Calvin vs. Wesley

Bringing Belief in Line with Practice

By Don Thorsen Published
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When we stand at the Pearly Gates, God will not ask us what we believed but how we lived.The theology "de jour" originates with John Calvin, with an emphasis on “the elect” and "sovereign will of God.” So much Calvinism saturates our air that Christians may not know there is another way of thinking about their faith, one well represented by Wesley. But no matter what people think, many act in ways that promise to change the world by offering grace and hope but also by helping to provide food and shelter to hurting people. In other words, they believe like Calvinists but they live like Wesleyans.

This book is not intended to put down Calvin but to point to significant differences between Calvin and Wesley. Each wrote about major tenets of the church: who God is and what God's will is for us; the place of Scripture; the atonement of Christ; the role of human responsibility; the work of God’s grace, the relation of the church and world; and how these beliefs can connect to how people practice their faith. But Calvin and Wesley were different, and following their prescriptions will lead us down different paths.


In spite of the "versus" in the title, this book is an irenic recommendation of right understandings of both Calvin and Wesley. The author prefers Wesley, but his treatment of Calvin is fair to a fault. I know of no other book that does what this one does: explain in popular language with theological precision the common ground and areas of divergence between Calvin and Wesley. Every Christian interested in the history of Protestant theology and in contemporary controversies over "predestination" and "free will' must read this book."

--Roger E. Olson, Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics, George W. Truett Theological Seminary Baylor University

This is not a technical book, but it reflects deeply rooted theological expertise. It is also timely, especially amid the rise of Neo-Calvinism in evangelical Christianity. Thorsen has a clear preference for Wesleyan soteriology, but he handles Calvin with an even hand, even when he disagrees with the implications of Calvin's theology. Convinced Calvinians will not likely have their minds changed, but Wesleyan Christians-- who unfortunately seem to understand their tradition with less theological depth than their Calvinist counterparts-- will come away with a much deeper appreciation of the distinctive dimensions of Wesleyan theology. This is not a 'how to' book, but it is characterized by great theological wisdom that can have far-reaching practical implications for the careful reader.
--W. Stephen Gunter, Associate Dean for Methodist Studies, Duke Divinity School

Will the 16th-century TULIP give way to the 21st-century ACURA? Don’t let the mechanical-resonance of the latter detract from its biblical credentials and practical viability. These strengths signal a renewed and reinvigorated Wesleyanism for evangelical theology in the third millennium.
--Amos Yong, J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology and Dean, School of Divinity, Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia

About the Author

Don Thorsen

Don Thorsen is Professor of Theology and Chair of the Department of Theology and Ethics at Haggard Graduate School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University.