Thursday, March 30, 2006
Today I just want to make it clear what bugs me about the UPC.
First, I like the people I know in it. I think they're good people. They're vibrant. Indeed, the main attraction of the church that there's something going on there. And then there's the certainty both of what they believe and about what is true in general. In an uncertain world of grey, that's a plus.
Second, the fact that they speak in tongues doesn't bug me. Tongues is a pan-religious phenomenon that has been around forever. We have literature that indicates some ancient Jews spoke in tongues. There are Muslims who speakin tongues. And of course many Christians speak in tongues. I would never accuse someone of being demon possessed for speaking in tongues.
Acts clearly sanctions tongues, particularly understood as speaking in other languages that one hasn't studied. Bill Faupel, who used to be a librarian at Asbury, did his doctoral dissertation on how the individuals in Topeka in 1901 who mark the beginnings of the modern charismatic movement 1) were holiness folk seeking the Pentecostal blessing understood as a second work of entire sanctification and 2) thought that they were speaking in human languages. Evidently many of them actually went to foreign countries thinking that they would be able to spread the gospel to them because of their experience of tongues. Of course they failed miserably.
Paul addresses tongues as a problem in the Corinthian church (they don't even make his list of spiritual gifts in Romans 12 where tongues is not at issue, an indication that tongues was not high on Paul's list of priorities). He says not to forbid speaking in tongues--note the trajectory he is moving in: away from tongues but don't forbid, not toward tongues but don't promote. In the flow of that argument 14:1 is a continuation of 12:31, which indicates that prophecy is a "greater gift" while tongues is one he is not saying to eagerly desire.
I'm getting off topic. My goal was not to "put the gift of tongues in its place," although this is my attempt at an objective assessment of tongues. Tongues simply is not a major emphasis of the New Testament and the New Testament would not look the way it does if a Pentecostal had written its books. It's easy to get lost in an exegetical forest of interpreting individual verses. Indeed, the exegetical ethos of our circles fosters a spirit of "reading into the text."
I'll be the first to admit up front that my holiness background did exactly the same thing. But there is no single place in the entire Bible where the "second work of grace, entire sanctification doctrine" is laid down the way I heard it preached growing up. If a holiness preacher of my background had written the New Testament, it would not look the way it does. I step back and conclude that there is some myopia at work here.
But the speaking in tongues does not bother me. I truly believe that those who speak in tongues are experiencing God and how can that be anything other than a blessing, to have such a clear moment of divine engagement. Those with the gift are truly blessed in this regard. No better and definitely not more spiritual, but blessed. I can live easily with this feature of the UPC.
Third, I can live with their heretical views of the Trinity. I'm a proto-Pentecostal as we've said, so I'm more interested in the heart than the head. If God always corrected everyone's head then all Christians would believe the same thing. They don't.
Of course this group thinks all Christians think the same way. But in effect this leads them to believe that the only true Christians were the original church and members of their church since the early 1900's. I'm sure just on the percentage of human beings whose head is hard wired for tongues that a certain percentage of all humans speak in tongues at any one point in history. So we know there have been Christians in all times who have spoken in tongues (and Buddhists and members of mystery cults in ancient Greece).
BUT, we don't know of any Christians who were modalists who spoke in tongues, let alone who were baptized in the name of Jesus only, until the early 1900's.
Similarly, as a New Testament scholar I can say they're going the wrong direction with regard to the New Testament. The debate in the NT is whether the early Christians even believed Jesus to be divine in the same way as God the Father. The debate is not whether Jesus and God the Father are different individuals. It is not until the late 200's that modalism emerges as one potential solution to how Jesus and God the Father can both be God.
This puts them in the strange position of being the only Christians in the history of Christianity who are going to heaven.
But I can live with their head being a little off.
Fourth, it doesn't bother me that they think I'm not a Christian. I understand how religious ideas work. I know it's not personal. I'm sure that some of them think they're "holier than thou" but I bet the best of them aren't. There's nothing wrong with believing you're right. The logical consequences are that I'm wrong and not on my way to heaven.
But I can live with that, because I know I am. The Spirit bears witness with my Spirit that I am a child of God. And of course, as usual, there is no mention of tongues in 1 John (or John, or Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or 2 Corinthians, or ....), so I will only conclude that this verse involves tongues if I bring that idea to the text with me. The Bible doesn't say it.
So I can live with them saying I'm on my way to hell.
Fifth, what really bugs me is the faith crisis they throw others into who aren't as sure as I am. And that's why I feel the need to put the group into proper perspective at some point. What do you call a group that stands outside the historic faith of the church as a twentieth century off shoot of a historical movement particular to its time that doesn't know how to read Scripture in context and thinks only its members are Christians. You call it a cult.
Identifying the Church's Distinctives
First of all, the church's website identifies itself in the following way:
"The doctrinal views of the UPCI reflect most of the beliefs of the Holiness-Pentecostal movement, with the exception of the "second work of grace," the historic doctrine of the Trinity, and the traditional Trinitarian formula in water baptism. It embraces the Pentecostal view that speaking in tongues is the initial sign of receiving the Holy Spirit."
