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.