Kent, John 1923–

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Kent, John 1923–


Born April 24, 1923, in Coleford, Somerset, England; son of Walter Harold and Dora Kent; married Deborah Joan Trower (a school teacher), August 12, 1954; children: Oliver, Catharine. Education: Emmanuel College, Cambridge, B.A., 1944; Cambridge University, M.A., 1947, Ph.D., 1951. Politics: Socialist.


Home—Manchester, England.


Ordained a Methodist minister, 1954. Cambridge University, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, lecturer, 1955-59; Hartley Victoria Methodist Theological College, Manchester, England, tutor in church history, 1959-65; University of Bristol, Bristol, England, member of theology faculty, beginning 1965, reader in theology, beginning 1969, became emeritus professor of theology. Associated with the Ecumenical Movement and the Student Christian Movement.


Royal Historical Society (fellow).


Jabez Bunting, the Last Wesleyan, Epworth Press (London, England), 1955.

(Contributor) Anglican-Methodist Relations, Darton, Longman & Todd (London, England), 1961.

Elizabeth Fry, Batsford, 1962, Arco, 1963.

(Contributor) Institutionalism and Church Unity, Association Press, 1963.

Federation or Union? Epworth Press (London, England), 1965.

The Age of Disunity, Epworth Press (London, England), 1966.

From Darwin to Blatchford: The Role of Darwinism in Christian Apologetic, 1875-1910, Dr. William's Trust, 1966.

(With Jean Danielou and A.H. Couratin) The Pelican Guide to Modern Theology, Volume 2: Historical Theology, Penguin (Middlesex, England), 1969.

(Contributor) Joseph Rhymer and Nicholas Lash, editors, The Christian Priesthood: The Ninth Downside Symposium, Darton, Longman & Todd (London, England), 1970.

(Editor) Intercommunion and Church Membership, Darton, Longman & Todd (London, England), 1973.

Holding the Fort: Studies in Victorian Revivalism, Epworth Press (London, England), 1978.

The End of the Line? The Development of Christian Theology in the Last Two Centuries, Fortress Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1982.

The Unacceptable Face: The Modern Church in the Eyes of the Historian, SCM Press (London, England), 1987.

William Temple: Church, State, and Society in Britain, 1880-1950, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1992.

Wesley and the Wesleyans: Religion in Eighteenth Century Britain, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2002.

Also contributor to Encyclopaedia of World Religions, Hutchinson, 1959; contributor to London Quarterly.


Religious historian John Kent specializes in the study of the Methodist movement in England and the evolution of its theology. Kent—himself a Methodist minister—"has for many years been regarded as one of the leading figures among religious historians in England," wrote James Munson in the Comparative Review. His works Jabez Bunting, the Last Wesleyan, Anglican-Methodist Relations, and Wesley and the Wesleyans: Religion in Eighteenth Century Britain all deal with different aspects of the denomination's history.

Most historians believe that Methodism first emerged as part of a broader evangelical movement characterizing Christianity in the middle to late eighteenth century. "What we call the evangelical revival," wrote Humanities and Social Sciences Online contributor Robert G. Ingram in a review of Wesley and the Wesleyans, "is really the sum of a series of revivals in Europe and across the Atlantic world during the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries; the various evangelicalisms shared certain core beliefs, chiefly biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism. Though the evangelical revivals were spontaneous and shaped directly by local considerations, their existence owed much to the crisis of Protestantism in the late-seventeenth century. Louis XIV's revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 was emblematic of Catholic persecution of Protestant minorities across Europe."

"According to Kent," declared Richard P. Heitzenrater in Albion, "there was in fact no large-scale evangelical revival during the eighteenth-century; the Wesleyan movement did not preserve the English state from revolutionary incursions; doctrine and theology had little to do with the actual shaping of the movement; the ‘chaotic underside’ of the movement was instrumental in affecting the leaders themselves." Wesley and his fellow revivalists also faced opposition from fellow Protestant denominations. "John Wesley and his colleagues tapped into an existing pool of ‘primary religious’ aspirations," stated G.M. Ditchfield, writing on the Web site for the Institute for Historical Research, "which were unsatisfied by an increasingly moderate and rational Church of England. The Church feared that such aspirations would lead to the sort of religious fanaticism that had disfigured the seventeenth century. Hence Wesleyanism made little headway among the better educated and became trapped among those whose religious behaviour—involving emotionalism, convulsions, claims of ‘perfection’ and even of healing powers—left its authors exposed to the dreaded charge of ‘enthusiasm.’"

With the world caught in the violent political turmoil at the end of the eighteenth century—marked by the French and American revolutions, among other movements—church and society leaders shied away from making reforms that could lead to further upheaval. "What John Kent has achieved," Susan Mumm concluded in the Canadian Journal of History, "is to provide a different emphasis which allows us to see the religious movement Wesley created in a new light. This eminent historian of British religion has produced a slim, provocative book which will probably spur further debate as well as becoming a key text on reading lists everywhere."



Albion, January 1, 2004, Richard P. Heitzenrater, review of Wesley and the Wesleyans: Religion in Eighteenth Century Britain, p. 660.

Canadian Journal of History, December 1, 2004, Susan Mumm, review of Wesley and the Wesleyans, p. 586.

Contemporary Review, January 1, 2003, "Wesley and His Churches," p. 54.

English Historical Review, February 1, 1996, Hugh McLeod, review of William Temple: Church, State, and Society in Britain, 1880-1950, p. 273; April 1, 2003, W.R. Ward, review of Wesley and the Wesleyans, p. 521.

International Review of Mission, July 1, 1994, Michael Keeling, review of William Temple, p. 510.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July 1, 1994, Edward Norman, review of William Temple, p. 555.


Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (August, 2003), Robert G. Ingram, review of Wesley and the Wesleyans.

Institute of Historical Research, (November, 2003), G.M. Ditchfield, review of Wesley and the Wesleyans.

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Kent, John 1923–

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