Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
RBTR 08:1 (2011) p. 119
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American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists, John Wigger (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) 543pp,
Reviewed by Austin Walker
Who was more recognized face-to-face than any other American of his day, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington? The answer, according to John Wigger, was Francis Asbury. In his capacity as a bishop of the American Methodist Church it is estimated that Asbury covered some 130,000 miles on horseback in the forty-five years between 1771 and his death in 1816. Even in his sixties and greatly weakened physically, he was regularly riding between 4000 and 6000 miles annually in a circuit that covered much of the new American republic. So, for example, his 1811 annual circuit beginning at Charleston took him north to Raleigh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Pittsfield, Paris in New York State, west to Cincinnati, then eastwards across the Appalachians to Camden in South Carolina, and finally back to Charleston. This meant that he covered eight annual Methodist conferences in his journey. After so many regular trips he was known almost everywhere he went. Without doubt he was one of the most important religious leaders in American history but according to his biographer he has not been properly understood.
In Washington D.C. there is an Asbury monument in bronze, erected in 1924. Wigger suggests that the inscriptions accompanying the monument give a less than accurate description of the man and that the real Asbury is obscured “behind a haze of patriotic consensus” (413). A few pages earlier, Wigger maintains that the place God, sin, grace, and salvation had played in the life of Asbury had largely been forgotten. Instead, Asbury was presented primarily as a major contributor to American progress and to Christian civilization. This new scholarly biography sets out to put the record much straighter.
RBTR 08:1 (2011) p. 120
Converted as a teenager in his native England – he was born in Handsworth, just outside Birmingham, in 1745 – Asbury was already a Methodist circuit preacher in England when he emigrated to America, arriving in Philadelphia in October 1771. He discovered that Wesley’s first official missionaries to America were confining their ministries to Philadelphia and New York and not following the Methodist principle of itinerancy or the basics of Methodist discipline. Very soon he reached the conclusion that if Methodism was to reach large numbers of Americans it had to move out into the country. He decided that rather than try to convince these men who were his superiors with arguments, he would answer them by personal example....
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