Wrath, Judgment, and Love

John Wesley said that the only requirement to join the Methodist Societies – the movement was not yet a “church” at that time – was a “desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” Our problem isn’t that people today lack a desire to be “saved from their sins.” Most church people readily admit to wanting to be saved. It’s the other part of Wesley’s criteria that causes us to pause. Modern Methodists are not excited to believe there is such a thing as “the wrath to come,” let alone that we should desire to “flee” from it. We have a long habit of saying “God is love” – which is, of course, a thoroughly biblical and Wesleyan thing to say – and assuming that because God is love, there can be no such thing as wrath. If God is love, we think, why would God ever be angry? It’s those other people who are consumed with belief in an angry God who delights in judging people and throwing them in hell. Those other people will believe that the angry God toys with sinners in his hands, torturing them, seeking to destroy them. Because those other people reject the truth of God’s love, they hold on to an angry, spiteful God who is on the lookout to catch anyone anywhere who might be having just a small bit of harmless pleasure.

I want to be biblical in my thinking, preaching, and way of living. I also value our Wesleyan heritage. I am thus constrained to reject both an account of God as angry and vindictive, only loving the select few, AND an account of God as defined by a sort of love that is never bothered by sin or evil but is only relentlessly nice and harmless.

When I read scripture, I cannot dismiss the reality of wrath and judgment. The message is clear that we will all come before God’s judgment seat. The message is clear that God’s anger is exercised toward those who fail to obey the Great Commandment – to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Can we see the evil in the world, whether now or throughout history, and imagine God is happy with it all? I know I am a sinner, deserving of judgment. I know my sin hurts people and dishonors God. I need God’s forgiveness and deliverance. I also see that God’s judgment begins with his own people, so my being a Methodist, my being a Christian, means I am more susceptible to God’s judgment than other people.

When I read scripture, I also cannot dismiss the reality and depth of God’s love. In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s love displayed. We see God’s love for his people, Israel. We see God’s plan for his people to be the means by which all nations would be reconciled to him and experience life. We see the cry of God’s broken heart for rebellious sinners in places like Ezekiel 33:11. And we see Jesus. We see Jesus, the Word become flesh, God become one of us. Jesus put himself in our place, not as an invincible, invulnerable, Superman, but as one who would take our sin upon himself and die for us. Paul tells us that God demonstrated his love – there’s that word! – God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He invites us to receive this gift of love and life. His love will not compel us to receive this gift, but his love will relentlessly pursue us, seeking our response to the redemption he offers in Christ.

God has given us the awesome gift of Jesus that we might have life. That we will face judgment is a certainty. It is also a certainty that if we had to stand in the judgment alone, we could not stand. The greater certainty, however, is that the Bible says that Jesus stands with us as an advocate who speaks in our defense. Because we belong to Jesus, we approach the throne of God not with terror, but with joy and confidence, knowing there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

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Positive and Negative in United Methodism

Since reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality? thirty-something years ago, I’ve found great value in the definition of a tradition that he he offers there (p. 12).

A tradition is an argument extended through time in which certain fundamental agreements are defined and redefined in terms of two kinds of conflict: those with critics and enemies external to the tradition who reject all or at least key parts of those fundamental agreements, and those internal, interpretive debates through which the meaning and rationale of the fundamental agreements come to be expressed and by whose progress a tradition is constituted.

I’m a participant in the United Methodist tradition, which is itself part of larger traditions (Wesleyan, Protestant, Christian). We certainly have the “conflict” bit down, but I think we could understand it more fruitfully by considering MacIntyre. If we work from his definition of a “tradition” – and understand ourselves as participants in that tradition, we can deflate some of the tension we feel.

MacIntyre claims traditions have two kinds of conflict. The first thing we need to see is that having conflict in a tradition is normal. It’s unavoidable. It’s an essential part of what constitutes any tradition. Every living tradition has to continually answer questions of identity and mission: Who are we? What are we about? Traditions face those questions continually because our environment is constantly changing.

A second thing to notice is that conflict happens in two directions. We know there is external conflict, challenges and questions that come from outside the tradition. There is also internal conflict, “interpretive debates” within the tradition.

