Christianity Today’s blog is running a short interview with John Wigger, the author of American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists. Wigger, who teaches at the University of Missouri, is one of the foremost authorities on early American Methodism. I highly recommend his book Taking Heaven By Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America.
I have yet to read Wigger’ biography of Asbury, but I have been waiting for its arrival for some time now. Here is a glimpse of the interview:
You use the contentious s-word in describing Asbury. What was really saintly about him?
Asbury didn’t think of himself as particularly holy. But other people did. Living the same life as Methodism’s circuit riders, he spent most days in other people’s homes during his 45 years in America. He lived under intense scrutiny, and in the end people had very little bad to say about him.
He prayed frequently, getting up at 4 or 5 A.M. many mornings for private prayer, and then joining with his host families for evening prayer. He lived in voluntary poverty, dressing cheaply, even buying the cheapest saddles despite the huge amount of time he spent on horseback. He gave away almost all the money that ever came his way. He relentlessly pushed himself in the service of the gospel, even in his later years when he suffered progressively worsening congestive heart failure, which made his feet so sore he sometimes had to be carried from his horse to the pulpit.
No one believed that Asbury was perfect, and even his greatest supporters admitted that he made mistakes in running the church. Though not an autocrat, he did guard his episcopal authority, which opened him up to criticism. He was so well loved that we know of at least 1,000 children named after him. But he continued to be afraid of rejection. So when he was in settings he found intimidating, he could seem aloof, even harsh.
Here is another interview with Wigger.
This looks like a must read for anyone interested in early American religion or the early republic.