The anxiety of the eighteenth-century establishment church to the growing phenomenon of Methodism is chronicled in over nine hundred anti- Methodist texts published between 1738 and 1800. Anti-Methodist literature attempts to explain a dissident movement that challenged the supremacy of rational religion. To its followers, Methodism offered a model of spiritual sincerity and moral piety through internal revelations best exhibited through passionate, extemporary preaching. For anti-Methodists, it was crucial to formalize the supposedly organic occurrence of the extempore, thus reducing its spectacular appearance and its persuasive effect. This paper explores anti-Methodists’ attempts to demystify the persuasive spectacle of extemporary preaching as practiced by itinerant Methodists. By targeting the extemporizing preacher, anti-Methodists contend that the supposedly unpracticed intensity of Methodism is actually a performance that can be dissected through rhetorical criticism. In examining what preachers can do, should do, and also what should be done about them, anti-Methodists present meditations about rhetoric, its inherent value, and the problem of its effects.

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