From these first two points I need to make two sociological observations. First, traditions are not “all inclusive.” There are people outside the tradition who are adherents of and participants in other traditions. Differentiating between traditions is part of the point of the conflict between them. The Wesleyan/Methodist tradition is not the Baptist or Roman Catholic tradition. Second, while they are not “all inclusive,” traditions are normally inclusive. They contain sufficient diversity that not all participants in the tradition always and forever only agree with each other. Difference that drives interpretive debates happens within and between traditions. I’ll come back to these sociological observations in a bit.

Given the two broad kinds of conflict MacIntyre sees (internal and external), we must consider third, what that conflicts are about. He uses the term “certain fundamental agreements.” Don’t allow pejorative uses of words like “fundamentalism” steer us away from this point. One aspect of fundamentalism is the tendency to eliminate the possibility of internal conflict by definition. Such a position would say, “Every thing that defines our tradition is essential. If there is any criticism, question, or debate about any point, that is a sure sign the person is not a member of our tradition.”

Having “fundamental agreements” is the starting point. These are what make a tradition what it is, what differentiate it from other traditions. Because the United Methodist tradition is not the Baptist or Presbyterian tradition, the fundamental agreements will look different from those other traditions. Since all three are instances of the Christian tradition, there will certainly be overlap. The doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the power of God’s grace to accomplish salvation are “fundamental agreements” common to these three traditions. When we consider the United Methodist tradition we see that the “fundamental agreement” regarding “the power of God’s grace to accomplish” salvation has a set of interpretations that differ somewhat from other Christian traditions. Sometimes these differences may appear as “conflicts,” or signs of incompatibility, sometimes they’ll be understood as different and perhaps complementary ways of talking about a common reality.

Two more questions arise when I consider our current denominational divisions. First, to what degree do we prefer to take ourselves as participants in a distinct United Methodist tradition or as participants in a distinct Wesleyan/Methodist tradition? If the emphasis is on the former, we will probably look for our fundamental agreements in this particular denomination from 1968 to now. If the emphasis is on the latter, there’s a good chance we will look farther back, probably to the 18th century and the formative first century for what we take to be the fundamental agreements. To the degree that we take this latter approach and are members of the United Methodist Church, we will read the post 1968 expressions and developments as more or less faithful to what we take to be the formative period.

We are somewhat handicapped here in that the official doctrine, what is publically identified as our “fundamental agreements,” has not and probably cannot change. The Articles of Religion, and the Sermons and Notes on the New Testament by Wesley remain the same. What changes is our interpretation and deployment of the fundamental agreements found therein.

Second, what stance do we take to these fundamental agreements? Do we approach them with “conformity” or “diversity” as the first word? I’ve seen some combatants in our current conflict who treat these two possibilities as absolute dichotomies. We either conform to our doctrine (our fundamental agreements) and are “accountable,” or we value diversity in our understanding and use of doctrine (maybe taking it “seriously, not literally”). One side will say of the other, “They don’t practice doctrinal accountability!” The other side will say, “They deny diversity and want to force everyone to conform.”

MacIntyre’s claim about the nature of traditions is a descriptive claim. It’s saying this is how traditions function, not that this is how they should function. As a MacIntyrean on this point, I think the dichotomous views fail. Except for the few that are complete relativists, each side values conformity, in some way, and to some degree. Similarly, except for the few who are fundamentalists, each side also values diversity. The original theological statement (in the Book of Discipline since 1972) made the interpretive claim of normative pluralism. A “diversity” of interpretation and deployment of our fundamental agreements was the official position of the denomination, our “doctrine about doctrine,” one might say. But did that theological statement reach the point of being a fundamental agreement about our fundamental agreements? The presence of profound critical questioning of this statement by groups like “Good News” and from pastors and laity, is the first detail that would lead me to say it didn’t. The second detail is the enactment of a new theological statement at General Conference in 1988. Just like the 1972 theological statement, this was an “official position” of the denomination. Our “doctrine about our doctrine” changed, and in the direction away from normative pluralism toward what could be called greater “conformity.” Like the 1972 statement, the1988 statement, which remains in the Book of Discipline today, has failed to become part of our “fundamental agreements.” The generation formed primarily by the 1972 statement – a generation that has controlled the teaching in most of our official seminaries (where most of our pastors are trained) – continues to stand for the normativity of the approach in that statement.

