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James Daniel Tyms

By Delores Causion Carpenter


James Tyms (1905-2000) was the beloved Professor of Religious Education at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C. for 29 years (1947-1976). He was an ordained Baptist minister and active churchman at the Florida Avenue Baptist Church where he served as Director of Christian Education. His primary interests were: (1) the worth and dignity of all persons as foundational to religious teaching, (2) the history of religious education among African Americans, (3) black poetry, (4) black youth, (5) strengthening ministry within the black church, (6) the moral and ethical values inherent in Christian teaching, and (7) the preparation of African American clergy leadership. Tyms called for educational materials developed by and for African Americans. For him, Christian education should address human development issues in theological terms while the church should serve the needs of the whole person. Tyms published three books and numerous articles.


James Daniel Tyms was born to Nancy and Lawrence Tyms on January 22, 1905, in Hamilton Mississippi. He was the third oldest of nine children. Tyms learned the lesson of tenant farming while experiencing limited secondary education until his family migrated to Arkansas, where he matriculated at Western Baptist College (now Western Bible College), from which he would later receive an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

He received his B.A. degree in 1934 from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; B.D. in 1937 and M.A. in 1938 from Howard University School of Religion and Graduate School; and his Ph.D. in Religious Studies, specializing in Religious Education in 1942 from Boston University. In Tyms' B.D. thesis, entitled The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, he summarizes Niebuhr's main ideas about God, sin, the doctrines of man and salvation. Tyms as a young scholar calls Niebuhr "an evolutionary theist" (Tyms, 1937, p.151), who is admirably strong in the social gospel, but overly pessimistic about the redemption of society. The following year, Tyms submitted his masters thesis entitled A Study of Four Religious Cults Operating Among Negroes. With little written on the subject, Tyms executed an ethnographic study where he explored four religious groups: The Kingdom of God on Earth, The House of Prayer for all People, The Church of God, and the Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ. He attended conferences, religious services, and made observations. Tyms concluded that the four organizations he investigated excelled in the teaching ministry, especially for adults who were instructed in not only beliefs, history and tradition, but in how to incorporate their religious beliefs into everyday life. The organizations also served the followers holistically, that is, physically, economically and socially. Tyms expressed the view that these were areas where organized religion failed. His doctoral dissertation, entitled The History of Religious Education Among Negro Baptists, traced the development of religious education in the social pattern of American life among Negro Baptists designated as members of the National Baptist Convention Incorporated, from before emancipation to 1941 (Tyms, 1942, Abstract). Tyms advocated a life-centered approach in curriculum planning that included biblical content to inspire and grow persons "to greater loyalty to God, the teachings and examples of Jesus, Christian character, and social order embodying the ideal of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man" (Tyms, 1942, Abstract).

In 1936, he married Brittie Ann Martin and they remained devoted to each other for 55 years until her death in 1991. While a doctoral student at Boston University, he pastored the New Hope Baptist Church in Winchester, Massachusetts. Tyms was a Fellow of the General Education Board of Education, Teachers College in New York City, studying psychology and sociology of human development from 1944-1945.

From 1942-1947, he served as Counselor to Men at Morehouse College. In 1947 he joined the faculty of the School of Religion, Howard University, as Chairman of the Department of Religious Education. During that time he also served as Dean of the School. He retired from Howard in 1976. Tyms devoted himself to the task of equipping students to become agents of change for reinforcing the educational ministry of the local church. Tyms was proud that his department was referred to as religious education and not Christian education. Tyms and his contemporaries at Howard were keenly aware of the particularistic nature of Christianity. They deeply affirmed Jesus, while acknowledging the merits of other great religions of the world. Howard Thurman, Dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard, who influenced many black scholars including Tyms, said that taking Jesus from black people would be like taking holes out of Swiss cheese. Thurman taught that one reaches the universal through the particular: one grasps the universal transcendent reality through the great religions of the world. Due to the legacy of scholars such as Howard Thurman and James Tyms, all Master of Divinity students at Howard are still required to take a course in World Religions. This along with his appreciation for human development explains why Tyms preferred to use the terminology religious education to Christian education. His great idealism encompassed a global understanding of all peoples of all faiths as the children of God.

In 1956-57, he was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in the Gold Coast of Ghana, West Africa, where he did research on Christian missions. In 1957 he and his wife toured Rome, Switzerland, and London. In 1959, he toured Europe and Russia as a member of a peace seminar. Tyms was well-traveled and was interested in the globalization of religious education.

Tyms' articles appeared in scholarly and religious publications, including The Journal of Religious Thought that is published by Howard University School of Divinity. He was the author of three books: Spiritual (Religious) Values in the Black Poet, The Rise of Religious Education Among Negro Baptists, and The Black Church as Nurturing Community, Volume 1. The context for most of Tyms' scholarship is racial inequality. Being grounded in the church he started by exploring ways in which the church could address both personal and social redemption. He had an interest in the social gospel as a young scholar as evidenced in his work on Reinhold Niebuhr. Influenced by the social science approach to religious education, his major emphasis was in the dignity and worth of African Americans. He undertook a massive study that both documented the history of the rise of religious education among black Baptists and compared various contemporary approaches to religious education. He analyzed Sunday School literature used in 1940 (Tyms, 1965, p. 185) and the curriculum in 1961 of the National Baptist Convention, Inc. and similar lesson materials published by the American Baptist Publishing Society (Tyms, 1965, p. 207). He often found that the black poets expressed the concept of self-affirmation best. He did not bifurcate his scholarly work from his church identity. Thus, he documented the history of religious education among Negro Baptists. In his later life, he returned to a critique of the black church that he had begun in his MA thesis.

