Whenever anyone asks me for a basic book on the history of Methodism and John and Charles Wesley, I always point them to this book. So I thought perhaps I’d give it another read and cover its delights.
My copy is the 1995 version, but there is an updated version available, revised in 2010.
Barrie Tabraham gives us a ‘warts and all’ account of the Wesleys. He sets out to put John and Charles and their new group firmly in a historical context. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the inclusion of primary source material within each chapter – extracts from John’s letters and sermons.
If, like me, you are not very well-versed in the history of the 1700s, it is interesting and helpful to see the historical context in which Methodism emerged. Tabraham takes us from the background of the political and societal life of the day; through the Wesley’s childhood; the Holy Club at Oxford; John and Charles’ time in Georgia; John’s pivotal moment in Aldersgate Street; how Methodism grew and the movement it became up to John’s death; the fights and divisions after his death; Methodist Union in 1932; and then looking at Methodism since 1932.
The chapters on the history of Methodism are interwoven with three chapters on Wesley’s theology – unpacking his beliefs and exploring such topics as the ‘four pillars’ – scripture, experience, reason and tradition; prevenient grace, justification and sanctification; and the means of grace – baptism and The Lord’s Supper. So if you ever wondered… These are very helpful additions and show the fuller picture of the making of Methodism.
Each chapter ends with questions for discussion, if you want to use this book in a group (It may be very useful for Membership Classes), or if you just want to think the questions through by yourself.
There is also a Glossary of Terms used that is helpful for anyone not used to Methodist speak.
The book concludes with a general Guide to Reading and Study – very useful if you are new to this kind of thing and are using this book as part of a study course.
All in all, this is an incredibly useful, if quick trot through, guide to Methodism, how it came to be and the things that shaped continued to shape it .
(This book is part of the Exploring Methodism series, of which there are other volumes if you want to explore Methodism further)