As I wrap up, let me return to the sociological observations. In our United Methodist experience we know there are traditions outside our own. Depending on where we stand in our own take on our fundamental agreements, we tend to identify our internal opponents with odious external opponents. It might be that some identify the other side as “Baptists in disguise” (since Baptists are detestable to them, and guilt by association carries a long way, or that some identify the other side as “no more than Unitarians” (seeing the Unitarian tradition as willing to part with most distinctive Christian doctrinal positions in favor of a humanistic religion). If I’m right, however, and we’re dealing with true internal conflicts, not conflicts with an external enemy/opponent/competitor, then perhaps it could be to our advantage to recognize this. We have been participants in the same tradition, yet having deep interpretive arguments about some (not all!) of our fundamental agreements.

I’m not making the claim here that “separation” can or should be avoided. It might be that our fundamental agreements (and our take on what to do with our fundamental agreements, our “doctrine about our doctrine”) have reached a point of sufficient divergence that continued internal conflict keeps us from achieving our mission. What our mission is is itself part of the conflict! Two positive things to remember as division happens, are that division has happened in the past and that as remain with in the larger Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, division now need not be the final word.

Posted in Alasdair MacIntyre, Discipline, Diversity, Doctrine, Ecclesiology, Theology, Tradition, United Methodism | Leave a comment

The Spirit of the Disciplines, chapter 3

In this chapter Dallas Willard talks about the salvation we have in Christ as a “full life” phenomenon.

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Love, Jesus, and the Bible

I saw this cartoon on Facebook this morning and found it stimulating.

First thought: Who are the people in the picture? Reading left to right, as we do in English, we see five people who are dressed in modern western garb. There is a mix of men and women. We can see that at least four of the five are holding an objected labeled “Holy Bible” in their hands. None of them look very happy.

Standing over against the five is a bearded man in what we stereotypically take to be ancient middle eastern garb. He’s wearing what appears to be a crown of thorns, something we associate with Jesus. We associate wearing a crown of thorns with Jesus because of what we read in the Bible and what we’ve seen in almost two millennia of Christian art. Jesus looks like he could be happy. As far as we can see he is not hold a Bible or anything else in his hands.

Second thought: Only one person in this panel is speaking. Well, only Jesus is shown speaking words. His audience is exuding grumpiness or disappointment.

Third thought: By his stance, facial expression, and words, Jesus is setting himself over against the other five. He says there’s a difference and the body language exhibits that difference.

Fourth thought: There is a movement in the church that’s been characterized as “Red Letter Christians.” Printing the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels in red ink is a convention that began just over a hundred years ago. The practice of creating a canon within the canon, a section of scripture that is more central or more authoritative or more primary than other parts is not so recent, however.

Fifth thought: If we take the red letters, the words of Jesus himself, as more authoritative than the rest of scripture, then we have clear reason to relativize the rest of what we read in the Bible. Whatever Jesus says trumps whatever we see elsewhere.

Sixth thought: Why would we value the words of Jesus over the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul (just to mention other major New Testament writers)? If we’re Christians, we might think that’s a dumb question. After all, those guys were all just humans – just disciples of Jesus. They were, by their own desire, under the authority of Jesus. If they saw themselves as subject to Jesus, we ought to see whatever they wrote as also subject to Jesus.

Seventh thought: We ascribe authority to Jesus because of who we confess that he is: “The only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” If this is who Jesus is, we are justified in taking his word as the authority in our lives.

Eighth thought: How have we come to confess this identity of Jesus? Is it through our direct experience of his words and actions? To what degree is our knowledge and experience of Jesus mediated by what those other guys (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, et al.) have written? To what degree do we have access to the words of Jesus apart from them – apart from the words of scripture?

Ninth thought: When it comes to the word “love,” it’s obvious that scripture has much to say about it. It’s also obvious that what scripture, especially the New Testament, has to say about love is centered around the actions and words of Jesus. We might consider 1 John 3:16 – “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Scripture says that we can know what love is. We know what love is by looking at the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us. We can go a step farther and infer form this that Jesus did this knowing what love was and seeking to express love. We might also consider Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In Romans Paul has claimed that all people are sinners. Whether Jew or Gentile (not Jewish), people are sinners. God loved sinners, people like us, enough to do something about it. He demonstrated his love for us by Christ dying for us. Whatever else we say about Jesus, we can take his death as being a demonstration of God’s love for us. According to Paul, then, Jesus is demonstrating the nature of love.

