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Ökumenik, Konfessionskunde


Heitzenrater, Richard P.


John Wesley und der frühe Methodismus.


Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht 2007. 394 S. m. zahlr. Abb. 8°. Kart. EUR 24,90. ISBN 978-3-7675-7076-4.


W. Reginald Ward

In 1972 Richard Heitzenrater received his doctoral degree for a thesis on John Wesley and the Oxford Methodists in which one of his notable discoveries was the key to one of the systems of shorthand which Wesley had used in his diaries. Since then he has been contin­uously engaged in Wesley studies and in due course succeeded to the General Editorship of the Centennial Edition of Wesley’s Works, which is gradually putting the Wesley corpus on a proper scholarly basis, an achievement duly acknowledged by the American church historians. It can thus be maintained with confidence that no man alive knows the Wesley documents better than he, and that he knows them as texts better than did Wesley himself. This wealth of scholarship he has packed into this little book on Wesley and early Methodism. Written originally for the American market, it has already appeared in six different languages, and will certainly be of service to German readers. H. is anxious not to present a picture in which Methodism is the extended biography of Wesley himself, though it must be admitted that the longer the book goes on the nearer it comes to that suggestion, awkward deviationists and even more awkward Americans being the principal variations in the tone.
The book begins with a substantial introduction on the Anglican background to Wesley; this is justified not only by his life-long loyalty to the Church of England, but also by the way his own bio­g­raphy curiously reproduces the pilgrimage of both his parents from Dissent to High Churchmanship. As the texts which Wesley eventually chose to go into his Christian Library show, there was more of Puritanism in him than his parents probably realised. When it comes to the alleged conversion of Wesley in 1738, H. shows an awareness of the difficulties in what is now the official account, but does not press them as hard as he might. Then comes the meat of the book in two chapters which spell out the gradual formation of the Methodist polity which did in the end contribute a good deal to the distinction between Methodism and other forms of evangel­icalism. This is done in very close dependence on the Methodist sources, and is very well done indeed. The result, however, is that the last forty years of Wesley’s life, after the severe illness in 1753 which seemed likely to put an end to his mission and that of his community as well, appear as something of an aftermath, though it was now that the community obtained its stability and many of the features which characterized it for the next century.
It is indeed here that the disadvantages of the book’s great merit, its close dependence on the Wesley sources, are most evident. Though H. begins (rightly) by stressing that Methodism is not the extended biography of Wesley, his lifelong dedication to the Wesley corpus means that he has unconsciously absorbed the Wesley viewpoint. This means not only that he always thinks that Wesley was right as against Whitefield, and that his rather shabby part in breaking up the Fetter Lane Society is not mentioned at all, but that he appears at the centre of events when he was not. Thus the great Salzburger emigration appears here as an episode in Wesley’s biog­raphy, when in fact Wesley was a minor episode in the history of the Salzburger migration. Again the ›rise of Methodism‹ in the forties is actually the story of a great conspiracy by Lady Huntingdon, Whitefield and Frederick, Prince of Wales, to make a major differ­ence to Church and Nation after Frederick succeeded to the throne. To this Wesley was a relatively peripheral part; but when Frederick was killed by a blow from a tennis ball in 1751, he put an end to Methodist hopes of reforming church and nation. This episode, though not entirely absent from the Wesley documents gets no mention. Similarly Ireland which showed as clearly as America the difficulties of a now very establishmentarian Wesley actually to be establishmentarian, and which seems to have formed the pattern of what may be assumed to have been his plans for the internat­ional government of his connexion after his death also fails to ap­pear. And the Anglican Wesley here blots out altogether the less familiar Wesley who was a principal vehicle of Lutheran influence in eighteenth-century England. Still German readers may be as­sured that what the book sets out to do it does well, and this makes it the more regrettable that those responsible for the German version have not updated the references, and have allowed misspellings of some names of persons and places to appear in the text.