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 of this article, 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 Watson argues that B. T. Roberts's expulsion from the MEC and the subsequent formation of his 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.
Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His previous publications include Pursuing Social Holiness: The Band Meeting in Wesley's Thought and Popular Methodist Experience (Oxford, 2014).
Acknowledgments Introduction Chapter 1: Holiness: An Essential in Early American Methodist Doctrine and Discipline Chapter 2: Becoming Bishop Simpson: The Early Life and Ministry of Matthew Simpson Chapter 3: An Unwilling Founder: The Early Life and Ministry of Benjamin Titus Roberts Chapter 4: Contesting Methodism: Simpson and Roberts on the Beginnings of Free Methodism Chapter 5: Embodying Methodist Theology: Diverging Conceptions of Holy Living in American Methodist Theology Conclusion Bibliography