Tenth thought: How do we know about this death of Jesus? How do we know it was not just a tragic end to the life of a wise and good itinerant Jewish holy man? How do we know it wasn’t “divine child abuse?” How do we know it wasn’t God’s just judgment on a false prophet who would lead the people astray? We claim to know these things by what we read in the Bible, in the writings of people like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, et al.

Eleventh thought: How does language work? Where does it come from and how do we learn it? When we’re learning to speak, does someone give us a book to study (or to absorb through osmosis)? We learn language be being immersed in it and included in it from day one. From the moment of birth we are addressed and spoken to. Over time we come to understand what is being said and to make ourselves understood. We do this in fits and starts, in trial and error. Our communicative efforts take place in particular linguistic communities. My communicative efforts may or may not work in any other linguistic community. They are certainly likely to work better in my own linguistic community and others nearby than in more distant ones.

Twelfth thought: How do words work? Do we use the dictionaries handed to us in infancy to figure out the meaning of words directed at us and words we wish to direct outward? Or maybe we have an authoritative person (mom? dad?) who provides us with definitions. Maybe our parents give us a new word each day. “Ok, Junior, today’s word is ‘monosyllabicism.’ It means ‘the propensity to use words of a single syllable.'” Now that our parents have authoritatively defined the word for us, we can go about using it. But this isn’t the normal way words work. We encounter most words not in the form of definitions (in dictionaries or from authoritative persons) but from their use in our linguistic communities.

Thirteenth thought: Word meanings change. Sometimes change happens slowly, as other changes occur in our linguistic communities. Sometimes change happens quickly, either because of a precipitating event or because a significant person in our linguistic community uses the word in a different way and that usage captures our attention and imagination. We come to believe that through that usage the word has taken on at least new shades of meaning. When we consider the incarnation of the Son, his life, teaching, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, we surely have good reason to take his reported usages of words as authoritative and generative of new ways of usage on our part.

Fourteenth thought: The Bible is composed of words. We cannot understand anything in the Bible (or any other book) apart from our participation in a linguistic community. Several years ago we had friends who translated the New Testament into one of the languages of Vanuatu. Since we had been financial supporters of their work, they gave us a copy of their finished product – an actual New Testament in this language. As one who has read the New Testament in English (the language of my broad linguistic community), I have a basic understanding of the New Testament. I have no understanding of the New Testament written in this language of Vanuatu, however. I am not and have never been part of that linguistic community. I think back to something my teacher Nancey Murphy wrote: “If the texts’ ability to perform a definite speech act depends on the existence of a community with shared conventions and proper dispositions, then textual stability is in large measure a function not of theories of interpretation but of how interpretive communities choose to live.” My understanding of the Bible is made possible by my participation in a particular linguistic community. Though the Bible I normally read is in English, the linguistic community that most helps me understand the Bible is not just the broad community of “English speakers,” but the linguistic community known as “church.” My understanding of the Bible is not just a mental exercise, something like decoding a secret message. Understanding comes from living in and being formed by the practices of Christian community. Because language is a communal phenomenon, understanding language is never a purely individual act.

Fifteenth thought: Going back to the cartoon, the five people who are being confronted by Jesus are holding Bibles. To the extent that they take themselves to understand and use the Bible, they do as members of some linguistic community. The single panel cartoon doesn’t tell us whether they have been formed by life in the church or perhaps might just find congenial utterances there that they’ve abstracted from the whole.

Sixteenth thought: In the Upper Room Discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus promises the disciples that he will not leave them orphans, that he will send the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth. We read in Matthew’s version of the Great Commission that Jesus promises to be with the disciples “to the very end of the age.” From these and other texts, we can learn that our life in the Christian community (a particular linguistic community) is not just with other people like us. In the Christian community we encounter Jesus himself. We are part of the Body of Christ, united by the Holy Spirit. Our life together includes submission to Jesus and to his interpretive authority.

Seventeenth thought: It takes work to read and understand and live the Bible. Since we English speakers primarily encounter it in English, it is possible for us to interpret it more in the context of the broader linguistic community we call “English speakers” than in the context of the specifically Christian linguistic community. The broader English speaking linguistic community uses words we find in the Bible: Love, freedom, righteousness, etc. It requires work on our part to discern whether we are reading our the Bible and understanding its words and concepts primarily in terms offered by our broader English speaking linguistic communities or in terms of the narrower Christian linguistic community. This would also be true for our understanding of what we take to be utterances of Jesus that are not mediated by the Bible. We always encounter them in some linguistic community that gives us guidance on how to understand them.