This is a very good summary of its distinctives and before we go into much detail on it, it will be helpful to "parse" these statements:
1. It's beliefs reflect most of the beliefs of the Holiness-Pentecostal movement.
The founders of the UPC were initially part of the assemblies of God movement that became somewhat organized in 1914. But in 1916 when the Assemblies of God Church formalized its doctrinal beliefs, the founders of the UPC went their own way primarily over the doctrine of the Trinity.
2. ...with the exeption of the "second work of grace"
3. ... the historic doctrine of the Trinity, and the traditional Trinitarian formula in water baptism
The UPC in this regard stands outside the historic faith of the church and implies as much when it speaks of the "historic" doctrine of the Trinity.
We should emphasize the uniqueness of their position on this matter. You can point to speaking in tongues throughout the history of the church here and there. The vast majority of those who have called themselves Christians throughout the ages have not spoken in tongues. For this reason, the UPC must by virtue of their doctrine say that the overwhelming majority of those who have called themselves Christians have not really been Christians.
But their claims are far more radical than this. It is not just non-tongues speakers who are not Christians--it is those who have been baptized in the name of the Trinity. There were of course modalists in the early church, particularly in the late 200's. A modalist is someone who believes that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all different phases of one person, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not distinct or different persons but the same person at different points of time. But we have no evidence that a single one of these spoke in tongues. I imagine a few did, just going on the percentages of people in the world (Christian and non-Christian) who experience tongues at any one point in history. But even if a few modalists did speak in tongues, they still baptized in the name of the Trinity--they believed the Trinitarian formula meant something else, but still used it.
The importance of this combination--both tongues and modalist baptizing in the name of Jesus only--effectively implies that the only people who will be in heaven are members of the UPC in the twentieth and now twenty-first century. This arbitrary conglomeration going to heaven is so restrictive that we must classify the UPC as a cult.
The UPC is of course pre-modern in its use of Scripture and so doesn't notice how bizarre a claim this is from a historical perspective--that the only people we know are going to heaven for sure are those who since the early 1900's have both spoken in tongues and been baptized in the name of Jesus only.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
I respect the right of private religious institutions to set ideological boundaries around their faculty and students, as long as it is done from true conviction and not from hate or prejudice of an emotive sort. Don't ask me how to parse that legally. I do indeed find it a difficult issue. Would I allow for a Nazi school that taught Jews, homosexuals, and African-Americans should be killed?
Again, these are difficult days to know how the legalities will play out. For many in the broader culture, prohibiting a homosexual from teaching is tantamount to the same thing. Perhaps one solution is in ethical standards. There seems no harm, for example, it prohibiting anyone from teaching who has sex, period. So surely there is no harm in prohibiting anyone from teaching who has sex and is not married (then you have the wrinkle if gay marriage becomes legal). Some of you out there will have to argue these cases. It is an important issue to wrestle with at some point.
I do believe, however, that there is one serious flaw in Litfin's arguments for why he had to fire the man who converted to Catholicism. More than once yesterday Litfin implied that sola scriptura was in the "Statement of Faith" of Wheaton. If this were the case, then I think I would have to concede that you cannot be Roman Catholic and teach at Wheaton. I say this even though the very concept of sola scriptura is an impossibility of language, especially given the fact that the Bible is not a single book and it was written concretely to ancient audiences (meaning it was not written in the format of a timeless theological tractate). Those of you who read me regularly know my line of thought here.
There are two reasons why these comments seem to me logically flawed:
1. I double checked Wheaton's Statement of Faith and this does not seem to be the case. Here is Wheaton's statement:
"WE BELIEVE that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say."
There is nothing here about sola scriptura, and the man had no problem affirming this statement. In my opinion, Litfin had an insufficient basis to fire the man in terms of this statement.
2. However, Litfin might have fired him on the basis of this statement, also in the statement of faith: "The statement accordingly reaffirms salient features of the historic Christian creeds, thereby identifying the College not only with the Scriptures but also with the reformers and the evangelical movement of recent years."
Ah, the professor's understanding of the phrase "supreme and final authority in all they say" does not fit with the what "the reformers and the evangelical movement of recent years." So perhaps Litfin might legally fire the man on this basis.
BUT, he has thereby deconstructed his sola scriptura claim thereby! The statement clearly identifies--and Litfin by firing him affirms--that the problem is not with this man's faith in the Bible, but in the particular magisterium to which he subscribes.
The magisterium of Wheaton is "the reformers and the evangelical movement." They are Wheaton's pope and council. So be honest, Litfin. The sola scriptura argument is a bit of a smoke screen. By making recourse to the reformers (extra scripturam) you have deconstructed your own argument. The problem you have with this man is mainly that he's Catholic, not evangelical.
