John M Haley and Leslie J Francis, Epworth, 2006, 326pp, £16.99, ISBN 0-7162-0614-5
This book presents the findings of a survey conducted at the end of the 20th century among active circuit presbyteral ministers (that is, excluding Deacons). Altogether 1,339 responded, representing 74% of those invited. The book starts by retracing the development of British Methodism from the childhood of the Wesleys through to its emergence as a distinct denomination. It explores the distinctive features of early Methodism in terms of Arminianism, justification by faith, assurance of salvation and scriptural holiness.
It goes on to comment - somewhat unnecessarily - upon the results of the survey which are presented in tabular form at the end of the book and I went first to this section. Altogether, 23 aspects of church life and faith are explored and the responses are further broken down by the age and sex of the presbyters. Areas covered included worship, preaching, doctrine and stress.
The conclusions drawn are, by and large, totally depressing and in line with many of the apocalyptic pronouncements made in recent years over the likely demise of Methodism in Britain. The statistics speak for themselves and paint a very gloomy picture by presbyters who have little confidence in the way Methodism operates. There is a damning indictment on the quality of Methodist worship and its over-reliance on the use of the organ - I have often said that we do church as if it were invented in the 18th century. Paradoxically, although 65% of respondents considered Methodist Worship to be dull, only ten percent thought Methodist Ministers are poor preachers. Perhaps they are good at preaching dull sermons!
On the positive side, Headway members will be encouraged to discover that there is a high degree of commitment by presbyters to their calling. Also the research highlights that the younger presbyters emerging within the ranks of Methodism are more aligned with the general trend among growing churches in the UK. They are more orthodox in terms of belief in the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection and the second coming; more aligned to the conservative evangelical stance on the authority of the Bible, the historicity of the miracles and Jesus as the only way to God; and more charismatic, as evidenced by their belief and experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and belief in spiritual warfare.
Perhaps the Wesleyan flame is being re-ignited after all, but I wonder what John Wesley would make of all of this?
Reviewed by Roger G Johnson (District Evangelism Enabler Nottingham and Derby District).
Headline Winter 2006/7 p28.