Luther and Aldersgate: John Wesley’s Appropriation of Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:50 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center)
Mark Olson, Nazarene Bible College
As one of the main leaders of the evangelical revival in the eighteenth century, John Wesley’s perspective of Martin Luther serves as a key barometer of the latter’s influence in that era. Wesley’s assessment of Luther and his theology of salvation by faith went through drastic swings over the course of his long career, beginning with a generally negative assessment before switching to a very positive one, only to swing back to a very negative judgment before settling into a position that was more measured and nuanced in its response. In all there are more than two dozen references to Luther in the Wesley corpus that reflect a wide range of sources and topics. This paper surveys these shifts in his perspective thereby setting the context to critically explore Luther’s influence on Wesley’s Aldersgate experience. It is generally understood that Wesley’s viewpoint of Luther was mediated to him through Peter Böhler and the Moravians. But Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith was also passed on to Wesley through his Oxford (i.e. Anglican) education, through streams of pietism other than the Moravians, and by his own perusal of Luther’s writings and other historical texts. By examining the broader context of Wesley’s interaction with Luther and his soteriology, we are better able to assess the degree to which he appropriated Luther’s doctrine of justification into his own message of salvation from sin by faith in Christ.