John Wesley’s Advice to the People Called Methodists (Part IV)

This essay has reminded me how difficult Wesley is to read well, especially when groups with quite different perspectives seek to use Wesley as warrant for their position. The challenge of letting Wesley speak for himself is especially visible in his final words of advice. Nevertheless, I think Wesley is an essential conversation partner, particularly as United Methodism wrestles with the extent of agreement that is necessary to maintain unity.

If you are just joining the conversation, this is the final post in a four-part series on an essay John Wesley wrote in 1745, “Advice to the People Called Methodists.” These posts are designed to be read together. I hope you will check out the first, second, and third posts!

Image from Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Wesley’s fourth word of advice for the people called Methodists was “Keep in the very path wherein you now tread. Be true to your principles. Never rest again in the dead formality of religion. Pursue with your might inward and outward holiness, a steady imitation of him you worship, a still increasing resemblance of his imitable perfections, his justice, mercy, and truth.”

Wesley urged Methodists to avoid superstition and bigotry. He defined superstition as placing “religion in doing what God hath not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden.” Bigotry was defined as “confining our affection to our own party, sect, or opinion.” Wesley also wanted Methodists to “stand fast in obedient faith” and “avoid enthusiasm” (expecting to encounter God without using the means of grace).

Wesley continued by encouraging Methodists to “be true also to your principles touching opinions, and the externals of religion.” Here, Wesley once again pressed Methodists to know who they are and hold fast to their identity without condemning anyone “for not thinking as you think.” Methodists should do all that they can to persuade others, but they should never try to force someone to think like them. “If love will not compel him to come in,” Wesley wrote, “leave him to God, the Judge of all.”

After encouraging Methodists to be generous towards others regarding “opinions, and the externals of religion,” he warned them that they should not expect that “others will deal thus with you.” He wrote:

Some will endeavour to fright you out of your principles, some to shame you into a more popular religion, to laugh and rally you out of your singularity. But from none of these will you be in so great danger as from those who assault you with quite different weapons – with softness, good nature, and earnest professions of (perhaps real) goodwill. Here you are equally concerned to avoid the very appearance of anger, contempt, or unkindness, and to hold fast the whole truth of God, both in principle and in practice.

This indeed will be interpreted as unkindness. Your former acquaintance will look upon this, that you will not sin or trifle with them, as a plain proof of your coldness toward them; and this burden you must be content to bear. But labour to avoid all real unkindness, all disobliging words, or harshness of speech, all shyness or strangeness of behaviour. Speak to them with all the tenderness and love, and behave with all the sweetness and courtesy you can, taking care not to give any needless offence, to neighbour or stranger, friend or enemy.

Wesley concluded the essay with a final piece of advice and a prayer. His final piece of advice was: “Perhaps on this very account I might advise you, fifthly, Not to talk much of what you suffer, ‘of the persecution you endured at such a time, and the wickedness of your persecutors.” Instead of talking about what Methodists suffer at the hands of others, he exhorts them to pray for them.

He concluded by himself praying for Methodists:

I have now only to commend you to the care of him who hath all power in heaven and in earth; beseeching him that in every circumstance of life you may stand ‘firm as the beaten anvil to the stroke’; desiring nothing on earth, accounting all things but dung and dross, that you may win Christ, and always remembering, ‘It is the part of a good champion to be flayed alive, and to conquer!’”

Wesley wrote “Advice to the People Called Methodists” in a context where Methodism was under tremendous pressure. (For more information on the serious internal and external pressures Methodists faced in the first half of the 1740s, I highly recommend Richard P. Heitzenrater’s Wesley and the People Called Methodists.) In a time when my own denomination is in a crucible, it is helpful to know what was important to Wesley in the midst of the pressures he was facing.

In controversy, Wesley worked to be as precise as he could be about who a Methodist was. The question of identity was one that Wesley came back to again and again throughout his leadership of this new movement. He was not interested in maintaining something for its own sake. The details of belief and practice were of immediate concern to Wesley.

I think this is the part of our own history that may be most often misunderstood by denominational leaders. It is common in our current crisis to hear bishops and other key leaders appeal to the importance of unity in the midst of disagreement about marriage and human sexuality. Appeals to unity are often grounded in Wesley’s “Catholic Spirit,” or quotes like the ones found in this essay. Indeed, Wesley regularly called for Methodists to show tolerance and charity towards those with whom they disagreed. He insisted that Methodists should not anathematize Christians due to disputes related to nonessentials.

Does this mean that we can assume Wesley would advise us today to agree to disagree on the matters that presently divide us? Would he passionately exhort us to focus on what unites us and work to find ways to remain externally united?

The best way I can think of to frame this is in the form of a question: With whom were Methodists disagreeing?

If Methodists disagree with Catholics, Baptists, Eastern Orthodox, or any other Christians, then Wesley is rightly used to call us to charity and to go as far as we can to see the best in these other groups of Christians and work as much as we can with them.

If Methodists disagree among themselves, then Wesley is rightly used to call us to clarity about the inevitably concrete focus on holiness of heart and life. Wesley repeatedly called Methodists to “be true to your principles.” He exhorted them to do this regardless of how those outside of Methodism reacted to these principles. And, to his credit, Wesley was honest that the most likely result of clinging to their principles would be some form of suffering and rejection.

Wesley’s own history shows that he did indeed divide from others due persistent and ongoing disagreement about matters of faith and practice (which he would have put in the category of nonessentials or opinions). Wesley divided from both the Fetter Lane Society and from George Whitefield for these reasons. And both divisions were very difficult for Wesley, damaging relationships that were deeply important to him.

“Catholic Spirit” and other similar statements were not intended to be a guide for dealing with disagreements with Methodism. Methodists had clear positions on all manner of opinions. And Wesley expected Methodists who were in connection with him to hold fast to their doctrine and discipline.

Wesley has been misused for so long by so many that it is very difficult to read him well here. While Wesley presses Methodists to love those with whom they disagree, that is not the same thing as encouraging a broadening of perspective or a watering down of concrete moral and ethical commitments. Contemporary United Methodists too often incorrectly include loving those with whom we disagree with compromise on beliefs and practices. Wesley cannot be used to support such a position. He can be used (and should be!) to remind us that it is essential that we do all we can to love and respect those who do hold such a position.

Wesley’s “Advice to the People Called Methodists” is a relentless call to know who God has called them to be and to be faithful to it. Within that understanding, Methodists are exhorted to treat non-methodists with love and affection.

