Born Again: The Evangelical Theology of Conversion in John Wesley and George Whitefield

The gospel message is simple but not simplistic. Learning the gospel and its implications is a lifelong process, but modern evangelicals are often too focused on the moment of conversion while ignoring the ongoing work of sanctification. For John Wesley and George Whitefield, justification and sanctification were inseparable.

In Born Again, Sean McGever maps Wesley’s and Whitefield’s theologies of conversion, reclaiming the connection between justification and sanctification. This study helps evangelicals reassess their thin understanding of conversion, leading to a rich and full picture of the ongoing work new Christians face.

A review copy from Lexham, without any expectations for the outcome of any review, arrived some weeks ago.

First, right out of the blocks, I’ll confess that I am not a Methodist nor am I a Weslyan and, frankly, nor am I a fan of the semi-Pelagianism of Armiananism.  But I LOVED this book!

It’s fantastically and engagingly written and it is so well organized and has such a clear methodological procedure that there is simply nothing to dislike about it.  The author carefully and yet not in a boring or tedious or ‘preachy’ way walks readers, step by step, in a non-patronizing fashion, to a deeper understanding of how both Wesley and Whitefield, both towering figures in English and American theological history, saw the central doctrine of conversion.

The author of this study should hold a professorial chair in Modern Christian Theological Studies somewhere.  Following the introduction, McGever discusses Wesley’s theology of conversion and its themes.  Naturally, then, in the following two chapters he does the same for Whitefield.  His observations regarding these matters are cogent and insight-filled.  If readers aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the variety of viewpoints regarding conversion, these four chapters are an excellent primer.  Not only regarding the views of Whitefield and Wesley, but because he so plainly explains these topics so very well.

It’s been said that if a person truly understands a subject, they can explain it in terms that the normally educated can follow them and come to a better understanding of that topic.  Some theologians are completely bereft of that skill and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be allowed to teach anyone anything because they don’t understand the topic themselves.  But McGever belongs to the tribe of those who understand well enough to explain clearly.

The sixth chapter, then, compares the views of Wesley and Whitefield.  And the seventh and final chapter, which M. titles ‘Conversion as Inaugurated Teleology for Wesley and Whitefield’, draws the whole to a close and intriguingly offers a comparison between the views of Wesley and Whitefield on one side and modern Evangelicals on the other, and that comparison is a highlight of the work.

The book ends, as all these scholarly things do, with a bibliography (which is quite thorough) and a subject index followed by a one page scripture index.  Calvin appears in the bibliography (or rather, his Institutes do) but there is no mention of Zwingli or Luther.  And I guess that’s ok.  One can’t cover everything, can one?

The volume at hand is superb.  Get a copy and read it.  You’ll leave the experience having a better understanding of Revivalism and Conversion as those appear in the thought of two of the most formative thinkers of American Christianity.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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