Popular Evangelical – the language of the revival movement and general piety of the late 18th century and early 19th century.
Wesleyan – the doctrinal and practical theology of John Wesley and the hymnody of Charles. One aspect that Richey emphasizes is the conference as a means of grace.
Episcopal – talk of elders, deacons, sacraments, and definitions of church that grew out of Anglican roots and practices.
Republican – small “r” in this case; the language carried over from American politics that emphasized liberty of individuals, the sovereignty of people (especially vs. kings and bishops), and the ethos of the American Revolution.
Early Methodists in America spoke all four of these languages, Richey argues, even when they did not easily co-habitate. And Methodists resisted the impulse to unify or harmonize the various voices.
He argues you can see in divisions and debates within early Methodism the way some groups put more emphasis on some of these languages than on others. The Republicanism of James O’Kelley, who broke away from Francis Asbury’s leadership is perhaps the most obvious case.
Contemporary United Methodists may still speak all four languages. It seems to me we have added a fifth – although it may just be the language of Republicanism carried forward. I think pastors often feel the pull between the episcopal ways of talking about church and the Wesleyan ways of talking about being a mission-driven connection.
Alas, I’m not sure what conclusions arise from these observations. Perhaps they give you something to think about as we all try to speak the languages of Methodism in this 21st century world.