A Holy People? Tradition, formation, and mission in contemporary British Methodism

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The Christian church in twenty-first century Britain faces a significant missiological challenge in which serious attention to Christian formation will be vital if Christians are to provide credible witness to the gospel, both individually and communally. Christian formation – a modern term – describes the early Wesleyan holiness tradition, now ‘lost’ to contemporary British Methodism, but which, it is argued, has potential for recovery. 
The thesis examines the early Wesleyan holiness tradition, including John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection and the communal practices of the early Methodists, establishing its roots in the virtues and the affections. Envisioned as a relational process of gradual growth toward perfect love of God and neighbour, it became, after Aldersgate, an attainable goal, albeit in the context of ongoing growth. 
An examination of six key individuals who, after Wesley, played pivotal roles in modifying, transforming, or departing from the tradition establishes that, under the influence of American holiness revivalism, the tradition in Britain was reinterpreted in Pentecostal terms, emphasising instantaneous attainment and the ‘Second Blessing,’ whilst its gradual formational nature was lost. A lack of engagement with the needs of the world contributed to its neglect in the twentieth century, and eventual ‘loss’ in post Second World War Britain. 
New perspectives in Christian formation, particularly the rehabilitation of the virtues, the role of the affections, and Christian practices as means of grace, together with the emphasis on formation in community and engagement with the world, provide a basis for contemporary recovery, signs of which are already present. Suggestions are offered as to how Methodism might begin to re-express its historic tradition. 
The thesis concludes that Methodism has the opportunity to recover and reintegrate the essential dynamics of the early Wesleyan holiness tradition into its life and mission, informing its practice of Christian formation, and rediscovering its foundational call to become a ‘holy people’ for the sake of the world.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPaul Joyce (Supervisor) & Luke Bretherton (Supervisor)

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