My second academic monograph was published a few months ago with Oxford University Press. I wanted to share this news with you here. I realize that the cost of the book makes buying it prohibitive for most of you. (The retail price is $99 and it is currently $78.59 on Amazon)* I really wish that it were dramatically cheaper and did the best that I could to argue for the book to be released at a much lower price. I did not win that argument. I very much hope that the book will be released in paperback someday.
Nevertheless, I wanted to share the news of the publication of this book here because I am convinced that this history is crucial for contemporary Methodism. My academic research has often come out of my engagement with the local church and that is certainly the case with Old or New School Methodism? I received my first copy of the book just after the conclusion of the 2019 Special General Conference and was surprised by its relevance in the midst of the current crisis within United Methodism.
Here is the summary of the book from the dust jacket:
On September 7, 1881, Matthew Simpson, Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, in a London sermon asserted that, “As to the divisions in the Methodist family, there is little to mar the family likeness.” Nearly a quarter-century earlier, Benjamin Titus (B.T.) Roberts, a minister in the same branch of Methodism as Simpson, had published an article in the Northern Independent in which he argued that Methodism had split into an “Old School” and “New School.” He warned that if the new school were to “generally prevail,” then “the glory will depart from Methodism.” As a result, Roberts was charged with “unchristian and immoral conduct” and expelled from the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC).
Old or New School Methodism? examines how, less than three decades later, Matthew Simpson could claim that the basic beliefs and practices that Roberts had seen as threatened were in fact a source of persisting unity across all branches of Methodism. Kevin M. Watson argues that B.T. Roberts’s expulsion from the MEC and the subsequent formation of the Free Methodist Church represent a crucial moment of transition in American Methodism. This book challenges understandings of American Methodism that emphasize its breadth and openness to a variety of theological commitments and underemphasize the particular theological commitments that have made it distinctive and have been the cause of divisions over the past century and a half. Old or New School Methodism? fills a major gap in the study of American Methodism from the 1850s to 1950s through a detailed study of two of the key figures of the period and their influence on the denomination.
I am grateful to have received these three endorsements from scholars I respect and admire:
In comparing Matthew Simpson and B.T. Roberts, Kevin Watson has not only provided a much-needed analysis of the fracturing of mid-nineteenth century Methodism but makes a strong case that these same dynamics remain at work today. He shows that what is ultimately at stake are theological issues that go to the heart of Wesleyan, even Christian identity. Future work in American Methodist history must take this book into account.
– Henry H. Knight III, Donald and Pearl Wright Professor of Wesleyan Studies and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, Saint Paul School of Theology
This timely book cogently challenges long-received assumptions about mainline Methodism in the United States. Watson shows not simply that the story is more complex than often thought, but that hugely important aspects and dynamics of early Methodism were drastically compromised in the conflicts of the 1850s that provoked the birth of the Free Methodist Church. If taken seriously, this book could help catalyze new life in the Methodist tradition today.
– Howard A. Snyder, author of The Radical Wesley and Populist Saints: B.T. and Ellen Roberts and the First Free Methodists
Kevin Watson’s brilliant, meticulously-researched new study challenges the longstanding myth that American Methodism in the late nineteenth century (and beyond) was largely unified and consistently stayed true to its early Wesleyan commitments. By carefully analyzing the careers of two seminal figures – Bishop Matthew Simpson and Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts – Watson demonstrates conclusively that two contrasting Methodisms emerged in the Victorian era, each representing the convictions of those who thought they were being faithful to Wesley’s original vision. Watson untangles the complicated roots of Methodist divisiveness, and shows us that debates regarding Methodism’s trajectory are nothing new.
– Douglas M. Strong, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of the History of Christianity, Seattle Pacific University
* I have said this in other places, but I am still surprised by the anger I often encounter from readers about the price of my books. Authors do not set the price of their books, unless they self-publish them. The price is determined by the publisher. Every author I know wants their books to be priced at a level that will make their writing accessible to the broadest possible audience. Academic monographs are almost always published in hardback and sold for $100 or more because of their genre. The publisher expects that these books will only be read by specialists in an academic field and will mostly be purchased by libraries. As a result, they sell the books for the price that they think will get closest to breaking even on publishing the book from the number of library sales. Again, if it had been up to me the book would be dramatically less expensive.
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.
Earl DIckerson said:
Your explanation of pricing is very helpful, Kevin. Thank you.
Hi Dr. Watson, Looking forward to ordering and reading the book. It seems to me the turning point for the MEC was around the time of Nathan Bangs when methodism began to assume grater characteristics of a settled, denominational or parish church. The result of ‘bourgeoisification’ was a loss of Societal identity and the original tenets, even glory of Methodism as John Wesley expressed it and feared such would transpire. I can the same process ‘Anglicanization’ whereby the methodists acquired the problems of the Church of England (and its old-worldliness) which they ultimately separated. Even to this day, among clerics returning to the Class Meeting and related system of mutual watching and accountability, there seems a strong confusion of when the pastor is a ‘rector’ of a parish vs. ‘preacher’ of a society. The line has been sorely blurred, and not knowing the distinction between society and parish often times causes either the large abandonment of discipline or an excess of scruple it ought not belong. This difference might go back to the difference of ‘hearers’ vs.those ‘serious’. These two categories, imo, need to be kept separate. In so far as this might be true, the “old methodism’ would be the primitive or adamantly societal vs. the ‘new’ which takes on the duties of the cathedral or parish, ‘churchly’ kind. Jehovah Bless your work. Sincerely Charles B
“I call the same process ‘Anglicanization'”.. typo. apologies. We’ve tried to follow the “old plan” here, and it took a LONG time to sort these questions out– when we were functioning as a ‘church’ vs. a ‘society’. We had to because we had different kinds of Christians attending. Not all wanted holiness. Not all wanted liturgy, etc.: Amazingly, we are coming to original Weselyanism mostly through 18th-century Anglican retrieval. https://www.fremontanglicans.com/
Kevin M. Watson said:
Kevin M. Watson said:
Thanks for your comment Charles. I appreciate the tension you outline here. I would pushback somewhat because from 1784 until around the 1850s Methodism in the U.S. was a formal denomination that continued to require weekly attendance in a class meeting in order to be a member. This was also the period of most explosive growth. In these decades the church vs. society distinction was not really meaningful.
Wow! Even the Kindle version is up there in price. Do you think a future edition may be available and a more affordable price?
Robert Kanary said:
I just read some of your material (See page 50 of your prepublication copy). I have two questions. LAST PARAGRAPH: “As we have seen, B. T. Roberts was a committed abolitionist before he was a committed Christian.” QUESTION #1: I assume that this is a temporal reference and not a value judgement. The meaning might be construed to say he that he divorced politics from his core commitment of following Jesus Christ. I don’t think you mean to say this. Am I missing something in the context. QUESTION #2. Who is Snyder? There is not information about him in the footnotes. On the other hand, I have four books by a Howard A. Snyder “The Radical Wesley” and “Problem of Wineskins,” etc. I assume this a Free Methodist historian and not Howard A. Snyder.
With further research, I stumbled on a title by Howard A. Snyder. I may have answered my own question #2. Populist Saints: B.T. and Ellen Roberts and the First Free Methodists. 1,000+ pages. PS. A larger issue for me these days is,how important is the church institutional setting (and the secular cultures that partly shame it) to the making of faithful disciples of Christ? The Navigators have traditionally shied away from the local church, yet this is the area of my concentration with Navigator Church Ministries (since my retirement from full-time ministry a couple of years ago)?