Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Renewing United Methodism

In his book On Leadership, John Gardner has prescient words about the need for renewal in large, complex organizations.  I wish I would have read these words before attending General and Jurisdictional Conferences.  They point to the need to take a realistic assessment of the present so that the future can be faced with hope.  All attempts at change usually have unattended consequences.

Gardner writes:  "I believe that all detailed attempts to design the society of the future are no more than smoke blown into the high winds of change.  Obviously, we must have our minds amply stocked with contingent plans, estimates of better or worse paths to travel, visions of what could be or might be or ought to be.  But blueprints of the future there can never be.  To prepare for the swift transitions ahead, our surest assets are highly motivated men and women with a sense of what is important for the human future.  The surest guarantors of our future are individuals and the ideas they have in their heads, including the values, intellectual, moral, and social, that they convey to young people coming along.  Fortunately, that is an immensely significant resource" (p. 137).

Two points:  First, I wonder if there were contingent plans to the Call to Action Report.  It seems as a blueprint we as a church did not have a contingent plans in mind.

Second, Gardner's point speaks to the need to release of the energy and talents of young people, to find ways, as Wesley put it, of raising up and letting go leaders, of mentoring and resourcing those whose gifts show promise in ministry.  Maybe the focus at GC on training young and talented lay and clergy leaders will pay long-term dividends. 

Gardner's book raises all kinds of questions about the need for strong and courageous leadership.

Monday, July 16, 2012

John Wesley's Ecclesiology

Over my vacation I had the opportunity to peruse the book by Gwang Seok Oh on John Wesley's Ecclesiology: A Study In Its Sources and Development.  It is a reworking of Oh's doctoral dissertation at Southern Methodist University under William Abraham.  I appreciated the thoroughness of Oh's argument and the way in which he walked through Wesley's understanding of the church.  Particulary interesting for me were Oh's chapters on the influence of German Pietism on Wesley and the importance of primitive Christianity on Wesley's view of ministry and mission.

If you want a serious in-depth study of Wesley's ecclesiology (a topic of growing importance today) this is the work!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Juvenile Faith?

Here is a book that we are reading at Grace United Methodist Church:  The Juvenilation of American Christianity by Thomas B. Bergler.  It's an interesting exploration of how we in the church have stunted the growth of our young people - and adults.  I think this work will become a standard text for those who are preparing for youth ministry, similar to Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Missio Dei and Wesleyanism

Our Nazarene friends have compiled a helpful festschrift of articles on understanding the Missio Dei in light of the Wesleyan theological tradition.  With the missional church movement gaining influence on various parts of the church's life it is good to see this kind of reflection taking place within the wider Methodist church-family.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wesleyan Doctrine Series

A year ago I read a manuscript by Steve Long of Marquette University on the United Methodist Confession of Faith and Articles of Religion.  At that time I was intrigued, and I told Steve it would be good to make it available to a wider audience.  After some tweaking, Steve sent the manuscript to Wipf & Stock Publishers.  Now the material appears in the little book Keeping Faith: An Ecumenical Commentary on the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith in the Wesleyan Tradition.  It is the first in a series of books on the topic of doctrine. 

Keeping Faith also offers resources to help Christians reclaim the importance of doctrine and thereby to know and love well God and God's creation, bringing to bear important questions and insights about the church's mission and life. 

I am glad I have had some small measure of input in this project.  Other volumes will be forthcoming.

Friday, June 22, 2012

John Wesley's Evangelical Arminanism

Reading several blogs recently and seeing different postings on Facebook I have gathered there are a few disagreements brewing over Calvinist and Arminian approaches to Evangelical faith and practice. I am not really "up" on what is happening on this front in the theological world, but I have obtained a book on this topic that I plan to read over the next few months.  It is entitled Sufficient Saving Grace, and it is written by Herbert Boyd McGonigle, Principal of Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, England.  Maybe this resource might provide future food for thought and conversation.

Do we ever have enough time to read all we want to read?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Contributions to Wesleyan Theology

I have enjoyed reading the following two festshrifts in Wesleyan and Protestant theology by persons involved in the life of the church, especially at the seminary level.  The first book by Theodore Runyon has some wonderful essays from his teaching years at Candler School of Theology. I was fortunate to work with Ted and gain an appreciation for the wider German influence in American Protestant and Wesleyan theologies, particularly in line with German Pietism. Ted was also instrumental in helping me to spend a year in Gottingen studying Barth and Bonhoeffer. Ted's book takes readers into the meaningful ways Wesleyan theology can interact with other aspects of German Protestant theologies, namely, with reference to theologians like Moltmann, Tillich, and Gogarten.

