Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline

A History of the Wesleyan Tradition in the United States

Kevin M. Watson

"A fresh, panoramic overview..."
—Timothy C. Tennent, Asbury Theological Seminary

"An accessible and engaging account..."
—Scott T. Kisker, United Theological Seminary

"A tour de force... An essential corrective."
—Douglas M. Strong, Seattle Pacific University

Hardcover · 512 pages · Available June 25, 2024

The definitive history of the Wesleyan movement in the United States.

An expansive, substantive history of the Wesleyan tradition in the United States, Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline offers a broad survey of the Methodist movement as it developed and spread throughout America, from the colonial era to the present day.

It also provides an theological appraisal of these developments in light of John Wesley's foundational vision. Beginning with Wesley himself, Watson describes the distinctiveness of the tradition at the outset. Then, as history unfolds, he identifies the common set of beliefs and practices which have unified a diverse group of people across the centuries, providing them a common identity through a number of divisions and mergers.

In the midst of the sweeping changes happening in Methodism and the pan-Wesleyan movement today, Watson shows that the heart of the Wesleyan theological tradition is both more expansive and substantive than any singular denominational identity.

Table of Contents

  1. A New Movement
  2. The Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline with Which They First Set Out
  3. The Creation of a Methodist Church (1760–89)
  4. Initial Divisions: Race, Slavery, and the Episcopacy (1788–1820)
  5. Scriptural Holiness Spreads: Growth and Expansion (1820–36)
  6. The Wesleyan Methodist Connexion and Division of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1836–60)
  7. Holiness Contested: Dress, Churches, and Entire Sanctification (1857–80)
  8. From the Continent to the Globe: Domestic and Foreign Missions
  9. Theological Formation and the Rise of the Church of the Nazarene and the Salvation Army (1880–1920s)
  10. (Dis)Unity: The Formation of the Methodist Church (1910–39)
  11. An Experiment in Theological Pluralism: The Formation of The United Methodist Church (1940–88)
  12. A Tradition in Search of Its Identity (1988–2022)

About the Author

Kevin Watson (PhD, Southern Methodist University) is Director of Academic Growth & Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary. He regularly teaches on the history of Methodism and the Holiness Movement and Wesley’s theology of discipleship. He is the author of Old or New School Methodism?, Pursuing Social Holiness, The Class Meeting, and Perfect Love.

Praise for Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline

“A faithful witness to the people called Methodists in England and in America, this colossal volume expeditiously moves from Wesley to American Methodism and its extended branches to the current state of Wesleyanism today. Watson masterfully retells a well-chronicled narrative in terse, accessible, lucid prose, covering not just the contours of Wesleyan history with its highs and lows but also its various doctrinal developments and disputes and ecclesial divisions. The moral of the story, as indicated by the quote from which the title is taken, is that Methodism at its best is a blazing, fiery force of renewal and at its worst an inert, acculturated institution. Although coming in at nearly 500 pages, this volume is concise and highly accessible. Well-illustrated, highly detailed, and informative, Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline is suitable for the classroom and will make a fine addition to any shelf of classic volumes on Methodist history.”
—PETER J. BELLINI, professor of church renewal and evangelization in the Heisel Chair, United Theological Seminary

“This book is destined to become the standard reference work for everyone who wants a better understanding of the Wesleyan tradition. More important, however, is that anyone who seeks the blessing of holiness in his or her own life will find inspiration and encouragement on every page. Churches that preach the life-giving message of sanctification, including the Salvation Army, owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dr. Watson for this outstanding work.”
—KENNETH G. HODDER, USA national commander, the Salvation Army

“Credible, creative, and such a contribution to our Methodist tribe that not only reflects our rich history but calls forth a hope filled future. As I read Dr. Kevin Watson’s gold mine of history, my spirit resonated with hope for God’s church today. Indeed, the faithful foundations that launched our movement is as relevant today as when they were first enacted. Two questions raised within these pages must continually be asked and answered: What does it mean to be a Methodist today? And how do we know? If we can answer these questions in our seminaries and on the front lines, our world and our communities will reflect his kingdom.”
—KELLY IGLEHEART, Territorial Commander, USA Southern Territory, The Salvation Army

“Kevin Watson has written an accessible and engaging account of the history of Methodism in the United States, not focused primarily on institutions, but on the qualities of this religious organism, its ethos, character, and mission as a people and a movement. Transplanted from its native England, Methodism was the definition of an invasive species on the American religious landscape for its first fifty years. As it adapted to its new environment and evolved into various breeds, even subspecies, these Methodisms had to contend with and for their connections to the original seed. With Watson’s narrative phylogeny of Methodism, particularly at this time, America’s multiple Methodisms can trace their lineage and ask the seminal questions of identity, fidelity, and adaptation. Academics, clergy, and laity will find this work both challenging and helpful as they survey and interpret the current religious environment.”
—SCOTT T. KISKER, professor of the history of Christianity, United Theological Seminary

