This is the last of several entries on Methodism, the others being Methodists and Mormons, on the old weblog, and Mormon Exhorters here. I'm following Chapter 10 in Noll's Turning Points (see Now Reading list). I think Methodism and John Wesley help put Mormonism and Joseph Smith in context and perspective. How?
1. Wesley invented street preaching. He preached encouraging outdoor sermons to the outcast and downtrodden, which was most of England at the time. Like Mormon missionaries in England a century later, he had great success--and he wasn't offering trips to America! Wesley foreshadowed American itinerant preachers riding the circuit from town to town. As Joseph found his element in delivering rousing outdoor discourses preached to adoring crowds in Nauvoo, so did Wesley find his delivering thousands of sermons to his diverse listeners.
2. Wesley visited America from 1738 to 1740 in Georgia, during an era when most Anglican churchmen wouldn't think of crossing the ocean to hang with the provincials. See this Wikipedia bio for nice details. The bio notes that, like Joseph a century later, Wesley felt a desire to spread the gospel to the Indians, but he too failed in his attempts. It also notes that Wesley "had an unhappy love affair" while in Georgia. I guess he didn't have the charismatic vitality that Joseph did. It's a rare gift.
3. Wesley was an Arminian, meaning he rejected the Calvinist doctrine of election or predestination in favor of free will. God, per Wesley, worked through human free will rather than election, and an individual's exercise of free will was necessary to trigger the redeeming effects of grace qualifying one for salvation. Even then, one could lose salvation by sinning too readily thereafter. Arminianism really caught on in America during the Second Great Awakening: Alexander Campbell, co-religionist of Sidney Rigdon, was one of its outspoken advocates in the 19th century.
While Mormon theology is thoroughly Arminian, it's surprising how stubbornly Calvinist notions of predestination persist. When a young person dies and people say, "This is part of God's plan," that's Calvinist predestination shining through. Or when people say something like, "I though the Bishop was foolish to call me to be the choir director, seeing as I am tone deaf and entirely unskilled at music, but having now learned the true meaning of humility I can see God's hand in it," that's Calvinism again. It's the same theological perspective Voltaire skewered in Candide, that what is, is right. I just add these anecdotes so the reader realizes Calvinism is not as bizarre and distant as it is often depicted. We often still think that way (meaning we are often happier regarding ourselves as passive agents of God's will with Him in control so all things are intended and for the best, rather than regarding ourselves as active agents controlling our actions and making real, as opposed to apparent, choices that determine in some measure our destiny).
For more on Wesley, see How John Wesley Changed America, a short article posted at Christianity Today. Oh, let's not forget his brother Charles, who wrote thousands of hymns, several of which are in the LDS hymnal. "Rejoice, the Lord is King" (No. 19) is his.