Exploring the Range of Theology
The second book of essays edited by Nathan Crawford of Indiana Wesleyan University in honor of Laurence Wood also helps to explore the continuing relevance of Wesleyan theology for the church. There is a distinct emphasis in the essays on the unique contribution the Wesleyan tradition has for theological reflection and scholarship.

Both of these books are in print from Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Evangelism in the Wesleyan Tradition

There are two short works out in print about evangelism in the Wesleyan tradition.  Both are adapted from the Denman Lecture Series delivered at the Congress on Evangelism.  They make for interesting reading, and are worth not only study but prayerful action.

They should become required reading.

The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement by George G. Hunter III of Asbury Theological Seminary.

Celtic Fire by William J. Abraham of Perkins School of Theology.


Good summer reading!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Connecting with the World as Methodists

Reflecting on the mission of the church in light of our Wesleyan theological heritage I have been blessed with the insights of the following professors and practioners of the faith who are putting forth before the church what it means to live out the gospel.  Here are three books of articles and papers that I have enjoyed and that I hope others will enjoy.  They all pertain to evangelism and mission in the Wesleyan spirit and they all speak to the ways in which we can be engaged in mission and witness. 

Paul Chilcote's collection of essays and articles in Making Disciples in the Global Parish: Global Perspectives on Mission and Evangelism reflects on what it means to make disciples in specific contexts around the world.  A rich resource for future conversation...

W. Stephen Gunter and Elaine Robinson have assembled essays and papers on Considering the Great Commission:  Evangelism and Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit.  I appreciate the practical aspects of this work.

Darrell Whitman and Gerald H. Anderson have edited a unique volume on World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit.  This work also explores the challenges facing the Wesleyan movement around the world and asks difficult questions with respect to the fires of renewal.

These works are available, of course, through amazon, but they provide food-for-thought as we consider the global impact and nature of the Wesleyan movement, not to mention the United Methodist Church.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Organizing to Beat the Devil

At the Celebration of Ministry Service at Annual Conference in Indianapolis in June I was struck again by how we in the Methodist tradition continually strive to invoke the Holy Spirit upon the life of the church and upon those who are to order and lead it:  in the midst of conference and bishop, in the call to itinerant forms of ministry and accountability, we confess how dependent we are upon the Spirit to share in the mission of the whole church.  I was struck by the way we are to order our lives not simply toward God but toward one another, and by the way our guiding vision always takes a particular shape during a particular time regardless of the challenges.  It was a grace-filled moment, to be sure, but also a reminder of the true end to which Christ calls each of us.  

In a letter to John Smith on June 25, 1746, John Wesley, in reflecting on the Methodist movement, wrote, “What is the end of all ecclesiastical order?  Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God?  And to build them in his fear and love?  Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not it is worth nothing.”

Wesley’s quote captures the deeply missional thrust of the people called Methodists:  a church’s pattern of organization and authority – or polity – must be oriented toward the church’s mission of saving souls or making disciples.  How we order our lives must somehow support that basic mission.  As Wesley would say elsewhere:  if we can’t find ways to organize the church toward these ends, then we might as well let the devil win!
As United Methodists we have spent a great deal of energy over the years trying to align our organization more purposefully with our mission.  As historian Russell Richey of Emory University has stated, Methodists have always tried to develop appropriate structures that would sustain and nourish their mission depending on the era.  What have remained constant over time are those elements that have been distinctive to Methodists from early on:  conference, episcopacy, itinerant ministry, and forms of accountability.  While these aspects do not provide a full account of Methodist polity, the loss of any of them would diminish something unique to the Methodist way of sharing in God’s mission.   

To be sure, it’s a tall order to keep these four elements together, especially during a time of historic transition.  It would be easy, for example, to fall into the trap of wanting to do away with one of these principles at the expense of another.  It would also be tempting to see the role of the Holy Spirit as only working in our individual lives or congregations as against the structures of the wider church as an institution.  And yet, as our history indicates, our polity has persisted through time not just because we have the right structures but because we are actively seeking to respond to what the Spirit is doing.      
Such characteristics, of course, are not unique to United Methodists.  Other Pan-Methodists and Wesleyan Holiness churches have also struggled with matters of discipline and order – African Methodist Episcopal and Free Methodists come to mind.  They are reminders that questions of mission and polity go hand-in-hand in the Wesleyan tradition.

