Getting to Know John

Theology scholar Paul Chilcote says that he's always believed that if people would read John Wesley's sermons, many lives would be changed, and I'm convinced that he's right. I've been a Methodist my entire life, but it was when I had a theology class where I finally had to John Wesley's sermons that my admiration for him and confidence in the reliability of my faith heritage began to increase dramatically. Therefore, in an effort to continue to get to know Mr. Wesley better myself and hopefully help some other people to do so, I'm beginning a series of posts on his sermons. The problem is that sermons in England in the 18th century don't have much in common with sermons today. There are absolutely no jokes. They're long. And the overwhelming consensus is that they're not very entertaining. (They're seriously boring unless you happen to enjoy reading old boring stuff, then they're great!) But the guidance contained in them is so good that we need to find some ways to get past these obstacles.

Chilcote has done a great job of this in his book, [amazon_link id="0835809501" target="_blank" ]Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit[/amazon_link], which takes each of Wesley's Standard Sermons and turns them into short prayers. This book is a great way to get better acquainted with what he believed and taught.

I also thought I'd throw my own hat in the ring and make my own attempt at making his sermons more accessible to us today. Wesley had many sermons, but 52 of them were designated the Standard Sermons, which served as the doctrinal standards for the early Methodists and continue to provide the basis for United Methodist theology today (well, at least they're supposed to). Since there are 52 of these, it's easy to work with one each week of the year, and because this is the 14th week of the year, I'll begin the series this week in the following post with Sermon 14: The Repentance of Believers.

Wesley's sermons are more like logical arguments than we're used to in sermons today. A positive aspect of that is that it makes them really easy to outline. (He usually says the points he's going to make in an introduction, then writes the rest of the sermon with numbered paragraphs.) So while I find it difficult to just sit and read through one of his sermons, if I can find the point of each numbered paragraph, I can really get into them.

So... here's what I'll do with each sermon:

  • I'll create and post an ePub file of the original sermon, which can be read in iBooks on iPhones, iPads, iPods, and maybe iSomeOtherStuff... and a host of other e-reading devices.
  • Since Wesley's sermons lend themselves so easily to being outlined, I'll post my own outline of the sermon in the blog post. If you're not up for reading the entire thing on the ePub file, the outline will help you get his point.
  • I'll also (hopefully) post a Wesleyan hymn whose text applies to the sermon.

And here are the sermons that are posted so far: