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What Is Methodist Theology?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 23, 2024
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Methodist theology is largely the Biblical teachings of founder John Wesley of Britain in the mid 1700s. Methodism began as a zealous club of religiously passionate young men learning theology at Oxford University in England, led by John Wesley. After experiencing God's forgiveness of sins and His saving grace, Wesley established standards of doctrines that later formed the backbone of the Methodist church: grace, repentance, faith, good works toward humankind, and missions to spread the gospel.

Essential to Methodist theology education is belief in the triune God — God, God's Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As a holy and merciful Being, God sent His Son as an atonement for the sins of humankind. God graciously gives sinful humankind the desire and ability to receive this atonement and to experience His peace and presence in their lives. John Wesley defined the acts of atonement, mercy and God's presence as God's triune grace — prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. It is through God's grace and His undeserved gifts that people understand, receive and grow in fellowship with God and others.

Repentance is the act or turning around, of turning away from one thing toward another. In Methodist theology, repentance is what occurs when a person turns from a life of selfish fulfillment and moral inadequacy to a life devoted to God and serving humankind as God would require of him or her. Coupled with grace, repentance is the key to what Methodists call a "new life in Christ." This doctrine reflects the testimonies of the people of the New Testament and of John Wesley himself. Rather than striving to earn God's favor with good deeds or religious devotion, true repentance accepts God's grace and performs good deeds, which spring from a renewed heart.

In Methodist theology, the concept of faith extends far beyond a mental ascent or a form of thinking a certain way. Based on the many teachings of the New Testament, faith in God evokes action. Religious devotion and personal holiness do not earn God's grace, but rather devotion and holiness bloom from the inner fountain of God's grace in people's lives. Methodism teaches that a person touched by God's grace will naturally serve society. John Wesley and early Methodists fervently served their communities by distributing to the poor, preaching to the lost, building orphanages, and maintaining a form of personal holiness that strongly appealed to others.

Even in 2011, Methodist theology has not altered much in its foundational doctrines since the church was formed. The Methodist Church strongly adheres to the ancient Apostles' Creed and refers to Wesley's many sermons and notes. In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to become the United Methodist Church. While other types of theology in various churches have radically changed over the centuries, much of Methodist theology remains intact. The church stands with traditional beliefs that abortion, homosexuality, pornography, gambling and alcohol use are incompatible with scripture and the tenets of Methodist theology.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1001490 — On Apr 25, 2019

Transgender people would not say that Methodists are too laid back.

By Rotergirl — On Oct 27, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- I've found that to be true, myself. I was in a very charismatic denomination and I really wanted something more traditional. I visited around and found Methodist theology to be compatible with what I believe.

Something that has impressed me is the Methodist commitment to social justice and even if they don't believe a homosexual lifestyle is compatible with scripture, they also are vocal opponents of oppression. I am told the Methodist church was one of the places where the Civil Rights movement first gained a foothold in the South. I can believe it.

By Pippinwhite — On Oct 26, 2014

None of this should be interpreted to mean that Methodists are legalistic. We're not. In fact, because of our emphasis on grace over works, we're much more laid back than a lot of denominations. Some would say we're too laid back, and there may some truth in that, but most Methodist/Wesleyan bodies emphasize spiritual fruit over what people wear and so forth.

Some churches are more conservative than others, but as a rule, the Methodist Church is a welcoming one, and even if the congregation looks a little older, many people will find the atmosphere to be warm. We have our faults, certainly, but I think Methodist theology tends to consistently hit a happy medium between ultra-conservative, and very liberal.

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