One of the defining marks of John Wesley’s own faith and of the eighteenth-century Methodist revival was that it involved not only the emotions but also the intellect—the head as well as the heart. This fact should not surprise us, as the leader of the revival was, after all, a faculty member of Oxford University. When I first joined The United Methodist Church as a nineteen-year-old college student, I was drawn to the fact that this was a church where I was encouraged to think. It was okay to have questions and doubts. I didn’t have to “check my brain at the door.”
It was also a church that accepted and encouraged emotion. At the age of fourteen, I came to faith in Christ in a wonderful Pentecostal church. I was deeply affected by the passionate faith, the love for the Scriptures, and the wonderful fellowship among Christians in that church. I learned to pray, memorize Scripture, seek a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. These characteristics and practices in the Pentecostal tradition were also an important part of the eighteenth-century Methodist revival.
A balance between head and heart was what led me in college to The United Methodist Church. As I read about Wesley and the eighteenth-century Methodist revival, I discovered a faith that embraced the emotive elements I valued most in the Pentecostal tradition but which also embraced learning, education, and the intellect as much as I did. Intellectual interest was coupled with a passionate personal faith in Jesus Christ.
I’m reminded of the movie A River Runs Through It, based on Norman Maclean’s novella of the same name. Among my favorite lines in the movie is when the Presbyterian father describes Methodists as “Baptists who can read.” Baptists were known for their evangelical fervor and zeal, while Presbyterians and Episcopalians were known for their emphasis on education and the intellect. The Methodist revival led by Wesley sought to balance intellect and emotion, head and heart.
To religious skeptics, most vocal expressions of Christianity today seem to be anti-intellectual. There is a sense among many nonreligious people I meet that the only way to be a Christian is to sacrifice modern science, to adopt a very narrow view of the world, to interpret the Bible literally and woodenly, and to refrain from asking difficult questions of faith. Yet Wesley, the Oxford fellow and preacher, had a way of holding together a passionate faith and a rigorous intellect. I believe that approach to Christianity holds the greatest promise for reaching an increasingly secular society.
God gave us a brain and a heart. He wants us to use both. Jesus taught us to love God with our “heart and soul” as well as our “mind and strength.” This union of emotion and intellect has been a hallmark of Methodism. In America, the same folks who held religious revivals called camp meetings started colleges and universities to educate leaders who would change the world.
First Peter 1:13 says, “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” I love this passage, because it involves intellect, spiritual discipline, and faith. We are to love God with our minds and with our hearts.
Today’s post is an excerpt from my book, Revival, which will be published from Abingdon Press in September. Check out a video about the book below.
Revival Webinar is Thursday!
Join me for a live webinar on August 7 at 3pm ET/2pm CT at MinistryMatters.com. We'll discuss this new book as well as my travels to England where I followed the life of John Wesley, and we'll talk about the defining characteristics of a Wesleyan Christian. Find out more and sign up to reserve your seat at MinistryMatters.com.