Celebrating in worship at Annual Conference, and praying for those who were being commissioned and ordained, I was moved at how Methodism seeks to order its life as a mission-driven community of faith.  Again and again, we invoked God’s Spirit as we sent out those who will serve among us, sharing in ministries of mutual accountability, and renewing our covenant to be faithful to the example of Christ.  It was a hope-filled moment, to say the least.
However, as we think about the future of the United Methodist Church, we may also want to ask ourselves why these four elements in our polity have persisted throughout our history and what they may mean in light of our present challenges.  As General Conference in Tampa revealed we have much work to do.   

Friday, February 17, 2012

To Tithe or Not to Tithe

Should the church teach tithing?  Given our emphasis on tithing in the Indiana Conference, I am sure we would want to promote the practice of tithing.  However, as the recent flood of books on tithing (or not tithing) suggest, there is more to the story! 

Below is a sermon I shared on generosity.  I touch on this debate and show how the practice of generosity knows no limits.

The apostle Paul was eager to see the Corinthians practice generosity. 

The issue was simple:  as a sign of unity Paul wanted the predominately Gentile church in Corinth to share a gift – an offering – with the predominately Jewish Church in Jerusalem.

There was a need to build a bridge between Gentile and Jewish Christians, and there was a need to give a gift that would help those who were struggling.

Paul takes several chapters to instruct the Corinthians on the kinds of attitudes and principles they would need to adopt to demonstrate the kind of generosity he believed they could show.

Taking his cue from agriculture he reminds them that “whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly” and “whoever sows generously will reap generously” (II Cor. 9:6). 

He continues:  “He [God] who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (II Cor. 9:10).

Every person should give not out of compulsion or reluctance but out of a cheerful, or loving, or willing heart (II Cor. 9:7)./1/

As it is God’s character to give so we are to give – generously!  As it is God’s character to love so we are to love – abundantly!

This is who God is and how God works:  at all times, in all things, in all places, to all who confess and obey the gospel (II Cor. 9:8, II Cor. 9:13).

God provides the seed and makes possible what we thought was impossible (II Cor. 9:10). 

What we see as the problem of scarcity God sees as an opportunity to supply in abundance (II Cor. 9: 12).

That’s the spiritual principle the apostle Paul wants the Corinthians to understand:  God is not a miser:  rather, God is the Lord of life whose grace overflows – all the time, in all places – always giving.

What’s the saying?  “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.”

There is in the very heart of God the law of abundance whereby God always gives what we need!  God’s grace is always sufficient (II Cor. 12:9)! 

So goes one of the first stewardship campaigns in the Christian church!

Vital Church!

Now over the last few weeks we have been sharing what a vital and caring congregation looks like, and we have been noting how Christ invites us and challenges us to be a healthy and strong church.

Last week Pastor Jenothy communicated how as a church God can offer to us and through us healing and forgiveness, making us whole and complete.

As the heart goes, she said, so goes the life of the Christian, indeed, so goes the life of the church!

It’s a point Jesus makes in Matthew’s Gospel that a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit (Mt. 7:18):  the good heart [person] brings out good things and the evil heart [person] brings out evil things (Mt. 12:33-36).

It’s a point Paul makes to the Galatians when he talks about the Spirit bringing about an inward change that produces fruit like generosity, joy, goodness, love (Gal. 5:22-23).

The very character of Christ takes shape in us when we allow the Spirit to come to abide in us and with us!

It’s why we cannot force generosity!  A church is generous not because it forces giving but because it teaches and invites people to relate more fully to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict./2/

A generous heart is really a heart under conviction, responding to the need while trusting God to provide.

Without conviction, there is little awareness of need, let alone God’s grace!  In fact, the two go hand-in-hand:  once convicted to give we trust God to supply to meet the need. 

That’s the mark of health and vitality:  freely giving, always trusting, without compulsion.

And it’s why generosity is always a matter of the heart.  There is no law that can command a person to be generous (Gal. 5:23).

When the Holy Spirit wakes us up out of our sinful self-centeredness, out of our lack of trust, out of our fear of the difference God can make, generosity can become a reality!


As some of you know I try to do a great deal of reading, and lately, I have been following a debate about giving and tithing.