Eighteenth thought: When Jesus “determines the meaning” of something, whether that something be an individual word or a larger text composed of words (like the Bible), how does he do so? From what linguistic community does he do this work? We might think that as the “Second Person of the Trinity,” his linguistic community is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even if we don’t think a social trinitarianism is the best approach, this would be a way to ascribe ultimate authority to Jesus and his linguistic usages.

Some might think that with all these thoughts (and others that might arise) that I’m missing the obvious point of the cartoon. Perhaps the obvious point of the cartoon is that “love is love and Jesus is for it.” Or, “what we say the Bible says should be subservient to what we KNOW love is.” It could be that I’m simply defective in my ability to discern what is obvious. Whatever my defects, I can affirm a few things.

Jesus is Lord and I want to submit to him.

I learn of Jesus and encounter him in worship, prayer, community, and the Bible.

I learn what words mean and how to use them in community.

It is easy for me to impose my own or my culture’s own understanding on the utterances of Jesus or the words of the Bible. It is only over time and through mutual accountability in our life together as Christians that I come to appropriate understanding.

I am not willing to go the way of Schleiermacher and the theological tradition stemming from him that interprets Christian language as using religious words to say important things that the general culture also says. The cultured despisers of the faith do not inhabit the linguistic community that gives us the best understanding of Jesus or the Bible.

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Being Human

Sunday’s message was on theological anthropology – the Christian view of what it means to be human. I made two broad claims:

  1. Humans are made in God’s image. Being made in the image of God is better understood functionally or missionally than metaphysically. That is, we were made to “image” God to creation, ruling creation as God’s stewards
  2. Humans are sinners. We see evidence for this throughout scripture. Our Methodist tradition not only claims that we are sinners by our own inclination, but by our nature (Original Sin).

An often neglected part of the work of Christ in contemporary western Christianity is the work of restoring the image of God in us. This work, which we can call “holiness,” is a central claim of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition in theology. The grace of God given us in Christ doesn’t just reconcile us to God but it transforms us, with an objective of making us the kind of people who can again fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

I find Dallas Willard useful here as well. When talking about the work God wants to do in us, he talks about that work making us “safe” to have the power God wants to give us to serve as stewards of creation. Insofar as our lives, our identities, are determined by sin, we’re a danger to ourselves, to creation, and to the people around us. Only through the transforming work of the Spirit in our lives can we become the kind of people who are safe for the world.

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The Spirit of the Disciplines

Christians say, “Jesus is Lord.” But how do we become the kind of people who live as if this is true? Willard addresses this and related questions in chapter 2 as he explains the logical force of Christian disciplines.

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Thinking about Doctrine

I have been thinking deeply about doctrine since the 1980s. I wrote my PhD dissertation (revised and published in 2002) on doctrine, specifically with the United Methodist Church in mind. From what I saw then (and now), our official doctrine – if by such we mean “published statements and propositional content” – has not changed and is very difficult to change. I don’t anticipate the official doctrine of the United Methodist Church changing any time in the near future even if a majority of “traditionalists” leave the denomination. What I have seen all these years is a variety of ways that official doctrine is understood.

One common way to understand doctrine is as a set of propositions or truth claims about God, God’s activity, humans, the church, the world, etc. The first of our Articles of Religion says, “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” When we understand doctrine in this first way, we take this claim to be a claim about God. We’re saying, “These are true things about God.” When we hold or adhere to doctrine in this understanding, we are believing that these truth claims are accurate. Because doctrine in this understanding is primarily about reality external to ourselves, there are ways in which doctrinal claims and statements can be wrong: they can fail to correspond to or cohere with divine reality.

A couple hundred years ago, another way of understanding arose. This view takes doctrinal statements to be drawn from our human experience. The Bible is a record of human religious experience (and reflection on that religious experience), and as we consider our own religious experience in light of that record of human religious experience, we find ways to put our relationship with God into words. We express our religious experience. With this understanding of the nature of doctrine, it is less common to think of doctrinal claims or statements as being wrong. Though they use the language of assertion about reality external to us, they are always significantly shaped by human experience. Since we only have direct access to our own experience, not to the experience of others, we have no grounds to say that others are wrong in their statements or interpretations. This approach to doctrine can accompany preaching and teaching that is orthodox in form and content, but it need not.

