Academic Programs 

Theology of the Wesleys and its Wider Religious Impact* (TH-672) NEW
Fall 2008

This is a course on the theology, ministry, and historical significance of John Wesley. Wesleyan Christianity became a formidable force for social change in the 18th and 19th centuries as a form of popular Christianity that appealed to women, the working classes, and the enslaved Africans of the Americas. Despite his historical importance, John Wesley remains mysterious in many ways, partly because his life’s work was not so much the creation of a body of religious thought, but the embodiment of his theology in a new religious movement. Students will take part in the quest to understand the “historical Wesley” and his theology through reading and responding to the sermons, hymns, and historical narratives penned by John and Charles Wesley. In keeping with the ecumenical and interfaith emphases of Hartford Seminary, we will pay particular attention to the conflicts that gave rise to Wesleyan Methodism in the hope of learning more about sectarian conflict in a situation of increasing pluralism.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
ONLINE, Monday, Sept. 8 through Thursday, Dec. 18

Brian C. Clark
Adjunct Instructor in History of Christian Thought, Hartford Seminary.

Contact information:
Phone: (860) 298-8496


Course Syllabus

Course Objectives:

The syllabus that follows is a guide to the course, but consider it more of a sketch than a firm contract. Depending on the interests of students enrolled in the course, it could be customized in a number of ways. For example, we could emphasize the roles of Women and female preachers in Wesleyan settings. Alternatively, we could focus on the complex roles that Methodism and Wesleyan movements have played in regard to race and class, or the Wesleyan sponsorship of ecumenical and interfaith dialog in the 19th and 20th centuries. For something completely different, we could place more emphasis on modern Pentecostalism, which betrays many theological and cultural debts to Methodism.

Whatever emphases are chosen, by the end of this course, the student will:
1. Enjoy greater understanding of the theology of John and Charles Wesley and how it was expressed through the creation Methodism as a religious community and culture.
2. Understand the larger story of how Methodism grew and fractured, giving rise to many related movements and denominations around the world.

Course Requirements:

This course will be challenging, yet evenly paced. Almost all of the work required for the course is parceled out week by week, and there is no large research project due at the end of the semester.

Students are required to read (or listen to) the “lecture” and read the assigned texts for each week. The secondary texts assigned will be relatively brief and well written. There often be primary source readings assigned, which will for the most part be sermons by the Wesleys or more recent preachers. In addition to the reading, two types of written work will be required for the course.

1. Students will be required to write and “post” a 1-2 page (single spaced) written response to the assigned readings for each week. The instructor will provide clear guidelines for each week’s writing assignment. (50% of course grade).

2. Each week, students will also be required to post at least one substantive response to another student’s post. (20% of grade).

3. The course will also feature one cumulative, integrative essay of 6-8 pages. (Double spaced, 12 point, Times New Roman, 30% of grade). The purpose of this essay is to allow each student the opportunity to explore one of the themes from the course. This is not a research essay that requires students to find sources and cite them; instead, it provides a forum for further reflection on texts and themes that we have encountered in the course.

Required Texts (Available for Purchase, On Reserve At Library):

Kenneth Cracknell and Susan J. White, An Introduction to World Methodism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005. This is an accessible and well organized introduction to Methodist history and doctrine, though it is sometimes influenced too much by the theological agendas of the authors.

David Hempton, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2005. This book is simply the best book yet written on the nature, growth, and spread of Methodism.

Albert Outler and Richard Heitzenrater, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, Nashville, Abindgon Press, 1991. This edited volume of sermons will be our source for the John Wesley sermons that we analyze. The excellent introductions to each sermon are provided by the late, great Albert Outler.

John R. Tyson, Assist Me To Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley, Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 2007. This is a newer biography of Charles Wesley, which provides insights into the context in which his hymns were written. It sometimes suffers from an overly affectionate view of its subject, but is based on a lifetime of scholarly research on C.W.

Reserved Text (Will be on Reserve at Library)

Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., ed., The Global Impact of the Wesleyan Traditions and Their Related Movements, (Pietist and Wesleyan Studies, No. 14), Lanham, The Scarecrow Press, 2002. This is a collection of essays on the topic of the course, which is on reserve at the library.

Course Schedule: (Subject to Refinement)

Week 1: Why Bother About Methodism? The Decline of European Christendom and Global Rise of Popular Christianity. (Online lecture)

Read Hempton, 11-31, “Competition and Symbiosis”. This brief, brilliant essay helps us orient our imaginations toward some of the basic problems involved in understanding how, where, and among whom Methodism thrived.

Assignment: Post an online autobiography (of at least one, single-spaced page), and respond to one posted by someone else. Make sure to tell a little bit about your own religious background or faith tradition, experience with Wesleyan churches (if any), and main academic interests (or interest in this course). Please also respond (in a welcoming manner) to another student’s post.

Week 2: Setting the Stage: Understanding the Wesleys and Their English Context

Read Dr. Clark’s Thesis, pages 5-40, “England’s Long, Fractious Reformation” and “From Epworth to Georgia.” (Online Documents)

Read Tyson, 1-18, “Beginnings.”

Read Wesley’s Sermon, 23-32, “The Circumcision of the Heart.”

Week 3: Empirical Conversionism: The Heart of Evangelical Culture

Read Hempton, 32-54. “Enlightenment and Enthusiasm”,

Read Tyson, 40-58, “Pentecost Becomes Personal.”

Read (Charles) Wesley’s Sermon, 85-96.

Week 4: The Struggle to Separate from The Culture and Piety of Moravian Pietism.

Tyson, 83-98, “The Snare of Stillness.”

Wesley’s Sermons, 157-171, 193-221.

Week 5: The Battle to Separate from the Calvinistic Theology (and Politics) of the Calvinistic Methodists

Tyson, 99-116, “The Poison of Calvin.”

Selection from Dr. Clark’s Thesis. (Online resource)

“Divine Relationality in the Christian Tradition” (Online article).

Wesley’s Sermons, 49-60, 485-492.

Week 6: A Peculiar People: Wesleyan Culture

Tyson, 231-271, “Perfection”, “Poet Laureate.”

Read Hempton’s “The Medium and the Message.”

Wesley’s Sermons, 69-84, 371-380, 405-417.

Week 7: The Story of English Methodism and “Methodist” Offshoots

Read C&W, 15-44. (The sections on English Methodism).

Read Hempton, 86-108, “Opposition and Conflict”

Week 8: North American Methodism and Its Descendants
Read C&W, 45-65, “Methodism in North America”, 162-169 (on perfectionism and the Holiness Movement).

Read Hempton’s “Boundaries and Margins.”

Read 1-2 sermons by Methodist preachers, to be announced. (Online resource).

Week 9: Going Global:

Read C& W’s “World Methodism at the beginning of the twenty-first century”

Read Hempton’s “Mapping and Mission”

Read articles on reserve (or online) from Yrigoyen. (Or online substitutes).

Week 10: More Methodist that the Methodists: The Holiness Movement

Readings: Online primary and secondary sources to be posted.

Week 11: Are Pentecostals Wesleyan?

Readings: Online primary and secondary sources to be posted.

Week 12: The Global State of Wesleyan Influence

Readings: Online primary and secondary sources to be posted.

Plus, integrative essays due.

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