Wesley: A Heart Transformed Can Change the World. 117 minutes. Foundery Pictures, 2009, released July 2010 on DVD.
Mr. Jeff Paton
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2010. Volume 28.
Date Posted Nov, 2010
This is the first full feature movie on the life of Wesley since "John Wesley" (1954). This adequate, but disjointed life of Wesley has been hailed by more than just Methodists. Several veteran actors such as June Lockhart and Kevin McCarthy make this production a step up from most amateurish "church" films. The production and acting are impressive for a religious film. However, the poorly done fire scene early on in the movie sets a low expectation of what is to follow.
I could follow the plot early on, but I would imagine that the flashbacks to the childhood rescue from a house fire would be confusing to those who do not know the story of Wesley. An unnecessary and inordinate amount of time was also spent on Wesley's failed courtship with Sophy Hopkey.
Upon Wesley's return to England, he described his failures twice in his journal. I have noticed that movies of Wesley always use a modified statement "that I went to America to convert others, but was never myself converted." I have always wondered why people pass up his pithy statement of "I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh who shall convert me?" I believe the later offers no room for literary improvement, plus it exemplifies the spiritual desperation of Wesley to its fullest! The portrayal of his Aldersgate experience in this DVD was mundane. It lacked the passion and emotional element that would have impacted the viewer positively. I believe that this was the missed opportunity in the film.
Doctrinally, they did a great job of showing Wesley's struggle with legalism, and the Church of England's opposition to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. In this, the writers were accurate in placing more emphasis on Wesley's doctrine of justification by faith than his doctrine of Christian perfection. Wesley was locked out of more Churches for his grace message than his perfection doctrine.
On the negative side, the movie certainly dwells in the 20th and 21st century debate on Wesley. They overplay the idea of a Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which was not a large part of Wesley's emphasis or ministry. An unnecessary pandering to modern Evangelicalism fails to show that Wesley saw conversion as more of a beginning than an end, and therefore, misses the full Wesleyan message.
I highly recommend this movie along with an open mind, and an open copy of Wesley's Journal!