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ted campbellTed A. Campbell converted to Christianity during his sophomore year of high school at his home congregation in Beaumont, Texas. A call to ministry soon followed, prompting him to attend Lon Morris College, a small Methodist school in east Texas. While in college, Campbell served as president of a group called Student Christian Movement. In 1974, the group traveled to Dallas to attend an event featuring esteemed Methodist theologian Albert C. Outler. The speaker before Outler had bored several of the students, so many opted to go to the movies (The Exorcist had just hit theaters). As president, Campbell felt obliged to stay behind. Outler spoke on theology in the Wesleyan spirit (which led to a lauded book of the same name, published in 1975). Campbell was spellbound by Outler’s presentation, which sparked a lifelong passion for John Wesley, Wesleyan studies, and Methodist history. After finishing his doctorate in church history at Southern Methodist University, Campbell pastored and taught at several notable Methodist schools, including a stint as president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary from 2001 to 2005. Since 2006, he has served at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas. Campbell is the author of several notable books, such as Wesleyan Beliefs: Formal and Popular Expressions of the Core Beliefs of Wesleyan Communities; Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials (second edition published in 2011); and, most recently, The Sky is Falling, The Church is Dying, and Other False Alarms, published by Abingdon Press in 2015. Grace and Peace Magazine met Campbell at his office on the SMU campus and asked him to talk about John Wesley and some of the influences that shaped his theological outlook. The fact that a John Wesley bobblehead sat on Campbell’s desk while he elaborated on Wesley’s theology seemed no great irony.

G&P: DID WESLEY'S ANGLICAN HERITAGE HAVE A STRONG INFLUENCE IN SHAPING HIS THEOLOGICAL IDENTITY?

CAMPBELL: Yes. One of Methodist theologian Albert C. Outler’s great contributions was to help us see how Anglican Wesley was. But one of the things we have begun to realize is how Anglicanism in John Wesley’s day was not what you would find if you walked into an Episcopal church or a lot of Anglican churches today. It was very Reformed, it was very Protestant, so I think the idea that Wesley was an Anglican is true, but you have got to look carefully at what Anglican meant in his time.

G&P: WHAT WERE SOME OF THE SOURCES FROM THE ANGLICAN TRADITION THAT SHAPED WESLEY'S THEOLOGICAL OUTLOOK?

CAMPBELL: Wesley was a voracious reader who read from an enormous range of material, such as Catholic, Puritan, Anglican, early Christian literature, and so forth. William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, which was an earlier strand of Anglican devotional literature, was influential on him. He was also influenced by Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who wrote Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, and then the blockbuster sequel, Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying.

G&P: HOW DID THE PIETISTIC TRADITION SHAPE WESLEY'S THINKING?

CAMPBELL: Pietism intersected with Wesley in a couple of different ways. We are accustomed to saying that he met Moravians when he went to Georgia, but he also met the Salzburgers, who were German-speaking Protestants expelled from Salzburg, whose pastors had been trained at Halle University, which was a main center of Lutheran pietism. Similarly, in the summer of 1738, when Wesley went to the European continent, he not only visited the Moravians at Herrnhut; he also visited Halle University, so Wesley was in touch with multiple sources of pietism. What he got from the Pietist movement was this emphasis that religion is not simply about correct belief or correct liturgical action, but it has to do with heartfelt repentance, heartfelt faith or trust in Jesus Christ, and the cultivation of a pure love for God.

G&P: YOU'VE USED THE PHRASE "RELIGION OF THE HEART" TO CHARACTERIZE THESE EXPRESSIONS. WHAT IS MEANT BY THIS PHRASE, AND WHERE DOES IT ORIGINATE?

CAMPBELL: The phrase is from John Wesley himself, and he repeats it over and over. For example, just now I’m editing and trying to date a letter from Wesley about the evangelization of Indians in Paraguay by the Jesuits, and
Wesley asks, “What do they know about the religion of the heart?” He used this phrase consistently, and by this he meant not only the outward form of religion but the inward power. That is to say, the inward motivation that leads us to genuine faith, genuine repentance, and genuine love for God.

G&P: IS THIS INWARD POWER A WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT? IF SO, HOW DID WESLEY ENVISION HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT WORKS?

