Thursday, March 06, 2008

Assist me to proclaim

Even though my area of specialization is the "modern" period, especially modern American religion, I've remained generally ignorant of the growing body of literature on the Methodists. Thanks to John Wigger, Dee Andrews, and David Hempton, we have a growing and solid body of scholarly literature of Methodism. However, there are not many scholarly and accessible biographies of the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. Especially for the "lesser" known founder, Charles, there is now an excellent book to fit the bill, John R. Tyson's Assist Me to Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley.

Tyson paints well the attractive piety and winsome character of Charles, the younger brother and sometime junior partner of Wesleyan Methodism in the 18th century. Mining unpublished journals and the over 9,000 (!) hymns and poems, he is able to help readers access Charles' inner life. Often these hymns and poems connect to journaled events, placing both artifacts in context and illuminating the very human interactions that Charles had. He also does a great job describing the some tense partnership that Charles and John maintained for over 50 years of ministry, picturing the strengths and weaknesses that both brought to the developing Methodist movement.

I guess the thing that Tyson did well was to help me like Charles Wesley--I admired his piety (even where I disagreed with him theologically, especially in the chapter "The Poison of Calvin") and loved his hymnody (even when he used it to push his Arminianism); I wanted the Methodists to stay in the Anglican church (with Charles and against John) and disliked the "lay preachers" whom Charles disliked. To create this type of critical sympathy is a challenge for a biographer (as I found writing on Robert Lewis Dabney); Tyson pulls it off with great verve and excellent prose. To read this book was a joy and to be encouraged to love Wesley's God was a blessing.

4 comments:

Harvey said...

What about the William Willimon shout out. Hard to leave him out when you are discussing modern shapers of Methodism or Methodist theology.

Bobby's blog said...

Dr. Wigger is a great guy. I had a chance to have lunch with him last semester with some history professors at WVU. He gave a great talk about Methodism at a history forum WVU held.

Mark said...

FWIW, John Tyson was also an excellent Bible and Theology teacher.

Mark Horne
Hoghton College '89

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