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Critique - Moderates

by John Miles

| Defining Beliefs | Critique | Response |

Dear Friends,

Today I will attempt to critique the moderate wing of our church. I was raised in the midst of moderate Methodism. Most of my thoughts and beliefs have been profoundly shaped by this dominate wing of the UMC. Moderates have taken to heart the principle of Anglican faith that seeks the middle way. Anglicanism is famous for seeking to find harmony and balance in religious life. From the beginning, Anglicanism sought to balance faith and reason, "knowledge and vital piety," as Wesley called it. I have profited greatly from this environment. It gave me the freedom to seek out my own faith. It has produced churches and pastors who are open and relatively noncritical. However, there are some serious flaws in my own education and in the life of the church that have developed with an over emphasis on moderation, tolerance and diversity.

First, moderate Methodism has become much too subjective. Religious choices are personal and experiential. For instance, I have been told, "It is fine to believe in the physical resurrection but you have no right to suggest that every other Christian ought to believe it as well." "Every Christian must choose for themselves what to believe in or not believe in." "Religion is a leap of faith and each person must make their own decision where to jump." By making religious preferences subjective, we effectively detach them from Biblical truths. Jesus is Lord not because His coming conforms to biblical prophecy, or His resurrection confirms his divinity. Elton Trueblood's famous argument for Christ as either Lord, Lunatic or Liar is simply unnecessary. Moderates will not argue for the objective truth of biblical faith they simply try to live it out.

This subjectivity breeds a tolerance for everything but intolerance. The one cardinal theological sin of a United Methodist pastor is to suggest that there are theological stances that cannot be tolerated. No one has ever criticized me for any theological belief I hold, however, they have strongly condemned my suggestion that there are theologies that are not compatible with Methodism. Mostly, however, when I bring up controversial theological topics among moderates they either leave or change the subject or suggest that theology really does not matter, doing the work of Christ is what is important. However, if we are not clear who Christ is then how can we agree on what working for Him implies?

This tolerance for everything but intolerance has lead to the crisis that the Confessing Document addresses. Because we no longer are united by a clear theology, we can no longer confess with one voice that Jesus is Lord. Dr William Abraham rightly calls our predicament, doctrinal amnesia. Diversity without any doctrinal core is chaos and that is precisely where our church seems headed.

Finally, by embracing tolerance and subjectivity we frequently have lost our passion for Christ and His ministry. It has been my experience that United Methodist pastors and often United Methodist people are afraid of a passionate Christianity. It is fine to love Jesus and the church, just do not get too excited.

I love being a Methodist. By instinct, whether you believe it or not, I tend to seek moderate positions like a good Methodist that I am. However, when it comes to Jesus Christ, His life, His death, and His physical resurrection I will not, nor can I be moderate. What do you think? Next week I will devote my whole letter to your responses. If you do not wish your name included, please note that in your message.

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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