My own understanding of doctrine is different than both of these, though there is probably more overlap with the first. When it comes to the nature of truth, I believe that some things are the way they are whether I like it or not, whether I believe it or not, and whether I have any perception of it or not. But before the claim that Christian doctrine is true, I am committed to substantive Christian claims. God is the Creator. God has acted in history, calling Abraham and his family and covenanting with them to be a blessing to all people on earth. The Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, his life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension was the climax of that covenant. At Pentecost Jesus poured out the promised Holy Spirit on the church. The work of God that flowed out of that continues to this day. When we hear the call to “repent and believe,” we hear God calling us to set aside the other claims on our lives (the claims exercised by the world, the flesh, and the devil), inviting us to become willing participants in what He is doing. Given this background, I understand doctrine as that which equips and enables us to do this. Like some others, I use the metaphor of a play. Doctrine tells us who the characters are in the play (God, Father, Son, and Spirit; humans; the devil; the world), the plotline to this point, and the setting (God’s good creation, marred by sin, but on a trajectory toward glory through the grace and power of God).

Given this understanding of doctrine, doctrines are things we believe, but, more importantly, they are things that shape our action. If we assent to the truth of all the right assertions, if we say all the right words, but that assent and that saying doesn’t bring us to the point of joining God in what he’s doing, then we are not “doing” doctrine rightly.

Maybe you’re noticing in my account some elements of the second understanding of doctrine that I mentioned above. If we are “doing” doctrine rightly, it will shape our experience: our actions and perceptions and feelings.

Our acts of believing (orthodoxy) are shaped by and shape our actions (orthopraxy) so that we may rightly love God and our neighbor (orthopathy). Doing doctrine rightly is not just a matter of orthodoxy, but brings together both orthopathy and orthopathy.

It’s in this context that I find myself feeling uneasy with the claims of those defending the “Stay UMC” position. Yes, it’s true, the official doctrine won’t change. I appreciate the rejection of a wooden propositionalism. But how will that official doctrine function in the church? What is the relationship between our doctrine and the way we read and interpret the Bible? Will a rejection of a propositionalist account of doctrine make doctrinal accountability unimaginable?

I’m also uneasy with the claims of those saying, “Go GMC!” I appreciate the impetus toward accountability in the area of doctrine and the express desire to take it seriously. But again, how will doctrine function within the church? I’m uncomfortable with an approach that levels all doctrines into the category of “essential” – that’s the way of fundamentalism, and I’m not a fundamentalist. As they react against the poisonous normative doctrinal pluralism of the UMC, will they go the opposite direction into poisonous doctrinal rigidity? Again, how will doctrine function in the church?

In a future post I’ll make comments about the problem of reaction. It’s normal for humans and human institutions to react against things and happenings in their environment. I’ll be exploring better and words ways to do that. In the meantime, I continue to pray for our discernment efforts, here in our congregation and across the connection.

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The Spirit of the Disciplines – Chapter 1

Dallas Willard begins his account of how to become the kind of person who can consistently live as a disciple of Jesus. In a key sentence he says, “A successful performance at a moment of crisis rests largely and essentially upon the depths of a self wisely and rigorously prepared in the totality of its being – mind and body.” Here’s my teaching through this chapter.

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Spirit of the Disciplines – Introduction

Many years ago Dallas Willard wrote The Spirit of the Disciplines, a helpful and influential book examining spiritual disciplines in the Christian tradition. He explored what they were and how they worked. A couple years ago I worked my way though the book, finding much of value.

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The Absolute Basics of the Wesleyan Way

The United Methodist Church is, after years of inner dissension, at the beginning of formally breaking up. In some places (like my own Texas Annual Conference), the monetary cost of disaffiliation is low. At the other extreme conferences like Baltimore Washington have very high monetary costs. From the arguments I see on social media we are very far from what Bill Hinson called “amicable separation.”

From what I see, one of the most beneficial things we can do in this season is to gain/regain clarity about our identity as Methodist Christians. One of the helpful studies that’s come out in recent years is The Absolute Basics of the Wesleyan Way by Phil Tallon and Justus Hunter. I created a study guide for each chapter when we did it in our Sunday school classes a couple years ago. I thought these might be of use to others doing the study, so here they are for your benefit:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

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