I had anticipated doing a review of Annual Conference proceedings around the country based on the material in Newscope. However, I got so many interesting responses from last weeks newsletter that I wanted to share some of those responses. I still have not worked out a good policy on sharing other peoples views. This is my policy in progress. Let me know what you think. Unless I am invited to by the author, I will not include their name. Because of the length of some letters I will edit. I will try to be fair in my editing. If you ask me not to share a letter I will comply with your request, however, I might share an idea that you raise.
Last week I wrote an article concerning the Confessing Movement as a response to the radical theology of the Jesus Seminar, that has found a foot hold in our seminaries. These are some of the reactions to that newsletter:
The problem with the "Quest for the Historical Jesus" is if you view scripture as merely a reflection of persons enlightened opinion about God and accept all the critical apparatus of the modern scholarship, then you wind up becoming agnostic about who the real Jesus really was (let alone is ) and what seems to follow is a Jesus that is based on cultural "political correctness" rather than Biblical fidelity. Without a high view of scripture and Christology, we are left with a Jesus that becomes one more ancient philosopher.
Such a Jesus will not inspire men and women to offer their lives in service let alone die for. Such a Jesus will not cause the world to stand up and listen to the church. Such a Jesus has no solution to the sin that entraps us personally and corporately. Such a Jesus leaves the church impotent and without respect in our world.
John, Excuse my pessimism, but as I look at our denomination I am not extremely hopeful that orthodoxy will win the day, but I do believe that our efforts to embrace the Confessing Movement offers a witness to the church at large that there are many among us with the conviction to stand uncompromisingly for the faith once delivered to the saints.
I have appreciated your letters in recent weeks. As an evangelical, I am very concerned about the future of the church and the issue of whether the church will slide "tolerantly" into apostasy. If there is one issue that would make me leave the UMC it would be when we, as a matter of Discipline, ordain open homosexuals.
But I have a question for the Confessing Movement. The Discipline says that any clergy or laity can be charged with the offense of "dissemination of doctrines contrary to the estabished standards of doctrine of the Church." (BOD, 1992, p 687, paragraph 2623,2624)
I read this statement to relate to the BOD's statements under "Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules" and "the Constitution" of the UMC. I know that I am just a student in a "non-Methodist" (thank God) seminary... , but it seems to be that if people are dissemination of doctrines contrary to the estabished standards of doctrine of the Church then they whether clergy or laity need to be brought up on charges. Or at least that is how is seems the church is supposed to work.
Thanks for an insightful presentation, once again. You mentioned Luke Timothy Johnson and I would add to his presentations several others which are quite noteworthy. First of all, Ben Witherington has written a number of books in response to the Jesus Seminar and their interpretations of the life of Jesus. Also, N.T. Wright's new book, "Jesus and the Victory of God" takes these individuals to task for their incredibly naive methodology.
I have often wondered why individuals who have no commitment to the unique nature of Jesus Christ would want to be Christian ministers. It is a riddle wrapped in an enigma surrounded by a conundrum that such events transpire in the United Methodist and other mainline churches. Go figure.
Thanks, John, for valuable, straight-arrow comments about Borg/Jesus Seminar conclusions. My reactions:
1. Whenever the historical Gospel is questioned, it always happens that well-meaning people begin to put other things up front to worship (read "abomination of desolation") They do mean well, so offer ecology, feminism, "rights" and even Sophia and other weirdness as objects of worship.
2. There is a problem in seeking correction at universities: The mind-set holds that new (and untried) ideas of intellectuals are more sophisticated, and that plain believers are simplistic. How simplistic is Romans 10:8-10? The creed "JESUS IS LORD?" Profoundly simple.
3. My theology teaches me that injection of doubt is a tool of satan. (Can I say that? Is it OK to say that?)
4. Most importantly, there is a question of integrity. i.e. good folks, simplistic Christians continue to support seminaries and to some extent curriculum materials which "sell the competitor's product." If I work for Ford, I should not go about promoting Chevys. We are to be ADVOCATES, salesmen of our product, rather than using the church to shoot ourselves in the foot! If one believes otherwise--doubts the historic Gospel, that person is free to go elsewhere. It's a free country. Frank Warden [email@example.com] 275 Trinity Rd,El Paso ARK 72045, 501-849-2131
Thanks for your letter concerning the Confessing Movement. I agree, there are some real problems within our denomination. I believe God is beginning to call together a remnant of believers in order to present the Gospel in these last days before Christ's return. One of the things that I am struggling with is that everyone is pushing me to attend Course of Study School so I can come into full connection. This scares me because of many of the things I have heard about and read concerning the liberal positions of most of our seminary faculty. I don't enjoy the thought of spending countless hours defending the truth of Scripture in a classroom. Maybe Jesus will come back before I have to start.
I understand your message. However, I think that there is room for Marcus Borg and others like him in Christianity. I believe that he is a sincere Christian. His writings certainly appeal to the intellectual side of me. If we feel that our faith is based on the Bible being 100% historically correct, then we are sure to be disappointed and may lose our faith. I prefer to believe in the higher aspects of the faith and not be concerned about the fact that there are errors in the Bible that could not be there if God literally wrote it. The human writers of the Bible passed down many great things to us about God, but they were limited by the times in which they lived.
Christianity needs checks and balances.
The heart needs the head, and vice versa. A person with a shallow faith cannot afford to wade too deep. What I agree with you on is that some of the intellectual stimulation coming from Biblical commentaries has very little heart. A case in point is a book I just read, "What your Minister is Afraid to Tell You About The Bible", by Terry Cain.
The book was very uncomfortable for me to read, although it said many things that I already knew about the Bible. There are apparent difficulties and apparent contradictions. The Old Testament without the New Testament presents a powerful yet unattractive image of God. And even the New Testament has a multitude of literary red flags to keep adding fuel to the fire of doubt. My disgust with the book is that the author bombarded the reader with these findings with a smile on his face and a niche on his gun. He seemed to delight in pointing out the trouble with interpreting scripture, yet he offered very little as a viable option. Even worse, this book is designed for the average layperson, not someone use to this kind of critical analysis. When it was over and the dust cleared, I found nothing in his solution to live for, or die for. I found no heart. I prefer to take my chances with the Risen Lord, in spite of some difficult passages.
P.S. The last chapter is good stuff.
Thanks for all the interesting comments. Hopefully, next week I will begin a review of decisions from Annual Conferences around the country. I have been amazed at how conservative many Conferences were. From my perspective, it was very encouraging.
John Miles is: