Bishops on Theology
Christian Recorder: September 18, 1884
Fifth Episcopal District A.M.E. Church
Ministers of the above-named district. It is with a joy inexpressible that we are able to announce, after waiting for years, that the Bishops, at last, have a place to work on theology in the catalogs of studies for our young ministers that the poorest of them can purchase and study. Our textbooks on theology up to 1880, was Watson’s Theological Institute or Halston’s Systematic Theology, entirely too costly and heavy for the ordinary preacher, and too cumbersome for the circuit rider to carry with him. In 1880 the General Conference ordered the Bishops to take charge of the studies, and they appointed a subcommittee to revise and give our ministry a list of books to study as a prerequisite to admission into conference, but imagine our surprise when we saw they had recommended the three ponderous volumes of Raymond’s Systematic Divinity, coating three dollars per volume, making nine dollars for the set, exclusive of the Theological Compend, which is all bones and no meat-well scarcely any meat. The result was it drove theology out of our Church. Not one applicant for admission in a hundred saw it, and not one committee in fifty was able to examine a candidate in it, even if the applicant had read it, hence no theology proper has been in the A.M.E. Church for years. How often has my heart burned with disgust when I was compelled to receive men in our ministry who knew no more about theology than a Hottentot knows about logarithm? I mean theology proper. But all honor to Heaven’s King, a better day dawns upon our church and ministry. Not only have our Bishops resolved to try to revise practical meetings and send forth evangelists wherever they can find them, to labor for the conversion of souls, but they have placed in the catalogs of studies, Wakefield’s Christian Theology for the use of our ministry and candidates for admission into the conference. This is a splendid work and is within the reach of everyone. Price $2.50 without any reduction, which is generally allowed to ministers. Possibly Manager Embry will be able to let you have it for $2.00. Here is a body of Divinity sufficiently complete to answer all demands and enable our preachers to convert the world if they will. There is a rumor afloat the A.M.E. Church has condemned Wakefield’s Theology. This is all false; A.M.E. has done no such thing; to the contrary, the A.M.E. Church has it on their list of studies for their own ministry.
Now, let every preacher who expects to apply for admission into any of my conferences get this book, unless you have studied Raymond; for as the Lord liveth; my soul liveth, I shall not admit any preacher on trial in the future, nor ordain any deacon or elder who has not studied Wakefield or Haymond. I do not care if forty committees recommend them. Preaching elders who expect to offer brethren for any of these positions had better arm them with Wakefield at once, otherwise, I positively will not regard them, for there is no excuse; none. I have been trying to prepare a handbook on theology for some years, to supply this need, but before I got it completed, Wakefield is accepted, and I am delighted to know it, for it is infinitely better than anything I could prepare running around and answering letters all the time. While I am not authorized to tell news out of school, I will say to all the young men who are candidates for admissions and orders, you had better arm yourself with Wakefield at once, judging from the way I have heard the Bishops talking today, for I think there is to be a new disposition of things on the theological line. Let a hint suffice. Examining committees will need this book also, otherwise how can they examine others?
When I say theology has been virtually driven out of our Church by requiring the purchase and study of these ponderous volumes, I do not mean that there are not thousands of theological works in the library of active knowledge seeking young ministers, who would buy and study books if none were recommended at all. I am speaking of those works that are required prerequisites to admissions, orders, etc., and which are too costly and unworldly for the Manager to send around to our conferences. Hence, none were sent and none were purchased, and none were vitally required. Now, things are different. The Manager can send out Wakefield by the thousands, and the poorest of our ministry, locally and itinerant can purchase and study them, and will be required to do so.
Since writing the above, the Bishops have examined and also recommend Dr. Pope’s Higher Catechism of Theology, an English work written by a minister of the Wesleyan Church, and now being issued by the Methodist publishers of this country. This last work is not given as a textbook but simply recommended to the fourth year class as an assistant. They also unanimously recommended the Tawawa Series of Systematic Divinity written by the able pen of Dr. T. G. Steward. These are all helps, but none are to take the place of Wakefield’s theology, that is the textbook upon which you are to examine and be examined.