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John Wesley: A Biography

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A compelling portrait of the father of Methodism. The life and work of John Wesley (1703-1791) has had an enormous influence on modern Christianity, not least for his role as father of the Methodist church. John Wesley is a popular biography of the great figure, which brings his career and ideas alive for a new generation. Written with verve and grounded in thorough resear A compelling portrait of the father of Methodism. The life and work of John Wesley (1703-1791) has had an enormous influence on modern Christianity, not least for his role as father of the Methodist church. John Wesley is a popular biography of the great figure, which brings his career and ideas alive for a new generation. Written with verve and grounded in thorough research, the book tells the story of Wesley's colorful and dramatic life. Stephen Tomkins chronicles Wesley's family background and early childhood, his school and university career, and his adult life as a religious leader in England. Throughout this engaging portrait, Tomkins pauses to explore a number of key issues in Wesley's increasingly rich religious views, including the renunciation of wealth and the role of women in church life. The volume concludes with an important assessment of Wesley's abiding influence both in his own country and abroad. Superbly crafted, John Wesley will interest those from the Methodist tradition as well as all general readers of church history.


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A compelling portrait of the father of Methodism. The life and work of John Wesley (1703-1791) has had an enormous influence on modern Christianity, not least for his role as father of the Methodist church. John Wesley is a popular biography of the great figure, which brings his career and ideas alive for a new generation. Written with verve and grounded in thorough resear A compelling portrait of the father of Methodism. The life and work of John Wesley (1703-1791) has had an enormous influence on modern Christianity, not least for his role as father of the Methodist church. John Wesley is a popular biography of the great figure, which brings his career and ideas alive for a new generation. Written with verve and grounded in thorough research, the book tells the story of Wesley's colorful and dramatic life. Stephen Tomkins chronicles Wesley's family background and early childhood, his school and university career, and his adult life as a religious leader in England. Throughout this engaging portrait, Tomkins pauses to explore a number of key issues in Wesley's increasingly rich religious views, including the renunciation of wealth and the role of women in church life. The volume concludes with an important assessment of Wesley's abiding influence both in his own country and abroad. Superbly crafted, John Wesley will interest those from the Methodist tradition as well as all general readers of church history.

30 review for John Wesley: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Clickety

    This is the best biography on Wesley out there. It's clear and concise, and fairly easy to read. This is the best biography on Wesley out there. It's clear and concise, and fairly easy to read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A short but scholarly account of the personal life of John Wesley, this book is well-written, witty, and objective. Neither a hagiography nor an iconoclastic attack, it is, in fact, surprisingly secular. Tomkins seems to have little interest in his subject's spiritual development, theological thought, or religious legacy. His main emphasis is on Wesley as a human being, on the man that is revealed by the details of his life, by his relationships with others. And that man is not particularly attr A short but scholarly account of the personal life of John Wesley, this book is well-written, witty, and objective. Neither a hagiography nor an iconoclastic attack, it is, in fact, surprisingly secular. Tomkins seems to have little interest in his subject's spiritual development, theological thought, or religious legacy. His main emphasis is on Wesley as a human being, on the man that is revealed by the details of his life, by his relationships with others. And that man is not particularly attractive - is quite deeply flawed. He almost embodies the unflattering popular stereotype of a preacher - pious, judgmental, self-centered, a self-righteous "saint" who demands perfection, saintliness, in others. His relationships with others were troubled, were not noted for human warmth. He neither gave loyalty or inspired it in others - was continuously feuding with other Methodist leaders - was ultimately estranged from Wilberforce, even from his brother Charles. His relationships with women, especially that with his wife, were disastrous. Paradigmatic proof of this seemingly harsh assessment is the brief note he wrote to his sister condoling her on the sudden death of her young children in which he tells her that God, perhaps jealous of the time she was spending caring for them, took them away in order to give her more time for religious work. Good grief! And this coldness was not offset by a brilliant mind. He was not a noticeably profound theologian. Whatever was new in his religious thinking, the emphasis on "warmth", on the emotions, on sanctification, seems to have been the result of his early contact with the Moravian Pietists. His theological thinking seems more "ad hoc", more "feels right", than the result of logical reflection or spiritual insight. And it was quite tentative - as exemplified by his continuing indecision about whether or not to leave the established church. He was not a very appealing theologian or man. And yet despite all this, Wesley was a spiritual leader, highly influential, revered then and now, responsible for the revival of Christianity in English speaking countries worldwide. He raised the moral tone of Western Civilization, increased the dignity of the working classes, was a midwife to a denomination that continues to be a force for good in the world. This legacy is slighted by Tomkins - not maliciously, but by his limiting his book to the actual, physical life of Wesley - by his reluctance to analyze, to judge him, to assess his worth spiritually. This is disappointing. Not only is the influence of Wesley left unexplained but the essence of the man does not come into focus. He is left a mystery, his motives never explained. For example, Tomkins provides no explanation for his obsessive missionary zeal - even though this constant travelling, this compulsion to preach, to convert the world, lies at the core of Wesley's being. The reader is left to his own speculations - to wonder whether it was it the result of the humiliating failure of his early ambition to convert the Native-American heathen in Georgia that inspired this obsessive urge to convert the home heathen, the poor, degraded, unchurched masses in the newly industrializing cities of the British Isles? Or whether it was his failure at close relationships, with people who knew him well, that kept him continuously on the road, away from home, finding approval and acceptance among strangers, among people with whom it was much easier to adopt and maintain a persona of holiness? Tomkins provides no answers. Does not consider the questions. And perhaps the questions are unanswerable, the inner man unknowable. Or perhaps, Wesley, like other highly gifted individuals (one thinks of Bach or Mozart) is best understood, his mind revealed, in his work, not his life. He had great oratorical gifts - could win over the most antagonistic audience, the most hardened listeners. His fame was achieved as a preacher. Thousands came to hear he speak. His life was consumed in preaching - the best estimate is that he gave over 40,000 sermons. Perhaps to assess him properly, to know him, one needs to read, not a biography of him, but a book of his sermons.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Bettger