This essay has reminded me that, for Wesley, the power of Methodism comes from its detailed commitment to a particular way of life in order to pursue holiness of heart and life. Methodists always pursue holiness together expecting growth in holiness to occur in the context of intimate and vulnerable community. For Wesley, the concrete details of practical holiness are simply indispensable because they, by the grace of God, provide the thrust for the very mission of Methodism.

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John Wesley’s Advice to the People Called Methodists (Part III)

“Do not imagine you can avoid giving offence.”

These direct words were Wesley’s second piece of advice to “the people called Methodists.” But why would Wesley tell the fledgling Methodists that it would be impossible to avoid giving offence?

“Your very name renders this impossible.”

“And as much as offense as you give by your name, you will give still more by your principles.”

Wesley is surprisingly frank that Methodists who know who they are and are faithful to who God has called them to be will inevitably give offence. (For Wesley’s definition of a Methodist see the first post in this series. The second post emphasized the importance of Methodists knowing who they are.) In case his audience was unclear how Methodists might give offence, Wesley offered a litany of ways Methodism would offend:

Image from Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

You will give offence to the bigots for opinions, modes of worship, and ordinances, by laying no more stress upon them; to the bigots against them, by laying so much; to men of form, by insisting so frequently and strongly on the inward power of religion; to moral men (so called) by declaring the absolute necessity of faith in order to acceptance with God. To men of reason you will give offence by talking of inspiration and receiving the Holy Ghost; to drunkards, sabbath-breakers, common swearers, and other open sinners, by refraining from their company, as well as by that disapprobation of their behaviour which you will often be obliged to express. And indeed your life must give them continual offence; your sobriety is grievously offensive to a drunkard; your serious conversation is equally intolerable to a gay impertinent; and, in general, that ‘you are grown so precise and singular, so monstrously strict, beyond all sense and reason, that you scruple so many harmless things, and fancy you are obliged to do so many others which you need not,’cannot but be an offence to abundance of people, your friends and relations in particular.

Some of the 18th century turns of phrase above may obscure Wesley’s meaning for contemporary readers. The conclusion to his “litany of offence” is pretty straightforward: “Either therefore you must consent to give up your principles, or your fond hope of pleasing men.”

I’m not sure I could come up with a piece of advice from the founder of Methodism that would cut harder against the grain of contemporary Methodist sensibilities, at least in my part of The United Methodist Church. Here is what I understand Wesley to be saying: Being who you are will be offensive to others. You can either strive to please them or you can be true to who God has called you to be and save your own souls and, God willing, theirs as well.

In order to try to be as clear as I can, let me say that I do not think that Wesley is saying that Methodists are to strive to offend others. He was telling Methodists that being who they were, for the reasons mentioned in the extended quote above, would inevitably offend others. The purpose of Methodism is not to offend. But, Methodists determined pursuit of holiness of heart and life will inevitably offend those who are not pursuing holiness of heart and life.

Wesley describes the result of all of this offence:

“You cannot but expect that the offence continually arising from such a variety of provocations will gradually ripen into hatred, malice, and all other unkind tempers…. The consequence, humanly speaking, must be that, together with your reputation, you will lose, first, the love of your friends, relations, and acquaintance, even those who once loved you the most tenderly; then your business… your health, liberty, and life.”

Wesley was exaggerating, right? I would guess that is the instinctive reaction many would have to this quote. The rhetoric just seems so inflated. But was he?

Historians know that Wesley himself experienced tremendous strain in relationships with family and friends due to the “principles” of Methodism. He was also regularly told after preaching in Church of England parishes that he would not be invited to preach there again. Wesley also experienced the wrath, violence, and unpredictability of mobs on more than one occasion in the years immediately before writing this essay. William Seward actually died of stoning by an angry mob in 1740, five years before Wesley wrote this.

When Wesley told Methodists not to imagine that they could avoid giving offence that would cost them dearly in terms of relationships, employment, and even their physical health, he meant it.

Wesley’s next piece of advice is one of the passages in this essay that I just keep coming back to again and again. I’ll let it speak for itself:

What further advice can be given to a person in such a situation? I can but advise you, thirdly: Consider deeply with yourself, Is the God whom I serve able to deliver me? I am not able to deliver myself out of these difficulties; much less am I able to bear them. I know not how to give up my reputation, my friends, my substance, my liberty, my life. Can God give me to rejoice in doing this? And may I depend on him that he will? Are the hairs of my head all numbered? And does he never fail them that trust in him? Weigh this thoroughly; and if you can trust God with your all, then go on, in the power of his might.

I stopped reading several times as I read Wesley’s second and third pieces of advice. “Do not imagine you can avoid giving offence.” “Consider deeply with yourself, Is the God whom I serve able to deliver me?” I stopped because the advice seemed so obvious and true. At the same time, these simple exhortations are so counter to how I experience my own United Methodist Church today. I cannot imagine a key leader of Methodism saying what Wesley says in this advice. I also believe it desperately needs to be said for our time and our place. This is how I see Wesley’s advice applying to us today:

Methodists, if you are centered in your identity and if you are true to who God has called you to be, people will not like you. People will be offended by what you believe and by how you live your life. That is ok. Make no mistake, being disliked, even despised is hard. That is one reason it is essential for you to unite together to watch over one another in love. But the purpose of Methodism was never meant to be winning the approval of a world that does not believe. The purpose of Methodism has been and, as long as the Holy Spirit is in the building, will be spreading scriptural holiness. When Methodism is faithful to that purpose, the once offended are often converted to faith in Jesus Christ and the peculiar and particular principles of this people so strangely raised up by God.

The next piece of advice is most important of all. Do not trust yourself. Do not seek to discover a confidence in yourself that you have what it takes. These are dead ends. When your faith begins to cost you, really cost you: Do you trust God? Are the promises of the gospel still true? Or as Wesley beautifully puts it, “Does he never fail them that trust in him?”

I am preaching to myself here. God brings me back to the basics over and over again. “Do you trust me? Do you believe that I am good and that I love you?” I need to hear and receive Wesley’s advice. I need to trust God every moment of every day. I desperately want to see United Methodism renewed. I want United Methodism to be what Wesley intended. But I don’t have what it takes to renew Methodism. Neither do you. But there is one who is able: Jesus Christ the risen Lord. I am thirsting for a revival of God’s Spirit that brings back to life a Methodism dependent on and desperate for intimate connection to the triune God.