In fact, some of the books I have read over the last few weeks have the following titles:  Why Christians Should Not Tithe, Tithes: The Exhortation of the Body of Christ, and Should the Church Teach Tithing?/3/

It is really an interesting debate about the relationship between the Old Testament teaching on tithing and the New Testament teachings on generosity.  What I would like to share with you is what these authors are not saying:  they are not saying we should not tithe or give 10% of our income to the Lord’s work’; rather, what they are saying is that as Christians we, of all people, should not let the tithe limit our giving to God!/4/  In other words, generosity does not have a 10% cap! 

Now, I am sure someone is saying, “Yes, but if everyone tithed, we would have more than we needed.”  No argument here!  I would love to see it!   

But given that roughly 7% of Christians in this country practice tithing I am going to assume that there is always more we all can give!/5/ 

I am going to I assume, with the apostle Paul, that there is no limit to what we can give, that we cannot out-give God.

In fact, I am going to assume that a generous person, convicted by the Spirit, will always try to give all he or she can – to whom he or she can, in all the places he or she can, in all the ways he or she can, at all the times he or she can, as long as he or she ever can! 

I am going to assume that a generous heart is a grateful heart, and that it does not get caught up in calculating outcomes or making excuses or putting limits on God, but instead gets caught up in giving what is needed when it is needed; that it gets caught up in sowing generously, abundantly.

To be sure, there is always confusion about giving and tithing and about the motivations of giving, but the following clip, I believe, can help us recognize how the law of God’s abundance gets twisted beyond all recognition when giving and tithing get disconnected from the spirit of generosity, when it loses sight of who God is and what God’s requires!  Funny, but true!  Watch!

The Skinny of Tithing

Boom, tithe!  I think I recognized a few of those characters!

The practice of giving generously is not so much about giving a certain amount (though the tithe is a biblical marker) as it is about giving according to what we have been given (II Cor. 9:8).  Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required” (Lk. 12:48).

Therefore, the question we need to ask is, “Are we truly being generous with all that God has given us?  In what ways are we being a blessing to others?”

Extravagant Generosity

In the past, we have spoken about being a church that demonstrates “extravagant generosity.”/6/  We have spoken about how giving extravagantly is the way to attain a wonderful, richer life.  

I know as a pastor I have never known a giver who was not somehow blessed or better off for it in every way.  Have you?

Now, as God as my witness, I will not stand here and tell you that giving to God will automatically and instantly bring you health and wealth.  That’s a different gospel
(Gal. 1:6).   

But I will stand here and tell you that God’s promises are true:  that what we reap what we sow – and that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly (II Cor. 9:6).

And I will stand here and tell you that our God is a giving God and that what God supplies is far greater than what we can ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

And I will stand here and tell you that God does love “cheerful givers” – “cheerful congregations” – those who give freely and willingly to Christ’s work.

I will stand on those promises!  And I will share with a grateful heart what I know:  that our God is able to make all grace abound in our lives and that because of this grace we can give in ways that we didn’t think possible!

O Church of Christ:  Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of grace (II Cor. 9:16).


1.     See James D. Quiggle, Why Christians Should Not Tithe: A History of Tithing and Biblical Paradigm for Christian Giving (Eugene, Oregon:  Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2009), p. 87.

2.     Ibid., p. 147. 

3.     See James D. Quiggle, Why Christians Should Not Tithe (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2009), B. Ann Nichols, Tithes: The Exhortion of the Body of Christ (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2006), and Russell Earl Kelly, Should the Church Teach Tithing: A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine (Writers Club Press:  New York: 2007).           

4.     See James D. Quiggle, p. vii. 

5.     See the Barna Report: “New Study Shows Trends in Tithing and Giving” (April 13, 2008).  Go to www.barna.org.

6.     Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Augustine and Authority

One of the best books I have read over the last year is Charles Matthewes The Republic of Grace: Augustinian Thoughts for Dark Times.  I have been captivated by the work he has done interpreting the implications of Augustine's thought for our day.  Here is a brief sentence about authority, reflecting how Augustine speaks to those who occupy a political (and pastoral?) office:

"...whatever authority one has in office comes from God...one can prudently use one's authority only when one knows one's own sinfulness and one's temptations toward pride, and knows that one will, in the end, be judged...we borrow authority ultimately from God...the true and rightful judge" (p. 164).

