Arrival Theology

–September of 2003

Arrival Theology

One of the great legacies handed down to the Church by the father of Methodism was a passionate pursuit of God resulting in personal holiness. Wesley taught that salvation was a journey marked by crisis (moments of actualization) – in particular two crises, regeneration and entire sanctification.   Wesley stressed a real conversion experience.  He was instrumental in reviving and renewing the Church’s teaching on full sanctification as a second work of grace attainable now by faith.  This was his doctrine of Christian Perfection.  Nevertheless, he insisted that every crisis was preceded and followed by the gradual and constant work of the Holy Spirit.  To Wesley, the pursuit and transformation never ended.

Wesley’s renewed emphasis on these crises experiences lead to great revival and thousands of transformed lives.  However, this same emphasis also created a problem.  He addressed the situation formally at the general conference of 1770 when he wrote: “Does not talking, with proper caution, of a justified or sanctified state, tend to mislead men; most naturally, leading them to trust in what was done in one moment?  Whereas, we are every moment pleasing or displeasing to God, according to our works; according to the whole of our present inward temper and outward behavior.”  Wesley was seeking to warn those who were falling victim to what might be called “arrival theology”.  This false sense of “having it made” was breeding a spiritual pride in the ranks of Methodism and undermining further spiritual growth.

We face the same problem today.  Darius Salter in his excellent book, Prophetical Priestly Ministry, says that arrival theology comes from thinking that, “Entrance into the Christian fold is more akin to arrival than it is to the beginning of a pursuit.”  Salter goes on to say that “Strangling the church’s health is the belief that one’s past spiritual experience guarantees today’s Christian vitality.  Though only a few within evangelicalism’s broad spectrum of theology overtly espouse eternal security, most have adopted it.  The result is a sterile faith that knows little of the thirst that is absolutely essential to find spiritual nourishment.”

The Bible clearly teaches that men’s lives can be radically and instantly changed through regeneration and entire sanctification, but it never teaches that those are stopping points.  Our spiritual life is indeed a lifetime journey.  Regeneration and entire sanctification are critical crossroads on that journey, but neither experience will put us on a plateau of self-congratulatory ease. Salvation will both satisfy and intensify your spiritual hunger. Keeping this tension is your spiritual journey will place you in the company of the great saints.  It will certainly be key to your ultimate arrival in heaven.

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