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Defining Beliefs - Moderates

by John Miles

| Defining Beliefs | Critique | Response |

Dear Friends,

Over the next few weeks I am going to try to delineate the beliefs of the three groups in Methodism, liberal, moderate, and conservative. This week I want to attempt to describe the moderate position on the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, human nature, scripture and Christian ethics. I am especially grateful for the book "A LAYMAN'S GUIDE TO PROTESTANT THEOLOGY" by William Hordern. This book is dated but still useful.

I continue in my description of the three groups in United Methodism with an analysis of the moderate position.

I have struggled with defining this largest of the three groups. By definition, moderates are seeking a middle way between liberals and conservatives. For moderates, the United Methodist quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason is a very important. While liberals stress experience and reason and conservatives stress scripture and tradition, moderates try to balance all four components.

Incarnation- Moderates may personally believe in the Virgin Birth but they do not think that is an essential doctrine. Moderates and conservatives agree in their belief that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. They believe he was unique in all of human history and represents one of the three Persons of the Trinity.

Atonement- While moderates agree that Jesus death was not accident, they are uncomfortable with any form of substitutionary atonement. They prefer to see Jesus death as the ultimate demonstration of God's love rather than a ransom from sin.

Resurrection- Moderates accept the physical resurrection as a matter of personal faith. Because they are skeptical of trying to prove the validity of faith based on biblical truth, they will say that belief in the physical resurrection is not central to Christianity. They agree with the liberals that the symbolic meaning of the resurrection is more important than the actual event.

Human Nature- Moderates agree with conservatives on this one. Humankind was made in the image of God, however, that image was distorted and broken and we are now separated from God by our sins. Even in our sin that image of God remains. We can be restored to our relationship with God through faith in Christ.

Scripture- The Bible is both the Word of God and the word of man. It is inspired but also very human. Moderates embrace biblical criticism of the Bible. They believe that the picture of Jesus in the Gospel's is colored by the church's faith in Christ as savior. Because of their emphasis on personal faith they are not very concerned about this coloring. They are the least likely to enter into a debate about what Jesus actually said. They try to balance scripture within the frame work of tradition, experience, and reason.

Christian Ethics-While not rejecting the moral law of the Old and New Testament they put their greatest emphasis on love, as do the liberals. Love and tolerance are perhaps the two most powerful motivations for this group.

I dealt with this group last because I find this group most difficult to categorize. Part of the very definition of a moderate is someone who seeks consensus rather than conflict. That makes theological discussion much more complicated as you have seen in the responses I have received. A real indication that someone is a moderate is when they say to liberals and conservatives, "you should not be so divisive."

Your Brother,


John Miles is:

  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

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