Brief Book Review: A Theology of the Sacraments

A Theology of the Sacraments Interpreted by John and Charles Wesley
Eds. S.T. Kimbrough, Jr. and Dean McIntyre

Who’s it for? This book will appeal to devotees of the Wesleys, and may be of most use for pastors, choir directors, and other worship leaders.

What’s the main point? While the title of the book implies that its primary aim is to explicate the sacramental understanding of John and Charles Wesley, the subtitle of the book offers a more accurate glimpse into the book’s real purpose: “Including Hymns for Baptism and Holy Communion with Commentary and New Musical Settings.”

What intrigued me the most? I was grateful for the way the authors pointed out that Charles Wesley’s communion hymn, which tells us “you need not one be left behind,” is “a severe indictment of the church through the ages, for it must ask: Whom has it left behind?”

What will most inspire you? You’ll want to find a community with which to share the 22 new musical settings of these Wesley hymns.

Pair this with… Kimbrough and McIntyre have created a fine book for certain study groups, particularly ones willing to engage with new music. But any group seeking a deeper understanding of the Wesleys’ sacramental theology ought to pair this volume with others that delve more deeply into the topic. Neither Charles nor John Wesley was a systematic theologian, and their ideas about any topic must be gleaned from writings that were often aimed at particular situations. Especially helpful here would be The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley by J. Earnest Rattenbury, John Wesley on the Sacraments: A Theological Study by Ole Borgen, and A Wesleyan Theology of the Eucharist, ed. Jason E. Vickers. Such books may be less suited to lay readers, but they would provide helpful supplemental material for anyone facilitating a group reading of A Theology of the Sacraments Interpreted by John and Charles Wesley.  

A note on practical matters. This book provides a wonderful variety of musical settings for Wesley hymn texts, from bluesy tunes to folk harmonizations to Anglican-influenced melodies. Congregations looking to use this material in worship will face some logistical hurdles, however. First, the composers each hold the copyright for their own music, leaving worship leaders the task of identifying which composers are covered by which license. Churches without any licensing agreement will have to contact the composers directly to ask for permission. A second problem arises for the accompanist; while the arrangements were all written in piano notation (some more pianistic than others), the book itself is not designed to remain open on a music desk or stand. Anyone seeking to accompany from this volume should have it rebound with a spiral or comb binding so that the pages will stay open.

Kimbrough, Jr., S.T. and Dean B. McIntyre, eds. A Theology of the Sacraments Interpreted by John and Charles Wesley. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2021. 119 pages. $16.00. ISBN: 9781666705652.

REVIEWER: Heather Josselyn-Cranson, OSL
Heather Josselyn-Cranson is associate professor of music at
Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts.


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