Anglican Evangelicalism definitely has a Hall-of-Fame.  J.C. Ryle is a frequent “saint” of Anglican evangelicals.  Heck, he’s even got his own quote generator. Then there are such newer notables as John Stott, J.I. Packer, N.T Wright. Each is of the more Calvinistic variety.

I would like to offer my own nomination from outside the Calvinist pale:  John Wesley.

I myself am particularly indebted to the life and witness of John Wesley, who despite all attempts by modern American Methodists, still glows with the radiance of championing Church unity by never leaving the Church of England (wow, hagiography, IS fun!).  And as one who reconnected with his Anglican roots through the Methodist/Holiness/Pentecostal/Charismatic branch of the Christian family tree, I am grateful for his faithfulness to God’s call, captured beautifully he said, “The world is my parish.”

Wesley’s evangelicalism was certainly much more Arminian, much because of, I believe, to what seems to be a primordial “Catholic” influence–with his high esteem for the Fathers, a deep desire to realize holiness this side of eternity, and an almost ascetic practice of spiritual disciplines.  Tie that together with concerns for anti-nomianism from nascent broad church perspectives infiltrating the Church, and Wesley is almost a proto-John Henry Neumann.

What kept Wesley grounded in an evangelical faith?  Wesley himself declared his intention to become a “man of one book”–the Bible.  The Anglican priest and revivalist found that apart from the Bible, there is no ministry, no teaching, no life, no health in the Church.  The bulk of mainline Protestantism’s difficulties have revolved around the Bible: its nature,  its authority, its veracity, and its proper interpretation.  For Wesley, there was no question that the Bible could be called “the Word of God” without crossing his fingers.  Every doctrine and practice had to weighed in light of Scripture and never be held in contradiction to it.  He considered it true despite the prattle of early Enlightenment nay-saying.  And the best way to interpret it was to believe it and obey it.

It sounds “fundy.”  It sounds “uneducated,” especially from a man who had a considerable library in his day (in the neighborhood of 300 books) and mandated his circuit preachers to read and be tested every year on what they learned.   Yet the nature of Scripture as God’s Word place demands upon us to act.  We need to trust, to listen, to preach, to rely, to love, to help.  In the midst of our discourse with those who question whether Paul really said X or whether Moses really wrote Y, we forget to emphasize the 98% of the clear passages of Scripture that point to Christ, what he did, and what that means for us.  The simplicity of the Gospel is often its biggest scandal.  And the reason why many (not all) of our more liberal friends argue about the “hard passages” is to obscure the fact they have an issue with the clear passages.   Wesley knew that, and stuck to solid biblical preaching and intentional follow-through in his “classes” (we’d call them small groups).

And while Wesley differed from his fellow revivalist George Whitefield on the traditional divide of Arminian and Calvinist understandings of predestination, they were always in prayer for each other, supported each other in ministry, and cooperated as able.  Why?  Because both shared a concern to be biblical first and foremost.

There are certainly other reasons that kept Wesley rooted in an evangelical understanding:  his view on Christ and the atonement, his commitment to preach with a view to conversion, but these are derived from his primary motivation–faithfulness to Scripture.  Some might call such commitment bibliolatry.  However, I have never known anyone to cherish love letters more than than their beloved who wrote them.  Wesley’s singleness of intention was driven by a deep love for the God who inspired those words.  Perhaps the reason we find ourselves not trusting those Sacred words as fully as we should is that we simply don’t love the One who loved us first quite enough.  Thank God, however, those very words transform our hearts to love him all the more when we decide to put away our prejudices and read the Bible with prayerful humility.  Wesley lived this insight in his own life and God used him mightily, even continuing his influence among us to this very day.

Further reading on John Wesley:

his sermons

his journal

a bio from the BBC

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