I have been encouraged by the recent conversation about the renewal of Wesleyan orthodoxy in the blogosphere and on twitter. (For a brief introduction to this conversation read, “Faith In Action” by Andrew Thompson, “Five Hopes for #andcanitbe” by Matt Judkins, and “The Gospel in a Wesleyan Accent #andcanitbe.” During the initial conversations, someone asked me to recommend five “must reads” for helping shape an orthodox Wesleyan future for the church. The only problem I had was that I was not successful in keeping the list to only five books! Here is what I recommend, with a brief introduction to each book.
1. John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, edited by Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Abingdon, 1991).
There is no better place to start for a renewal of Wesleyan orthodoxy than with John Wesley himself. This volume contains a representative selection of John Wesley’s sermons. It takes a few pages to get used to Wesley’s writing style, but the passion and conviction of his sermons is contagious. Note: Abingdon will soon be publishing The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey, edited by Kenneth J. Collins and Jason E. Vickers. I would recommend this volume over the Outler and Heitzenrater volume when it is available because it contains all of the canonical sermons and it is intentionally arranged around the Way of Salvation (the Outler and Heitzenrater volume was organized to show the historical development of Wesley’s thought).
2. Key United Methodist Beliefs, William J. Abraham and David F. Watson (Abingdon, 2013).
This is an excellent introduction to the key doctrines of Wesleyan Christianity. The book is written for a lay audience and describes the key contours of Wesleyan orthodoxy. The book includes chapters that introduce God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the human condition, sin, salvation, the Church, sacraments, the Bible and Creeds, and how Wesleyans should live. It is a fantastic resource that shows that doctrine matters for faithful Christian living. (You can read a more extensive review I wrote of the book here.)
3. The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace, Kenneth J. Collins (Abingdon, 2007) and Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology, Randy L. Maddox (Kingswood, 1994).
These are the two key introductions to John Wesley’s theology. In my view, they should be read together. Both books are thorough treatments of Wesley’s theology, but they offer different interpretations in a few key places.
4. Mainline or Methodist: Rediscovering our Evangelistic Mission, Scott Kisker (Discipleship Resources, 2008).
This book provides an accessible introduction to American Methodism. As the title suggests, Kisker argues that the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition is not synonymous with mainline Christianity. Kisker identifies the vision, message, and method of American Methodism and points to their ongoing relevance for twenty-first century American Methodism.
5. Wesley and Sanctification, Harald Lindström (Francis Asbury Press, 1996).
This book, which is targeted for a more academic audience, is a focused and in-depth study of Wesley’s understanding of the importance of holiness for the Christian life. I recommend this book because I am convinced that any renewal of a robust Wesleyan orthodox voice will be characterized by a clear articulation of the Wesleyan understanding of holiness and entire sanctification.
6. Aiming at Maturity: The Goal of the Christian Life, Stephen W. Rankin (Cascade Books, 2011).
This book is the best contemporary restatement of the Wesleyan understanding of holiness of which I am aware. Rankin argues that Christians need a vision for a grown-up faith, which is really contemporary language for holiness or sanctification. He also addresses the biblical foundations for growth in holiness (or becoming mature in faith). Rankin’s call for an approach to the Christian life that moves towards maturity is an important contribution to renewing a vital expression of Wesleyan orthodoxy in the twenty-first century. These are the books I would recommend to someone who wants to understand, pursue, and advance Wesleyan orthodoxy. If you had been asked the same question, how would your list have been different? — See Kevin Watson’s book, Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living.