A Wesley Cult?

Sometimes the eyes of an outsider can help you see things in an entirely new light.

A couple of years ago, our District — the Charlotte District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to be precise — held a continuing education event in which the focus was recapturing John Wesley’s legacy for 21st Century churches.

It’s the kind of subject that, if you’ve been a Methodist any length of time, makes perfect sense.

I brought a couple of our staffers to the event. One of them had not grown up in any church, much less a Methodist one, had come to faith as an adult, and as a result had spent most of her Christian study time focusing on Jesus, Paul, and Moses rather than John Wesley.

As we listened to the various presentations, I asked her what she thought.

“It sounds like a cult,” she answered. “I’ve heard a lot of talk about Wesley and none about Christ.”


Because she didn’t share the presuppositions and language of most Methodist clergy — Wesley is the best example of lived out theology we have — our gathering sounded to her ears like the Christian Scientists talking about Mary Baker Eddy or the Mormons talking about Joseph Smith.

Now I went to a seminary that loves Wesley the most of all (so they say), and I became a Methodist as a result of looking for someone who was smart, biblical and believed in free will. Mr. Wesley was the guy, and here I am.

But language, presentation, and presuppositions matter.

If you assume your audience already shares your presuppositions and understands your insider language, you can come off sounding much crazier than you really are.

As we minister in the midst of a culture largely ignorant of Wesley and his genius, I suppose that means we’ll focus more on doing the kinds of things Wesley did rather than quoting at length the kinds of things he said.