Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity

Article excerpt

John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity. By Geordan Hammond. (New York and other cities: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. [xviii], 237. $85.00, ISBN 978-0-19-870160-6.)

By his late twenties, John Wesley was so fascinated with the Apostolic church that a friend "nicknamed him 'Primitive Christianity'" (p. 30). Within five years, Wesley was aboard the Simmonds, sailing for the colony of Georgia as a Church of England missionary to the Indians. The colony's trustees also appointed him minister to the colonists of Savannah. Through the first role, he hoped (but ultimately failed) to restore the primitive church in America. Through the second, he faced social and political conflicts that drove him from the colony. Biographers have used these troubles to judge his time in Georgia a failure, but it is this judgment that Geordan Hammond aims to revise.

Rather than assess Wesley's colonial mission against Methodism's later successes, we should, Hammond argues, understand Georgia as a "laboratory" where the preacher experimented with his ideas about primitive Christianity (p. 13). Through detailed research, Hammond displays the sources of Wesley's understanding of primitivism. The major influences were the High Church and Usager Nonjuror traditions within Anglicanism. The Usager Nonjurors, who originated by refusing to swear oaths to William and Mary after the Glorious Revolution, adopted the liturgies of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, which they found more representative of the primitive church than the reigning 1662 version. Their writings were an inspiration to Wesley as a student at Oxford University under the guidance of John Clayton. …

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