Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 1st, 2016 by Joel Watts

Interview with Ryan Danker, Author of @IVPAcademic’s, “Wesley and the Anglicans: Political Division in Early Evangelicalism”

Wesley and Anglicans 3

I for one long for more Anglican influence in modern Wesleyanism… I got a chance to meet Dr Ryan Danker at SBL in Atlanta. We may disagree on a few…political divisions…of our own, but he is a believer. He loves Jesus and that seems to be rarer and rarer these days. We can agree in Christ, at least. And I think you’ll see why once you read this interview.

1.) Dr Danker, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Can you give the readers a short introduction to yourself?

I had a wonderful upbringing in Portland, Oregon, and attended Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, the seventh in my family to do so. After college I moved to the East Coast where I have been ever since. My graduate education was at Duke and Boston University. Until very recently, I called North Carolina home for more than a decade. Many friends tell me I’m an “adopted Southerner.” This past summer, I started in my current position at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C, where I teach church history and Methodist studies.

2.) How did you come to be interested in Wesley and Wesleyan Studies?

Having grown up in the Church of the Nazarene, I heard about holiness on a regular basis, but was always curious to know more. My pastor gave me some books on the topic and I noticed that they all quoted Wesley, so I went to the source. My journey with Wesley began at that point (when I was in high school), and he’s been an inspiration for me ever since. I would point to Wesley as the reason I became a United Methodist, but primarily I look to Wesley as he points to Christ. My interest in Wesley Studies has broadened from its starting point in holiness to include a much broader arena, most specifically the history of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement and it’s cultural and social context.

3.) Briefly, what is your book about and how might it appeal to non-Wesleyans and Anglicans?

The book is about a group of people caught up in an international movement of the Spirit trying to figure out how they can work together (or not) within the context of post-Restoration England. The context, and thus the politics, is important because we often forget how potentially subversive the early evangelicals actually were. For many, these roving evangelists were turning the world upside down, just like previous movements had in the past ripping the social fabric of England to pieces in the process. The book will appeal to anyone interested in Evangelical/Methodist/Anglican/English history, but also to those who want to better understand the role of politics and social pressure in the Church, or even what it was like for believers to face a world convinced their lives (and passion!) were a challenge social harmony.

4.) What do you think is the future of Wesleyanism and Anglicanism?

Both Wesleyanism and Anglicanism are seeing growth in some areas and decline in others. I’m excited to see some of the passion behind mission and evangelism in both, and new creative movements to recapture what it really means to be committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our world today. Wesleyanism is at its best when it fully embraces its Anglican heritage while pressing forward with an optimistic message of transforming grace. When we forget the call to spread scriptural holiness, we have forgotten why we exist at all. Anglicanism had a depth that is often overlooked by those both within it and without, but the rise of Evangelical Anglicanism in the 2/3s world and now even in Church of England is very exciting to see. My hope is that the Catholic side of Anglicanism can see that same energy and passion once more.

5.) Do you ever foresee a reunification?

I can see a reunification in the future if believers are willing to leave aside labels and focus on foundational Christian doctrine. Any reunification would need to start with cooperative mission grounded in the orthodox faith of the Church, but I have already seen such cooperation in the U.S. between evangelical Methodists and evangelical Anglicans and it’s exciting.

6.) What is the most important lesson someone could learn about the historic divide?

I want my readers to come away from the book with a much more nuanced understanding of the relatedness of Evangelicalism, Methodism, Anglicanism, etc. The story is much messier than we have wanted to admit, and much more entangled. We share a great deal. Theology is very important to the story of Christianity, but it’s not the only part of the story. Theology has to take place in context, and with people who deal with everyday life. The divide was not necessary, but if we can learn from it, we might learn that separation begins with small things, not large events. The separation of the groups in the book took decades to unfold. How in our own contexts are we encouraging/discouraging division? In what ways are we letting outside pressure move us away from the mavericks of our own age?

7.) Dr. Danker, thank you again for this interview. Do you have any parting words?

I do hope that everyone enjoys the book. I wrote it so that it’s both academic, but also accessible. The story of the Wesleys and the early Evangelicals fascinates me, and I hope to share that fascination with my readers. We have too often treated early Methodism in isolation. I hope that my work contributes to a larger project of filling in the landscape, so to speak, so that we might see the full picture with greater clarity and depth.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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