When I first went into the ministry, one of my Christian heroes was, and still is, Bishop Asbury. For me he is still a knight in shining armor, the prime mover and shaker of early American Methodism, and most of all, a man greatly used of God in the establishing of the greatest evangelical denomination of his time. My feelings toward Asbury were enhanced when I read his biography by L. C. Rudolph. That biography was outstanding and gave me a thirst to learn more about “my” bishop.
However, Dr. Salter’s biography of Asbury, while well researched and
generally good, will receive a more critical review.
Like many writers, Salter starts with Asbury and his early life in England. Then he follows Asbury as he grows under the leadership of Wesley to become a missionary to America. Asbury comes to this nation when people were beginning their quest for freedom from the English government. Over the course of time, Asbury is the only missionary that remains and continues to minister throughout the war. Finally, the end of the war and the great Christmas Conference arrives. Asbury is ordained and assumes the office of bishop. He then took that task of bishop, as described in the early church, to its highest biblical level. Serving by example, Asbury said, “my brethren seem unwilling to leave the cities, but I think I will show them the way.” He took his ordination as God’s ordaining him to a great task. Salter does a thorough job in tracing the Asbury effect in American Methodism and the early American culture.
However, some of Salter’s seeming criticism of Asbury appeared unnecessary to me. For example, concerning the James O’Kelly debate and split, Salter says, “The tunnel vision with which Asbury operated often made him insensitive to the desires and feelings of others.” Was it tunnel vision or a higher vision concerning the task or call that God gave to him when he became a bishop? In another instant, Salter says that Asbury “perpetuated the Indian stereotype that was held by most American pioneers.” While it is true that the Gospel is for all peoples, I don’t think that our modern day criticism of the past is totally fair. Simply put, Asbury did not reach out to the Indians as we feel that he should have and could have. Salter also says this concerning the spirit of the camp meeting revivals:
There was little to provide emotional release for women and men who worked sixteen hour days and faced the constant threat of death. The confrontational preaching of the Word, which called for a divine-human encounter, released the emotions of guilt, anxiety, and loneliness. No one did it better than the Methodists.
This is almost word for word how my secular college history professor explained this time of revival. This sort of explanation for such a spirit of revival, while making sense humanly speaking, gives no real credit to the working of God’s prevenient grace. Salter’s use of these kinds of phrases and remarks seems to take away from the overall value and greatness of Bishop Asbury.
Beyond this complaint, the book has a lot of great information about Bishop Asbury. There will be others who will write about America’s Bishop, but before they do, they will need to consult Salter’s present work. Salter’s biography of Asbury would be a good addition to any pastor’s library.
Respectfully submitted Pastor Dennis Hartman