Editor's note:

On Mon­day we saw how Dal­las Willard respond­ed to the issue of doubt. He told us that it’s pos­si­ble to go to heav­en with a lot of doubts… peo­ple do it every day.” He then went on to say that we can’t stay at this abstract intel­lec­tu­al lev­el for very long. Even­tu­al­ly we will need to bring it down to a prac­ti­cal lev­el with ques­tions like: what do you believe about Jesus?” 

Today we’re going to fol­low Dal­las’s advice. We’re going to flip the sub­ject around and ask the ques­tion: What is the gospel that we are actu­al­ly doubting? 

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, but who very often don’t know that we are offer­ing them.

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

—James Catford

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 replied: 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 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]

[1] An Earnest Appeal to Men of Rea­son and Reli­gion 1743. Works, v.

[2] The Jour­nal of John Wes­ley, Thurs­day, 25 August 1763

[3] An Address to the Cler­gy (Selec­tions from the Writ­ings of John Wes­ley. Eaton and Mains 1901, page 196)

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