From Around the Internet
Since I’ve been feeling better lately, I guess it is time to get back to the computer. Over time, I actually gained a kind of physical aversion to the computer: my mind associating it with dizziness and nausea.
Sometimes I don’t mind being away, though. The United Methodist blogosphere has lit up over the issue of homosexuality and church trials. The issue is the United Methodist Church’s ban on same-sex marriages. I’ve read a little. And, truth be told, I have very little to say about this. When a measure passes at General Conference with a significant and strong contrary opinion, that measure is going to be near-impossible to enforce. The same would be true in a local church. The church passes a controversial measure by a 75% majority. What happens? All hell breaks loose, that’s what happens. So, it is happening on the denominational level. A pastor is found guilty of violating the United Methodist Discipline — because he did. A Bishop is charged with doing the same. People express their defiance. Since the charge against Bishop Talbert was referred to the Western Jurisdiction there is a good chance that the Discipline will not be enforced in his case. Does anyone remember the long history of these church trials centering on gay and lesbian issues? Sometimes the Discipline is enforced and sometimes it isn’t. It is a mess.
Admitting that there is no unanimity on the issue could be a first step in moving forward. But, Dr. David F. Watson says the United Methodist Church has already split: This is Not About Sex. He says that without church law, and a common agreement to abide by it, the United Methodist Church cannot continue to exist. (Yes, I understand, but the people on the other side of this believe that the rule is unjust and therefore must be violated.) Then, later, he argues that the UMC needs to define its approach to Scripture before it takes any further initiatives on sexuality: Dear UMC: Please study the nature and function of Scripture. (Though I don’t see how that will help us deal with the present strife or succeed in bringing everyone to a common mind.) On the other hand, Morgan Guyton points out that the heart matters to God and that sometimes people break the rules for noble reasons: Justice of the heart and Frank Schaefer. And that’s just the point, I think. Side B sees itself as preserving faithfulness to Scripture and the moral traditions of the church, whereas Side A views this as a justice issue. I’m not assuming everyone is noble — I’m sure power issues play into this as well. But, certainly one can claim a noble motive.
The roadblock is this: (1.) the Church has generally upheld a committed, monogamous, heterosexual standard for sexual relations and (2.) the Bible contains several strongly worded condemnations of same-gender sex. And, one of the main reasons several of us — otherwise conservative, Christian types — have had second thoughts about this is because of our friendships and interactions with gay and lesbian people.
It just seems to me that it would be healthy for the United Methodist denomination to admit it is struggling with the issue — and we are not all of a common mind. This might take the power politics out of it.
Can or will the United Methodist Church survive? I have no idea.
I have (FINALLY) gotten around to re-editing The Fullness of the Blessing of the Gospel of Christ (1903) by Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu. Really, I hadn’t looked at that little book in a long time. One of the chapters is an old favorite of mine: Some Things Methodism Stands For. But, otherwise, I hadn’t really taken a look at the book in a long time. Well, I discovered, when going through it again, that it contains a long section on the Assurance of Faith — or what we often call the Witness of the Spirit to salvation. I had forgotten that Mallallieu spent so much time with that concept. His basic approach is to quote Wesley copiously. So, these chapters represent a nice little compendium of Wesley’s teachings on the Assurance of Salvation. Mallalleiu says:
Now, Methodism has constantly and strenuously declared that, in this experience, this threefold experience of pardon, justification, and regeneration, the one having the experience must be cognizant of the fact; and just at this point Methodism has differed with many most excellent Christian people who have claimed that it has not been within the scope of human knowledge to cognize either the fact of pardon, justification or regeneration; but the doubts and fears and uncertainty of these good people have not deterred Methodists from declaring that they know that they have passed from death unto life.
Here is his presentation of the issue:
All in all, a very nice statement of the traditional Wesleyan teaching on this subject.
Last week I attended the conference on A Missional Reading of Scripture at Calvin Seminary. It was an excellent event with a great line-up of speakers, including N. T. Wright, Christopher J. H. Wright, Michael W. Goheen, and Darrell L. Guder. Simply put, a missional reading of Scripture is “a way of reading Scripture in which mission is a central interpretive key that unlocks the whole narrative of Scripture.” I appreciated it as an alternative to a more shallow Church Growth approach — and I appreciate the fact that we are being called again to a positive engagement with the world in the name of Christ. Does that make sense? I think the Church (in general) needs to get serious about Scripture, serious about prayer, and serious about our role in the world as agents of God’s Kingdom. Does it seem like I am a very unlikely person to be attending a conference on theology at a place called Calvin Seminary? You are darn right I am. But, it is nice to take advantage to things happening in the area. And, because I sometimes help out with volunteer pastoring duties at the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, they, very kindly, paid my way.
Personally, I think the Methodist movement was Missional from the word go. People were disciplined in communities of faith, where they were called upon to participate in the mission of God to make the world a better place. (How it managed to get messed up is another story.)
One of the conference lectures was a public lecture — N. T. Wright spoke on the Bible’s “Big Picture” at the Mars Hill Bible Church. A lot of people from the surrounding area attended. There is a picture on the right to prove that really happened.
So, all in all, it was good to be among the Reformed to hear some great lectures and to feel some core convictions of my own being reinforced. I’m up for having my assumptions questioned, as well. But, this conference reinforced a lot of ideas I have had for quite a while. N. T. Wright has been a favorite of mine for a long time. And, I will have to read more of Christopher J. H. Wright. He is an Old Testament scholar, and I very much appreciate what he is saying. (Though I really don’t need suggestions of more authors to read!)
Craig Keener reviews John McArthur’s book Strange Fire here: John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener. He manages to find some points of agreement before his criticisms: which are substantial.
Although I never watch horror movies, for once I think I can identify with the thrill some people get from watching them. Reading MacArthur’s astonishingly broadbrushed condemnation of all charismatic experience was so over the top that I would have been tempted to find it entertaining were it not for the tragic likelihood that some readers will accept it uncritically.
MacArthur’s aim is so scattershot that he unknowingly blasts even many of his fellow critics of excess. He practices guilt-by-association in such an indiscriminate way, and sometimes with such limited research, that some will be tempted to charge him with slandering fellow believers. The biblical foundations for his defense of hard cessationism are so fragile that they barely warrant me squandering space to critique it in this review….
MacArthur’s indiscriminate condemnation of anything charismatic is little different from some bigoted secular condemnations of all evangelicals because of the behavior of some. Someone prone to generalize could even use the offenses in the book to blacklist all evangelicals, or all Christians, using the same logic that MacArthur uses against the entire charismatic movement. MacArthur complains when outsiders extrapolate from scandals that include many charismatics to evangelicals (6), yet he does the same by lumping the entire charismatic “movement” together.
Whereas MacArthur is happy to cite a Pew Forum study on Pentecostals and charismatics accepting prosperity teaching, he for some reason ignores that the same study claims that these groups are likelier than others to affirm that Jesus is the only way of salvation and to share their Christian faith with nonbelievers. That is, MacArthur wants to emphasize that charismatics identify with what he considers a false gospel, but not that charismatics are in many places among the most evangelical of evangelicals.
It is a long review, and as indicated above, doesn’t even take up the cessationist issue. But, if you are interested in this controversy, it’s worth reading.
And here is a brief history of the concept of Biblical inerrancy via Ken Schenck: A History of Inerrancy. He says it is: “A few quick thoughts on how I think the Bible's truthfulness has been conceived over time and has changed throughout church history.”
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