Recommended Reading: Key Wesleyan Theology Resources

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I have been encouraged by the recent conversation about the renewal of Wesleyan orthodoxy in the blogosphere and on twitter. (For a brief introduction to this conversation read, “Faith In Action” by Andrew Thompson, “Five Hopes for #andcanitbe” by Matt Judkins, and “The Gospel in a Wesleyan Accent #andcanitbe.” During the initial conversations, someone asked me to recommend five “must reads” for helping shape an orthodox Wesleyan future for the church. The only problem I had was that I was not successful in keeping the list to only five books! Here is what I recommend, with a brief introduction to each book.

1. John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, edited by Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Abingdon, 1991).

There is no better place to start for a renewal of Wesleyan orthodoxy than with John Wesley himself. This volume contains a representative selection of John Wesley’s sermons. It takes a few pages to get used to Wesley’s writing style, but the passion and conviction of his sermons is contagious. Note: Abingdon will soon be publishing The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey, edited by Kenneth J. Collins and Jason E. Vickers. I would recommend this volume over the Outler and Heitzenrater volume when it is available because it contains all of the canonical sermons and it is intentionally arranged around the Way of Salvation (the Outler and Heitzenrater volume was organized to show the historical development of Wesley’s thought).

2. Key United Methodist Beliefs, William J. Abraham and David F. Watson (Abingdon, 2013).

This is an excellent introduction to the key doctrines of Wesleyan Christianity. The book is written for a lay audience and describes the key contours of Wesleyan orthodoxy. The book includes chapters that introduce God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the human condition, sin, salvation, the Church, sacraments, the Bible and Creeds, and how Wesleyans should live. It is a fantastic resource that shows that doctrine matters for faithful Christian living. (You can read a more extensive review I wrote of the book here.)

3. The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace, Kenneth J. Collins (Abingdon, 2007) and Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology, Randy L. Maddox (Kingswood, 1994).

These are the two key introductions to John Wesley’s theology. In my view, they should be read together. Both books are thorough treatments of Wesley’s theology, but they offer different interpretations in a few key places.

4. Mainline or Methodist: Rediscovering our Evangelistic Mission, Scott Kisker (Discipleship Resources, 2008).

This book provides an accessible introduction to American Methodism. As the title suggests, Kisker argues that the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition is not synonymous with mainline Christianity. Kisker identifies the vision, message, and method of American Methodism and points to their ongoing relevance for twenty-first century American Methodism.

5. Wesley and Sanctification, Harald Lindström (Francis Asbury Press, 1996).

This book, which is targeted for a more academic audience, is a focused and in-depth study of Wesley’s understanding of the importance of holiness for the Christian life. I recommend this book because I am convinced that any renewal of a robust Wesleyan orthodox voice will be characterized by a clear articulation of the Wesleyan understanding of holiness and entire sanctification.

6. Aiming at Maturity: The Goal of the Christian Life, Stephen W. Rankin (Cascade Books, 2011).

This book is the best contemporary restatement of the Wesleyan understanding of holiness of which I am aware. Rankin argues that Christians need a vision for a grown-up faith, which is really contemporary language for holiness or sanctification. He also addresses the biblical foundations for growth in holiness (or becoming mature in faith). Rankin’s call for an approach to the Christian life that moves towards maturity is an important contribution to renewing a vital expression of Wesleyan orthodoxy in the twenty-first century. These are the books I would recommend to someone who wants to understand, pursue, and advance Wesleyan orthodoxy. If you had been asked the same question, how would your list have been different? — See Kevin Watson’s book, Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living.

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Kevin M. Watson teaches Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He is the author of The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience and A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living. Watson blogs at vitalpiety.com and tweets @kevinwatson.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I would recommend both William Burt Pope’s Compendium of Christian Theology and John Miley’s Systematic Theology. The great thing is that they are available for FREE at http://www.biblesupport.com/ with the excellent Bible freeware, e-Sword (http://www.e-sword.net/). Also, William Carvosso’s memoir, “Life of William Carvosso” is availble for free in pdf form at http://wesley.nnu.edu/holiness-classics-library/?rows=30&search=author&search_value=carvosso

  2. I recommend not reading merely “about Wesley” but reading Wesley himself. Especially his sermons (I like the Sugden edition) and Wesley’s journal and other writings. When you read only what is written “about Wesley” you sometimes lose a lot in translation. I’ve heard Methodist clergy tell me….”they tried reading Wesley” but just couldn’t get into it or understand it. I think it is more a lack of motivation….just my opinion.

    • Gary, I agree! That was the main reason I started the list with the volume of Wesley’s sermons. Wesley’s sermons may be a bit demanding on the reader today because they were written over two hundred years ago. However, I think this is significantly offset by how clearly organized they are. He is the master sign-poster!

  3. Good list. For me, I would include Ted Runyan’s “The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today.” It offers a great set of chapters on grace, and a neat section on Wesley versus Whitefield and predestination.

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