Friday, March 24, 2006
I suppose many Wesleyans over the years have had various lover's quarrels with our church. Several decades ago the boomers had a major quarrel with legalism. Then for the last few decades many have quarreled with what they saw as a "small church mentality." Some who've gone to seminary have quarreled with what they saw as ignorance in the church. Emergents are currently quarreling with artificiality and failure to have impact on the world in areas other than just the soul.
But you can't find lasting identity in a quarrel. To endure a group needs a positive identity and not just a negative one.
In the last few posts I've selected parts of our Wesleyan past that I personally find attractive and worth further pursuit. I've not intentionally skewed our history, but it's clear at the same time that our story could have been told much differently by someone with other priorities.
In a few days I'll go back to my old habits of posting on whatever happens to suit my fancy at the moment. But I'd like to recap some of the things that I am enthusiastic about in our tradition. In some cases I am trying to create self-fulfilling prophecies for the future, even if I believe my starting points are true to our tradition. I hope someone out there will embrace them too and work to "make it so." In particular, a Wesleyan seminary could take on these kinds of values from its very inception, creating a focal point of Wesleyan identity among (hopefully) many others.
Here are some of the core points I think are apt for our future:
1. Wesleyans have a head, but our hearts and attention to the Spirit have always taken priority and have led the way. We would far rather your doctrine be a little off than your heart. Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Are you serving Him according to the light you have? Does your life show that you "do all to the glory of God"?
For me this last comment is perhaps the very essence of our values and identity. When we are committed to doing all to the glory of God, then we are certainly not sinning intentionally (the systematic theologian here notes that it is only by God's grace and the Spirit's empowerment that any of this can take place).
And in our affirmation of the possibility to live above sin, we are expressing an optimism and hopefulness for individuals and the world that stands at the heart of who we are. No one and no area of any human's life is beyond redemption. We are Arminians and thus believe that anyone can be saved. We are proto-Pentecostals who believe in healing and miracles. I think it would be possible to rewrite all the values I have tried to express here as the outworking of this one principle of doing all to the glory of God.
I know it might "technically" be wrong to approach such core matters from the human perspective... A systematic theologian--perhaps even Wesley himself--would begin with God or the Trinity or prevenient grace. But in some strange revivalist, pre-now-post-modern, quasi-pietist way, I think the flavor of our heritage starts with this basic dictum: "You must completely belong to God. You already do, for God is God. Are you willing, by the grace of God at work within you, to consent to that which is already true?" We might reflectively place a thousand pages of theological prolegomena to get us to this point, but the real beginning of my becoming is the first moment when I give the most limited consent to this question.
And since none of us does theology outside of our individual I, no individual's theology can properly begin apart from the birth of this question in his or her life.
2. In the light of our heart orientation, we have a limited but significant "generous orthodoxy." We allow for some breadth of understanding when it comes to things like baptism, end times, communion, and even in how we understand the particulars of inerrancy. Because our identity is centered in the heart toward God, we by-pass some of the thornier theological divides of history.
3. We are a Bible-focused church, but not in a modernist way. We value the original meaning but recognize that the biblical meaning that has always been authoritative has been a matter of a Spiritual common sense mediated through the church of the ages and the particular understandings to which God has led our tradition. Whether we like it our not, the Fall has made it such that particular interpretations are more determinative than idealogical affirmations.
4. But we do have beliefs and they cohere with our hearts. Some stand in strong continuity with John Wesley. Thus we believe in the power of God to give victory over temptation, that a Christian does not, indeed must not, sin willfully. We believe further in the power of the Spirit to heal our "bent to sinning" in this life! We believe that the Lordship of Christ means Lordship over every part of our lives.
5. We believe in the Great Commission and the call to make disciples of every nation, including our own. We do not view the local church as a hide out or retreat for a few but as a place where communities are changed and the kingdom of God grows.
6. We affirm full salvation well beyond our souls. We believe that the Spirit can speak as authoritatively through a woman as through a man. We believe that God wants to change the world through the church now and not just in the judgment.
These are things that I am proud of about our tradition. They are the picture of a church with which I would have no need to quarrel. More significantly, they are to me the picture of a church that God can use powerfully to change the world we live in, the kind of church that the world sorely needs.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The language of our "spiritual" identity was the Scriptures. While our fathers and mothers often did not read the Bible in context, they breathed the Scriptures as they preached and presented what they believed the Holy Spirit had to say. The last thirty years have seen some correctives to some excesses. In particular, we (over?) corrected the legalism into which a belief in "Christian perfection" can so easily slip. In some quarters, we replaced a "inward looking" orientation with an emphasis on evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and growing the church. To be fair, we had always had a huge emphasis on "classical" missions, even going so far as getting our children to commit 52 cents a year to missions.
We probably threw out some good with the excesses. We have used Scripture less, and we have lost our sense of personal holiness to some extent. Many Wesleyans today find themselves somewhat adrift with little sense of why we're even here.
