A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)

Review of Lunn, The Theology of Sanctification and Resignation in Charles Wesley’s Hymns

Reading Religion

Charles Wesley is a theologian to be reckoned with, and the handful of scholars who give him their serious attention find themselves rewarded in many ways. Nearly everything that seems at first to be a scholarly disadvantage of studying Wesley shows itself, with a little patient inquiry, to be an advantage. Charles Wesley stands in the shadow of his brother John, yes; but that means John is an illuminating source of spiritual context for reading Charles. Charles wrote hymns rather than treatises, yes; but that means his theology comes to us already mingled with spirituality and adapted to church life. Charles Wesley’s sentences are characteristically so riddled with scriptural allusions and stock expressions that it is sometimes hard to single out a particular claim, yes; but that means that to read him is to be brought into contact not just with him but with the streams of scripture, tradition, and spiritual life in which he is astonishingly fluent.

All of these Wesleyan advantages are on display in Julie A. Lunn’s The Theology of Sanctification and Resignation in Charles Wesley’s Hymns, a well-crafted, tightly focused volume. The book’s title names both sanctification and resignation, but Lunn handles these two themes in an ordered way. She gives primary attention to the theme of resignation, a “positive, deliberate act of intention and desire towards God,” (1), but places it in the more comprehensive theological context of sanctification. The tight focus on resignation makes the inquiry distinctive, precise, and manageable; expounding it in the context of sanctification highlights its broader theological significance, and also brings Lunn’s work into dialogue with the substantial secondary literature in Wesleyan and Methodist studies.