    This book has great insight into John Wesleys personal, spiritual, and missional life. It shows him as the paradoxical genius he probably was. I love how this book showcases these extremes and reconciles them pretty well. It left me in awe, and wonder about this man who may be the greatest thing to happen to the western Christian Church, or quite possibly the absolute worst thing. You decide if you can. I'm torn. This book has great insight into John Wesleys personal, spiritual, and missional life. It shows him as the paradoxical genius he probably was. I love how this book showcases these extremes and reconciles them pretty well. It left me in awe, and wonder about this man who may be the greatest thing to happen to the western Christian Church, or quite possibly the absolute worst thing. You decide if you can. I'm torn.

  4. 5 out of 5

    K.P.B. Stevens

    I found this to be a lively and engaging read, although some of the members of the Church History Book Club thought that it was a hard slog. Tomkins isn't entirely sympathetic to Wesley, and I was left wondering whether I really liked Wesley or approved of his actions. I'm becoming increasingly suspicious of attempts at holiness. Regardless, as a way of understanding the roots and ongoing ethos of the evangelical movement, it's a terrific book. I found this to be a lively and engaging read, although some of the members of the Church History Book Club thought that it was a hard slog. Tomkins isn't entirely sympathetic to Wesley, and I was left wondering whether I really liked Wesley or approved of his actions. I'm becoming increasingly suspicious of attempts at holiness. Regardless, as a way of understanding the roots and ongoing ethos of the evangelical movement, it's a terrific book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rod Horncastle

    What a disturbing book. I've been hearing about Wesley for most of my life (4 decades). I heard he was a spiritual giant, great theologian and evangelist. Now I think he's just a nutjob who ran on poor theology and insecure emotions. It seems that the author (Stephen Tomkins) thinks highly of John Wesley. Yet i find all the biographical information embarrassing and damaging. The notes from Wesley's own writings are horrifying and cruel. He seems to have almost no compassion or empathy for anyone What a disturbing book. I've been hearing about Wesley for most of my life (4 decades). I heard he was a spiritual giant, great theologian and evangelist. Now I think he's just a nutjob who ran on poor theology and insecure emotions. It seems that the author (Stephen Tomkins) thinks highly of John Wesley. Yet i find all the biographical information embarrassing and damaging. The notes from Wesley's own writings are horrifying and cruel. He seems to have almost no compassion or empathy for anyone; Especially his wives and friends. The fact that he had numerous X-wives should be a huge redflag to any logical Christian - and this from a man who occasionally insisted marriage was not appropriate for Jesus' followers. This man had NO theological foundation. I doubt he even understood the Old Testament (did Wesley even bother to read it?). Wesley reminds me alot of Benny Hinn and other Charismatic preachers who abuse the scriptures. Sure Wesley founded a movement - but look at the mess he left it in. I'm glad i'm not a Methodist. Was John's life exciting? Sure, but did he make a difference for God? I'm not so sure. Now i'll go back to reading about C.H. Spurgeon: now there was a guy who understood the Bible and ministry.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Belinda

    Good review of Wesley's life. Learned a lot about him and the origins of the Methodist Church that I did not know. Good review of Wesley's life. Learned a lot about him and the origins of the Methodist Church that I did not know.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Fogerty

