Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It

August 1st, 2014

In every Christian’s life, spiritual vitality or passion wanes over time. This is actually true in all aspects of our lives. In marriage, we slowly find that the fire diminishes if we’re not intentional about revival in our love lives. This happens in friendships. It happens with our jobs—we call it burnout. In every part of our lives we need revival from time to time.

Recently I was given a beautiful flowering plant. When I remember to water it, the plant looks healthy and vibrant. But after a few days without water, it begins to wilt. Two weeks without water and its leaves become dry, brown, and brittle. In our spiritual lives we have seasons when we are blooming and bearing fruit, when our vitality is high. But when we neglect our spiritual lives, we begin to wilt. When we have prolonged periods of inattention to the spiritual life, our faith goes dormant. We may go through the motions of Christian life, but the vitality is gone.

We don’t often use the word revival anymore. For many, the idea of revival is quaint at best; at worst, it calls up images of tent meetings where silver-tongued preachers take advantage of gullible believers. But the word, based on the Latin re-vivere, means to reinvigorate, to restore to life, to become strong and healthy after a period of decline, to renew or revitalize.

I know there are times when my faith has ebbed, times when I have become too busy to tend to my spiritual life. I think this is true for each of us. Perhaps this is one of those times for you. If your spiritual life were a flowering plant, is it currently blooming and fully alive, or is it wilting and perhaps even dying?

What is true for us as individuals is true of churches, denominations, and even revival movements within the Christian faith. These, too, eventually lose their spiritual vitality. Even in the New Testament period, the writer of the Book of Revelation noted that some of the churches in Asia had lost their “first love” and become “lukewarm.” The same might be said of the denominational families that sprang out of the Wesleyan movement. I believe the seeds of our revival, and the revival of Christianity today, are to be found in the story of our beginning.

In preparing to write my book, I went to England to retrace the steps of John Wesley and the beginnings of Methodism. Methodism started as a revival of Christianity in Britain, but it also spread like wildfire across America. What, I wondered, are the things early Methodists did that might help twenty-first-century Christians rediscover a vital faith?

There have been many excellent books written about John Wesley and the eighteenth-century evangelical revival he led. Likewise there have been several fine books on the beliefs and practices of United Methodists. What I’m hoping to do in this book is a bit different. I will describe key events from the life of John Wesley, then seek to show how, in those events, we find lessons for our own spiritual journey. I hope to capture some of the most important convictions, qualities, and essential practices of Wesley and the early Methodists. Ultimately my goal is not simply to teach history but to help us find revival in our own hearts and lives.

It should also be said here that the eighteenth-century evangelical revival Wesley launched was not only the result of God’s work through John Wesley, but God’s work through so many others, chief among whom was John’s younger brother Charles. I had intended to prepare an entire chapter on Charles Wesley and his contribution to the revival, but ultimately I chose to focus solely on John’s life and faith, with only a nod here or there to Charles. This choice was necessitated in part by the length and kind of book I sought to write. I encourage the reader to take the time to explore Charles Wesley’s life, faith, ministry, and hymn writing. His contribution to the Wesleyan revival was incalculable, even though our attention is typically focused on his brother, as it will be in this volume.

In my research, I reread many of Wesley’s sermons as well as a number of outstanding books on Wesley and eighteenth-century Methodism. I was grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Duke professor Dr. Richard Heitzenrater, one of the preeminent living Wesley scholars. My own congregation allowed me a sabbatical leave to study Wesley’s life. In the summer of 2013, with the help of a Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant and the assistance of Educational Opportunities Tours, I traveled to England with a film crew to retrace Wesley’s life and the emergence of Methodism. Bishop Scott Jones, himself a Wesley scholar, accompanied me and served as my guide. Our spouses, LaVon and Mary Lou, joined us along with videographers Lee Rudeen and Natalie Cleveland.

After writing the first draft I asked a number of leading Wesley scholars to read it to see if I had accurately captured the facts of Wesley’s life and the development of the Methodist revival. Among the scholars were Professors Richard Heitzenrater, Randy Maddox, and Hal Knight, as well as Bishop Scott Jones and Dr. Geordan Hammond of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre in England. I’m grateful to them. They identified errors I had incorporated from other sources and conclusions that are no longer held by most Wesley scholars. Where errors remain, they are my own.

I’ve written a section at the end of each chapter designed to take you to a key location in Wesley’s life, and I’ve included photos I took so you can make the trip vicariously with me.

In addition to writing this book, we’ve prepared a series of videos that you may want to use as part of a group or personal study. For each chapter, a ten-to fifteen-minute video takes you as viewers to the places described, starting with Wesley’s childhood home at Epworth and ending in the room where Wesley died at his home next to City Road Chapel.

Ultimately I wrote this book because I believe that by reclaiming the faith, heart, and practices of John Wesley and the early Methodists, we can rediscover the best parts of our own hearts and churches, and in so doing we might help spark a revival of Christianity in our time.

excerpted from Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It by Adam Hamilton Copyright © 2014 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission. Download the first chapter Precursors to Revival: Epworth below.


Revival Chapter 1
comments powered by Disqus