I want to recommend three books that I have recently read (in one instance, re-read) and three books that I am really looking forward reading.
Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Dean.
If you are involved in ministry with youth and young adults, you should read this book. If you have children and care about them becoming mature Christians, you should read this book. Oh, and if you care about people in this demographic… you should read this book.
I just finished reading Almost Christian and (as you may be able to tell) I thought it was excellent. Almost Christian chews on the research and data that was released with Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton’s Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, which has already made a big splash in conversations about the formation of youth and young adults. I plan on blogging about Dean’s book in the near future, so I won’t say more at this point.
Charles Wesley and the Struggle for Methodist Identity by Gareth Lloyd.
I re-read this book during my time working in the Methodist Archives in Manchester. Gareth Lloyd is also the archivist for the Methodist material in Manchester. Lloyd’s book does two things that are both major contributions to Wesleyan Studies and the history of Methodism. First, he argues that John Wesley’s perspective has dominated the history of Methodism in ways that have distorted the picture. Thus, Charles Wesley and the Struggle for Methodist Identity seeks to begin to restore some balance and bring the picture back into focus. The second contribution of Lloyd’s work is that the book acts as a kind of guide to the primary source material that has all too often been overlooked by Methodist historians. One of Lloyd’s key arguments is that scholarship relating to Charles Wesley is inadequate because it has tended to rely on nineteenth century secondary source material, rather than going back to the original materials. Because of his position at the Rylands, Lloyd is the ideal person to make this case and to provide suggestions as to where key materials are that have yet to be mined.
Warning: The main negative of this book is its price. It is currently only available in hardcover and is $99. (Oh, you can purchase a Kindle version, which is $20 cheaper.)
Wesleyan Beliefs: Formal and Popular Expressions of the Core Beliefs of Wesleyan Communities by Ted A. Campbell.
Finally, Ted A. Campbell’s latest contribution to Wesleyan Studies has just come off the presses. If nothing else, you should read this book because it is endorsed by both Richard P. Heitzenrater and Randy L. Maddox. Maddox’s endorsement suggests that “Campbell’s careful study should put to rest finally the frequent caricature of Methodism as unconcerned about doctrinal beliefs… This is a must-read for scholars of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition and beyond!”
My brief summary of Campbell’s argument would be that studies of Methodist or Wesleyan doctrine or beliefs have tended to fall into one of two camps. They are either focused on a rigid study of official doctrinal statements or academic contributions from members of these traditions, or they are focused on the opposite extreme of the popular practices and expressions of faith of Wesleyan or Methodist faith communities at particular points in time. In Wesley Beliefs, Campbell aims to bring these two legitimate foci into conversation with one another. In so doing, he finds that the study of official statements of doctrine along with more popular expressions of lay spirituality (such as hymnals, catechisms, and the architectural design of churches) reveal significant harmony.
(Full disclosure: Ted Campbell is my Ph.D. advisor here at S.M.U., so I am perhaps predisposed to think highly of his work.)
Here are three books that I am chomping at the bit to get my hands on, in fact I hope to be able pick up a few this weekend at the American Academy of Religion. Since I have not read them, I will not comment on them any further at this point, except to say that I think they are worth checking out.
The Methodist Experience in America, Vol 1: A History
by Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt
From Aldersgate to Azusa Street: Wesleyan, Holiness, and Pentecostal Visions of the New Creation edited by Henry H. Knight III.
T&T Clark Companion to Methodism edited by Charles Yrigoyen, Jr.
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