Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies

Abraham, William J. and James E. Kirby, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

I have so far resisted posting about works related to specific branches of the Christian family. Perhaps it is time for me to begin to do so. It seems natural for me to begin with an excellent new source about my own tradition, especially when the editors contributed to my own theological education: Abraham as my evangelism instructor, Kirby as the dean of my seminary: Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. I am grateful for their contributions to my life and ministry.

Books and reference books about Methodism are countless. The tradition has been examined from many angles and perspectives. Most sources either cover a wide range of topics in a cursory way, or they make a case for a particular perspective about Methodism or one of its key figures. This work is unusual in that it achieves a degree of depth and multiple perspectives on Methodist history, doctrine, and church life and governance, and that it manages to condense these into a single, manageable, readable volume.

Forty two essays are arranged into six major divisions that include "History of Methodism"; "Ecclesial Forms and Structures"; "Worship: Sacraments, Liturgy, Hymnody, Preaching"; "Spiritual Experiences, Evangelism, Mission, Ecumenism"; "Theology"; and "Ethics and Politics." Some examples of essay titles include "Methodism in Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries," "Methodism in Latin America," "Methodism and Pentecostalism," "Ministry and Itinerancy in Methodism," "Liturgical Revolutions," "The Quest for Holiness," "Christian Perfection," and "Methodism and Politics in Africa." As these titles suggest, the work is not limited in scope to a particular ecclesial body such as the United Methodist Church, nor is it limited to North America and Britain.

As one might expect, the book is 761 pages long including a thorough index. Nevertheless, the paperback version is convenient to carry in one hand. It is no larger than most paperback Bibles, but it does not have the thin paper and tiny print.

 If you would like to gain more than a superficial knowledge about Methodism, but have time to explore only one book, this may be the best selection you could make. The only thing this work does not provide is primary source material. For those purposes, there are plenty of excellent anthologies and "complete works" editions available to supplement this excellent volume.

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