In all these comments, the question arises--if we are so much a denomination of heart and experience, do we also have a head? Is there a place in our church for the person God has gifted intellectually as well? Given our past, must we be anti-education? Many in our "neck of the woods" are. Some in our pulpits have not always been great friends of further education. Do we deemphasize cognition as much as, say, the Anabaptist tradition seems to?
Surely we can't because of our very name--Wesley-an! I have a certain delight that Wesley was not the founder of our specific church, for then we can't get bogged down in hero worship. Wesley provides the background, not the foreground, for our identity. This is a point many a Wesleyan seminarian should remember. In a sense we cannot "get back" to Wesley, for he predates our origins. He is prolegomena. We have inherited his DNA, but we have a mother too with her own genes.
But what important DNA! My intent is to set out some of the elements of our identity that show Wesley's DNA in our genes. Wesley is the best place to start to discuss the "head" that's guided by our heart. And I would argue Wesley is also the best place to start discussing the "feet" I hear young Wesleyans trying to get moving. And indeed, Wesley would have been a great one for the leaders of our "church growth phase" to reference as well. As it was, we more seemed to follow the lead of others in the contemporary American scene. It's not too late to give some grounding to those correct impulses retroactively from our own tradition!
Wesley: Assurance of Salvation
These days everybody believes that you can know you are bound for heaven--even Baptists. But in Wesley's day, this was a more unusual thing to believe. The Calvinists of Puritan New England, even John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress--these did not believe you could know you were predestined until you got there. By the way, Wesley can apparently thus claim some role in the current Baptist belief of eternal security. Perseverence of the saints only becomes apparent after you have persevered. The current Calvinist sense that you can know now and thus will make it thereafter, is a hybrid of classic Calvinism with Wesley's belief in assurance in this life.
P.S. Wesleyans still believe you can know if you are on the way to heaven. And time forbids that I go on to speak of how profoundly the Arminian tradition can contributie to theology in the postmodern age. Calvinism will struggle in this age. Its arrogant claims to having God figured out turn out to be confessions of ignorance about a God whose ways are past finding out. What a shame Wheaton--founded originally as a Wesleyan school--chose to leave us and take the path of modernist Calvinism!
Wesley: Full Salvation
When we think of Wesley today, we probably think more about his contribution of entire sanctification to theology than the idea of the assurance of salvation, since the latter is now widely held. Wesley taught that a person should be victorious over willful sin from the moment they become a Christian. But a few, he believed, would find themselves set free in this life from the "bent to sinning" as well--the tendency to sin, the sinful nature. He called this "Christian perfection."
The belief in victory over sin in this world is not a very common belief in the church today. Yet it is the clear teaching of the entire Bible. I cannot think of a single verse in the entirety of the Bible that in any way advocates intentional sin as a normal or expected part of a Christian's life. This remains one of the greatest strengths of our tradition and one in which almost all other Christian traditions remain in the dark.
Of course our version of entire sanctification came more directly through Phoebe Palmer and the holiness movement of the 1800's. While Wesley saw few experiencing Christian perfection and probably late in life, Palmer taught "the shorter way" and made it the expectation of all Christians to experience it. Further, from John Fletcher on, American Methodists increasingly identified the Spirit-fillings of Acts as experiences of entire sanctification.
I personally would say that the "death" of the holiness movement pronounced by Drury ten years ago was more a death of Palmer type holiness than the Wesley type. A conference last year on salvation at Wesleyan Church HQ found strong support by Wesleyan educators of a more John Wesley version of the doctrine. While it is arguably less Wesleyan in terms of our own history, it looks like this form of the doctrine actually has actually survived. It was in the heart of the tree that looked so dead, a life hidden inside to view but now sprouting and about to bloom on the tree again.
Wesleyans thus continue to believe in the necessity of victory over sin and the power of God to free all Christians from the power of sin.
Wesley: "No Holiness but Social Holiness"
In the early twentieth century, some conservatives became averse to phrases like "social holiness." It sounds too much like "social gospel," a theme propagated in the early twentieth century by Christians who had ceased to believe in the divinity of Christ but liked the helping the poor part of the gospel.
But those in our tradition who might have thrown out the social implications of the gospel threw the baby out with the bath water. This is an essential part of our DNA. Wesley is known for the saying, "There is no holiness but social holiness." By it he implied that any sense of Christian holiness that does not lead to positive social action is no real holiness. It was this impulse that lead Wesley to preach to coal miners in the north of England and the reason why even today English Methodism is heavily composed of the everyday working class of England. Some think England was spared the bloody revolution of France in part for the actions of people like Wesley who gave hope to the disempowered.
So it was when Methodism entered America. The Midwest is a powerhouse in Methodism because this was the frontier when the gospel entered America. And while their children are now upper middle class, they were originally the salt of American earth.
