Wesley and the People Called Methodists In Review

Derek Ouellette —  September 27, 2010

Wesley and the People Called Methodists
Richard P. Heitzenrater
3.5 Stars (out of 5)

I have for some time now considered myself a Wesleyan. This is mostly because my Christian background is found in the holiness movement, and because I see myself in most ways theologically defined as an Arminian. But what did I really know of John Wesley the person? I venerated him, but knew little about him except that he is considered the father of Methodism, that he is said to have traveled some 250,000 miles on horseback, that he preached to thousands in the open air and was instrumental in the eighteenth century revivals of England.

Wesley and the People Called Methodists is a critical look at the man John Wesley and at the beginnings of the Methodist movement. With over three hundred pages, this study is in many ways very detailed (occasionally dry), and very well researched. Since the Methodists movement coincided completely with the life of John Wesley, with the exception of an introduction covering the English reformation for the purpose of setting the context, and the exception of a short epilogue covering the events within the movement shortly after Wesley’s death, the book mostly starts with Wesley’s birth and concludes with his death. Heitzenrater intentionally avoids any details of Wesley’s life which was not pertinent to the story of Methodism, and so with but a brief comment one would be left with the impression that John Wesley never married.

Some of the fascinating things I discovered in this book are:

  • In his early years John Wesley cast lots to discover the will of God.
  • Wesley and Whitefield seem to have competed for leadership of the Methodist movement.
  • Wesley’s life was riddled with controversy to the end.
  • I would consider Wesley a theological post-conservative.
  • John and Charles disagreed on the method of the Methodists movement, a disagreement which nearly devastated their relationship.
  • I learned about an failed mission attempt by Wesley in Georgia. A romance gone bad.
  • Later John would begin to “court” a women who traveled with him and assisted him in his mission. Charles felt that if John married her that the marriage would be bad for John’s mission, so when John was away Charles arranged for this young woman to marry someone else. This meddling was not good.
  • John never left the Anglican church (he was an Anglican minister until his death) and the Methodist movement never separated from the church of England until after John’s death. Methodists in England were not permitted to gather together on Sunday mornings because they were to attend their local parish.
  • John was extremely legalistic in his early years.

I discovered many other things, but these most stood out. What I especially appreciated about Heitzenrater’s book is it’s critical aspect. Too often someone will write a book on John Calvin or Martin Luther and leave the impression that these men had no wrong, either in their theology or practice. Such a critical study of the men of whom we take our heritage from is necessary to remind us that though we must respect them and be grateful for their contribution, still even our venerable traditions must stand up to the scrutiny of the scriptures. John Wesley was a fallible man, and like Calvin or Luther, Wesley had problems with his theology as much as struggles in his life. Nonetheless, I thank God for Wesley and for the heritage that he has past down to us.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://polumeros.blogspot.com Brian Small

    I have read several books on the Wesleys and learn something new in every one of them. Different authors take different angles on them, and so reading different biographies is worthwhile.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks Brian, that is absolutely true.