Wesley- Needs to be Re-Introduced
– by Filomena Saxton
If anyone needs to be reintroduced to the 21st Century’s minds and hearts, it is John Wesley. When my son got interested in Wesleyan faith practices and doctrines, I realized how little I knew of the man or the thinking behind him. I was surprised considering I help run a Christian inter-denominational mission where I come across many students with many faith practices such as Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Pentecostalism, Lutheran and others. Not only that but we witness to atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, and the general seeker. So when I tried to think through the many shades to my son’s new found controversial dogma- – I realized I needed to do my research.
Even though his name is not mention much, at least in my circles, “John Wesley is one of the major figures of Christian history” (Noble, 2010). Today, seventy million people regard themselves as standing in the ‘Wesleyan’ tradition. In his day, John Wesley proved to be an effective evangelists who viewed his movement as not one to usurp the Church of England, a church where he was ordained and served, but wanted it to act as a renewal. His many converts were organized into societies. At John Wesley’s death in 1791 his followers numbered 79,000 in England and 40,000 in America, but by 1957 there were 40 million Methodists world-wide. Wesley wrote numerous theological works and edited 35 volumes of Christian literature for the edification of the societies. Influenced leaders like William Wilberforce and Charles Finney and His revivals was accredited by bringing about transformation not only in the individual but in society at large.
Born 1703, the 15th child to Samuel and Susanna, Wesley’s parents were devout and taught religion and morals faithfully to her nineteen children. Many believe that John got his faith practices, “methods” form his mother who provided strict discipline to her children. At 16, John attended Oxford and soon was then ordained an Anglican Minister. In 1733, his brother Charles started a group called the Holy Club- a group John and George Whitfield were dedicated members. Members had to take vows and promise to lead holy lives, take communion once a week, pray daily and visit prisons regularly. This newly formed group spent three hours every afternoon studying the Bible and other devotional material. They would hold each other accountable by asking each other questions, 22 in total, to facilitate self-examination and accountability to holy living. Some of the questions …
Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am?
Am I honest in all my acts or words or do I exaggerate?
Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told in confidence?
Can I be trusted? [i] (See endnote for more)
This internal piety and outward discipline was starting to have an effect on these band of brothers. Shortly after, Wesley loans Whitfield a book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal, which as Whitfield states “showed me that I must be born again, or be damned!” In 1735, George Whitefield started to preach and was having remarkable success, especially in the industrial city of Bristol. In 1737, Whitfield’s preaching electrifies Bristol and London with thousands packing churches to hear him. Publishes six sermons, while opponents publish against him. His preaching was so successful and the need was so great he asked Wesley to help him preach- hesitantly John accepted. Hundreds of working-class poor, oppressed by industrializing England and neglected by the church, were experiencing emotional conversions under his fiery preaching of John Wesley!
Wesley: A Man for His Time
During the time of Wesley, British society began to decay from the top which reaches full bloom by the end of Wesley’s life. To understand the effect the Great awakening had on British Society and the challenges for its converts a look at Eric Metaxas description of the age is informative.
“It was a society of cruelty, vulgarity, and hopelessness, and prostitution. A society where decay came from the top. King George III read the bible to his kids but his sons were a symbol of depravity. As Metaxas states, “There was an almost sublime bestiality to George’s sons, a cadre of pleasure-choked buffoons who set the behavioral bar so low for the rest of society that one suspects they had perhaps thrown it into the basement. His son, the Prince of Wales, bedded seven thousand women, incurred heavy debts from gambling. In parliament alcoholism was epidemic- and fashionable. Leading political statesman were regularly drunk during in the House of Commons. Alcoholism from the elite to the poor was pervasive and abundant.
“Prostitution was rampant, 25% of all unmarried women in London were prostitutes. Brothels that exclusively provided services with girls 14 and under. Public executions were a popular form of entertainment and when no hangings presented themselves…they resorted to animal cruelty.
“The British aristocracy at the end of the eighteenth century was, among other things, exquisitely selfish and gave no more thought to the conditions of those below them It simply wasn’t fashionable to do so. The English nobility took its cues from its Gallic counterparts across the Channel and had been doing so for almost a century. The fabled excesses and decadence of the wealthy and noble classes of prerevolutionary France were mirrored expertly by their English counterparts.” 
It was this society that Wesley, and his Holy Club’s brothers, tried to reform. The preaching of the gospel led to a revival all over England. It was so controversial to be a Methodist convert, a Wesleyan or Whitefield, follower since it was so against the ethos of the time that it placed oneself in line for public ridicule and scorn. Still people like William Wilberforce in England and Charles Finney in the America’s were not only being saved but using their political power and social influence to bring about transformative social reforms such as the end of slavery and programs for the poor.
Wesley’s Place in History- An Enigma?
True, Wesley was a man for his time and his legacy and impact has lasted generations. There are not many notable theologians in Christian history that can boast of their evangelist work like John Wesley nor many who can unite the “theoria and praxis” as he did for his followers.
But the questions many are asking “was he a significant theologian?”  As many scholars have pointed out such as Noble, “the eighteenth century is not well-known for front-rank theologians”. When one tries to make sense of his doctrine one sees his Arminianism which one can reject or accept it. But it is his less known doctrine that have us all- dismissing him. Christian Perfectionism is the main one that is the most controversial. Reading and studying his statements and writings on it, as well as writings from his disciple Charles Finney, one is really left with, at least I did, that there are precious nuggets that the Reformed tradition can learn from. Many of Wesley’s, even Arminian thinking, seems to me to be a reaction to Reformed Theology that has lost its salt and has moved to a place where John Calvin himself would reject.
(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)
 Metaxas, Eric (2009-10-13). Amazing Grace (Kindle Locations 1411-1416). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Noble, T. A. (2010). John Wesley as a theologian: an introduction. Evangelical Review Of Theology, 34(3), 238-257.
 Noble, T. A. (2010). John Wesley as a theologian: an introduction. Evangelical Review Of Theology, 34(3), 238-257
[i] Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits? Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? Did the Bible live in me today? Do I give it time to speak to me everyday? Am I enjoying prayer? When did I last speak to someone else of my faith? Do I pray about the money I spend? Do I get to bed on time and get up on time? Do I disobey God in anything? Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy? Am I defeated in any part of my life? How do I spend my spare time? Am I proud? Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful? Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican? Is there anyone I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it? Do I grumble or complain constantly? Is Christ real to me?