Tyms was a sincere lover of life-long learning. He prided himself on being an educator. He was very proud of the fact that he did not finish high school until he was twenty-one years old. He said, "I was so glad for that step in pursuing education that I registered in God's kindergarten and I have been there ever since. I have not finished yet." Since his wife's occupation was early childhood education, this reference to kindergarten recalls the joys of young children which they shared together, though they never birthed any children of their own. When his wife died, Tyms established the Brittie and James Tyms Scholarship at Howard University School of Divinity. It is awarded to the student who best demonstrates an interest and competence in Christian education with particular emphasis upon the nurture and development of children. Tyms lived for almost the entirety of the twentieth century and died at the age of ninety-five.

Contributions to Christian Education

Tyms' most significant contributions to religious education are best viewed through his major works. This section provides an overview of five of his writings and highlights his offerings to the field.

Theology of Niebuhr

In 1937 at Howard University School of Religion, Tyms wrote his thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Bachelor of Divinity degree. In the final chapter Tyms responded to some of Niebuhr's main ideas thus revealing his own views about God, sin, the doctrines of man and salvation. Tyms saw God's character as "all inclusive love" that is demonstrated in the forgiveness of sin. God also manifests in grace, mercy and holiness. (Tyms, 1937, p. 138).

Tyms was probably drawn to Niebuhr's work because of his own interest in human development as it relates to human personality. Tyms thought of the personality as the center of will and action in the individual's life. He analyzed Niebuhr's theology as an amalgam of Marxist realism, the realism of orthodoxy, and the determined belief of liberalism that always expected civilization to move forward and get better. Tyms as a young scholar called Niebuhr "an evolutionary theist" (Tyms, 1937, p.151), who was admirably strong in the social gospel, but overly pessimistic about the redemption of society.

Tyms was drawn to how Niebuhr related the holiness of God to the goodness of man. He wrote that holiness, sanctification, righteousness and purity "are the most forgotten elements of God's nature in organized Christendom" (Tyms, 1937, p. 138). Tyms felt that the reason that these were solely neglected was that human beings were not willing to live holy lives.

For Tyms, Jesus was the most adequate symbol of an explanation of God that we knew, because God was revealed in Jesus, the most perfect human personality. Tyms agreed somewhat with Niebuhr's doctrine of man. He agreed that man was born neither totally good nor bad. Thus he rejected the doctrine of original sin. However, Tyms admitted the need for the discipline of human passions. He recognized that the impact of life forces and the pursuit of happiness made a person whatever he or she was. Because of these environmental influences, humanity needed salvation.

Tyms posited that Niebuhr seemed distrustful of aggregate human nature due to the fact that the individual was submerged in the masses, the ego was lost, and there was no chance for individual transcendence in the group. Tyms on the other hand was more optimistic, using race relations as an example. He referenced the work of the Delta Cooperative Farm in Hillhouse, Mississippi, as a group endeavor that was creating a "more moral society and community" (Tyms, 1937, p.141). It happened that Reinhold Niebuhr himself was part of this endeavor. Having cited this, Tyms admitted, "man separated from the influence of his group is capable of far superior relations than known in the group" (Tyms, 1937, p.141). Nor did Tyms believe that education alone could lead people to be moral, since it could not offset the crushing blows that life delivered.

For Tyms sin was best defined by injustice and inequality that grew out of pride and greed (Tyms, 1937, p. 144). Self deception covered up the guilt of sin. Tyms states "the problem of ethical living is the unsolved problem of the Christian religion" (Tyms, 1937, p. 144). Tyms espoused a non-cooperative, non-violent strategy for social change, and particularly for the uplift of African Americans in America. He recognized that minorities lacked the resources for other forms of coercion (Tyms, 1937, p. 147).

Tyms wrote that salvation of the individual could be achieved because of the assurance of God's grace. On the other hand, social problems were much harder to solve. Just as human beings could not save themselves without the grace of God, strife and chaos reigned in society. He did not have an answer, but felt that a further synthesis of Niebuhr's work would be helpful to understanding how change might come about.

Four Religious Cults

In his early writings, Tyms criticized mainline denominations of the black church for not developing a holistic approach to ministry. In A Study of Four Religious Cults Operating Among Negroes, Tyms (1938) investigated four religious organizations, which he termed cults. The four cults were The Kingdom of God on Earth (Father Divine), The House of Prayer for all People (Bishop Charles M. Grace), The Church of God (Elder Lightfoot Michaux), and the Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ (Bishop William F. Taylor). Tyms attempted to analyze significant historical features in the growth of each movement, the peculiarities of their teachings, and the characteristic features of their worship activities. He found these movements to be national in scope and large in numbers. Although other churches may have criticized them, Tyms went looking for what attracted so many to their ranks. The first group, Father Divine's Kingdom of God, appealed to Tyms because it provided for its followers employment, food, adult education, and political activism. The Kingdom of God established a communal group home that provided a wide range of services to its followers. These included a free employment service that furnished servants for fashionable residents of Sayville, Long Island, New York. Father Divine was active in politics and was very interested in reducing illiteracy through the establishment of his Harlem evening schools, which were not limited to New York City. In Washington, D.C. at 1113 O Street N.W. students aged 45 to 60 studied basic academic skills in arithmetic, composition and righteous government. The idea that the mainline black church was not ministering to the whole person remained a dominant theme in Tyms' work. Tyms believed that part of the reason that millions of black people were drawn to these cults was their emphasis upon improving the socio-economic status of their followers. Tyms believed that all black churches should have a similar agenda.

