Geordan Hammond is Senior Lecturer in Church History and Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College (Manchester, UK) and Director of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre. This interview is based on his new book, John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity (Oxford University Press, July 2014).
JF: What led you to write John Wesley in America?
GH: The book has its origins in my doctoral thesis at The University of Manchester. I initially wanted to write on John Wesley’s relationship with America and Americans in his lifetime. Studying the two years he spent in the colony of Georgia as an Anglican missionary was the natural starting point for this project. When I got into the work on Georgia I increasingly became fascinated with the subject and realized that a lot of sources are available, many of which had scarcely been used by past biographers of Wesley and some never before used by them. Studying Wesley in Georgia fit well with my interests in history, theology, and missionary work.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of John Wesley in America?
GH: I argue that the Georgia mission, for Wesley, served as a laboratory for implementing his views of primitive Christianity. His aim of restoring the doctrine, discipline, and practice of the early church in the primitive Georgia wilderness was the central motivating factor in his decision to embark for Georgia and in his clerical practice in the colony.
JF: Why do we need to read John Wesley in America?
GH: This question could be answered in a variety of ways depending on the interests of the individual reader. It is the first book-length study of John Wesley’s experience in America. In the past, the majority of Wesley scholars have seen his Georgia mission as a ‘failure’ leading to his evangelical conversion not long after he returned to England from the colony. I argue for the importance of evaluating Wesley’s time in Georgia in its own right. I think a contextual study of Wesley in Georgia presents more areas of ‘success’ than scholars have often realized, and also helps to reveal more continuity with Wesley’s post-Georgia ministry and theology than has often been recognized. For those interested in the eighteenth-century Church of England, the book demonstrates the depth of influence of Anglican High Churchmen and Nonjurors on Wesley’s conception and practice of primitive Christianity. I document the connections between Wesley’s participation in the revival of patristic scholarship at Oxford and his clerical practice in Georgia. Wesley’s vision for restoring primitive Christianity had a dominant effect on his relationships in Georgia. For anyone interested in the history of colonial Georgia, the book contributes to our knowledge of religion and politics in the colony.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
GH: Thanks for calling me ‘an American historian’! I decided to become a historian as an undergraduate at Point Loma Nazarene University after a long process of discernment and elimination of other possibilities. When I chose a vocation in history it felt like coming back home as I recalled the interest in history I developed as a child through the stories my grandfather told me. At Fuller Theological Seminary I combined my love for history and theology. So I became a church historian—a vocation that includes the history of American Christianity. While I teach a wide-range of church history from early to modern, my primary areas of research and writing are on John Wesley, early Methodism, the Church of England in the eighteenth century, and the Evangelical Revivals in their international contexts. Being a historian gives me the tools to better understand my heritage in the Wesleyan tradition and to help shape it for the future.
JF: What is your next project?
GH: I am one of the organizers through the Manchester Wesley Research Centre of the ‘George Whitefield at 300’ conference this June 25-27 at Pembroke College, Oxford (where Whitefield was a student). The conference will feature over forty papers on aspects of Whitefield’s life, context, and legacy. My next publishing project will be co-editing a book featuring select papers from the conference. Part of my ongoing publishing work includes serving as co-editor of the journal Wesley and Methodist Studies.
JF: Thanks, Geordan!