John R. TYSON. The Way of the Wesleys: A Short Introduction. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014. 202 pp., $18.00 paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6954-8. Reviewed by Steve W. LEMKE, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA 70126.
The Way of the Wesleys offers a thoughtful introduction to the Methodist tradition through a survey of the beliefs of John and Charles Wesley through their writings. John Tyson is well-prepared to guide us on this topic since he serves as Professor of Church History and Director of the United Methodist Studies program at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
The Wesleys never wrote a systematic theology, and thus Tyson does not attempt to structure this work as a systematic theology. Tyson simply addresses the key themes addressed by the Wesleys − primarily through John Wesley’s sermons and letters, and Charles Wesley’s hymns. The Way of the Wesleys does have chapters on classic categories of systematic theology such as the Bible, sin, the New Birth, holiness, grace, the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, Christian perfection, the Atonement, the Trinity, the Means of Grace, the Lord’s Supper, the Christian Life, and the ecumenical spirit. However, it does not address some categories that one might expect such as ecclesiology and eschatology.
Most of the discussions of doctrine are well-presented but unsurprising for those familiar with Wesleyan theology. The chapter on Christian perfection is perhaps the most intriguing discussion in the book. Tyson clarifies the fact that despite their insistence on the term “Christian perfectionism,” that Christians should strive toward moral perfection, the Wesleys did not believe that Christians actually achieve moral perfection in this life. Unfortunately, their use of the term “perfection” led to many misunderstandings about their position. Also remarkable is the Wesley’s social activism. They were early opponents of slavery and British colonialism, they treated people of race equally, they campaigned to provide assistance for the poor, and they gave women positions of leadership that was enlightened for its day. The Wesleys practiced that they preached John Wesley determined early in his ministry (while a student at Oxford) to live on just 28 British pounds a year, and give the rest away to the church and the poor. Years later, the internationally known preacher was still living on a frugal 30 pounds a year. Over his life he gave away 32,000 pounds, or about $1.5 million, to the poor.The Way of the Wesleys is a well-written, accessible introduction to the life and thought of John and Charles Wesley, and more generally to Methodist theology. Highly recommended.