Gospel Contextualization

C. Rene Padilla is General Secretary of the Latin American Theological Fraternity and pastor of a Baptist church in Buenos Aires.  Here is an insightful paragraph from his book Mission Between the Times: Essays on The Kingdom about the contextualization of the gospel in culture. 

"The contextualization of the gospel will not consist in an adaptation of an existing theology to a given culture.  It will not merely be the result of an intellectual process.  It will not be aided by a benevolent missionary paternalism intended to help the young church to select those cultural elements that can be regarded as positive.  The contextualization of the gospel can only be a gift of grace granted by God to a church that is seeking to place the totality of life under the Lordship of Christ in its historical situation.  More than a wonder of nature, the incarnation is a wonder of grace" (p. 109).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Anne Lamot

A quote from Anne Lamot:  "You can safely assume that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates the same people you do."

New Books for Preachers


Here are two books pastors will want to read in 2012 from persons who know the art and craft of preaching.  I know I look forward to reading them.  Tom Long and Fleming Rutledge are two preaches I value in terms of substance and style.

The Jesus Creed

We will be offering the Jesus Creed as part of our Wednesday Night ministry.  Looking forward to seeing what this book has to offer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A New Kind of Methodist

Amidst the ruins of World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi theologian, wrote about the need to practice “a new kind of monasticism” in the church.  There was a need, he wrote, to find creative ways of practicing “life together” as disciples of Jesus. 

Two professors of evangelism in the United Methodist Church, Elaine Heath (Perkins) and Scott Kisker (Wesley), also write about the need to practice a new kind of monasticism.  In their book Longing for Spring, they share how the United Methodist Church needs to explore new avenues of living out the call to discipleship.  Heath and Kisker want to engage United Methodists in how a new monastic movement among laity and clergy may contribute to renewal. There is a desire, they insist, to address the longings of those who want to practice the “rule of life” taught by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.  Their work grows out of the conviction that the Wesleyan revival was a form of monasticism that brought people from all walks of life into a deeper relationship with Christ.
To persons who may have thought that monasticism was for those who secluded themselves from the world, it may be good to remember that within Protestantism there have always been intentional communities that practiced what we might call a monastic rule of life:  Brethren, Puritan, and German Pietist groups come to mind.  Of course, the early Methodists were very intentional about practicing the General Rules in highly disciplined bands, classes, and societies.  The Rule of “doing no harm, doing all the good you can, and practicing the ordinances of God” only makes sense in a visible community of accountability.  Holiness in Wesleyan terms is always social holiness.    

What might a new monasticism mean for United Methodists today?  According to the 2004 Book of Discipline (Para.161.b), we discover support for forms of monasticism, such as Koinonia Farms and “other religious orders and corporate church life.”  United Methodists are encouraged to find “ways of understanding the needs and concerns of such groups and find ways of ministering to them and through them.”  Interestingly, this paragraph was removed from the 2008 Book of Discipline. However, as an example of a monastic community, Koinonia Farms is an example of the kind of disciplined church life supported by United Methodists.  We may also recall how Koinonia Farms was the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity and other ministries of racial reconciliation.
What about a monastic movement in the church?  Might the General Conference in Tampa encourage and engage such a movement?  What might it mean for a bishop to appoint a person to a monastic community created by United Methodists?  How might students and faculties on college campuses practice the Wesleyan “rule of life”?  In addition, how might local churches act as “anchor churches” to support those who want to minister in a Methodist Order along the lines of say Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity? 

Sound improbable?  The late Albert Outler suggested years ago that Methodism at its best was an “evangelical order” within the wider church, providing the means whereby persons could grow in holiness.  Having participated in the Walk to Emmaus, the Academy of Spiritual Formation, or Covenant Discipleship Groups persons may have some notion of what a new monasticism might look like, as these opportunities provide occasions to learn the way of discipleship.  Such avenues also offer the kind of support that can order the Christian life toward mission and service.

Those who want to learn more about the new monasticism will want to attend one or more of the following sessions in 2012:  Shane Claiborne will be at St. Luke’s UMC in Indy on February 16th/17th, and Elaine Heath will be coming to St. Andrew UMC in West Lafayette on March 18th; Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Rutba House in Durham, NC will be at UIndy on March 22nd.  All of these persons are involved in practicing the kind of wisdom Methodists have cultivated from the beginning. More importantly, they all address the deep longings of the heart that make discipleship the journey it is.