The second movement Tyms studied was the House of Prayer for All People under Bishop Charles Manuel Grace, who was called "Daddy Grace". In 1936, it claimed 500,000 members, both black and white, distributed in New York, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. Daddy Grace organized a Family Aid Society as well as Daddy Grace Products that members could buy. There were occasional soup lines in some of the Southern missions and churches. Tyms was especially impressed that some persons joined because it afforded a place where they could be somebody and where they could help somebody. Everyone was made to feel important. The outcasts of society often populated the movement. Here the dominant themes for Tyms were: (1) the dignity given to those who felt cast off by society, and (2) the entrepreneurial spirit of Daddy Grace. His movement was not only saving souls, but also building opportunities for housing and businesses that would lead to income.

The third cult studied by Tyms was The Church of God, founded by Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux. He was called "The Shepherd of the Air" because he preached every Sunday at 8 a.m. over the Mutual Network Broadcasting System for many years. Michaux's first church was established in 1917 in Hopewell, Virginia and another in Newport News in 1919. The goal of these congregations was to be a church of God founded upon the Word of God. Originally Baptist, Michaux opened the House of God to all people-"unlike the white man's religion". His movement was a protest movement against organized religion. Washington, D.C. was the place from which Michaux became nationally famous. His movement took pride in their "Happy Am I" choir that sang over radio broadcast everyday at 6:30 a.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 8 a.m. These programs were sponsored by a radio executive that convinced Columbia Broadcasting to air them at no cost to the church. Here Tyms was fascinated by the influence of the radio ministry that enabled Michaux's movement to get its message out and thus gain thousands of followers. Certainly this was evangelism and religious education for masses of people.

The fourth religious group that Tyms studied was the Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ. It was founded in 1925 as a reaction to organized Christianity. Tyms discusses two important emphases within this movement that were noteworthy. The first was that it welcomed all races, and the second was that it gave freedom to women in leadership. In 1937, they recorded 7,043 members with 33 ordained ministers. Women shared equally in leadership.

Tyms himself supported the idea of women preachers and pastors. This put him at odds with most of his Baptist colleagues. This author once heard him say while speaking at the Howard Divinity School, "The problem with this issue of women in the ministry is that only the women ministers are speaking out about it" (1998). Thus, he called for greater advocacy among the brethren.

Tyms described this church's being welcoming to all as "heartwarming". Because Tyms stressed this friendliness factor in this church, it may reveal that he thought that other churches were not as successful in creating a warm, welcoming climate. The Metropolitan Spiritualist churches gave mediumistic readings and sought to serve the people in all areas of their lives. Their worship stressed music and the arts through drama, pageants and music training. Bible memorization and evangelism were stressed.

Tyms concluded that all four of these cults excelled in the teaching ministry, especially for adults who were instructed in not only beliefs and history and tradition, but in how to put their religious beliefs into practice in everyday life. They were taught to separate themselves from association with non-believers. Each had a loyalty to the leader and his teachings. The leaders served the followers holistically, that is, physically, economically, and socially. Tyms expressed the view that these were areas where "organized religion" failed, because for him, all of life came under the purview of religious teachings and nothing was separate or apart from it.

These cults attempted to "make religion include the fullness of the abundance of all good things. This included health and happiness and the spiritual satisfaction of the human personality" (Tyms, 1938, p. 140). Tyms underlined this statement:

The true element of service in organized Christianity is weak indeed. One is almost convinced that the stream of service runs one way, and when that ceases the member or members are put on the dead list, regardless of the cause (Tyms, 1938, p. 140).

In other words, when the member can no longer serve the church, he or she is no longer served by the church.

The History and Philosophy of Religious Education

The most significant debate in early African American religious education was over the question of what capacity the Negro had for learning and development. Consequently, another major contribution of Tyms was his insistence that blacks were endowed with the potential to reflect the divine. Amid the myth of racial superiority and inferiority, segregated cultural patterns, and second-class citizenship, Tyms believed that enlightened teachers inspired black students to reach above the constraints of society to fulfill a higher, God-ordained destiny. For black people, education at all levels had to be built upon the religious principles of freedom, equality, citizenship, and identity. One of Tyms' favorite illustrations was "the birthday basket." He taught that when a child is born, he or she, regardless of race or background, has everything needed already in the birthday basket. Education must inspire the student to reach as high as possible, to become as fully human as possible, realizing the great human potential that Tyms believed was locked inside everyone. Long before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Tyms devoted himself to instilling dignity in black people, especially, black children of whom he was so fond. Though he and his wife never had children, Brittie Ann Tyms worked in early childhood education and Tyms focused upon how to teach pre-school children about God. He told his students to tell the child "Here is your teddy bear. You love your teddy bear. Now God loves you the same way you love your teddy bear". For Tyms, this was the starting point of religious education.

Tyms was a devoted Baptist, being a long-time member of Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. where he served for many years as an active Christian education leader. In the Rise of Religious Education Among Negro Baptists (1965), Tyms used the Baptists as a case study through which he stated his own philosophy of religious education. In addition, he gave an excellent background treatment of the history of slavery and the violation of the human rights of African Americans in the United States of America. He illustrated how religious instruction came to be viewed favorably for the slaves to the end that they would become civilized in two or three generations and become better workers. But the problem with religious instruction for the slaves was that if they were accepted as real human beings, creatures of supreme dignity and worth, then they would be entitled to justice, privileges, freedom and respect. To avoid this, some persons taught that the Negro did not have a high enough intelligence level to master religious instruction. Tyms described some of the popular derogatory opinions pertaining to the Negro being cursed and unequal. Charles Carroll pointed out in his book Is the Negro a Beast? that "man was created from the image of God, and since God was not a Negro, therefore, the Negro is not a man" (Tyms, 1965, p. 54). This explains why twentieth century educators such as Tyms emphasized the teaching of self esteem as central to black religious education. The black church had to reinforce the idea that all people are made in the image of God in order to counter the mis-education that was rampant in the dominant culture. This remained an important core teaching of black Christian education today when media stereotypes painted blacks as violent gang-bangers who did not finish high school, dealt drugs, disrespected women, and died young.

The Baptists attracted large numbers of blacks after emancipation from slavery. Baptists were characterized by religious enthusiasm fueled by the conviction that the gospel was for all. They also had a desire to religiously educate African Americans who were then in need of purpose, dignity and freedom. The growth of Christian education among blacks was also attributed to the Great Awakening of the 1740s. The zeal for more converts resulted in large numbers of blacks becoming present in white churches. This eventually developed into a problem. Negroes were forced to organize their own churches, Sunday schools, and educational institutions, because they were not allowed full participation during worship and meetings in the white churches. At some point between 1773 and 1775, the first Negro Baptist church was started in South Carolina (Tyms, 1965, p. 105). Sunday school was a main ingredient in helping the poor children of the community. Instruction was oral since there were laws forbidding the education of blacks. Some whites helped. The church became the sanctuary where blacks could voice their opinions and express their God-given rights. Later, the modern day civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was born in these same churches. Tyms gave the Sunday School credit as pivotal to the literacy of African Americans.

The Rise of Religious Education Among Negro Baptists (1965) also treated the Middle Passage and religious education under Negro Baptist leadership between 1896-1961. Tyms examined analytically and critically aspects of curriculum procedure within the National Baptist Convention, Inc. that was still one of the two largest predominantly black denominations in the United States, and the American Baptist Convention, a majority white, mainline denomination with which many black Baptist churches were also affiliated. Dr. Tyms reviewed the content of the literature for both of these groups for the age groups of six, seven, and eight years old in 1961. With respect to leadership training, Tyms described the National Congress, the state and local church and educational centers sponsored jointly by National, American and Southern Baptists. He named some of the pioneering workers among black Baptists and gave a synopsis of Christian education trends in the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Missouri, and New Jersey. He placed emphasis upon the Sunday School as the most promising agency for Christian education and upon what was done to develop Christian education leaders.

According to Tyms, as early as 1886, black Christians formulated their own Christian education objectives. These included (1) to enrich the Negro's personality through the influence of the ideals of Jesus; (2) to guide Negroes in adjusting themselves socially, morally, and spiritually under the influence of Jesus' ideal of God in a complex social order; (3) to exalt the Word of God and proclaim its regenerative power in the hearts of men; (4) to save souls and to awaken and refine the highest emotions of the human soul; and (5) to foster and stimulate all phases of religious education training in church membership, evangelism, and missions (Tyms, 1965, p. 178). Tyms states that religious education is

the processes, past and present, used in introducing into the consciousness of human persons an awareness of the reality of God in human experience, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, giving rise to a sense of personal relation to God, knowledge of the ways of God, obligations to obey His will, in such terms as to lift the personal, social, moral, and ethical aspects of life up to the highest possible levels of self-realization and social realization, effected by the deepening of the desires of human persons by guiding them and leading them in the ways of God. (Tyms, 1965, p. 5).

He felt that Christian education should make and remake persons in accordance with the divine plan. He remained evangelical, but was a greater proponent of discipleship and teacher training.

According to Tyms, when blacks took over responsibility for their own Christian education, they asserted principles of liberation, self-help, and self-reliance. Tyms observed that the curriculum materials for both blacks and whites were very similar in content. However, the major difference and need for blacks was greater control in the writing and publishing of their own materials. Tyms spoke about the freed Negro Baptist, R. H. Boyd, who was the first black Baptist to organize interest in writing Sunday School literature. His efforts led to the first black Baptist religious publishing house, the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention. It first appeared in January of 1916 and was located in Nashville, Tennessee. Now African American Baptists could have their own curriculum, written in their own voice. Tyms saw this as a positive development.

Spiritual Values of Black Poets

For many years, Tyms cultivated an interest in the early black poets whom he viewed as heralds of spiritual and religious healing for the soul of America. He felt that they seized ordinary values and raised them to their highest power. This was because their poems were saturated with the ideal of a worthwhile life of harmony with God and neighbor and they sang of a new world a-coming. Tyms was well-known for his ability to quote these poets from memory. Tyms mentioned that Walter L. Daykin writing on "Race Consciousness in Negro Poetry" cited Robert T. Kerlin who wrote, "A people's poetry, therefore affords the most serious study of those who understand the people-that people's soul, that people's status, that people's potential" (Tyms, 1977, p. xviii).

Tyms taught a course at Howard Divinity on black poets. He noted their awareness of the spiritual illness of their generation that he explained as the human failure to respond to God's love (Tyms, 1977). His first published book was entitled Spiritual (Religious) Values in the Black Poet. In this book he did an in-depth analysis of the values displayed in eight poets-James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Georgia Douglass Johnson, Leslie Pinckney Hill, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Sterling Allen Brown, and Margaret Walker. The book was arranged thematically under the categories of (1) a sense of self, (2) manhood-womanhood, (3) the aesthetic way, (4) freedom and social consciousness, and (5) religious consciousness. Other poets were touched upon as their writings related to the five themes.

For Tyms, spirituality meant change in the direction of the oughtness of life and he examined these poets to discover their worldviews, their spiritual and religious values, their guidance relative to the maladies in the America of their day, and how they handled the problems of selfhood and freedom, rights and privileges, beauty and religion. Tyms defined spiritual as anything pertaining to the evolution of personality and values that helped persons improve their human relationships. Wholeness was expressed as meaningful existence and spirituality as free persons living creatively by participating in the social process of their communities. Not only was community important to Tyms, but also memory and recall, in other words, history. Tyms demonstrated that memory and recall were used by the poet to deepen the meaning of human existence. Tyms illustrated this with Sterling Allen Brown's "Remembering Nat Turner" in which the author recounted the actions of Nat Turner in an attempt to portray a sense of self-actualization and self-esteem (Tyms, 1977, p. 13). Other poems that he cited in this regard were Rev. Walter H. Brooks' "A Soliloquy" and "I'm Not Ashamed of What I Am," Claude McKay's "Baptism," "If We Must Die," and "Like a Strong Tree," Countee Cullen's "Heritage" and "Shroud of Color," and Langston Hughes' "The Negro," "I, Too Sing America," and "To Be Somebody". Tyms stated that even the use of "The Black Mammies" by John Wesley Holloway portrayed the mammy as a strong person whose loving spirit could not be quenched by slavery (Tyms, 1977, p. 60).

Tyms delighted in the heroes and heroines in black poetry. He felt that they lifted the sense of self and made black people aware of their inherent potential. Black was not limited to physical features; for Tyms it was indicative of the depth of the soul and experience. While some black poets were pessimistic, others brought great joy about a better future, such as Francis Ellen Watkins Harper's "Bury Me in a Freeland." Tyms concluded that the poet, when aware and sensitive, desired to be an agent of human progress. Very much loved as a lecturer and speaker, Tyms used much of his vast knowledge of black poetry to lace his remarks. He was a wordsmith who stayed true to the African American idiom.

The Religious Education of the Black Child

In an article entitled, The Black Church as an Ally in the Education of Black Children, Tyms called on the black church to provide quality experiences in which children are stimulated and motivated to develop healthy feelings about their own black reality (Tyms, 1986, p. 77). Decision-making and behavior that made them responsible, dependable human beings was also stressed. Other character traits that Tyms valued highly were honesty and integrity. He believed that a personal code would help persons reach God's standard. To summarize, Tyms states: Be strong in body, mind and heart. Think straight and make good decisions. Be clean and pure and respect women. Be fair and square and keep fellowship with others. Pursue justice, love, human dignity, brotherhood, sisterhood, and spirituality. Do not cut corners. Aid parents. Conversion is not the end product, rather only a beginning toward maturity. Education in schools is not enough; learn from life; reflect upon the meaning of human existence before acting (Tyms, 1998).

One detrimental weakness toward the growth of religious education within the black church, according to Tyms, was that the leaders and the lay leaders did not have the proper educational background to teach the Bible to young people. Most volunteers believed that their personal relationship with God served as the only requirement for teaching young children. Therefore, Tyms called for much more teacher training.

Some of the religious educators who seemed to have a substantial influence on Tyms were Francis G. Peabody who stressed drawing out latent faculties into consciousness, Harold Kingsly, who viewed the educated man as one who embodied the best of society and combated evil, and Alfred Whitehead, who stressed reverence and duty as important aims in education (Tyms, 1986, pp. 75-76). Tyms saw education as lifting the highest ideals and helping persons live according to those ideals.

The Black Church as a Nurturing Community

Tyms' final work, The Black Church as Nurturing Community, Volume One, sought to raise the consciousness of the black church to realize that the educational/nurturing ministry was the first priority for grounding the church of Jesus Christ in the heart and soul. Tyms described the black church as the community which existed for the sole purpose of facilitating the struggle of human beings to become Christ-like. The importance of the work of religious educators, for Tyms, did not lie in the learning itself, but in what was inbred in the persons that one's students became. He considered the work of religious education as the most powerful dynamic in human development because it has the power to transform individuals and groups, that is, to remake people into the children of God that can claim and act upon their inheritance. While Tyms saw the family as the primary instrument of religious education through both socialization and enculturation, he considered the church as the most significant carrier of the corporate consciousness of living human beings who were "time-binding" creatures, baptized believers who would be the "Body of Christ". It was critically important to him that the church assisted the family in fulfilling their high calling in passing on the faith to future generations.

