Reclaiming Theology II

Our Book of Discipline says that “The underlying energy of the Wesleyan theological heritage stems from an emphasis upon practical divinity, the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.” (Paragraph 101 under the heading “Our Distinctive Heritage as United Methodists) In other words, our heritage is to make Christianity real in people’s lives! We don’t want to get caught up in debates and arguments and endless philosophical discussions; we want to make Christianity real in the lives of people.

Young adults want real. It seems like every day there are three new reality television shows rolled out. A few years ago Nickelodeon ran an ad for “actual reality” where they recommended getting off the couch, turning off the tv, and experiencing life in person. The generation that watched those ads as kids and youth are now young adults. They would prefer real reality to reality tv.

Our theological heritage is real. Wesley’s theology was so real it wouldn’t allow the walls of a church building to contain his message. For over 200 years the people called Methodist have lived a life grounded in real theology. It is time to let all the young adults out there know it.

Our theological heritage is scriptural. At this point, many of you life-long United Methodists will be inclined to go to the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” We want to recommend against that. Here is why. As we showed above; 91% of young adults (and other unchurched people) say that what the church believed was important in their decision to come to that church. To the unchurched, beginning a discussion of “what United Methodists believe” with a digression into the Wesleyan Quadrilateral will sound like we are avoiding the topic.

After all, the quadrilateral was not the creation of Wesley, but a 1970’s model for interpreting how Wesley did theology. It was intended as a framework for guiding us as a broad and diverse denomination in theological conversation and exploration. Wesley himself never referred to a quadrilateral, nor did he leave us discourses on tradition, reason, and experience.

As United Methodists we, like John Wesley and all other committed Christian leaders before and since, start with scripture. Wesley described himself as a “man of one book,” though he read constantly. He even had a bookmount built onto his saddle so he could read while riding from place to place!

With young adults, you might begin with our Articles of Religion. There are two sets! When we became The United Methodist Church in 1968, we retained both the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. In fact, it would be a good exercise in familiarizing yourself with what we believe as United Methodists to compare the two sets of articles as a group. (That the Articles and Confession are a good place to start testifies to the purpose of the quadrilateral; these are the foundational documents of our tradition).

To summarize, theology is important to young adults who seeking a church or who we might reach. As United Methodists, we have too rich a theological heritage to ignore, yet we have for years.

Young adults will find our theological heritage and the primacy of scripture in our tradition a very welcome foundation on which they may begin their lives of faith. Remember that our theological heritage is “the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.” Because it isn’t just beliefs but the implementation of beliefs, it is real; the kind of real they are looking for.

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