Anthony J. Headley, Family Crucible: The Influence of Family Dynamics in the Life and Ministry of John Wesley. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 176 pages. ISBN: 978-1-60608-001-6
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2011. Volume 29.
Date Posted Dec. 08, 2011
Tony Headley, Professor of Counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary, utilizes modern psychological paradigms in order to analyze John Wesley. The result is that Wesley appears a lot like we are. While Headley confesses his admiration for Wesley, he also confessed that he grieved for Wesley in his struggles with personal relationships.
Headley demonstrates how our family can become a crucible, giving shape to life and ministry. John Wesley was raised in an environment which valued the Anglican Church, the ordained ministry, and loved education and poetry. It was also a family of troubled marriages and financial mismanagement. The family was also adversely influenced by Samuel's desertion of the family on two occasions.
At five years of age John was a "brand plucked from the burning." He was rescued from a second-story window of a house on fire moments before the roof crashed. But John was also a replacement child. He is the fourth child in a family of nineteen to have been named John. He felt a sense of destiny and as a result, felt driven.
John's family tended to seek his advice and he, in turn, was shaped by his own mother's advice. John also fell in love with and considered marriage to the three women who nursed him as an adult: Sophy Hopkey, Grace Murray, and Mary Vazeille. Perhaps in all three instances he was looking for his mother. Yet his own marriage, at forty-eight years of age, was marred by his failure to understand the biblical relationship of marriage.
Originally John felt that marriage was a hindrance to ministry. However, Wesley wrote in 1749, "St. Paul slowly and gradually awakened me out of my mystic dream; and convinced me, ‘The bed is undefiled and no necessary hindrance to the highest perfection.' Though still I did not quite shake off the weight, till our last conference in London." When he married two years later, he determined not to preach one sermon less or travel one less mile. Thus, he was driven to minister to the needs of others, while neglecting the needs of his own spouse. Perhaps John was reflecting the model exemplified by his father.
This book should not be dismissed as nothing more than psycho-babble imposed upon a great man of God. The discipline of psychology should neither be uncritically embraced nor uncritically rejected. I was willing to plow through the psychological jargon because I spent a week with Headley in Nigeria, where we were both adjunct lecturers at West Africa Theological Seminary in 2008. I heard sections of this book in its formation most evenings at the dinner table and I knew Headley was committed to the health of the minister. He was not trying to debunk our Wesleyan heritage or revise history.
Headley concluded, "Wesley stands as a shining example of what God can do in a life totally committed to him." Headley also expressed amazement at Wesley's ability to transcend, at least to some measure, his family of origin issues in order to influence a nation and the world. Yet Wesley was not infallible and he was influenced by the dynamics within his own family.
Some of us inherited similar baggage, but did not inherit equal gifts with Wesley. We will have to become intentional in working through our past if we are to have any significant ministry