    Good biography of the man, passions, strengths, and warts. This book could have been improved by having a few recap and analysis sections to put the man in an historical context, both within the UK and internationally. While author does do some of this, I feel this aspect of this work was not as developed as it might have been. The book does do a good job describing Wesley's life in a "blow-by-blow" manner. Tomkins is also unflinching in how he describes Wesley's very significant personality flaw Good biography of the man, passions, strengths, and warts. This book could have been improved by having a few recap and analysis sections to put the man in an historical context, both within the UK and internationally. While author does do some of this, I feel this aspect of this work was not as developed as it might have been. The book does do a good job describing Wesley's life in a "blow-by-blow" manner. Tomkins is also unflinching in how he describes Wesley's very significant personality flaws. It also describes the man's tremendous energy. For instance, he could ride up to 90 miles in a single day on horseback. He did this as a man in his mid to late 70s. The book also describes, in a somewhat incomplete fashion, of the tension between the Methodist movement within the Church of England. It also spends little time of placing the Methodist movement within the Great Awakening which was a concurrent phenomenon. Still a good narrative. Any member of the Methodist Church should read a biography of John and Charles Wesley.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    Stephen Tomkins has written a highly engaging and thoroughly informative book that shines a shimmering spotlight on the man who was the founder of Methodism and one of the greatest religious reformers in Western history. Linear, concise, and lively, Tomkins's book takes the reader from Wesley's fiery near-death as a child through his formulation of a stringent code of self-discipline (which, strict as it was, failed to protect Wesley from a string of unfortunate romances) and tireless days and n Stephen Tomkins has written a highly engaging and thoroughly informative book that shines a shimmering spotlight on the man who was the founder of Methodism and one of the greatest religious reformers in Western history. Linear, concise, and lively, Tomkins's book takes the reader from Wesley's fiery near-death as a child through his formulation of a stringent code of self-discipline (which, strict as it was, failed to protect Wesley from a string of unfortunate romances) and tireless days and nights of hard riding and preaching through his death and far-reaching influence. The Wesley who emerges is a fascinating individual, flawed as all men inevitably are but one who answered the unique call God had upon his life with an admirable resolve. Tomkins has a clear command of the facts and his analysis is uniformly logical and not without humor. Highly recommended not only to Methodists but to any student of Christian history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Isabella Marin

    Reading this book, i came to the realization that this author picked up every weakness at John Wesley had. I found very few good traits that the author exposed and a lot of scandal. I am not sure if this was true information or false

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Jost

    An entertaining and informative book, although the author seemed to delight just a little much in dwelling on Wesley's (considerable!) faults, and was sparse with the praise for his strength. An entertaining and informative book, although the author seemed to delight just a little much in dwelling on Wesley's (considerable!) faults, and was sparse with the praise for his strength.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rapp

    The life of any human being is rather complicated, and the life of as great a man as John Wesley can only be greatly complicated. The task of the biographer is also difficult: to describe the achievements of such a man without writing a hagiography, while also describing his contradictions and faults without discrediting the breakthroughs and triumphs. This task Stephen Tomkins pulls off very well. John Wesley's achievements and breakthroughs are incredible. He preached the Gospel of justificatio The life of any human being is rather complicated, and the life of as great a man as John Wesley can only be greatly complicated. The task of the biographer is also difficult: to describe the achievements of such a man without writing a hagiography, while also describing his contradictions and faults without discrediting the breakthroughs and triumphs. This task Stephen Tomkins pulls off very well. John Wesley's achievements and breakthroughs are incredible. He preached the Gospel of justification by faith to all classes of English society, but his greatest breakthrough was his open air preaching to the working classes. And his preaching was not in word only, but also in power, visited by supernatural movings of the Spirit. Furthermore, his preaching was daily expressed in his works. This expression of faith in works is twofold. First, while attending to spiritual need, Wesley did not lose sight of the material needs of the poor, and did much to improve them. Some even attribute the absence of a French-style Revolution in 18th century Britain to the Methodist faith. But secondly, Wesley was a bold believer in sanctification and the possibility of sinless perfection in a believers' life. In addition to a preacher, Wesley was also a brilliant organizer, whose Methodist societies, schools and circuit riding lay preachers (including some women), did much to preserve his work. None of these achievements remove the fact that Wesley also was a man with his personal contradictions and faults. Though glorying in opposition to the Methodist cause, he brooked no opposition within the Methodist movement itself. Indeed, he can come across as rather autocratic and controlling. Though having agreed to disagree with his predestinarian friend George Whitefield, he persisted in taking their disagreement over election to the public, something Whitefield refused to do. Wesley's troubled relationships with women is another thread Stephen Tomkins weaves into his story, setting it within the troubled relationship of Wesley's own parents and Wesley's conviction that marital status should have no impact on his travel and preaching schedule. Tomkins also handles his source material admirably, sharing his analysis with his reader as when Wesley's journal, obviously written for others' eyes, declares his mother died as a Christian should, "without any struggle, gasp or groan," yet in his letter to his brother Charles he confides that she was "struggling and gasping for life" the entire time. Though perhaps a minor example, this vignette illustrates the need to read Wesley's Journals with a grain of salt. This biography is a good introduction to Wesley's life and times. And it provides good balance to unhelpful hagiographies of notable Christians. John Wesley's life was one with contradictions and faults, but it was one lived in pursuit of God and holiness, and helping others in their own pursuit.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    I grew up with John Wesley's philosophy, "earn all you can, be as frugal as you can, give all you can...", but it was nice to meet the man who had so influenced my parents. He had a horse, 2 changes of clothes, and ate rice and beans cooked by his own hand over an open fire, even when he reached the zenith of his popularity and could easily have afforded a comfortable road house, easier lifestyle, and rich food. The most important thing to him was his relationship to Jesus Christ and bringing th I grew up with John Wesley's philosophy, "earn all you can, be as frugal as you can, give all you can...", but it was nice to meet the man who had so influenced my parents. He had a horse, 2 changes of clothes, and ate rice and beans cooked by his own hand over an open fire, even when he reached the zenith of his popularity and could easily have afforded a comfortable road house, easier lifestyle, and rich food. The most important thing to him was his relationship to Jesus Christ and bringing that relationship message to the States, United.

