Not long ago a package of books for review arrived from my denominational publishing house. One was by an Anglican, one by a Presbyterian, and one by a Baptist. Though different in several ways, all had one thing in common: they all mentioned John Wesley.
These references lend support to my observation that there has been, particularly in recent evangelical books and magazines, a rediscovery of John Wesley. We are discovering, I think, that his remarkable ministry in eighteenth-century England has much to say to us in the churches of twentieth-century America.
The Wesleyan revival brought perhaps the most thoroughgoing transformation of a society by the Gospel in history. This fact is particularly important for the Church in our chaotic era, for the Wesleyan Revival occurred during the period of upheaval that accompanied the Industrial Revolution in England.
The socio-political effects of the Wesleyan Revival have often been overdrawn. The thesis that Wesley saved England from a French-style political revolution is, at best, highly speculative and ignores important differences between French and English cultures of the day. Yet it is true that England improved considerably during the eighteenth century, and that the Wesleyan Revival was a major agent of this change.
The rediscovery of John Wesley can hardly be cause for pride by any present-day denomination. The Anglicans, by and large, turned their backs on Wesley. Methodists have to remember that Wesley died an Anglican and never officially became a “Methodist,” nor wanted Methodism to become a separate church. And most contemporary groups that consider themselves Methodist or Wesleyan have fallen into a rigidity and narrowness that is distinctly non-Wesleyan.
John Wesley is ...1
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