Wesley and the Anglicans: Political Division in Early Evangelicalism
by Ryan Nicholas Danker
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Since I have become a pastor of a federated church, I have tried to develop more knowledge about the function of denominations and their history. By far, my biggest learning curve has been trying to understand the "people called Methodist", even though I am told I was baptized as a Methodist as an infant, and my earliest memories of a church experience is Vacation Bible School at the First United Methodist Church in Roseburg, Oregon.
In particular, I have tried to understand John Wesley, Methodism's founder, from an impartial perspective. I am fascinated by Wesley's evangelistic fervor, and his ability to combine compassionate ministry with a deep heart for evangelism. On the other hand, Wesley's writings were so extensive that quoting him becomes a kind of spiritual Rorschach test, with people plucking a quote from Wesley here and there to validate and at times enforce their own point of view. Danker adds a lot to understanding Wesley in a more meaningful way, by understanding his ministry in the context of larger ministry movements taking place in England and the colonies at the time.
In Wesley and the Anglicans Dr. Ryan Danker attempts to prove that Wesleyan Methodism's incompatibilities with Anglican Evangelicalism had to do with political ideology as well as theological differences. Wesley's Aldersgate experience puts him in the context of the revivalism of the evangelical moment of his time. His creating a separate structure of organizing believers from the Church of England makes him unique. He was more Anglican than separatists, but by creating a separate structure to disciple persons that worked outside of Anglican control, he was also seen as dangerous by both ecclesiastical and political powers. Throughout his book, Danker develops a new understanding of Wesley from the political currents of the times, and how they were related to religious concerns.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that the church of England was the church of the established government, and that most uprisings against that government, either from the Scots with Presbyterianism, or the Cromwellian forces with Puritan Separatism melded political rebellion with religious reform. Danker chronicles the unique story of Wesley, who did not lead a political uprising, but who suffered the suspicion of many because they believed his movement had that potential. Following his conscience and his theology, his teachings and methods had far reaching consequences as it helped to form the Christian movement as we know it today around the world, and also the political sensibilities of the western world as well.