A groundbreaking new study of John Wesley’s theology.
Having over 30 years’ experience as a minister in the Methodist tradition as well as a slew of advanced degrees in divinity, psychology, and education, debut author Ellison is well-positioned to provide a fresh perspective on the ideological development of John Wesley, the 18th-century theologian and one of the founders of Methodism. Rather than focus narrowly on the doctrinal components of Wesley’s views, Ellison tackles his understanding of experimental religion and the way in which he slowly formulated his positions over time. Wesley, who was heavily influenced by Enlightenment philosophy, especially its empiricist strain, wanted to devise an approach to religion and faith closely hewn to lived human experience—a “theological set of ideas which can help individual persons to meaningfully interpret their experiences.” “Wesley’s methods were pragmatic, more like the scientists of the 19th century than his 18 century contemporaries,” Ellison writes. “Wesley was the one to identify the early Methodists as the spiritual descendants of that group of ancient physicians who were first described by the name.” This entailed developing a kind of psychology of faith that in many ways anticipated the historically significant writing of William James. However, this psychological rendering as Wesley saw it doesn’t simplistically reduce the experience of faith to a psychological phenomenon shorn of fundamentally spiritual elements. According to Ellison, the core of Wesley’s Universalism is a doctrine of atonement that argued for the “belief in the universal redemption of humankind and all of creation.” In the author’s reading, Wesley turns out to be a nimble philosopher whose thought underwent a revision in his more mature years, shifting his worldview closer to Arminianism than to Calvinism. While this book is likely too scholarly to appeal to a broad audience, the arguments are always presented in lucid, accessible prose. It’s hard to imagine an examination of Wesley’s thought that does greater justice to his subtlety as a thinker or better captures his extraordinary prescience.
A deep meditation on Wesley’s accomplishments likely to inspire lively debate within the Methodist tradition.