Reluctant Saint? A Theological Biography of Fletcher of Madeley

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PATRICK STREIFF. Reluctant Saint? A Theological Biography of Fletcher of Madeley. Peterborough, England: Epworth Press, 2001. Pp. ix + 406, notes, sources, bibliography, index. £19.95.

Though largely unknown today, John Fletcher (or "Fletcher of Madeley") was a figure of considerable importance in the history of English Methodism, and in eighteenth-century Anglican evangelicalism more generally. Jean Guillaume de La Fléchère was born in Nyon, in French-speaking Switzerland, in 1729, to a family from the lower ranks of the nobility; his father was a local politician and landowner. Though few details of his childhood remain, Fletcher was neither remarkably bad nor (as suggested by an earlier biographer) remarkably saintly. More plausibly, as his wife later attested, throughout his life Fletcher was possessed of a very tender conscience and a keen awareness of his spiritual destitution. In 1746, he was sent to be educated under Jacob Vemet at the Académie de Calvin at Geneva, where the strict teachings of the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675) had given way to the so-called "reasonable orthodoxy," and where close relations with England and Anglicanism had been established. While still in Nyon, Fletcher underwent a religious conversion reminiscent of John Wesley's famous "Aldersgate experience." At Geneva, he and a handful of like-minded friends formed a religious society, equally reminiscent of Wesley's Holy Club at Oxford. Details of Fletcher's academic progress at Geneva are sketchy, but it appears that, after a period of diligent study, he abandoned plans to enter the church, gave up his studies and left Geneva in order to pursue a career in the army. This sudden change may have been precipitated by a personal crisis. More likely, Fletcher thought himself unworthy to enter the ministry. In any case, in the summer of 1750, and after several unsuccessful attempts to secure a military appointment, Fletcher departed for England where, after mastering the language, he became private tutor to the Hill family of London and Shropshire. The Hills proved a tolerant and loyal employer, untroubled by Fletcher's serious outlook on life. In 1757, after much consideration, and after becoming acquainted with the Methodists and their writings, Fletcher was ordained into the Church of England. After three additional years with the Hills, he became vicar of the nearby parish of Madeley in Shropshire, where he remained-dedicated to his often obstreperous parishioners, then caught up in the effects of rapid industrialization-until his death in 1785.

Most of this work rightly focuses on Fletcher's parochial ministry as well as on his contributions to the burgeoning Methodist movement. Particular attention is given to Fletcher's development as a pastor and theologian, and his considerable success in the parish; to his often troubled relationship with the Countess of Huntingdon, culminating in his becoming president of her training college at Trevecca in 1768; to his involvement in the controversies over both Christian perfection and Calvinism, which sharply divided Methodism during the 176Os and 70s; and, to his important, influential and sometimes original theological contributions to early Methodism, upon which (to a considerable degree) John Wesley came to rely. …


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