Plain Theology for Plain People
In June, the new issue of Credo Magazine was released: Idolatry. The following is an excerpt from Colton Corter’s book review. Colton Corter is married to his wife, Lindsey, and they have both recently graduated from Southern Seminary.
Charles Octavius Boothe wrote his systematic theology, Plain Theology for Plain People, in 1890. Boothe’s relatively unknown work has recently been republished by Lexham Press. This new edition of Boothe’s book includes an excellent introduction by Dr. Walter R. Strickland II, who lobbied for its republication. A slave from birth in mid-19th century Alabama, Boothe was freed from his master by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 and freed from his sin by God in the same year. Boothe went on to be the pastor of the First Colored Baptist Church of Meridian, Mississippi and later the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, now known as King Memorial Baptist Church, named after its most famous pastor, Martin Luther King Jr.
Plain Theology For Plain People was written for one simple reason: to bring theology down to a level where the average sharecropper could understand. Now, do not read “plain” as “watered-down.” The vernacular may be plain, but the content is robust. Generations of black Americans were denied access to the kind of education that would allow them to ingest the tomes of Augustine or Calvin, John Owen or Lemuel Haynes. And so Boothe wrote a “plain theology” for “plain people” that brought the depths of God’s Word to the everyman.
So why pay attention to a short, basic theology written by an ex-slave over 100 years ago? What follows are five reasons to read Plain Theology for Plain People for the edification of your own soul and the benefit of your local church.
1. Plain Theology is concise and focused
Plain Theology’s limited scope allowed the book to focus on the main points of theology. Boothe did not set out to chase down every rabbit hole and so what he produced is a volume distilled down to theology’s most important topics. For that reason, I believe that Plain Theology for Plain People is a wonderful book to read with other Christians in your local church, particularly new believers.
2. Plain Theology is orthodox, evangelical, and reformed
The real strength of any good book of theology is its content. Boothe stood firmly in the theological tradition of the Nicene Creed, the Five Solas of the Reformation, and the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith. The spirituality of Plain Theology’s author is driven by a God-centered vision of salvation flowing from the eternal decrees of God and accomplished by his sovereign grace in Christ. The spirituality of Plain Theology’s author is driven by a God-centered vision of salvation flowing from the eternal decrees of God and accomplished by his sovereign grace in Christ. Click To Tweet
Boothe was committed to an orthodox, classical theism. He stands as a messenger from our theological forefathers, imploring us to hold the line on issues that have begun to unravel in evangelicalism. He affirms the immutability of God, writing “Change belongs to man, not to God, who is perfect” (19). Boothe touches briefly on the doctrine of divine simplicity. He wrote: “God is one essence, one character, one mind; not many essences, not many minds. These different attributes are not different gods, but different qualities of the same God, and exist in and are of the same essence” (20).
Boothe’s theology was thoroughly evangelical as well. Plain Theology includes an explanation of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. After spending pages setting the atonement in its canonical context, Boothe concludes simply, “Thus Jesus Christ became our substitute. The innocent Lamb of God, as a sacrifice for sin, must come beneath the sword of justice, bearing our sins in his own body on the tree.” Then, having discussed Christ’s passive obedience, Boothe says the ground of our justification before God is “found in the work, the whole of the work, of the Son of God” (70). Any reader of Plain Theology will walk away with a greater appreciation for the glories of the gospel.
The priority and effectiveness of God’s grace were central in Boothe’s soteriology. Concerning election, he writes, “By election we understand God’s choice of individuals of the sinful race of man to become possessors of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (61). With regards to the doctrine of regeneration Boothe says frankly, “Many a sinner who has thought he could work out a salvation for himself has found all his hope of helping himself vanish when confronted with the words of the Lord: “Ye must be born again” (64).