Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

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.