  13. 5 out of 5

    J. Alfred

    Fantastically readable bio of a fantastically interesting and divisive guy. So much about his life, ministry, and theology seems wiggly ('wiggly'; of or pertaining to wiggliness, as in a tooth that needs to come out) but, to quote from my favorite hymn writer who does not happen to be Wesley's brother (Charles was also a strange one, apparently) "God moves in a mysterious way." Fantastically readable bio of a fantastically interesting and divisive guy. So much about his life, ministry, and theology seems wiggly ('wiggly'; of or pertaining to wiggliness, as in a tooth that needs to come out) but, to quote from my favorite hymn writer who does not happen to be Wesley's brother (Charles was also a strange one, apparently) "God moves in a mysterious way."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    As a John Wesley novice, I found this to be pretty much the ideal introduction to his life and work. Concise (200 pp.) and somewhat breezily written, it nonetheless seems to have a firm grasp of both the history and the religious/theological issues at stake. Wesley comes across as a very impressive, but flawed, figure. This is neither a hagiography nor a debunking.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dexter

    Well, John Wesley was an interesting fellow. He had some very strange ideas, but on the other hand, he did a lot of cool stuff as well. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of the way this book was written. It mostly left me with a lot of questions or just left me feeling unconvinced about several of the facts. Well, John Wesley was an interesting fellow. He had some very strange ideas, but on the other hand, he did a lot of cool stuff as well. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of the way this book was written. It mostly left me with a lot of questions or just left me feeling unconvinced about several of the facts.

  16. 5 out of 5

    George

    Amazing read and an even more extraordinary life. A true testament to commitment and perseverance. The man had many faults (as I do..and all) but his undying work ethic, vision, passion, and dedication gives us a blueprint of something we should all aspire to.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Garland Vance

    I enjoyed this biography of Wesley. I had to stop reading the book for several months because our family had a new baby. So I am not sure whether it was a 3-star biography or whether I was a 3-star reader. Sorry to not be much help!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Royce Ratterman

    Overall, a good book for the researcher and enthusiast. Read for personal research - found this book's contents helpful and inspiring - number rating relates to the book's contribution to my needs. Overall, a good book for the researcher and enthusiast. Read for personal research - found this book's contents helpful and inspiring - number rating relates to the book's contribution to my needs.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    John Wesley's life did not engage me a wholly as I wanted it to. Or the author's writing did not. Either way, I put this aside about half way through. John Wesley's life did not engage me a wholly as I wanted it to. Or the author's writing did not. Either way, I put this aside about half way through.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Seth Pierce

    Very accessible and full of great anecdotes.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    This is a well researched, well written book. If looking for information about Wesley the man, it is honest and sticks to the facts. However, it seemed a little one dimensional at times.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Kittleson

    Also just picked this one up...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline Tribue Scott

  25. 5 out of 5

    Travis

  26. 4 out of 5

    Staci Woodburn-Henry

  27. 5 out of 5

    Layla

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Velázquez

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sekaia Siwata

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dan

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