Methodist Spirituality

Authored by: Ian M. Randall

The Ashgate Research Companion to World Methodism

Print publication date:  February  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409401384
eBook ISBN: 9781315613789
Adobe ISBN: 9781317040996


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‘John Wesley’, writes Phyllis Mack in Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment, ‘was an exponent of practical piety’. 1 1

P. Mack, Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment: Gender and Emotion in Early Methodism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 32.

Mack argues that for John Wesley, Methodism was not defined by a set of ‘opinions’ but by a way of life. Central to his concern was authentic religious experience. Thus to examine Methodist spirituality is to look at the heart of Methodism. In similar vein, Kenneth Cracknell and Susan White argue that ‘in many ways the Methodist movement was in its beginnings primarily a spiritual renewal movement’. 2 2

K. Cracknell and S. J. White, ‘Methodist Spirituality’, in Cracknell and White (eds), An Introduction to World Methodism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 141. Italics original.

Yet few authors have given sustained, detailed attention to Methodist spirituality. Gordon Wakefield’s work has, however, been of great importance. 3 3

G. Wakefield, Methodist Devotion: The Spiritual Life in the Methodist Tradition (London: Epworth Press, 1966); Fire of Love: The Spirituality of John Wesley (London: Epworth Press, 1976); Methodist Spirituality (Peterborough: Epworth Press, 1999).

In my analysis I am following to a large extent the thinking of Cracknell and White in looking at what they describe as ‘a number of persistent features that tie Methodists around the globe to their origins in John Wesley’s devotional insight’; my ‘hallmarks of Wesleyan piety’ (to use another of their phrases) coincide at most points with what they suggest, albeit with some differences. 4 4

Cracknell and White, ‘Methodist Spirituality’, 151.

I am using an analytical framework proposed by Philip Sheldrake, in which spirituality is seen as concerned with the conjunction of theology, communion with God and practical Christianity. 5 5

P. Sheldrake, Spirituality and History (London: SPCK, 1991), 52.

This is particularly helpful as a framework within which to examine the inner and outer dimensions of Methodist spirituality.

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