One of the most intriguing concepts used throughout Tyms' works was the phrase "grounded time-binders". He borrowed this idea from Albert Korzybski's book, Manhood Of Humanity, In this book Korzybski states,

And because humanity is just this magnificent agency by which the past lives in the present and the present in the future, I define humanity in the universal tongue of mathematics and mechanics to be the time-binding class of life. (Tyms, 1990, p. 1)

Thus, time is the important element of this concept. But it encapsulates much more. Embedded in this term is a sense of inherited wisdom, the present generation benefiting from the trial and error learning of the past. It is an intellectual and spiritual capital for future developments. Tyms saw every person on the stage of life as either serious players obedient to past wisdom or "grass hoppers who just dance and sing and smoke life away" (Tyms, 1990, p. 2). Time-binders are "heritors of by-gone ages and trustees of posterity" (Tyms, 1990, p. 2). Tyms was particularly proud of black ancestors who lived in a cruel dehumanizing social order and yet discovered self-affirmation and passed this saving quality on to their children and grandchildren. They rose above the racism that told them that black folks were nobodies. He often found this message in the black poets such as Rev. Walter H. Brooks' " I'm not ashamed of what I am/ The spirit of the man/What others have attained unto/ By grace of God I can (Tyms, 1990, p. 3). He often cited Sterling Brown's "Strong Men". Such writing Tyms thought would help people choose to let nothing hinder their moving on towards goals of high expectation. Tyms liked the pithy humorous expression of Langston Hughes in "Me and the Mule." It states, "He's been a mule so long/ He's forgot about his race /I'm like that old mule-/Black - and don't give a damn!/You got to take me /Like I am" (Tyms, 1990, p. 4).

Another important ingredient for time-binders is recognizing an urgent need through heightened consciousness. They distinguish between the isness and oughtness of life. Thus there is again a heavy ethical strand in this concept, as there is in all of Tyms writings. And the context is usually one of racial inequality. Tyms never went far beyond the injustice of racism as a central theme of religious education. It expressed the kernel of sin that allowed him to address both education and theology.

Time-binders also have hope and inspire hope in others, especially in their children and grandchildren. He wanted black youth to reach the mountaintop of personal and corporate achievement. Time-binders focus and concretize their goals into achievable results. Korzybski 's original definition of man stated, "Like the animals, human beings do indeed possess the time-binding capacity to summarize, digest and appropriate the labors and experiences of the past" (Tyms, 1990, p.1). Tyms expanded the phrase to include the ability to summarize, digest, scrutinize, and concretize the labors of past generations in a way that benefited others with excellence. As late as 1990, Tyms was coupling this idea of time-binding with Ecclesiastes' "For everything there is a season" (Ecclesiastes 3:1) and with an article written by Pro. N. G. "But if you can create something that time cannot erode, something that ignores the eccentricities of particular eras of moment, something truly timeless, this is the ultimate victory" (Tyms, 1990, p.1). In this sense Tyms was a true advocate of progressive education, heavily influenced by a social science approach to human growth and development.

For Tyms, local black congregations are in the best position to pass the legacy from generation to generation. As has been stated before, Tyms exhibited a strong ethical strand. He expressed the view that the soul of the church is that its members are known by their deeds. For him, ethical conduct is the necessary means of validating the truth of religion. This makes him a disciple to the modeling approach of Christian education. He believed that religion cannot just be taught. It is contagious and must be caught. Part of the contagion is stirred up by faith figures who embody the teachings of the church through everyday living that inspires confidence in the ideals of the faith. He wrote that children inherit religion from persons who are religious, starting with the family that stands in proxy for God by creating an environment in which love and care, beauty and goodness, truth and rightness are given conditions. The church reinforces the spiritual nurture of children. Therefore, the church should be a refuge for a people enveloped in a hostile world. Tyms often used the phrase, "the stuff" of God - love, righteousness, justice, holiness, forgiveness. He believed that the church members could internalize these attributes to perfection. He was quite an idealist, positing that the church is a most important fellowship of people who authenticate the worth and salvation of all people.

While Tyms counted evangelism as important, he felt that the church lacked the nurturing necessary for new converts to grow. He called for Christian education` programs that have identified objectives, structured and orderly methods of instruction and expected outcomes. Anything less fails to serve the purpose of wholeness of personality and community. Tyms felt that the educational ministry needs to occur globally with programs designed for all ages through such venues as Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, adult forums, confirmation classes, and topical Bible studies.

In The Black Church as Nurturing Community, Tyms treated the importance of teaching a core curriculum that included biblical faith, desired life-styles, the sense of values, affirmations about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the function of ritual, expected attitudes and practices and critical thinking. To expand upon the liturgical life, Tyms thought that all experiences at church should be sacred, that is, done as if one was standing on holy ground. He especially lifted up the importance of the liturgy of both infant and believers baptism, the Lord's Supper/Holy Communion, the Ordination of both clergy and lay leaders, marriage, teaching and the funeral. He called for worship that was unified around a set theme or topic. He felt that nothing should be left to happenstance but rather that worship should be designed so that the worshippers leave with a goal-oriented purpose for their lives.

