Methodism: Empire of the Spirit

David Hempton
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The emergence of Methodism was arguably the most significant transformation of Protestant Christianity since the Reformation. This book explores the rise of Methodism from its unpromising origins as a religious society within the Church of England in the 1730s to a major international religious movement by the 1880s. During that period Methodism refashioned the old denominational order in the British Isles, became the largest religious denomination in the United States, and gave rise to the most dynamic world missionary movement of the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, Methodism had circled the globe and was poised to become one of the fastest-growing religious traditions in the modern world.

    David Hempton, a preeminent authority on the history of Methodism, digs beneath the hard surface of institutional expansion to get to the heart of the movement as a dynamic and living faith tradition. Methodism was a movement of discipline and sobriety, but also of ecstasy and enthusiasm. A noisy, restless, and emotional tradition, Methodism fundamentally reshaped British and American culture in the age of industrialization, democratization, and the rise of empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12985-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Methods and Methodism
    (pp. 1-10)

    A revealing encounter took place between two eminent Victorians at a public meeting in Oxford in the early 1880s. Hugh Price Hughes, arguably the most influential figure in late-Victorian Methodism, who was then stationed in Oxford, asked the chair of the meeting, Mark Pattison, the distinguished scholar and rector of Lincoln College, why the university had no adequate memorial to John Wesley. Lincoln was of course Wesley’s old college, and Pattison, no lover of religious enthusiasts, rankled at Hughes’s suggestion that Wesley was one of the ‘‘greatest sons’’ of the university. Pattison, after all, had been one of the seven...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Competition and Symbiosis
    (pp. 11-31)

    How is the rise of a great religious movement to be explained? As the title suggests, my approach will be to use two concepts from the field of evolutionary biology, competition and symbiosis, to explain how the Methodist species survived, adapted, and expanded. As biologists learn more about the mechanisms of natural selection and genetic mutation, they have come to place more emphasis, not on the relatively well known concept of the survival of the fittest, but on the idea that species survive in a complex symbiotic relationship with one another. Similarly, systems biologists now see the need not only...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Enlightenment and Enthusiasm
    (pp. 32-54)

    Anyone unfortunate enough to be asked to write a chapter on the eighteenth century for a survey history of Christianity might, with justification, choose the words “enlightenment” and “enthusiasm” or its title. Someone writing a history of Methodism who chose the same title would risk censure, for until recently Methodism was regarded as a movement located somewhere near the polar opposite of enlightenment. As surely as the enlightened have been the custodians of the printed word, Methodism has been portrayed as a credulous superstition not only “of the poor,” but also “for the poor.”¹ Recent work on both enthusiasm and...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Medium and the Message
    (pp. 55-85)

    What was the Methodist message, how was it transmitted, and how was it heard among the diverse transatlantic populations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are not easy questions to answer. One is reminded of E. P. Thompson’s astute observation penned some forty years ago: “Too much writing on Methodism commences with the assumption that we all know what Methodism was, and gets on with discussing its growth rates or its organizational structures. But we cannot deduce the quality of the Methodist experience from this kind of evidence.”¹ How then can it be done?

    One suggestive route is to borrow...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Opposition and Conflict
    (pp. 86-108)

    InMiddlemarch,by George Eliot, the author’s residual evangelical earnestness, together with her deep belief in the moral importance of all human action, led her to construct scenes in which the making of hard choices defined the characters of the novel’s main protagonists.¹ According to Eliot, each human choice not only revealed the essence of character but also helped determine the pattern for all subsequent human choices. Those who make morally shabby choices today are more likely to opt for equally shabby choices tomorrow; the reverse is also the case. In the tough choices Eliot forces her characters to make...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Money and Power
    (pp. 109-130)

    Two very different kinds of facts and figures can be brought to bear on Methodism’s great era of expansion throughout the English speaking world and beyond in the generation after the American and French Revolutions. The first are membership statistics, which reveal spectacular gains right across the North Atlantic world. In England membership in Methodist societies of all stripes expanded from 55,705 in 1790 to 285,530 in 1830. In the same period Irish Methodist membership almost doubled and Scottish Methodist membership trebled. Even more dramatically, Methodist membership in Wales increased by a factor of twenty. But the most dramatic growth...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Boundaries and Margins
    (pp. 131-150)

    The marginal territory between enlightenment and enthusiasm, played out in the mind of John Wesley, had wider repercussions for the movement he pioneered. Wherever one looks at Methodism in its first century of growth, it was a movement that thrived on the boundary lines of rationality and emotional ecstasy and on the margins of traditional social hierarchies of class, gender, race, and age. Methodism and other forms of populist evangelicalism mediated a direct encounter with a vibrant supernaturalism that opened up the possibility of rapid expansion among sections of the population previously resistant to the more orthodox brands of Christianity....

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Mapping and Mission
    (pp. 151-177)

    The first foreign missionaries commissioned by the Protestantism of the New World, Freeborn Garrettson and James Cromwell, were sent to Nova Scotia by the founding conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore in 1784. As was almost universally the case in early Methodist missions, the missionaries were sent not to export Methodism but to service and expand an existing constituency of migrants. The Methodists they found in Nova Scotia were a mixture of flotsam and jetsam from earlier missionary activity by Episcopalians, Baptists, and Presbyterians, some awakened New England Congregationalists, a committed group of Methodist migrants from Yorkshire in...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Consolidation and Decline
    (pp. 178-201)

    In the summer of 1878 in the Massachusetts town of Newton, local civic and religious leaders and their families turned out to honor the life of a local worthy called Marshall Spring Rice. Rice was born in Framingham in 1800, the son of Unitarian parents. Orphaned at eighteen, he worked the family farm in the summer and went to school in winter. He prized his education more than farming and soon became a schoolteacher. Rice, along with his brothers, was converted to Methodism through the ministry of Methodist circuit riders, and he soon raised the money for a meetinghouse to...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Methodism’s Rise and Fall
    (pp. 202-210)

    The story of Methodism’s rise from a small coterie of religious societies in Oxford University in the 1730s to a major world communion by the beginning of the twentieth century is compellingly complex. The serried ranks of official statistics tell the story in its most reductionist form. By 1908 Methodism had almost 9 million members, at least four times as many adherents, 7 million Sunday scholars, more than 150,000 ministers and lay preachers, half a billion dollars’ worth of property, and thousands of schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and training institutes all over the world.¹ These estimates, frozen in time, take...

  14. APPENDIX: Methodist Membership and Rates of Change, United States and United Kingdom
    (pp. 211-216)
  15. Chronology
    (pp. 217-226)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 227-258)
  17. Suggestions for Further Reading
    (pp. 259-268)
  18. Index
    (pp. 269-278)