Our more specific roots were founded in the abolitionist movement, as the Wesleyan Methodist Connection withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church for its refusal to take a stand against slavery. The women's rights movement--something some modern Wesleyans are embarrassed about--is usually dated from a meeting in a Wesleyan Church in the late 1800's in Seneca Falls, New York. I proudly celebrate that our fathers and mothers were fighting for women to be able to vote when other Christians were emphasizing that women should stay in their "place."
I disdain any Wesleyan who has questions about women in ministry or Pharisaic restrictions on what a woman can do in the home. You don't deserve such a rich tradition--you're the type that would have opposed women voting back when we were leading the way of the Spirit in the cause of "full salvation" for women as well as men. You were the Methodists whose Judaizing tendencies led you to keep quiet in the days of slavery or even oppose their emancipation. Find your way to some other more impoverished tradition.
In the early 1900's there was no stigma to a woman minister in our churches. It was only after WW2, when men came home from the war to find women empowered in the workplace and increasingly in society, that the numbers of women in ministry began to decline in our churches. They had lots of children in the baby boom, no doubt diverting many from ministry. Meanwhile, some men felt intimidated by the increasing power of women in society, and the result was a backlash among bigots and the insecure who hid behind the mask of the Bible. But now the disease has infected even the well-intentioned, people like Dobson who--with Nazarene roots--should know better.
This social dimension passed on into many of the Methodist offshoots of the late 1800's. The Salvation Army is a perfect example of the spirit that was also a part of our forebears. It has survived at the grass roots level of the Wesleyan Church--what Wesleyan Church has not kept a food pantry for the homeless or needy who might come to the parsonage door? While many other conservatives oppose helping the needy as if it were actually unchristian in some way, many of our most conservative holiness churches--the ones we have sometimes disdained as legalistic--have continued to reach out to the poor and needy. The father of the president-elect of IWU spent his entire life humbly and without acclaim--practically unnoticed--faithfully ministering to the down and out of Frankfort, Indiana. That's the stuff of our genes!
Wesley saw one of his tasks as "the spreading of Scriptural holiness throughout the land." This man was not perfect. Indeed, one of his "sins" was that he did so much mission that he did not give appropriate attention to his marriage. This man circled England again and again and again preaching the good news to anyone who would hear. He was a church planter, an evangelist, a discipler whose class meetings set up incredible accountability for individual Christians. His writings are a treasure trove of resources for the next generation of Wesleyans to plunder.
What do I take from all this?
1. Wesleyans believe in victory over sin and the fullness of the Spirit.
This is the greatest current contribution our tradition can perhaps make to theology. We believe that every person by God's power can consistently defeat sin. And while the phrase "the fullness of the Spirit" is not strictly a biblical phrase, we can legitimately use it to push for a moment (a moment that must be repeatedly affirmed) in which we surrender everything we know about in our lives at that moment to God and are thus able to be fully under the control of the Holy Spirit.
2. Wesleyans take the Great Commission seriously.
Go into all the world and make disciples. We've never stopped believing in our mission to the whole world. And the last thirty years have emphasized that we should never just settle for the status quo of our church, but be ever pushing to bring more in.
3. That commission involves a mission to the whole person.
We stand squarely behind the full personhood and spirituality of women without pigeonholing them into some rigid, legalistic preconception of what God can and cannot do through them. We continue to stand for the oppressed and disempowered both at home and abroad. I have a feeling that the emerging generation will play out this part of our heritage with a vengeance.
4. Open season on the theological and practical seeds of our tradition that the Spirit is just waiting to quicken to the next generation!
Friday, March 17, 2006
Wesleyans are people of the book. The Bible is our playground, the air we breathe. As good Wesley-ans, we wisely recognize that there are always other factors in play, factors like Christian tradition and the experience of the Holy Spirit (think "Wesley's Quadrilateral"). But we usually factor these things into our discussion as we look at biblical texts. And when we reach the end of the discussion, we usually express our conclusions in biblical terms.
From where we stand today looking back, we recognize that our fathers and mothers read the Bible much the way the New Testament authors and church fathers did. They joined their Spiritual common sense to an intimate knowledge of the biblical text. As they did this, they typically read the Bible as God's Word to them, often without paying too much attention to the meaning God intended for its original audiences.
It is good for us now to pursue a deep understanding of the original meaning as well. But we are also in a good position now to recognize that the "Spiritual, church" approach of our forebears is what the Bible itself models, as indeed have the "community of saints" throughout the ages. When the Spirit speaks to the church through the words in this way, woe to the one who questions the message!
Yet in addition, many of our biblical scholars have also been classic evangelicals. Dr. Stephen Paine, president of Houghton, singlehandedly convinced the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the 1950s to add the word inerrancy to its Discipline. And while the broader church may not have known much about the issues he was wrestling with, the Pilgrim Holiness Church agreed to include it in the Wesleyan Discipline in the 1968 merger as an affirmation of faith in the trustworthiness of the Bible.
