The First Oxford Institute of Methodist Studies convened in Oxford, England in 1958, bringing together over 100 scholars and pastors in the Methodist tradition, mostly from Europe and North America, for ten days of presentations and discussion on theological topics. This convocation was the fruition of a vision of two Methodist ministers, Rex Kissack from England and Dow Kirkpatrick from the United States, who met in Oxford in the years immediately following World War II, and saw the need for an international gathering of Methodist scholars at which thinking could be shared.
The value of the First Institute led to continued gatherings, under the auspices of the World Methodist Council, at intervals of three to five years in the university city that John Wesley knew. In the earlier years these gatherings tended to deal with general theological topics like the Church, the Finality of Christ, the Living God, and the Holy Spirit—all as seen through Methodist eyes. In more recent times the focus has shifted to current theological concerns that are particularly resonant with the Methodist theological tradition, as developed in the various bodies that are descended from Wesley’s eighteenth-century movement. These have included Sanctification and Liberation; Good News to the Poor; Trinity, Community and Power; and New Creation.
The Institute has grown in size since 1958, and now brings together men and women, ordained and lay, from around the world and from many branch churches in the Wesleyan family. Each meeting provides opportunities for specialists in various theological, biblical, historical and ethical disciplines to work together on the selected theme, as well as plenary sessions and opportunities for inter-disciplinary discussion.
For a detailed history and analysis of the work of the Institute see:
Brian E. Beck. Exploring Methodism’s Heritage: The Story of the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies. Nashville: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The United Methodist Church, 2004. [A pdf copy of the book is available here, with permission of the author and publisher.]
See as well Beck’s assessment of the contributions and future agenda of the Institute: Brian E. Beck. “World Methodist Theology.” Epworth Review 32.3 (2005): 17–24.