Tyms was a scholar in human development. He believed that the educational process ought to begin with the individual person that was to be educated, drawing out "kernels of faith" that embraced beliefs and affirmations about the reality of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, plus the moral and spiritual dynamics pertaining to the meaning of God in human existence. He utilized the Bible as a source, demonstrating the various types of literature found in the Bible. Tyms was a social scientist who saw human relations as the most challenging issue for the church. He thought that the existence for each individual should be seen as a continual struggle to satisfy needs, relieve tensions and maintain equilibrium. For him, most needs are satisfied through relationships with other individuals or through groups of individuals. He believed that persons had to be active with regard to social interaction (fellowship) rather than passive. Thus, individual ideals and values ought to be formed in loyalty to the ideal of what the whole community was striving to become. Once mastered, all members should be enlisted to participate responsibly in groups to help others similarly choose the same ideals and values. All this should be done with an awareness and knowledge of what was appropriate for children, youth and adults. Tyms believed that effective education started with an understanding of the culture, context and developmental needs of the students.

Overall, Tyms was respectful of the black church as a nurturing community, and he called for loyalty to the institutional church. But he cited serious problems within the black church. These included an absence of a dynamic sense of belonging, a loss of focus as church members succumbed to the values of secular culture, a lack of nurture among the adult church population, racism, the failure to help the saved grow in commitment and spiritual maturity, too much emphasis upon faith healing without encouragement to cooperate with medical science, not enough help given the black family in parenting, and not enough outreach into missions. Surprisingly, Tyms missed the matter of sexism as a problem in the black church. His language was male dominated and not inclusive. It would be unacceptable today, but his concepts of self-esteem and equality formed an important message for the whole of church and society. He saw the church as a mother, but stressed the importance of the complementary role of mother and father that was needed for healthy development. To this end, he called on the black church to redouble her efforts to make available visible males and females that could fill the roles of being fit mother and father substitutes for the fatherless and the motherless.

Tyms was a strong advocate of the narrative approach to religious education. He especially applauded utilizing stories from black history to challenge contemporaries to emulate black heroes and heroines. In conclusion, Tyms' book on the church as nurturer was a comprehensive treatment of Christian education, sprinkled with eloquent expressions of the great ideals of liberal education. At the time of his death, Tyms was trying to get Volume Two of The Black Church as a Nurturing Community published. Unfortunately this never happened.

Copies of Tyms' books were found in the Heritage Room at the Howard University School of Divinity. Tyms was an eloquent and gracious presence into his nineties. He spent most of his professional life in the company of the clergy, seminarians, and their families. He was remembered for his beautiful, thick white hair that he admitted he bleached. He was also known for his unique style of dress that included large lapels on his vintage suit jackets. His speech was slow and deliberate, and he always delighted his audience with punch-lines of pithy wisdom statements, embellished with poetry. He loved his students and never tired of telling them of their worth and value.


Works Cited

  • Tyms, J. (1938). A study of four religious cults operating among Negroes. (Masters thesis, Howard University School of Religion).
  • Tyms, J. (1942). The history of religious education among Negro Baptists. (Doctoral dissertation, Boston University School of Theology, 1942). AAT 0154091.
  • Tyms, J. (1965). The rise of religious education among Negro Baptists. New York: Exposition Press.
  • Tyms, J. (1977). Spiritual (religious) values in the black poet. Washington, DC: University Press.
  • Tyms, J. (1986-87). The black church as an ally in the education of black children. Journal of Religious Thought, 43, 73-87.
  • Tyms, J. (1995). The black church as nurturing community, volume one. St. Louis: Hodale Press.
  • Tyms, J. (1998). A personal code. Lecture notes. Howard University School of Divinity, Religious Education classes.
  • Tyms, J. (May 14, 1990). Grounded time-binders. Address delivered on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of President Andrew Fowler of the Washington Baptist Seminary.

Dissertations and Theses

  • Tyms, J. (1937). The theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. (Thesis, Howard University School of Religion).
  • Tyms, J. (1938). A study of four religious cults operating among Negroes. (Masters thesis, Howard University School of Religion).
  • Tyms, J. (1942). The history of religious education among Negro Baptists. (Doctoral dissertation, Boston University School of Theology, 1942). AAT 0154091.


  • Tyms, J. (1965). The rise of religious education among Negro Baptists. New York: Exposition Press.
  • Tyms, J. (1977). Spiritual (religious) values in the black poet. Washington, DC: University Press.
  • Tyms, J. (1979). The rise of religious education among Negro Baptists. Washington, DC: University Press.
  • Tyms, J. (1995). The black church as nurturing community, volume one. St. Louis: Hodale Press.


  • Tyms, J. (1986-87). The black church as an ally in the education of black children. Journal of Religious Thought, 43, 73-87.
  • Tyms, J. (1950). A philosophy of religious education : A consideration of the person to be educated religiously. Journal of Religious Thought, 7(2), 144-155.
  • Tyms, J. (1955). The use of the Bible with college students. Journal of Religious Thought, 12, 81-89.
  • Tyms, J. (1961). The church and this new generation. Journal of Religious Thought, 18 (1), 57-65.
  • Tyms, J. (1974). Moral and religious education for the second reconstruction era. Journal of Religious Thought, 31(1), 25-40.
  • Tyms, J. (1974). The new men. New Republic, 1/2, 27-28.
  • Tyms, J. (1975). Black poet and a sense of self: The praise of famous men. Journal of Religious Thought, 32 (1), 22-35.
  • Tyms, J. (1986). The Black church as an ally in the education of Black children. Journal of Religious Thought, 43 (2), 73-87.

Book Reviews

  • Tyms, J. (1948). Committed unto us [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 5(1), 122.
  • Tyms, J. (1948). Their faith and ours [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 5(1), 123.
  • Tyms, J. (1948). A new world ahead [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 5(1), 123.
  • Tyms, J. (1948). A frontier book [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 5(1), 123-124.
  • Tyms, J. (1951). Orientation in religious education [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 9(1), 75-76.
  • Tyms, J. (1962). Religious education: A comprehensive survey [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 19(1), 93-94.
  • Tyms, J. (1962). Nature of man in theological and psychological perspective [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 19(1), 87-88.
  • Tyms, J. (1962). The ministry of mental health [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 19(1), 87-88.
  • Tyms, J. (1964). Immortal rebels: Freedom for the individual in the Bible [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 21(1), 72-73.
  • Tyms, J. (1966). Worshipping together with questioning minds [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 23(1), 98-99.
  • Tyms, J. (1966). Mission in metropolis [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 23(1), 99.
  • Tyms, J. (1966). Religious thinking from childhood to adolescence [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 23(1), 99.
  • Tyms, J. (1969). Black power and Christian responsibility [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 26(1), 87-87.
  • Tyms, J. (1971). Tillichian theology and educational philosophy [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 28(1), 73-74.
  • Tyms, J. (1973). In His image, but -: racism in southern religion, 1780-1910 [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 30(2), 68-69.
  • Tyms, J. (1973). Change, conflict, and self-determination [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 30(2), 69-70.
  • Tyms, J. (1975). Hidden human image [Book Review]. Religious Education, 70, 562-563.
  • Tyms, J. (1976). Portrait of the elder brother [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 33(2), 84.


  • Tyms, J. (1998). A personal code. Lecture notes. Howard University School of Divinity, Religious Education classes.
  • Tyms, J. (May 14, 1990). Grounded time-binders. Address delivered on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of President Andrew Fowler of the Washington Baptist Seminary.

Review of Tyms' Work

  • Little, L. (1966). The rise of religious education [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 23(1), 97-98. Little concludes that Tyms "has made a notable contribution to the literature" (p. 97) in this case study of the National Baptist Convention of the United States, Inc. In this volume, Tyms seeks to answer the question "What is the ultimate concern that has motivated the process of religious education among Negro Baptists, and what has been the quality of ultimate commitment to this concern" (pp. 97-98). For Little, Tyms offers fresh insights into the power of ultimate concern and ultimate commitment as necessary constituents of a vibrant Christian faith.
  • Mason, D. (1996). The Black church as nurturing community, Volume I [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 52(2)/53(1), 91-95. Mason writes about the wisdom of a ninety-year-old Tyms in her detailed review of The Black Church as Nurturing Community, Volume I. For her, Tyms' reflections are fatherly insights which cannot be ignored. Mason reports that in order to resurrect genuine fellowship in the Christian community, Tyms presents a "four-part thesis that entails 'a God-conscious concern, people's awakened consciousness of the nature and function of the church in a changing society, the quality of relationships nurtured into existence and sustained by those who will be creative participants in the affairs of community, and finally … qualitative nurture … that is appropriate for youth and adults who make up … the church of Jesus Christ" (p. 1). Mason provides an overview of the book as a whole, as well as a comprehensive summary of each chapter.

Excerpts from Publications

Tyms, J. (1965). The rise of religious education among Negro Baptists. New York: Exposition Press, p. 5.

Tyms states religious education is:

the processes, past and present, used in introducing into the consciousness of human persons an awareness of the reality of God in human experience, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, giving rise to a sense of personal relation to God, knowledge of the ways of God, obligations to obey His will, in such terms as to lift the personal, social, moral, and ethical aspects of life up to the highest possible levels of self-realization and social realization, effected by the deepening of the desires of human persons by guiding them and leading them in the ways of God.

Little, L. (1966). The rise of religious education [Book Review]. Journal of Religious Thought, 23(1), 98.

Little cites Tyms as he remarks on the creativity of the Negro Baptists Church's educational mission:

A segregated cultural pattern, the shadows of which have hung over religion in all its institutional forms, the myth of racial superiority and racial inferiority, the evils of second-class citizenship, none of these things have stayed the hand of God in reaching through the dark shadows and tantalizing black men into an awareness of his claim upon their lives and as witnesses to his creativity among men.

Tyms, J. (1961). The church and this new generation. Journal of Religious Thought, 18 (1), pp. 64-65.

According to Tyms, the church of the past has:

too readily adjusted herself to the given situation (slavery, segregation, discrimination, etc), rather than pointing the way to the new frontier. In her interest to swell her numbers, she has unwittingly become peopled with human beings who know not the God whom Jesus made as real as sunshine.

  • Tyms, J. (1950). A philosophy of religious education. The Journal of Religious Thought, 7 (2), 144-155.
  • Tyms, J. (1955). The use of the Bible with college students. Journal of Religious Thought, 12 (2), 81-89
  • Tyms, J. (1961). The church and this new generation. Journal of Religious Thought, 18(1), 57-65.
  • Tyms, J. (1975). The black poet and a sense of self - the praise of famous men. Journal of Religious Thought, 32 (1), 22-35.

Author Information

Delores Causion Carpenter

Delores Causion Carpenter earned an Ed.D. from Rutgers University. She serves as Professor of Religious Education at Howard University School of Divinity and Senior Pastor of Michigan Park Christian Church in Washington, DC. Carpenter was a student of Dr. Tyms and invited him to lecture in her classes at Howard in 1983 and during the late 1990s.