But the Wesleyan Church has never defined exactly what the term inerrancy means, unlike the Southern Baptists. It is for us a strong affirmation of the truthfulness of the Bible in all its parts, that the Bible both in individual passages and as a whole is truthful in what it affirms. But inerrancy has never been a modernist straightjacket for us as it has been for some other churches of a more fundamentalist flavor. In contrast to them, our leaders and general conferences have consistently defined us as having more in common with evangelicals than with fundamentalists (although I would argue that our "spiritual" approach has more untapped potential than both!). This is a great advantage for us as a church, because it means our identity is not locked up with a passing phase of mid-twentieth century culture.
The dawning of the post-modern age has drawn our attention to a key issue that the Christians of our age must face. It is one thing to affirm the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible. But two people can affirm all these things and yet have widely different understandings of what the Bible is saying or affirming (see David Koresh!). Perhaps even more important than affirming that the Bible is authoritative is determining what meaning is the authoritative meaning!
Whether we like it or not, this inevitably pushes us back to the Spirit and the church, for it is here that we are forced to join the meanings of individual biblical texts to other individual biblical texts. James does not tell us how to join its teaching to Paul or visa versa--this is a task we are forced to do. And 1 Peter does not tell us exactly how to translate instructions to a disempowered and oppressed minority to a world where we elect our leaders and can change our laws. We are forced to do this, even if we wish the Bible did not require us to wrestle with such issues.
So who decides how to hear the Spirit directly in the words when we are reading the words as a direct Word to us, and thus are reading the words out of their original contexts? And when we are reading the words in context, and thus recognize that these words were not written directly to us, who decides how to connect the individual meanings of individual books with each other and then indirectly with us? Who decides how to process the Word to us from this starting point?
Here we return to where we began. Our fathers and mothers combined their Spiritual common sense with an intimate knowledge of the biblical text. And the results were a number of beliefs that formed their identity. Every group does this--they read the Bible and find themselves gravitating toward the Scriptures that best express their understanding of what God is saying to them. While a group may claim to get their beliefs from the Scriptures alone, in reality the use of the Bible is always a combination of 1) the text, 2) Christian tradition (both throughout the ages and the specific tradition of the interpreter), 3) human experience (including experience of the Spirit), and, yes, ultimately 4) human minds are forced to process and synthesize all these things.
So our denominational identity is best revealed not by our statement of faith in the Bible, but by the specific passages and interpretations that God has led us to focus on throughout our history!
Here I mention just a few that seem particularly important:
1 Thessalonians 5:23: "And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
This verse, along with passages like Romans 12:1-2, embodies our belief in "complete cleansing" from sin and "radical blamelessness."
1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has taken you that is not common to humanity. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will make along with the temptation also the way out so you are able to endure it."
This verse is a good representation of our belief that willful sin is not an essential part of a Christian's life.
Acts 4:31: "And when they had prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness."
We used to formulate our belief in radical victory over sin by way of the Spirit-fillings of Acts. These passages remain strong embodiments of our particular understanding of Pentecostal power and our need for not just a little of the Spirit, but the "fullness" of the Spirit.
Acts 2:17: "'And it will happen in the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out from my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy and your young men will see dreams..."
We as a denomination are historically and prophetically committed to the full salvation of women, including from the sins of Eve. Women have the Spirit just as much as men, so a woman can lead Spiritually in any role to which God calls her--from layleader to General Superintendent.
Matthew 28:19-20: "As you go, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all the things I have commanded you."
I would say that for the last thirty years, this verse has more been our theme. In this period, we balanced out the personal piety of our earlier history with the importance of the church's mission to go to all the world.
What's next? I hear the Spirit "bubbling up" verses like the following:
Luke 4:18 (Isaiah 61): "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, who--because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor--has sent me to preach release to the enslaved and restored sight to the blind, to send the broken on with forgiveness, to proclaim the appointed year of the Lord!"
So what should we take from our past into our future?
1. The Bible is the playing field where we "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." And that means we should strive for an intimate knowledge of the biblical text.
There are indeed Roman Catholics who believe the Bible is a "supreme and highest authority," but they are more likely to work out their final thoughts and practices on the playing field of church decrees and pronouncements. We work out our thoughts and practices on the playing field of the Bible, even if we bring later developments into the discussion.
On the one hand, we recognize that it doesn't simply end with the New Testament text--there's much more to it than that, including some very crucial issues that God worked out in the course of later church history. We wouldn't even have an authoritative collection of books called the New Testament if God had not worked through the church of the first, second, third, fourth and indeed, even fifth centuries to define its boundaries as they now stand. And the church fathers of the 300's and 400's had to look beyond the words of the New Testament to fend off false directions like that of Arius, who believed Jesus was the first thing God created. Arius argued his understandings from the biblical text.
So we should not point fingers at our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters with the belief that our disagreements are just some question of the Bible versus later Christian tradition. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, all Protestants are indebted on a fundamental level to Christian tradition beyond the Bible.