The Westminster Reference Bible: An Extensive Reference Bible at an Excellent Value

In my exploration of the world of high quality Bibles, one of the most intriguing finds has been the Bibles produced by Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS). I first came across TBS on evangelicalbible.com, which describes TBS Bibles as “an affordable alternative to Schuyler, Cambridge or Allan.” And, indeed, the Westminster Reference Bible (KJV) is a great alternative to these Bibles, particularly if cost is the major concern.

The Westminster Reference Bible is an extensive reference Bible that is very reasonably priced for a Bible printed and bound by Jongbloead in the Netherlands with a soft and luxurious Meriva calfskin cover.

Cover

The Westminster Reference Bible is available in hardback or Meriva calfskin covers. The Bible reviewed here is calfskin and it is a wonderful! It is a paste-off binding, which means it does not have the hinge I’ve talked about in the last few reviews I’ve done. There is a cardboard insert in paste-off bindings. I was told by the folks at TBS that the insert in the Westminster Reference Bible is intentionally stiff in order to keep the entire text visible when the Bible is held in one hand. The stiffness of the cover is not a detraction for me, it is still flexible and I would guess will only become more so with use. I really like the grain and feel of this calfskin. As I was holding this Bible, I kept feeling astonished that you can buy a Bible with this quality cover for this price.

Layout

The Westminster Reference Bible is a double-column layout. One of the things that distinguishes it from other double-column Bibles is that there is no line or division between the two columns. A double-column Bible typically has a center column between the two columns of text where the cross references are located. The Westminster Reference Bible has such an extensive collection of references, that the references are placed on either side of the Scriptures (to the left of the left column and to the right of the right column). This makes reading the text easier if one is not needing or wanting to follow the cross references. It also makes tracking the references easier because they are located right next to the relevant verse. (When the references are in the center column, the top half of the column contains references for the left column and the bottom half contains references for the right column.)

In a Bible with the amount of reference material within the pages of the Bible that this Bible has, the layout is going to involve tradeoffs and will unavoidably feel a bit cramped. The Westminster Reference Bible is, in my opinion, the best possible layout with this exhaustive of a reference Bible. It is not nearly as enjoyable to read, however, as a single column reference Bible like the Cambridge Clarion (see my review of the Clarion here) or the Schuyler Quentel, which is double column, but places the references in the footer (see my review of the Quentel here). One realistic change I would like to see would be a paragraph layout, rather than a verse layout.

References, References, References!

Having said all of this, to critique the Westminster Reference Bible’s layout, especially in comparison to a Bible like the Clarion, would be an adventure in missing the point. The Westminster Reference Bible is a reference Bible on steroids. This is one of the places where the Bible really stands out. There are more than 200,000 references. The Bible contains the cross-references from John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1778) as well as references from the Concord Bible. The margins also include definitions of unfamiliar words and notes from the translators. It is the best Bible you can buy that is not a Study Bible, but as close as you can get without inserting commentary that is independent of the text. This Bible helps you study the Bible by helping you see how passages are connected to each other and inform each other. The Westminster Reference Bible does this exceptionally well.

The Translators to the Reader

One of the highlights of the time I’ve spent researching and learning about Bibles over the past several months has been learning more about the Authorized Version, or King James Version (KJV). In the world of fine Bibles, the KJV is one of the most popular translations. One of the reasons is due to the influence of the KJV on English literature and the English language in general.

The most interesting thing I learned (and one of those things I felt like I should have already known) was that the King James Version has not only a note from the translators to King James, but also a note from the translators addressing the reader. I believe that these notes should always be published as a part of a particular translation, and they almost always are in recent publications. Editions of the KJV, however, often omit these notes. This is unfortunate, as they are particularly important given the insistence by some that the King James Version is the only inspired version of the Bible in English. The notes from the original translators of the KJV themselves refute this argument.

Thankfully, the Westminster Reference Bible includes these notes. To whet your appetite, here is one of the key passages from the note from “The Translators to the Reader”:

“We do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession… containeth the very Word of God, nay, is the Word of God.”

Other Features

The Bible is printed and bound by Jongbloed in the Netherlands, which is currently one of the very best printers in the world. The quality of the printing is consistent throughout the Bible. The binding is sewn, which is consistent with fine Bibles. A sewn binding is more durable and also allows the Bible to open flat at any page, which this Bible does effortlessly. The Bible also has four ribbons (two black and two red).

Conclusion

To my mind, there are two major selling points of the Westminster Reference Bible. First, and foremost is the value. I do not think there is a comparable sewn calfskin Bible of this quality at anywhere close to this price. The Bible retails for $80 and, as of this writing, is available on Amazon.com for $58.06. The second major selling point is the extensive cross-reference system of the Westminster Reference Bible, which contains more references than any of the previous Bibles I’ve reviewed.

I would love to see Bibles of this quality and value available in other translations! If you are looking for a KJV high quality reference Bible at an excellent value, I would highly recommend this Bible.

The folks at Trinitarian Bible Society generously provided this Bible for review. I was not required to give a positive review of this Bible, only an honest one.

John Wesley’s Advice to the People Called Methodists (Part II)

Do you know who you are, Methodists?

I wonder if that would be one of John Wesley’s first questions for contemporary Methodists. It was a driving concern for him throughout his leadership of Methodism in its beginnings. Over and over again, Wesley defined, described, and reiterated what he did and did not mean by a Methodist. Wesley really wanted Methodists to know who they are!

Image from Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Over the past several weeks, I’ve found myself reading Wesley’s essay “Advice to the People Called Methodists.” I initially read the essay because I was curious to revisit the advice he gave to Methodism in its first decade.

The previous post summarized Wesley’s extensive definition of a Methodist in this essay. Here is my summary of Wesley’s definition of a Methodist from that post:

A Methodist is someone who pursues holiness of heart and life with zeal and laser-like focus. A Methodist believes that holiness requires avoiding all sin. A Methodist believes that holiness requires concrete expressions of love for others, whether they are easy to love or not. Finally, a Methodist believes that holiness requires Christian community because fellowship and accountability are essential for avoiding sin and growing in love for God and others.

While the title “Advice to the People Called Methodists” suggests that Wesley’s focus was advising Methodists, more than half of the essay was spent simply defining and clarifying what Wesley meant by a Methodist. Indeed, Wesley’s first words of advice really continued to refine what was (and was not) meant by a Methodist.

I believe Wesley’s purpose in writing this essay could be described like this: “Methodists, know who you are!”

Wesley’s first word of advice was: “Consider, with deep and frequent attention, the peculiar circumstances wherein you stand.”

This first piece of advice provides twenty-first century readers a helpful reminder that Wesley wrote this advice in a particular time and place. That Wesley was writing to a particular context is obvious from the content of the first piece of advice itself. Wesley reminds Methodists that “you are a new people.” Wesley used this to reinforce the core of his definition of a Methodist:

Your principles are new, in this respect, that there is no other set of people among us (and possibly not in the Christian world) who hold them all in the same degree and connexion; who so strenuously and continually insist on the absolute necessity of universal holiness both in heart and life; of a peaceful, joyous love of God; of a supernatural evidence of things not seen; of an inward witness that we are the children of God; and of the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, in order to any good thought or word or work.

Wesley provides further precision to this new people by speculating that “perhaps there is no other set of people (at least not visibly united together) who lay so much, and yet no more stress than you do, on rectitude of opinions, on outward modes of worship, and the use of those ordinances which you acknowledge to be of God.”

This part of Wesley’s advice is essentially a condensed form of Wesley’s well-known (and typically misunderstood) sermon “Catholic Spirit.” Wesley urged Methodists to be generous towards those who are not a part of this particular “people called Methodists.” He was not suggesting that “opinions, outward modes of worship, and ordinances” are irrelevant and a matter where Methodists themselves can agree to disagree.

Wesley’s emphasis on the novelty of Methodists “strictness of life” may be the most jarring part of his first piece of advice. Wesley described a commitment to a way of life that was distinctly unfashionable:

I mean, your making it a rule to abstain from fashionable diversions, from reading plays, romances, or books of humour, from singing innocent songs, or talking in a merry, gay, diverting manner; your plainness of dress; your manner of dealing in trade; your exactness in observing the Lord’s day; your scrupulosity as to things that have not paid custom; your total abstinence from spirituous liquors (unless in cases of extreme necessity); your rule ‘not to mention the fault of an absent person, in particular, of ministers, or of those in authority’, may justly be termed new.

To go back to the beginning of this post: Wesley’s first piece of advice is interesting because it is more of a continued description of what makes a Methodist a Methodist. Wesley is urging Methodists: Know who you are. Be true to who you are.

At this stage I can hear one of my seminary professors: So what? Is there anything that we can glean from Wesley’s definition of a Methodist and his initial advice? Does this have anything to say to Methodists today?

I think it does!

First, Wesley reminds us that context matters. In 1745, Methodists found themselves in a “peculiar circumstance.” Wesley realized that God was doing a new thing and he was determined to do all that he could to support it. This essay can serve as a helpful call to think more deeply about our “peculiar circumstance.” What is God up to in our midst? What is the Spirit doing? How can we best cooperate with the ongoing movement of God to seek and save the lost? How can we best cooperate with the ongoing movement of God to reconcile and heal creation?

Second, in order to answer the previous questions faithfully, Wesley reminds of our fundamental need to know who we are. We cannot be faithful to who God has called us to be if we are not clear about who God has called us to be. Perhaps the real crisis facing Methodism today is a basic identity crisis.

I continue to be convinced that before Methodism can move forward from the various places it seems to be stuck, we must first remember why we were created by the Holy Spirit in the first place. We need to know our own history. We need to return to our calling as a distinct people. If Wesley was right that Methodism was raised up by God, then, it will only continue to have life and vitality as long as it continues to be led by God.

Wesley discussed what may be the major challenge to following God in his second word of advice. This challenge to faithfulness, as well as the solution, is the focus of the next post in this series.

John Wesley’s Advice to the People Called Methodists (Part I)

What is a Methodist, really? How do you know if you are one? Is it someone who is a member of a denomination that has the word Methodist in the name? Or, is a Methodist something other than a member of a denomination?

In a time when Wesley continues to have deep resonance across the spectrum of United Methodism, as well as other Wesleyan/Methodist traditions, it is worth taking a careful look at the way Wesley defined “Methodists,” as well as the advice he gave to this group of people towards the movement’s beginning.

In 1745, when Methodism was still very new on the scene, John Wesley wrote a short essay “Advice to the People Called Methodists” defining what he meant by “Methodists” and offering his advice to the people who met that definition.

Image from Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Wesley began the essay by acknowledging “it may be needful to specify whom I mean by this ambiguous term, since it would be lost labour to speak to Methodists, so called, without first describing those to whom I speak.”

Wesley then wrote a seven-paragraph definition of what he meant by “Methodists.” And he packed a lot into these paragraphs! So, how did Wesley define a Methodist in this essay? (Click here to read this essay online, though there are some inaccuracies with the transcription. For example, the title is incorrect and the first paragraph is missing.)

We should not be surprised that Wesley’s definition of a Methodist began with “holiness of heart and life.” This was the heartbeat of Methodism throughout Wesley’s life. For Wesley, holiness of heart and life consisted of “conformity in all things to the revealed will of God.” Being conformed to God’s will had internal and external aspects. A Methodist is one whose life is conforming to God’s life so that they not only act as God would act in their place, but they think and feel as God would think and feel in their place. Methodists pursue this conformity. Methodists are not typically conformed in an instant to the will of God in all things. Rather, Methodists are being conformed inwardly and outwardly to the will of God.

This should be jarring to us. Wesley is saying here that Methodists are committed to becoming like God. When Wesley talked about Methodists pursuing holiness of heart and life, he meant it. He expected conformity to the will of God in all things to be the primary passion and motivation of a Methodist.

Wesley fleshed out the Methodist understanding of holiness by emphasizing the ways in which a Methodist is one who becomes like God in imitating God’s justice, mercy, and truth. The goal for a Methodist is for “universal love” to increasingly fill “the heart and govern the life.”

Much of the rest of Wesley’s definition emphasized that holiness is not a work that we do in or for ourselves. Wesley stripped away any merit or pretention to works righteousness. “Love of humankind cannot spring but from the love of God.” And this love of God comes solely by faith – a “supernatural evidence (or conviction) of things not seen.” This faith is a certainty, a bold trust and confidence that God the Father has forgiven my sins and reconciled me, through the work of Jesus Christ, to God’s favor. Faith itself is not a work that we do. It is a work that the Holy Spirit does in us. Methodists, Wesley was adamant, believe that there is nothing good in us except what is “produced by the almighty power of God, by the inspiration or influence of the Holy Ghost.”

After laying all of this ground work, he concluded with three big “Ifs.”

If you continually and constantly seek to know, love, become like, and obey “the great God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”…

If you “abstain from all evil, and labour, as you have opportunity, to do good to all men, friends or enemies”…

If you join together “to encourage and help each other in thus working out your salvation, and for that end watch over one another in love”…

Then and only then, “you are they whom I mean by Methodists.”

Notice that his definition builds on itself. A Methodist must meet every part of the definition, not only some parts of it.

Here is my attempt to put Wesley’s definition in my own words: A Methodist is someone who pursues holiness of heart and life with zeal and laser-like focus. A Methodist believes that holiness requires avoiding all sin. A Methodist believes that holiness requires concrete expressions of love for others, whether they are easy to love or not. Finally, a Methodist believes that holiness requires Christian community because fellowship and accountability are essential for avoiding sin and growing in love for God and others.

The obvious question, it seems to me, is: Would John Wesley recognize us as Methodists? Perhaps this definition is most helpful as an aspiration, an encouragement to seek the Lord on where we have room to grow and take a step in faith. The challenge is that in Wesley’s understanding of a Methodist it is something of an all or nothing proposition. If one is not in a small group where everyone is “watching over one another in love,” for example, Wesley would not expect to see progress in avoiding sin or growing in love for our neighbor.

I see the Holy Spirit at work, and by the power of the Spirit, I’m meeting more and more Methodists all the time!

After being as clear as he could be about what he meant by a Methodist, Wesley then offered these particular (and peculiar!) people five pieces of advice. This advice to the people called Methodists will be the focus of the next post.

Cambridge Clarion Reference Edition NASB: A Remarkably Versatile Bible

My interest in fine Bibles started because a handful of friends, unrelated to each other, wrote about or showed me in person a calfskin or goatskin Bible they had recently bought. The Cambridge Clarion was the first goatskin Bible that came onto my radar. This was fitting, as the Cambridge Clarion is a legend in the world of single-column fine Bibles. (For one example of the initial impression the initial Clarion made, read this post.)

In my first round of research, the Cambridge Clarion was the Bible I was most interested in buying. Before my interest in Bibles developed into a full-blown blog post series, I was leaning towards buying one Bible: the Cambridge Clarion NIV. Of all the Bibles I’ve received over the past month or two, this is the Bible I was the most excited to see in person. The Clarion is available in the following translations: ESV, KJV, NASB, NIV, and NKJV. This review is of the NASB in black goatskin.

Size

As far as size, the Cambridge Clarion is the most unique Bible I’ve seen. It is much more compact than other Bibles I’ve written about here. It is also noticeably thick, given the height and width of the book. The best way to get an idea of what the Cambridge Clarion is like is to image a thick mass market paperback novel, and then add about an inch of width to the page dimensions. If you like the experience of holding and reading a thick paperback book, this Bible is for you.

Layout


The popularity of the Cambridge Clarion is largely due to its layout. The single column setting is extremely well done. The font size is 8.75, but reviewers commonly describe the text as feeling like it reads larger than that. I find it to be comfortable and easy to read. The layout is so beautiful that I almost forget that this is not just a reader’s Bible. The Clarion is a reference edition that has extensive cross-references throughout. The ability to put references in the margin, instead of a center column, is my favorite aspect of a single column reference Bible. In the single column layout, the references are less of a distraction in reading, but still available when needed.

Cover

The Cambridge Clarion NASB is available in three editions: brown calfskin, black goatskin, and black calf split. The goatskin on my copy is tighter and less grainy than other goatskin Bibles I have. This is my least favorite goatskin of the Bibles I’ve reviewed. Don’t misunderstand me. This is a great leather cover. If this was the only Bible of this kind I had, I would be delighted to own it.

I like the simple elegance of the text on the spine and the lack of text on the front cover. The spine also has faux bands or ribbing. I like the added texture that these give, though I would prefer actual raised bands, like the Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition has. This is an edge-lined Bible, which means it has a hinge. (For a detailed discussion of my frustrations with hinges, and an exceptional hinge, see this post.) I would describe the hinge on the Clarion as slightly above average. It is better than some I’ve seen, but not in the same league as the Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition I reviewed.

Other Thoughts

I really like the art gilt (red-under gold) page edges on Cambridge Bibles. I’ve seen the red described as salmon. It is lighter. And I think it is gorgeous. The only problem with art gilt pages is that they seem to be the most susceptible to damage. My Clarion already has some damage. And I have no idea how it happened. While I would never damage the gilt intentionally, I’m not overly concerned about it. My goal is to read and use this Bible. Protecting the Bible will always be a secondary priority to reading and using it.

One last minor quibble: My first impression was that there needed to be more room for the text in the gutter (where the pages come together). The more that I read this Bible, the less I notice or think about this. I also realize something has to give with the host of factors that go into designing a Bible. I would certainly not want the font to be any smaller, or the spacing between lines to be any tighter, for example. I have also found that this is significantly offset if you roll one part of the Bible back around the other part. And the limp flexible cover makes this easy to do.

Conclusion

The Cambridge Clarion is one of the most versatile Bibles that is currently available. The elegant design and layout makes reading this Bible quite similar to the multi-volume reader’s editions that are increasing in popularity. However, this is a one-volume Bible that also contains the study aids of references, text notes, and concordance. The compact size of the Bible also means that you can take it anywhere with you, without sacrificing readability. The Clarion packs all of this between the covers of a fine Bible that is elegantly and expertly crafted. The Clarion combines a single column layout with a fine binding in a reference edition that is both portable and readable. I have not seen any other Bible that is this versatile.

If you are seriously considering buying a Cambridge Clarion Bible, you can often find them significantly discounted on amazon and evangelicalbible.com. For example, the black goatskin reviewed here was 47% off list price on amazon.com when this post was published.

Cambridge generously provided a copy of this Bible in exchange for my honest review.

Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition: An Exceptional Cover #Bibles

When I first started learning about fine Bibles, Cambridge quickly rose to the top of the list of publishers that I wanted to get to know better. And based on the Cambridge Bibles I’ve looked at, they have yet to disappoint. Cambridge just about has the market cornered on fine editions of the NRSV at the moment. This is good news for fans of the NRSV as Cambridge has done a great job with their newest editions. Cambridge has a new NRSV reference Bible available in three options: a burgundy goatskin binding with apocrypha, a brown cowhide binding without apocrypha, and a black French Morocco leather without apocrypha. The brown Cowhide NRSV Reference Bible is the subject of this review.

Better than Goatskin?!

Goatskin is the gold standard for Bible covers. I have now had the opportunity to handle many different goatskin covers. And I have liked every single one. I was close to deciding there was no need to consider anything else. And then I got my hands on this Bible. It is not goatskin. And it is amazing! The leather is ridiculously soft and supple. I really like the color of the leather and the way the grain changes when you bend it one way or another. I am also a fan of the interior leather lining which is black and has an attractive grain.

The Bible is edge-lined, which means that the cover has maximum flexibility. I even think the writing on the front cover works nicely, though I typically prefer a blank cover. I also think the amount of text on the spine is exactly right. And I love the raised bands on the spine, which are the most elegantly executed of any Bible I’ve seen so far. To my surprise, this is hands down my favorite cover of all of the Bibles I currently have. And it isn’t close.

The Hinge

This Bible completely addressed the concerns I have had about the hinge on edge-lined covers. To explain this concern I need to first give a bit of background information.

There are two main ways that the book block (the pages of the book itself) is attached to the cover. Paste-off covers have thicker pages at the end, where the last page is pasted to the cover itself. The cover is attached to the book block by glue with a board of varying thickness between the leather cover and the book block itself, which makes the cover less floppy and flexible. Paste-off book bindings are generally less expensive.

Edge-lined covers attach the cover directly to the book block without gluing anything to the cover itself. This is accomplished by a tab that is part of the inside cover that is inserted and glued into two thick pages at the front and back of the text block. If this does not quite make sense, check out this excellent post, which has very helpful pictures.

The tab that is inserted into the text block is often referred to as a hinge. The hinge is what has perplexed and frustrated me. The hinge is often extremely stiff. With the pages glued together, it can extend far enough toward the edge of the page that it mitigates the floppiness of the cover. Let me put it this way: Edge-lined covers are usually two pieces of leather sewn or glued together. They are marvelously limp and flexible. You can roll them up and they spring right back into place. One practical thing that a flexible cover makes possible is one handed reading. You can roll the front cover back around the book and roll the pages with it and read the book with one hand and not damage to the binding. This flexibility is one of the functional things that really differentiates this quality of Bible from bonded leather or genuine leather paste-off Bibles.

So what is the problem? The hinge is often so stiff and inflexible that for an inch or two you cannot move the pages around the hinge itself. In effect, the hinge of edge-lined Bibles makes the pages less flexible than the cover, exactly the opposite of what you’d expect in a reading experience. You can roll the cover right around the back of the book. But you cannot roll the pages back with the cover because of the rigidity of the hinge. All of this had left me feeling some ambivalence about whether edge-lined covers were really all that much better than paste-off covers.

And then I encountered the perfect hinge.

The Cambridge NRSV has the best hinge I have ever seen. The hinge succeeds in providing a durable attachment of the book block to the leather cover, without making the text less flexible than the book. (See photos above.) I do not have any other edge-lined Bible where the pages conform nearly as closely to the cover as they do with this Bible. This may not seem like a big deal, but after handling multiple edge-lined Bibles, the hinge has been a consistent disappointment to me. It has often felt like a mitigation of the primary advantage of the floppy covers you get on edge-lined Bibles. This Bible makes the hinge a non-issue for me.

The Rest

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The paper feels a bit thicker and more opaque than other similar Bibles. I found the text to be readable, though it is certainly not a large print Bible. The layout is double column and the cross references are in the center column. The use of small dots to divide the cross references from the text is attractive and more subtle than solid lines would be. I recently said that ribbons weren’t a factor in considering Bibles. After writing those words, I was surprised to find how much I loved the width and color of the ribbons in this Bible. I was also surprised to find myself wishing there were three ribbons instead of two.

Aside from adding a ribbon, there were two things I would change if I could and one that I was unsure whether I would change or not. First, I would add room in the gutter. The text feels a little cramped to me in the middle of the book. Second, I would number the entire book consecutively. The page numbers start over in the New Testament and in the back matter. I think this is probably more of a feature that is typical of the NRSV than Cambridge, as neither of my other Cambridge Bibles restart page numbering.

This Bible comes with a glossary instead of a concordance, which means that each entry has a short description or definition followed by a few references. I could not find concrete information on the number of Scripture references in the glossary, but I suspect that there are less references in the glossary than there would be in a concordance. On the one hand, I think I would prefer the most exhaustive concordance possible in a one-volume reference Bible. On the other hand, of all the reference Bibles I have acquired, this glossary is a unique feature and I can imagine being surprised at how much I use it.

Conclusion

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One of the most interesting things to me about the time I’ve spent on high quality Bibles has been learning how varying the support is for different translations. If I had had to guess at the outset which translations would have the widest array of options, I’m pretty sure I would have guessed that the NRSV would be in the top two. In reality, the NRSV is one of the least supported translations in “fine” editions. This has been a surprise because the NRSV is the most popular Bible in mainline theological education and many mainline churches. If the NRSV is your favorite translation, you should give serious consideration to purchasing this Bible. You will not only get a great Bible, you will be investing in the translation itself and encouraging publishers to make this translation more available in a wider range of editions. After the time I have spent with the cowhide Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition, I am confident it will last and you will be glad you bought it. It is a great Bible with an exceptional cover.

Cambridge generously provided a copy of this Bible in exchange for my honest review.

Holiness Is Essential to Our Unity #UMC

What unifies Methodism? This is a basic and crucial question in the current moment of Methodism, particularly The United Methodist Church. The importance of unity has often been asserted. However, denominational leaders who strongly emphasize unity have not always offered substantive theological reflection on what it is, exactly, that unifies us.

Historically, I would argue that holiness, particularly the corporate pursuit of holy living, was the key to the unity of the people called Methodists.

One of the key documents that gave identity to the people called Methodists from its beginnings was a short piece written as the Methodist movement was just getting underway, titled “The Nature, Design, and General Rules of Our United Societies,” which is commonly referred to as the “General Rules.” This document provided the basic framework for Methodists throughout Wesley’s lifetime. The “General Rules” were drafted as a means of quality control as the Methodist movement began to gain steam. The entire document is worth reading closely and with attention to detail. It can be found in its entirety here.

