Unreasonable Experience: Understanding John Wesley’s Theology of Experience in the Shadow of the Enlightenment




Ho, Daniel

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John Wesley’s activity sat in the midst of the Enlightenment, which would turn out to be among the most intellectually impactful and contentious centuries in history. One of the more curious products of Wesley’s actions was his so-called theology of “experience.” I will begin by narrating the origin of Wesley’s theological position as a failure of the “Anglican triad” to accommodate the authoritative experience of the individual within itself. This failure, caused by Enlightenment values, forces experience to take a distinctive authoritative position rather than being a subset of the triad. After establishing this, I will introduce what I will call “the experience paradox,” which is derived from the historical narration of Wesley’s theology of experience. This problem is created by the requirement that God must interact with humans on an individual level and the opposing reality that any intellectually honest assessment of human “experience” understands that it is anything but objective. I will conclude by tracing a connection between Wesley’s situation and the situation of modern evangelicals.