Noll, Ch. 10: The Conversion of the Wesleys (1738 CE)

This chapter focuses on John and Charles Wesley (depicted below, center and left, with Francis Asbury), and the Methodist movement that emerged from their ministry.  The chapter opens with the discussion of John Wesley going out into the “highways and byways” to preach, rather than sticking to church buildings and Sundays. That’s not something we find troublesome nowadays, but in that time and place, as Noll says, it was working directly against notions of public order.

Wesley Wesley Asbury Stained Glass

A few other notes on things that I found interesting in the chapter:

  • Wesley was often not an innovator himself, but rather one who implemented successfully the plans, ideas, and practices of others.
  • Pp. 219-220 describe Wesley’s famous moment of self-dedication (not exactly a conversion). Many Christians have moments like this – single times that they can point to as episodes of personal dedication. But others’ experiences are more gradual. Neither is normative (or should be), but sometimes we wish we had something like what others have had.
  • Did you notice how we again see the emergence of conversations about Christendom, as was the case (among other places) in chapter 5 on the coronation of Charlemagne?
  • The section on the hymn-writing of Charles Wesley was interesting; you may not have realized how many of his songs we still sing, as Noll notes. (See also this link: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/w/e/s/wesley_c.htm)
  • The section on Pietism is interesting because of the different ways in which that movement’s ideas have influenced modern Christianity, perhaps most strongly in the idea of a “personal relationship with Jesus.”

If you’d like to see some of the resources that Wesley developed for use in his small groups, check out http://www.goforthall.org/articles/jw_dscplshp.html

Here are some questions for discussion:

  1. As Noll says in the beginning of the chapter, Wesley preached in places that were considered scandalous.  Where are the forbidden zones these days?  Where would it be scandalous to preach or find preachers? Are those places in “real life,” on social media, or in other online locations?
  2. One of the aspects of this chapter that may connect with many readers is his description of the small-group model that began in the Pietist movement and became mainstream via the Methodists. What has been your experience of the kind of small-group Bible study and fellowship that the Pietists emphasized? Positive? Negative? What factors lead to “good” small-group experiences?
  3. Noll describes the doctrine of “Christian perfection” that Wesley held – one that has been somewhat controversial since he began to teach it. How would you put that teaching into your own words? Did your own religious background teach this doctrine? Do you believe this teaching to be justified by the Bible? Why or why not? Do you think it is realistic? Coherent? Helpful in our modern day?
  4. Evangelicals in the 18th century were more strongly dedicated to cross-cultural evangelism than the more established “state churches” in Europe at that time. Given what you already know and have learned in this chapter, why do you think that might have been the case?
  5. Noll notes that a variety of political views were accepted among early evangelicals. Do you see diversity on political matters among evangelicals today? What topics seems to have more diversity, and which don’t? Do you think that the current state of political opinion among evangelicals as an improvement or a fall from the range of early views in evangelicalism?
  6. One of the things that studying history does is to give us more resources as we look forward into the future. Given Noll’s discussion of the Wesleys’ innovation, I wonder: what are the most effective ways people are using social media and other new technologies in the service of religion? What are things you are seeing that are working well? What things are not working well?

Image credit for the stained-glass depiction of Charles Wesley, John Wesley, and Francis Asbury, in a church in North Carolina, USA: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Wesley,_John_Wesley,_and_Francis_Asbury_(stained_glass_–_Memorial_Chapel,_Lake_Junaluska,_North_Carolina).jpg (cropped by the blogger)

Suggested next click: Chapter 11

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  1. Pingback: Noll, Ch. 9: The Founding of the Jesuits (1540 CE) | CHEF

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