But the fact remains that we are a Protestant denomination, and while Christian tradition is always involved in our use of the Bible, we will by our very nature play out that tradition as we discuss the biblical text. Our disagreement with the Roman Catholics is how much they have built beyond the Bible, not with the fact that the Bible itself leaves us with many issues to work out (stem cell research, anyone?).
2. We affirm the basic principles of Wesley's Quadrilateral.
But if we distinguish ourselves from the flavor of the Roman Catholic Church on that side, we are more than just another Protestant or even evangelical denomination. The Wesley part of us bids us recognize the unavoidable role that Christian tradition plays in our use of Scripture. Even if we find someone who can argue powerfully from the Bible that a rebellious son should be stoned or that we can only baptize in Jesus' name (rather than the Trinity), the church of 2000 years has rejected these applications of the Bible. There is a "rule of faith" and a "law of love" that restrict any appropriation of Scripture, regardless of the original meaning of any one passage. And it is the church of the ages that has bequeathed us these boundaries.
And we are more pietist in our use of Scripture than fundamentalist and thus recognize the (even potentially "irrational") role of Spiritual experience in using the Bible. We should value the original meaning, for that is the first moment of God's revelation. But we do not use the word inerrancy the way the Baptists do. Was there one blind man or two, going in or coming out of Jericho... You're missing the point, "Jesus can heal, even today!"
And we are now in a position to realize that reason is not just another factor in the equation. The nature of the Fall makes it such that reason is always involved when we wrestle with the meaning and appropriation of the Bible. The Bible is not on our hard drive already--it's meaning has to be inputted into our system. And that can only happen through our human, fallible minds, even though we pray for the Spirit's guidance in the process.
This last observation leads us to a final caveat:
3. We should "work out our salvation with fear and trembling."
While we all have the privilege and should read the Bible as individuals, while God raises up individual prophets with correctives and redirection for His church, the Protestant history of the last 500 years has resulted in over 25,000 different Protestant churches who claim to get their beliefs and practices from "Scripture alone." Clearly this implies a certain failure in Luther's line of thought!
But we're not Lutherans, we're Wesleyan. The revivalist/pietist part of us is open to the Spirit. And the Wesley part of us is open to the church. If indeed "you (plural) are the temple of the Holy Spirit," then it is together, as the church of the ages, that we best hear the Spirit's voice speaking through the Scriptures. I believe we (and the rest of the church as well) will increasingly regain a sense that Scripture is meant to be read and appropriated corporately.
The task of appropriating the Bible for God's church is bigger than any one person.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
But the brilliant thing about Google Blogging is that I can slip this update into the past now that I have posted the future.
So things you may or may not want to check out:
1. I have put several of my CafeTutor videos on Google, including the physics one. Just do a Google video search on schenck and they'll all come up. You reach google video by clicking on "more" and then "video." P.S. there are two versions until Google deletes one that had problems. Pick the one with me sitting down.
To go directly there, either from the google or cafe sight:
Google will eventually sell some of my videos, but they're testing things right now.
2. The physics link just above gives you a taste of my new format, and there is now a 99 cent one on Greek subjects and objects from
3. Drury and I have set up a blog where you can report your experiences either visiting or attending one of the seminaries we've been discussing:
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Be sure and read Drury's final entry on the last post--a good summary. P.S. Feel free to continue posting on it.
2. Wesleyans are people of Spirit.
Although we haven't always wanted to admit it to ourselves, the parent denominations of the Wesleyan Church were as much or more products of the late nineteenth century holiness, revivalist movement as they were of John Wesley. True, Wesley stands there in the Methodist background and, true, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection was birthed in the abolitionist movement. These are all things I want to claim as very important parts of our background (future posts).
BUT, you could argue that the most "rational" Wesleyan Methodists went back into the Methodist Episcopal Church after the Civil War (including one founder). The continued existence of that branch rests in the holiness message of the late 1800's. And that stretch had more in common with Phoebe Palmer's experientially oriented "claim sanctification today" than with Wesley's more methodical "longer way." Like it or not, Wesleyan Methodists must own up to that part of their identity.
As a Pilgrim, there's no question that my background comes from holiness revivals at the turn of the twentieth century. My grandfather was one of many Quaker transplants to a snowballing collection of revivalists in the early 1920's.
And Dieter and D. Dayton may quibble over whether the Azuza street Pentecostal revivals were really offshoots of our blood or not. But there's no denying the points of commonality. We may not speak in tongues, but the charismatic movement was birthed off the same air we were breathing. The similarity made our fathers and mothers so uncomfortable that they sometimes passed around urban legends about people speaking in tongues who were actually cursing in another language.
