The story of the Wesley brothers doesn't end with their deaths. Their influence continues not only in the Methodist denominations (most prominently the United Methodist, Free Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, Nazarene, and Wesleyan churches), which total some 25 million adherents worldwide, but in the countless lives touched by the hospitals, schools, orphanages, prison ministries, and other tangible expressions of Methodist holiness.

To trace the Wesleys' legacy in today's sprawling Methodism, Christian History interviewed Tom Oden, a lifelong Methodist and professor of theology at Methodist-founded Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

In what ways were John and Charles Wesley products of their times?

Both men were deeply rooted in Anglicanism (from their father) and in rigorous Puritan piety (from their mother). They both wanted to experience salvation in its fullness, but the world they lived in did not encourage such a quest for inward and outward holiness. The Anglican Church in the early eighteenth century was self-satisfied and hardly energetic in seeking to live out the gospel.

Oxford University, when they were there, was undergoing something of a revival of interest in ancient Christian sources—patristic writings, the Eastern church fathers, the desert monastics—that centered on the search for holy life. Rather than see this as an academic exercise, the Wesleys took it personally.

In addition, John Wesley read William Law, Jeremy Taylor, and other writers seeking "Christian perfection."

In the Holy Club, he founded what we'd call a support group for those who wanted to pursue holy living—not merely private piety but public acts of charity and service. John Wesley never saw himself as an innovator. He was just ...

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