From Plowboy to Pentecostal Bishop
Biography examines the life of 19th century leader J.H. King
Professor Tony Moon provides a glimpse into Pentecostal church history in his new book, From Plowboy to Pentecostal Bishop: The Life of J.H. King.
This comprehensive biography of Joseph Hillary King, aka Bishop King (1869-1946), is part of the Asbury Theological Seminary Series in World Christian Revitalization, which includes more than 75 volumes.
Moon is a professor of Christian ministries at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia.
The biography begins with King’s birth to tenant farmer parents in the Rock Mills Township of Anderson County, South Carolina, and follows his rise to the leadership of the international Pentecostal Holiness Church. The son of hardscrabble farmers, King learned early to guide a mule-drawn plow, all the time nursing a growing spiritual sensitivity and hunger for learning.
The hit-and-miss formal education of the farm boy, along with determined self-education, was nevertheless sufficient to win him admittance into a three-year seminary program.
King’s ministry began as many did in the 19th century: as an associate, or “junior pastor,” and eventually a Methodist circuit pastor serving four churches. The young minister finally became part of the Pentecostal movement, where he did most of his ministerial and administrative work.
The son of hardscrabble farmers, King learned early to guide a mule-drawn plow, all the time nursing a growing spiritual sensitivity and hunger for learning.
The man who emerges from the pages of Moon’s biography was not a stodgy, aloof figure, as some apparently described him, but a lively, hardworking minister, administrator, husband and father.
The author does describe King’s faults along with his achievements. On the one hand, King led the Pentecostal Holiness Church steadfastly, even when there were contrary winds; on the other hand, he occasionally battled discouragement and doubt, showed occasional flashes of anger, and could be doctrinaire.
In contemporary terms, King was probably a workaholic, staying away from home for months at a time, but his wife and children seemingly never felt unloved or abandoned. From Moon’s biography, one can see a man who — to use a hackneyed phrase — practiced what he preached.
The General Council of the Pentecostal Holiness Church elected King to serve as the general superintendent of the organization from 1917 until his death in 1946. The author explains how the PHC under King’s leadership responded to major historical current events, like World War I, the 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II.
The biography also explains how the general superintendent led the church through major theological and social conflicts: tongues as initial physical evidence, sanctification, orderly worship, dress and the use of medicine. Though some of these issues seem anachronistic, they were real and important.
There may be a stray letter or agenda relative to King’s life somewhere that Moon missed, but it’s not likely. The author invested more than 10 years researching and writing this valuable contribution to the story of America’s religious history, as his copious documentation indicates.
This is a valuable biography for anyone interested in church history or Pentecostal history.
Tony Moon, From Plowboy to Pentecostal Bishop: The Life of J.H. King (Lexington, Kentucky: Emeth Press, 2017).