The term omnibenevolance is not used in my quarter of Protestantism, and after reading the Wikipedia article it is entirely unclear to me what the term means and how it relates to the God of Christianity. I quote:

The word "omnibenevolence" may be interpreted to mean perfectly just, all-loving, fully merciful, or any number of other qualities, depending on precisely how "good" is understood. As such, there is little agreement over how an "omnibenevolent" being would behave.

After stating that the term is basically meaningless, it goes on to note that the attribute is considered by some to be a "an essential foundation in traditional Christianity", then calls out a specific group as depending on this attribute for their other ideas about God's character.

Theologians in the Wesleyan Christian tradition argue that omnibenevolence is God's primary attribute.

My question is two-fold.

  1. First, is this claim about it being a primary-attribute true or those quotes a poor representation of 'traditional' Christianity?

  2. Secondly, how is this attribute defined in light of the common usage of the word being so ambiguous?

Answers may be specific to the Wesleyan tradition or delineated as belonging to any other tradition that holds this as an important attribute.

2 Answers 2


As I understand it, this needs to be taken in the context of Arminian/Calvinist debate. Calvin held that God's primary attribute was his sovereignty. All other attributes of God, including his love, must be understood in light of his sovereignty. From this idea springs the entire TULIP paradigm.

Arminius (and Wesley following him) disagreed and held that God's primary attribute was his goodness. All other attributes of God, including his sovereignty, must be understood in light of his goodness. Because God is perfectly good, he can never sin or cause anyone to sin.

This led Arminius and Wesley to reject the "U" ("Unconditional election") of TULIP on the grounds that it implies God is the author of sin. That, in turn, caused them to reject the "I" ("Irresistible grace") because if God doesn't foreordain people to hell, there must be a way for people to reject God's grace and separate themselves from God.

In short, to the extend that Arminian/Wesleyan theology differs from Calvinist teaching, it is due to being grounded in the belief that God's primary attribute is his goodness rather than his sovereignty.


The all encompassing goodness of GOD and his desire to lavish good things on all people is a very important tenet of Christianity, despite the fact that omnibenevolence is a word that has been used less and less since the Wesleyan movement used it. However, the goodness of GOD is certainly a tenet of "traditional" Christianity, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Wesleys all hold that GOD is inherently Good.

This is a paragraph way down on the wikipedia page for "omnibenevolence."

"Theologians in the Wesleyan Christian tradition (see Thomas Jay Oord) argue that omnibenevolence is God's primary attribute. As such, God's other attributes should be understood in light of omnibenevolence."

So, for Wesleyans, all of God's attributes flow out of His goodness. But the truth might be that the love, goodness, and holiness of GOD are so intermingled that it could be difficult to separate them and to define which receives pre-eminence.

For a very very good book on this subject check out Church Dogmatics Vol 2 Section 1 by Karl Barth, he addresses this area of theology with so much depth that it would be hard to copy and paste it here.

However, the difficulty of the word has less to do with the word and more to do with individuals' understanding of what it means that GOD is good. But I would rest upon the statement that Jesus makes in Matthew 7:11 (ESV),

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

That God is good is a very important aspect of the Christian faith, but it must always be held in tension with the fact that we, as humans, do not know how to accurately discern what is "good" in every situation.

In many ways the Wesleyan movement was dead on accurate and orthodox, and in the sense of how the Wesleyans view the goodness of GOD they are only echoing what has been said for thousands of years,


I hope this helps!

  • One reason might be that you referenced Matt 11:7 but quoted (a paraphrase of) Matt 7:11. I've fixed that now for you; otherwise I think it's a decent answer
    – Waggers
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 13:45
  • 2
    I didn't downvote, but am going to now. The problem I have is that you don't actually answer the question. Caleb is asking specifically for the Wesleyan perspective and you don't reference the opinions of any Wesleyan theologians or scholars, or any Wesleyan doctrinal texts. That is my biggest problem with this response.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 16:37
  • completely rewrote most of the question, hopefully it matches your standards!
    – jchaffee
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 18:32

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