CAMPBELL: Yes, and I think Wesley understood the power of the Holy Spirit coming in a variety of ways. He liked to talk about the ordinary means of grace, and that we should avail ourselves of the means of grace. But he also believed in extraordinary gifts, extraordinary revelations as well. What I take from Wesley is that you avail yourself of all the regular means of grace: prayer, Scripture study, the Lord’s Supper, and Christian fellowship, but you are also to be open to how God may be working more directly with you.

G&P: "CATHOLIC SPIRIT" IS THE TITLE OF ONE OF WESLEY'S BEST-KNOWN SERMONS. WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THIS PHRASE?

CAMPBELL: Wesley meant a spirit of openness to other Christians. He made very clear in the sermon that he did not mean a kind of theological free-for-all, anything-goes type of Christianity. He said that a Christian is “as fixed as the sun in the heavens concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine.” But he said on issues about worship and opinions that don’t strike at the root of Christianity, that we are to “think and let think.”

G&P: WHERE DID WESLEY DRAW THE LINE REGARDING DOCTRINAL ESSENTIALS?

CAMPBELL: I like to make a distinction between what John Wesley considered to be essentially Christian, and then a slightly different but overlapping group of beliefs that he thought characterized the unique calling or the unique emphases of the Wesleyan movement under his leadership. In terms of Christian essentials, he names things like the doctrine of the divine Trinity, the belief in the deity or full divinity of Jesus Christ. He believed that the doctrine of atonement was a consistently shared, necessary Christian doctrine. He believed in the primary authority of the Christian Scriptures. He believed, like other Christians, in the need for justification by faith, for regeneration or the new birth by the Holy Spirit, and certain practices that he thought were common to Christian communities: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the need for the church as the community of believers that nurtures us.

When he talked about distinctive Methodist beliefs, beliefs of his movement, he tended to talk about repentance, faith, and holiness; and, really, repentance and faith were held very generally through the evangelical movement. It is the emphasis on holiness that becomes the distinctive key doctrine of the Wesleyan branch of the revival movement.

G&P: WHO AND WHAT WERE INFLUENCES ON WESLEY'S UNDERSTANDING OF HOLINESS?

CAMPBELL: There’s a wide variety of influences. He had read Catholic literature from the late middle ages, especially Thomas á Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ. Thomas á Kempis was part of a movement we call Devotio Moderna. That meant “modern devotion,” but modern in the 1400s. It was a Catholic lay movement—largely, people living in cities who were trying to be serious about Christian devotional life, and The Imitation of Christ was hugely influential on John Wesley. What Wesley got from Kempis was the intersection of outward forms with the inward cleansing of the heart that really is the goal toward which the Christian life is aimed. It is the interplay between those two things that are the key he got from Kempis.

He had also read Lutheran material, like Johann Arndt’s True Christianity. He had read Eastern Christian literature, the homilies that were attributed at one time to Macarius of Egypt. We think now this is probably a Syrian writer from the fourth or fifth century A.D. But he had read these works, and they all had a deep effect on him.

G&P: CAN YOU COMMENT ON WESLEY'S CHRISTOLOGY?

CAMPBELL: Wesley’s Christology was consistent with Anglican teaching, with Protestant teaching in general, and with the teachings of the early Christian church. He was committed to the teachings of the Nicene Creed and its claim that Christ is of the same being with God the Father. He rejects any modern or ancient claims that Christ is a created being or somehow less than God the Father. For Wesley, there is no greater and lesser God.

G&P: WHAT SHAPED WESLEY'S UNDERSTANDING OF THE WAY OR ORDER OF SALVATION, THE ORDO SALUTIS?

CAMPBELL: There was a long Puritan tradition of talking about the way of salvation, or what they called the ordo salutis. For these Puritans, it had a Calvinistic slant, and was the way they understood the outworking of election or predestination. They tended to talk about calling or vocation, but that really meant the point of repentance when a person is called out of the world by God’s grace, then justification, and often they associated adoption or assurance with that justification that comes by faith, and then came sanctification as the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of an individual, as they become dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.

That Puritan tradition provides the basic shape, but John Wesley was not a Calvinist; he was an Arminian. He was not going to accept the Puritan doctrine of election. He had his own take on that. He wanted to talk about the universality of divine grace, calling people to the gospel, the possibility of assurance of our pardon by divine grace, and then the possibility of this complete love that we’re to have for God— also as a result of divine grace—and some of those became points of controversy with the Calvinists.

G&P: DID WESLEY HAVE A PARTICULAR VIEW OF THE ATONEMENT?

CAMPBELL: Atonement is a tough issue because there are a lot of angles on it. One of my colleagues says John Wesley speaks predominantly about substitution as the mode of atonement. It is true that Wesley uses the language of substitution, but he also speaks more broadly of the work of Christ as involving the fullness of who Jesus Christ was. The incarnation counts for our salvation. The life of Jesus was the pure life that was his offering to God. The teachings of Jesus count for our salvation. His death is part of the full human experience that he had, and his resurrection counts. It is part of the fullness of who Jesus Christ was, so I see a fully orbed Christology in which all of these elements of God’s work in Jesus Christ are present. Substitution is part of that, and maybe when he used the word atonement that is what he most often associated it with. But there is a fully orbed understanding of the work of God in Christ that involves more than simply death and substitution.

G&P: HOW DID WESLEY UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF HIS CONVERSION?

CAMPBELL: Wesley used the term conversion in connection with his Aldersgate Street experience in London, where he describes his heart “strangely warmed.” He structured his journal to suggest, “To think that I who went to America to convert the natives to God, was never converted to God myself,” and then it is followed by the account of Aldersgate. I think Wesley meant to understand Aldersgate as his conversion experience, but he had questions about those claims. He admits that when he went to America he had the faith of a servant but not the faith of a son. So his view seems to have been nuanced. After Aldersgate, I think he thought if you didn’t have that kind of experience you were not really a Christian.

But then he realized that other people have different kinds of salvific experiences. For example, my own conversion was not a sense of being a terrible sinner then coming to realize my sins were forgiven. I didn’t think of myself that way. I had grown up hearing Methodist sermons about the wonderful love of Jesus Christ and didn’t think of myself much as a sinner. I’ve been more conscious of myself as a sinner after my conversion experience than before. Part of the problem is being aware of how eighteenth-century culture structured people’s experiences and realizing their experiences may be different today.

G&P: WHAT SHAPED WESLEY'S UNDERSTANDING OF WORSHIP AND WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN IN WORSHIP?

CAMPBELL: John Wesley was a priest of the Church of England. He was committed to his church. He wrote that his church was the best constituted church in the world, and when he came to write an edition of the prayer book for the Methodists in North America, he largely structured it after the traditions of Anglican worship. He did believe in a place for the direct work of the Spirit. For example, extemporaneous prayer was very important, so in his preface to the Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America he suggests they use the litany on most days of the week, but on certain days of the week they should pray extemporaneously. There is a balance of formal prayer and extemporaneous prayer, but he did utilize the forms of his church, and frankly, those are the forms I grew up with. The language of the oldfashioned prayer book is something that deeply structured the consciousness of the Methodist movement.

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE TENSION BETWEEN  BEING A CHURCH AND A LIVING, VITAL, RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT, AND IT IS ONE OF THE EXCITING THINGS ABOUT METHODIST LIFE.

G&P: HOW WOULD YOU UNPACK WESLEY'S ECCLESIOLOGY?

CAMPBELL: Wesley’s ecclesiology is complicated because of two different ideas in tension. One is more formal, which he inherited from the articles of religion, that says the church is a body of believers where the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered. Then, he has this missional understanding of church, at least of the Methodist community (he sometimes calls it an “extraordinary mission”), and the reconciling of these two ideas has been a problem for Methodist and Wesleyan people. Our religious architecture expresses this tension: Gothic cathedral-looking churches that exhibit a more traditional and fuller sense of what church means, and evangelistic spaces that express a more missional understanding of the church. We have always lived in the tension between being a church and a living, vital, religious movement, and it is one of the exciting things about Methodist life.

G&P: HOW DID WESLEY SEE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HOLINESS AND STRUCTURING THE METHODIST MOVEMENT?

CAMPBELL: The early Methodist structures, like class meetings, band meetings, the quarterly meetings of the society, the itinerant preaching structures—all of these were designed for one end, and that was the cultivation of Christian holiness. Wesley said the chief end of God’s raising up the preachers called Methodists was to reform the nation and the church, and to spread scriptural holiness through the land. I’m convinced that was the inner spring of the Methodist movement. The United Methodist Church has a great mission statement that says the mission of the church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The Church of the Nazarene’s mission statement is “to make Christlike disciples in all the nations.” I really like the Christlike element of the Nazarene statement because it elegantly brings that idea of cultivation of holiness into the very mission of a church or a denomination.

