today. He describes the message of Jesus Christ, not as a truncated conversion gospel” alone, but as a life that would be attractive to many of our generation if they knew that this was the gospel on offer.

What follows are three excerpts from Wesley, each of which helpfully challenge some distortions we might hold about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

1. Doubt and the problem of a truncated gospel

If we have bought into an inadequate or reduced gospel’ then it might just be that we need to replace it with a more substantial one that Jesus actually preached. It might be that the gospel that people doubt is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all. 

A skeptic inquires of John Wesley…

He asks: 

I hear … you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whither would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What is it good for?”

Wesley replies: 

I do preach to as many as desire to hear every night and morning. You ask what I would do with them: I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves and useful to others.

Wither would I lead them? To heaven; to God the judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.

What religion do I preach? The religion of love; the law of kindness brought to light by the Gospel.

What is it good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves: to make them like God; lovers of all; content in their lives; and crying out at their death, in calm assurance O grave, where is thy victory! Thanks be unto God, who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.”1

2. Doubt and the problem of Christians who don’t look like Christ

People can doubt Christianity because they have good reason to doubt Christians. Wesley took this this very seriously in his life and in his writing. For example, when he reviewed the area in the farthest south-western corner of Wales, called Pembrokeshire.

Children for the murderer

I am more convinced than ever that the preaching like an apostle, without the joining together of those that are awakened and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the murderer.

How much preaching has there been for these twenty years all over Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, no order, or connection.

And the consequence is that nine in ten of those once awakened are now faster asleep than ever.2

3. Doubt and the problem of poor Christian leaders

Finally, for good measure, one of my favorite quotes from Wesley. 

It speaks to the problem of Christian leaders who bring reproach on the Gospel, which they might murder but cannot teach.” No wonder people doubt the substance of the Gospel if the wealthy classes of Wesley’s day believed that having a blockhead’ in the family would do well enough to be a church minister, or a parson.

A blockhead can never do well enough for a parson”

It is easy to perceive, I do not speak this for their sake (for they are incorrigible); but for the sake of parents, that they may open their eyes and see, a blockhead can never do well enough for a parson.”

He may do well enough for a tradesman; so well as to gain fifty or a hundred thousand pounds.

He may do well enough for a soldier; nay (if you pay well for it), for a very well dressed and well mounted officer.

He may do well enough for a sailor, and may shine on the quarterdeck of a man-of-war.

He may do well, in the capacity of a lawyer or physician, as to ride in his gilt chariot.

But Oh! think not of his being a minister, unless you would bring a blot upon your family, a scandal upon our Church, and a reproach on the Gospel, which he may murder — but cannot teach!3