Arguably the most significant religious figure in eighteenth century England, John Wesley presents a variety of challenges for students. As anyone familiar with both the stereotypes and the scholarship related to Wesley knows, tricky interpretative questions abound. Was Wesley a conservative, high church Tory or a revolutionary proto-democrat or even proto-Marxist politically? Was Wesley a modern rationalist obsessed with the epistemology of religious belief or a late medieval style thinker who believed in demonic possession and supernatural healing? Was Wesley primarily a pragmatic evangelist or a serious theologian committed to the long-haul work of catechesis, initiation, and formation? Was Wesley most deeply formed by Eastern Orthodoxy, German Pietism, or his own native Anglicanism? Finally, was a particular conception of the relationship between faith and works or a robust Trinitarian view of the Christian life the orienting concern of Wesleys theological vision?
Despite more than two centuries of scholarly reflection on Wesleys life and work, leading historians still agree on one thing: John Wesley is an elusive, enigmatic figure. Fortunately, recent developments in the study of the long eighteenth century have shed new light on many aspects of Wesleys life and work.
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Jason E. Vickers is Associate Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies at United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio, USA.
Wesley by Jason E. Vickers was published by Continuum in January 2009. The ISBN for Wesley is 9780567033529.