G&P: WHAT DID WESLEY UNDERSTAND TO BE THE GOAL OF EVANGELIZATION?

CAMPBELL: Most of what Wesley did was evangelistic, yet there were times when he had to ask the question, “Do we just evangelize, or do we evangelize in such a way that we really are cultivating holiness?” And when he had to face that question, he said, “No, our responsibility is to cultivate holiness.” One question that is asked in the minutes of the early Methodist conferences is, “Should we preach everywhere, or should we only preach in places where people have organized classes and bands and societies?” And the answer is, no, we look for the places where people are organizing those groups because that is where they are really cultivating holiness. The end of evangelism was not simply to get people converted or get their names on church membership rolls. The end of it was to serve that big goal of cultivating Christian holiness.

G&P: WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT WESLEY'S PREACHING AND HOW HE UNDERSTOOD THE MECHANICS OF PREACHING?

CAMPBELL: Wesley’s preaching is extremely biblical, so much so that it is hard to go through his sermons and find a single sentence that does not have several verses of Scripture woven into it. I’m convinced that he preached in a style of speaking no longer used, so it is difficult for us to read his sermons and imagine how they were actually presented. He has an essay called “Treatise on Pronunciation and Gesture.” In it, he explains how sentences are conveyed, with the use of various cadences, pauses, and pitches. He’s very scientific about this and the use of the hands. He says you are to use only the right hand, and the eye must follow the hand, so you can’t gesticulate in all different directions where the eye does not follow the hand. He wants the preachers to show in their bodies, in their facial expressions, every affection their preaching is about. So, if you speak about the horrors of hell, and do not have horror written on your face, you are being disingenuous. If you speak about the joy of heaven, and you do not express that facially, you are not communicating well. I would love to have seen him preach because I think it would have been a symphony of words and facial expressions and gestures, and it would have been fascinating. Someday, I want to get an actor trained to read that treatise, and we can work on what it might have looked and sounded like.

G&P: TELL US ABOUT YOUR BOOK WESLEYAN BELIEFS. WHY DID YOU WRITE IT, AND WHAT DID YOU WANT TO SAY?

CAMPBELL: The book on Wesleyan beliefs is part of what I hope will be a trio of books: one on Wesleyan beliefs, one on Wesleyan narratives—how Methodists have told their story— and then a book on Wesleyan practices. How did they actually live this out? What I’m trying to do in the book on Wesleyan beliefs is not only look at John and Charles Wesley’s theology but also how that was actually played out in subsequent Wesleyan communities.

For example, how do John Wesley’s sermons and other writings teach doctrines that are taught in Methodist articles of religion, or the articles of the Church of the Nazarene, as opposed to just John Wesley’s writings, and how do the creeds express those beliefs? Also, how does church architecture express these ideas about the church as a traditional view of the church or a missional understanding of the church? How do people’s personal testimonies reflect that teaching about the way of salvation, even if they use different language? They tend to say “conviction, conversion, sanctification” in place of where Wesley might have said, “repentance, faith, and holiness.” It’s the correlations between formal teachings and popular practices and teachings that I’m really trying to address.

G&P: YOU HAVE EDITED A BOOK ON JOHN WESLEY'S LETTERS DUE OUT IN LATE 2015. CAN YOU REMARK ON THIS?

CAMPBELL: It is the third collection of letters of the ongoing bicentennial edition of The Works of John Wesley. Dr. Frank Baker edited two prior volumes, 25 and 26, and my volume, volume 27, will cover letters in the period between 1756 and 1765. It is an interesting period. Wesley was separated from his wife. There is some rather unhappy stuff going on. It is a period when there had been a controversy over claims to entire sanctification, and John Wesley is torn between his deep desire to believe what ordinary people say about their religious experience, and then some of the problematic manifestations of that in the early Methodist societies. It is the time of the Seven-Years War, which was hugely important in British history.

This article has an accompanying video here.


TED A. CAMPBELL serves as professor of church history at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

One of the most influential English translations of the devotional text, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à  Kempis, was The Christian’s Pattern, published in 1735 by John Wesley (1703-91). Wesley encountered this work at an early age and later undertook his own abridgement. The Christian’s Pattern was Wesley’s first major publication and remained a constant companion of the early Methodists, as Wesley continued to read it and recommend it to his preachers. This photograph was taken at the Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.