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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2010

Introduction

Summary

John Wesley (1703-91) is a prominent figure in the history of Western Christianity. Educated at Oxford University and ordained a priest in the Church of England, Wesley became one of the leading architects of the Evangelical Revival in eighteenth-century England. The “Methodist” wing of the revival that he led became known for their rigorous spiritual practices, their personal piety, and their concern for the poor, the imprisoned, and the uneducated. Although these traits were ridiculed by some in the early years, by the end of his life, Wesley had emerged as one of the most significant religious figures in England. Wesley's significance within broader Western Christianity is grounded, in part, in the phenomenal growth and spread of Methodism after his death. What began as a meeting of a few students at Oxford who were seeking spiritual accountability has blossomed into a worldwide movement consisting of more than 100 denominations, which minister to more than 75 million people. When one adds to this the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches that trace their heritage from Methodist roots, the number of Christians who can be regarded as Wesley's spiritual or ecclesiastical descendants is staggering. These descendants have made Wesley part of the physical landscape in churches, private homes, and on university and seminary campuses around the world - preserving his memory in the form of paintings, busts, and life-sized statues (see cover and Figure 1).