I have been able to do a fair amount of reading lately, but I have not sat down and blogged about very many of the books I have read. So, this week I thought I would take the time to post brief reviews of a few of the books I have read lately. Today we will look at How Great a Flame: Contemporary Lessons from The Wesleyan Revival by James Logan.
How Great a Flame is a very quick read. The book is a smaller format than normal and is 96 pages. I read most of the book in one sitting. I have to say that I was a bit thrown by the Foreword, which was written by Rev. Karen Greenwaldt. Greenwaldt’s foreward made me think I was going to be reading a book that was very different than the one that I actually read. Her review on the back cover of the book has the same tenor as the forward, “James Logan offers a thought-provoking book that explores the interconnection between vital piety and social witness among those Christians who were part of the Wesleyan movement.” This would certainly be a worthwhile undertaking, but I did not find this to be a prominent focus of How Great a Flame.
Aside from the discrepancy that I found between the foreward and the book itself, I really enjoyed this book. Logan calls United Methodists to account a few times, like when he compares our desire for respectability, decency, and order to John Wesley’s. He writes, “But herein lies the difference between Wesley and us. It was ‘the cross’ he chose to bear, and the one which we leave to other churches and groups who don’t conform to our standards of decency and order” (16). Logan writes this in a discussion about field preaching, suggesting that Wesley was able to get out of his comfort zone in order to be faithful, while Methodists today are rarely willing to take these kinds of risks.
In the second chapter, Logan beautifully describes the distinctive features of the Wesleyan revival as: open-air preaching, the organizing of converts into two distinctive on-going structures, and the deployment of a two-tiered lay ministry (26). This chapter includes a wonderful description of the often gradual nature of conversion and how this related to the importance of sanctification. Logan connects the eclipse of the class meeting with the move toward altar call preaching aimed at instantaneous conversion. He writes, “With the eclipse of the class meeting, Methodists came more and more to accept and practice a truncated form of evangelism that focused exclusively upon a decisionistic, instantaneous conversion…. The eclipse of the class meeting marked a decided decline in the church’s sense of being a disciplined people. Without the class meeting the major structure for spiritual accountability was lost, and the church compromised its ecclesial identity, exchanging a missional consciousness for an institutional consciousness” (38).
In the final chapter Logan discusses some bad habits we have gotten into in relation to evangelism and then suggests some ways forward.
My main criticism of this book would be that it felt a bit unfinished. It may have been the point in which I stopped reading and then began reading again – but when I got to the last page, I was surprised it was over. It felt like more should be coming. Ultimately, that is at least a sign that he said many things that really resonated with me and I wanted to hear more.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a brief overview of Wesleyan distinctives, especially as they connect a Wesleyan understanding of grace, discipline, and Christian living to evangelism in the twenty-first century. I definitely found this book to be worth the read!
(Coming soon! Later this week we will look at Vital Signs: A Pathway to Congregational Wholeness by Dan R. Dick, Preaching as Testimony by Anna Carter Florence, and Deepening Your Effectiveness: Restructuring the Local Church for Life Transformation by Dan Glover and Claudia Lavy.)