Letter to the Evangelical Times on reading articles critical of John Wycliffe in the Christian Newspaper



     Robert Williams (41:11) believes that Wycliffe was not in tune with later mainstream Reformers. He cannot mean the 16th century Reformers as they obviously built on Wycliffe. So he is probably thinking of the many evangelical scholars of today who have sadly little in common with either Wycliffe or the Reformation. Williams appears to have taken over the Lechler/Green, late nineteenth century, critical interpretation of Wycliffe which was excellent in reviving Wycliffe studies but extremely weak in understanding Wycliffe’s doctrines. Like modern Reformed systematic theological appreciation, it was too analytic and philosophical in striving to isolate each of Wycliffe’s doctrines from one another. Wycliffe’s own comprehensive view of salvation was refreshingly free from such artificial Aristotelian analysis. Wycliffe was thus intensely Reformed in his doctrines of salvation. He refused to separate election, calling, conversion, justification and sanctification from each other as they were all the one result of Christ’s atoning death. Lechler/Green, in their lack of theological acumen, spread the myth that Wycliffe ‘confused’ the one with the other. Justification by faith alone does not mean that faith is to be considered alone without reference to, say, good works. Nor does it mean that justification stands alone separated from election, calling, forgiveness, conversion and sanctification. Indeed, Wycliffe, like his 16th century disciples, taught that justification was really an umbrella term for all that God had done for us in Christ. This is where men like Grosseteste, Bradwardine and Wycliffe, whose views were strengthened by the Good Parliament of 1376, were superior to the Commonwealth ‘Puritans’ who were mainly Melanchthonian in their legal understanding of justification which sadly many modern ‘Reformed’ men have inherited.

     As Williams contradicts Wycliffe’s own words regarding the ministry and ordinances, I wonder what secondary sources he has used. He cannot be relying on Lechler and Green here as those scholars reject William’s theory citing strong textual evidence against it. Thus, William’s comments, though thought-provoking, have little to do with Wycliffe.