The “General Rules” have received quite a bit of attention in the past decade. This renewed attention has mostly been cause for celebration. One downside has been the tendency to create slogans that distort the content of the “General Rules” themselves. Catch-phrase familiarity can obscure that this document was a practical guide to holiness that contained a specific list of behaviors and practices to be rejected and to be embraced in the daily lives of Methodists.

Methodists were united by their common commitment to live the kind of life that the “General Rules” outlined as much as anything else. Wesley was fearlessly specific about what holy living did and did not look like in the “General Rules.” He wrote:

“There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: ‘a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.’ But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.”

He continued:

It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:

The taking of the name of God in vain.
The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
Drunkeness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in case of extreme necessity.
Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
The giving or taking things on usury – i.e., unlawful interest.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
Softness and needless self-indulgence.
Laying up treasure upon earth.
Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.

After listing the “harm” that was to be avoided, the “General Rules” listed the concrete positive acts Methodists were expected to do (give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, visit or help them that are sick or in prison, and more) as well as the specific practices (public worship, the ministry of the Word, the Supper of the Lord, prayer, searching the Scriptures, and fasting) by which all Methodists pursued a deeper relationship with God.

And here is how this core document, which is still included as a part of United Methodist doctrine and is protected by the Restrictive Rules of the UM Constitution, concluded:

These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.

Wesley’s purpose in writing the “General Rules” was fleshing out what holy living looked like so that there could be sufficient clarity of mission to be unified in a meaningful sense. Throughout John Wesley’s life, and well beyond, Methodism was constituted by this kind of specificity. Methodists were deeply serious about what they did with their bodies, how they spoke, what they drank, how they used their money, how they treated others, and more.

A basic familiarity with Wesley’s writings makes it unimaginable that he would have advocated an agnostic posture by Methodists on the most controversial and contested issues of the day. Wesley was adamantly opposed to any form of “latitudinarianism,” (indifference in matters of belief or practice) which he referred to in the well-known sermon “Catholic Spirit” as “the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being ‘driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine’, is a great curse, not a blessing; an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true Catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek.”

Wesley spoke plainly to those who had this kind of unsettledness of thought: “Be convinced that you have quite missed your way: you know now where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ, when in truth you are nearer the spirit of antichrist.”

Read the list of concrete things that Methodists were required to avoid throughout Wesley’s lifetime again. Read the end of the “General Rules” again and remember that if people consistently violated this standard they were informed that they “hath no more place among us.”

The ways Methodists were required to avoid harm were not common sense. And they were not in step with the culture of 18th century Britain. The “General Rules” show that unity was, at a minimum, about a corporate commitment to pursue holy living. Holiness was the basis for early Methodist unity.

John Wesley did not believe Methodism could exist apart from clarity about what holy living looked like.

So, how have we gotten here? How can any United Methodist say with any credibility that the solution to the denominational crisis related to gay marriage is to agree to disagree, to do one thing in some places and the opposite in other places?

I wonder if one of the greatest threats to contemporary Methodism is the idea that we can have meaningful unity without agreement on holy living, that such incoherence and confusion is a kind of virtue, a form of tolerance and charity. The truth is that there can be no meaningful unity for the people called Methodists apart from a shared commitment to a specific vision for holy living, which inevitably includes sexual ethics.

An attempt to be unified as Methodists by intentionally rejecting the possibility of unity around holy living is at the same time an abandonment of Methodism itself.

A Delightful Reading Experience: Crossway’s Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible

There were two things that initially captured my imagination as I entered the strange and fascinating world of blogs aiming for the perfect Bible: goatskin covers and single-column layout. I had never owned, or as far as I know, even touched a Bible with a goatskin cover. I wanted to experience goatskin for myself. Second, and more important, I was intrigued by the insistence that a single-column format was a magical experience.

The combination of a high-quality leather cover and a single-column format may illustrate just how much and how quickly things have changed in Bible publishing. Ten years ago, I am not sure that there were any Bibles that checked these two boxes. Today there are a host of goatskin single-column Bibles. One of the most popular and acclaimed is the subject of todays’ review: Crossway’s Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible (ESV).

The Cover 

The bloggers were right. Goatskin Bible covers are amazing. The cover of this particular Bible is wonderful. The grain is pronounced, giving additional grip when you hold the Bible at an angle while reading. It is also soft and extremely flexible. The cover has a full leather lining as well, which adds to the quality and the suppleness of the cover (there are no boards between the two pieces of leather, which is what makes some leather covers quite a bit more stiff). I had read so much about goatskin Bibles, I was worried that my expectations were going to be impossible to meet. But this cover somehow exceeded my expectations. I have found myself carrying this Bible around the house for no real reason. I also like the simplicity of the cover, which is free from any text or impression on the front or back cover. I like the raised bands on the spine. The one thing I would change would be the amount of text. The spine has “ESV,” the ESV logo, and “English Standard Version,” which is unnecessarily repetitive and makes the spine feel busier than necessary.

Single Columns

If I was worried that I had set the bar too high on how much I would like a Bible covered in goatskin, I was actually skeptical about whether a single-column layout would make all that much of a difference to me. The argument is that the Bible is meant to be read, so it should be published in a format that is meant to be read, as is every other book. My skepticism was not with the argument itself. I actually cannot imagine reading a novel in a double-column layout. I was skeptical of the need for a single-column layout simply because I have always read the Bible in a double-column layout. And it had never seemed like an obstacle to regularly reading Scripture. So how much of an improvement it could possibly be?

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At first, the single-column layout did not seem to be the revolution that it was made out to be. However, I am finding that the more I read this Bible, the more I like it. I was reading through Isaiah and switched back to a double-column Bible after reading for thirty minutes. After reading a few chapters, I found myself really wanting to switch back to my Heirloom Single Column Legacy. If your goal is to read significant portions of the Bible in single sittings, I suspect that you will have more success using a single column format. I also found myself wondering if new Christians would have more success reading the entire Bible if the first Bible they read was a single-column Bible.

One thing happened as a result of reading this Bible that really surprised. I was initially deeply skeptical of multi-volume reader’s Bibles. The more I read this Bible the more I began to want to get my hands on a multi-volume “Reader’s Bible.” Crossway has published a six-volume set that has been highly regarded by Bible Design Blog author J. Mark Bertrand, among others. Zondervan also has a four-volume set in the NIV. One of the highlights of my exploration of fine Bibles has been the amount of time I’ve spent simply reading through the Bible. And yet the physical experience of reading the Bible is not like the experience of reading any other book, mostly because of the thinness of the paper. All that to say I have been surprised by how fascinated I have become by what it would be like to read through the Bible as I would read through any book, in nicely made cloth bound sewn books with thick pages. As strange as this may sound, I think the sense of scale in making progress with thicker pages and multiple volumes, would actually be motivating and keep me engaged in reading through the entire Bible in a much shorter time than has been typical.

Beyond the single-column layout, I really liked the rest of the layout and design choices made in the Heirloom Legacy. The section headings (that are not part of the original manuscripts) are in the margins, which made them easier to ignore in extended reading sessions. I also appreciate the paragraph layout in this setting, as opposed to a verse by verse layout, which is harder to read and obscures the different literary genres of the Bible (historical narrative and prose are less clearly distinct from poetry). Overall, the design of the page layout is exceptional.

Other Features

Aside from the cover and the excellent layout, one of my favorite things about this Bible is its thickness. The Bible measures 9 7/8 x 6 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches. It seems perfect to me. It is not a thinline Bible, but it does not have quite the bulk that the Schuyler Quentel does. (For a comparison, see my previous review of the Schuyler Quentel). I’m learning that there are always tradeoffs in the world of Bible publishing. While I love the brightness of the Heirloom’s pages, they are a bit thin and ghosting (the ability to see text on the opposite side of the page) is more pronounced than it was with the thicker Quentel. I find that I prefer the slightly thinner Bible, all things considered.

Because of the desire to have a clean and reader friendly layout, the Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible does not have cross references in the text. I think this makes sense, given what this Bible is designed to offer. This would be a draw back for me if I were considering this as my “one and only” Bible. The other argument, of course, is that cross references are much less important in the internet age due to the ease of searching Bible Study tools online. The Bible does include a concordance and maps, which is a nice compromise as neither impact the reading experience at all. This Bible also comes with four ribbons to help you mark various passages. I like the color variation in these ribbons, but they are a bit thinner and seem cheaper than those on the Schuyler Quentel. To be honest, though, when I’m shopping for a new Bible, ribbons aren’t really much of a factor in my decision.

Excellent Execution Makes for a Great Reading Experience

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I think the main decision that faces someone considering the Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible is whether one wants to read the ESV. The ESV has not been my preferred translation. It is the most popular translation among those who care about well-made Bibles, with the possible exception of the KJV. This is largely due to the exceptional support that Crossway provides for this Bible. The popularity of the ESV in fine editions has also led to a wider range of options by Cambridge, Allan, and Schuyler. Even with the wide range of options available for the ESV, the Heirloom Single Column Legacy would be one of my first choices for an ESV Bible. This Bible provides an excellent reading experience in a physical book that is exceptionally made and delightful to hold.

This Bible is available for $155 through evangelicalbible.com (it retails for $275). It is available through a variety of distributors in black and brown goatskin. You can also buy the Bible in green, ocean blue, or purple goatskin exclusively through evangelicalbible.com.

Crossway generously provided this Bible for review. I was not required to give a positive review of this Bible, only an honest one.

John Wesley: Optimist of Grace, An Excellent Book

Henry H. Knight III’s John Wesley: Optimist of Grace is a book I would like to get into the hands of as many Wesleyan/Methodist pastors and lay leaders as possible. Knight has written a remarkably accessible and concise introduction to John Wesley’s life and theology without sacrificing precision and nuance.

John Wesley: Optimist of Grace

As the subtitle suggests, the core theme of this book is John Wesley’s optimism of grace. For Knight, “It is this ‘optimism of grace,’ in connection with the goal of perfection in love, that gives Wesley’s theology its inner dynamic.” Wesley’s theology is “not only a theology of love and grace, but also at its heart a theology of hope, a promise of new creation in the midst of this present age” (xv).

Knight summarizes Wesley’s time in Georgia and his infamous relationship with Sophia Hopkey with particular nuance. Whereas Wesley’s time in Georgia has often been too neatly described as a failure, Knight points to things that Wesley learned:

His belief in the importance of societies for Christian growth was reinforced and deepened. He also became aware of the power of hymnody as critical to Christian formation and worship. And as he began to recognize that there was no single model of liturgy and discipline in primitive Christianity, his devotion to the early church could move from a legalistic precisionism to a more fruitful focus on apostolic faith, life and mission (14).

Knight also notes that Wesley returned from Georgia aware of continued need for growth in his own faith. “Wesley had not found the assurance he was seeking, nor had he attained the holiness he desired. His announced goal of going to Georgia, to save his own soul, was unmet” (15).

Similar nuance is also found in Knight’s summary of Wesley’s relationship to the Moravians, his famous experience at Aldersgate Street, and subsequent conflict with the Moravians. Knight’s summary of Wesley’s understanding of Christian perfection, controversy related to the teaching in the 1760s, and disagreement with his brother Charles over the doctrine is also a highlight of the book.

Knight also dedicates chapters to Wesley’s understanding of the means of grace and another to “relieving the distress of the neighbor.” His summary of the controversies in the last third of Wesley’s life is another place where Knight’s ability to concisely summarize complicated events stands out.

Several one-liners in the book highlight core concerns of Wesley’s. Here are three examples:

“The renewal of the Church occurs not through condemnation of others but through one’s own repentance” (124).

“For Wesley, it was the lack of holiness in the church that was the chief impediment to the reception of the gospel by non-Christians” (131).

“Grace at its heart is the power of the Holy Spirit; thus, we can approach God with an expectant, although not a presumptive, faith” (143).

John Wesley: Optimist of Grace is a part of the Cascade Companions Series, which is an imprint of Wipf and Stock. This series publishes “books that combine academic rigor with broad appeal and readability. They aim to introduce nonspecialist readers to that vital storehouse of authors, documents, themes, histories, arguments, and movements that compromise this heritage with brief yet compelling volumes.” This book exceeds in accomplishing the goals of this series. And at a time when the quality of the book itself is increasingly suspect in parts of Christian publishing, this book is a welcomed exception. The design of the cover, the layout of the text, and the quality of the paper all contribute to the quality of the content itself, rather detracting from it.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in John Wesley and the theological foundations of the Wesleyan tradition. You can pick up a copy of the book here.