“I was captivated on the first page of Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline. Immediately the reader is taken into the early life of John Wesley with this theme developed through his own personal life and expanded as he leads this great awakening throughout England and then more thoroughly developed in the US. However, Kevin Watson does not shy away from the power struggles, the issues of slavery, and the divisions even to this present day. He gives very generous history of the Black church, the Pentecostal movement, the Holiness movement, and various denominations which comprise what is known as the pan-Wesleyan movement today. In all this it is obvious the themes that continue to hold this diverse group together from the beginnings of John Wesley. It is written in such a way that is inspirational and at the same time with a strong researched theological and historical foundation. This book is a treasure for the classroom, leaders in the pan-Wesleyan movement both lay and clergy, and those outside the movement to discover the strength of the doctrine, spirit, and discipline initiated by John Wesley that has been effective for some 250 years. Yes, a book for now and future generations.”
—JO ANNE LYON, general superintendent emerita, the Wesleyan Church

“The three components of the title, Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline, best describe the birth and development of Wesleyanism, while serving as the common denominator for various branches and shoots of the tradition. As the uneasy combination of the three suggests, the institutional and theological development and painful divisions of Wesleyan Christianity in the United States reveal the robust engagement between divine and human in each given social context. This book brilliantly traces this dynamic trajectory, subtly but clearly suggesting that the Lord builds his kingdom among us.”
—WONSUK MA, Distinguished Professor of Global Christianity, Oral Roberts University

“Powerfully engaging both head and heart, Kevin Watson weaves together an insightful and inspirational exposition of our shared Wesleyan heritage. He respectfully examines our rich diversity while emphasizing our deep unity. This is a valuable contribution to our Methodist Family.”
—W. DARIN MOORE, bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and past chair of the National Council of Churches, USA

“Kevin Watson’s newest book, Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline, is not just the latest history of Methodism in America. Rather, it’s a tour de force. Previous historical accounts have viewed the institutions that resulted in the United Methodist Church as the truly legitimate Methodist trajectory, while offering just a fleeting look at other Wesleyan denominations. But rather than seeing African American, Holiness, and Pentecostal church bodies as schismatic and somewhat peripheral to the Methodist story, Watson treats them as central. Why? Because these groups, though smaller in size than better-known, larger institutions (Methodist Episcopal/Methodist/United Methodist), often maintained Wesley's theological foundation more consistently. Watson sees Wesley’s formulation of “doctrine, spirit, and discipline” as the “common foundation for a broad tradition”—not broad theologically, but broad geographically, ethnically, and denominationally. This book, then, is not only necessary reading for all American Wesleyans but also an essential corrective to the overall narrative of the Methodist legacy in the United States.”
—DOUGLAS M. STRONG, Paul T. Walls Professor of Wesleyan Studies, professor of the history of Christianity, Seattle Pacific University

Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline by Kevin Watson provides a fresh, panoramic overview of the history of the Methodist movement. Watson’s extensive treatment from Methodism’s early rise as a renewal movement with the Church to England to a worldwide movement with over eighty million members promises to be a standard textbook on the history of Methodism for years to come. Watson’s fair and thorough treatment of each denomination within the larger Wesleyan world will enable every denomination of contemporary methodism to better understand their place in the history of the one of the most remarkable Christian movements in Christian history. I heartily recommend this volume for all who long to understand what it means to belong to the ‘people called Methodist.’”
—TIMOTHY C. TENNENT, professor of world Christianity, Asbury Theological Seminary

“What Kevin Watson has achieved here is significant: a history of American Methodism that encompasses doctrine, polity, social change, evangelism, and mission. Watson makes a powerful argument that the original Wesleyan theological vision defines the true identity of Methodism. The attention to the Holiness and Pentecostal movements as fitting within the Methodist tradition is particularly noteworthy. This well-written work will be of deep interest to both students and laity alike. Highly recommended.”
—ANDREW C. THOMPSON, lead pastor, First Methodist Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma

“With admirable attention to detail, Kevin Watson shows us the breadth and depth of the Wesleyan tradition. His narrative takes us from the founding of the Methodist movement to the conflicts and opportunities of the present day. I have no doubt this book will find a place among the most important resources for students and scholars of the Wesleyan tradition.”
—DAVID F. WATSON, Professor of New Testament, United Theological Seminary

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