So it was with glee that I entertained my Methodist wife's question at one of my more sectarian uncle's funerals. "I didn't know you're uncle was Pentecostal," she innocently said. I think he must have turned over in his casket. He was so conservative that he didn't become a Wesleyan when the churches merged in 67. Headed for a one world religion, you know. But I knew what she meant--holy laughter behind us, running the aisles, people standing and shouting, hoopin' and hollerin'. :)
None of this is to say that we cannot (and have not) critiqued some of the more "irrational" elements of our past. But it is a part of who we are. The Wesleyan Church historically is not a strongly rationalist denomination. It is a denomination of the Spirit.
The fundamentalist modernist controversy--arguments about higher criticism, the virgin birth, evolution--these things were pretty far removed from us. We were looking for the Pentecostal power at the time, understood as entire sanctification rather than tongues. These debates of the broader culture had little overall affect on our tradition. A few of our academics paid notice, but the bulk did not.
What do I want to claim from this part of our story?
1. We are more people of the heart than the head.
Here I am not claiming the anti-intellectualism that has sometimes plagued our church. I've heard stories about Wesleyan pastors in the vicinity of Asbury who preached against seminary education with Wesleyan professors from Asbury sitting in the congregation (well, not for long). I could name names of people that I actually like as people. But I'll have no part of such ignorance and inferiority complexes. The pursuit of cognitive knowledge is not our main priority, but we cannot be against it and be like God.
I hope we will always put people ahead of knowledge, meeting the concrete needs of others ahead of working out fine theological points. We need some people who like to ask how many angels fit on the head of a pin too, but I hope that will never be our top priority. We need some people who can parse Greek and Hebrew verbs too (pick me, pick me), but I hope we will always emphasize practical ministry over cognitive depth (without divorcing the two).
2. We can skip straight from pre-modern to post-modern.
I realize that postmodernism is a bad word to many, and we should oppose the extreme form of postmodernism that rejects truth altogether. But let's simply say that we're so late in catching up to modernism that we can effectively by pass its quirks and catch right up with where the flow of history is at the moment.
What were the quirks of modernism that we are in a perfect position to by pass? With regard to the Bible, fundamentalists and modernist evangelicals went crazy with scientific methods of exegeting and excavating the biblical text. The famed "EB" of Asbury and Traina's methodical Bible study taught the student how to create detailed diagrams of textual observation and a self-contained set of terms like "recurring contrast with causation and generalization." These are very valuable methods for arriving at the original meaning. I use them and don't want to lose them.
But who said the original meaning was the "be all and end all" of Scriptural authority or that the original text is automatically more authoritative than the one God let the church use for over 1500 years? Modernism did. Meanwhile, our nineteenth century forebears blissfully (and quite naively) interpreted the biblical text with little sense of historical or literary context. Ask Steve Lennox... he about went crazy studying the hermeneutical methods of the late nineteenth century holiness authors.
But as unaware of context as these holiness preachers were, they ironically read the Bible much as New Testament authors like Paul and Matthew read the Old Testament. The modernist evangelical claim that we should get our theology from the original meaning of the Bible deconstructs when we find that, in the original meaning of the Bible, the Bible does not interpret the Old Testament in terms of its original meaning. In the words of Pac Man, wee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-oink oink.
So our Spirit-filled forebears caught the Spirit on issues like slavery and women. They had a spiritual common sense that saw women as full participants in the Spirit and saw the spiritual forest so well that they didn't get bogged down in the minute trees of problem passages. That's the way Jesus and Paul used Scripture.
I am not advocating that we throw away the original meaning--especially now that a few Wesleyans are catching on to what it is. But I do think the fact that we slept through modernism puts us in a good position to move forward in a way those breathing the last breath of modernist evangelicalism can't (can you say Wheaton, Trinity, Gordon-Conwell?). We can affirm both the way God inspired the original meaning and yet also acknowledge that God has and does speak through the words in ways the original authors might never have imagined. And He does this primarily through His church.
3. "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."
It may not have seemed like this was the motto of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, but it was. I believe we should have core doctrinal distinctives. But I like the liberty of our church on so many issues:
a. baptism: you can infant baptize, believer baptize, never baptize, immerse, sprinkle, or pour. You just can't believe that baptism itself saves you. I like it.
b. end times: on this one I am grateful for the Wesleyan Methodists. If it had been up to the Pilgrims, all Wesleyans would have to be pre-millennial and believe in a pre-trib rapture. As it is, you just need to believe that Christ will come again. Beyond that you can be pre-mill, post-mill, a-mill, pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, no trib...
c. communion: you could actually believe in transubstantiation and be Wesleyan if you wanted. Mind you, I don't know any Wesleyans that view communion this way, but it's possible.
We are basically a pietist denomination. And what other traditions might say as a put down (much as they did when they called Wesley an "enthusiast"), I take as a strength. Other traditions that have staked their identity so much in a modernist paradigm now find some of their fundamentals challenged by contemporary worldview developments. Meanwhile Wesley says, "If your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine."
Sunday, March 12, 2006
I want to shift my conversation slightly away from the question of Asbury or a Wesleyan seminary to the question of Wesleyan identity. Obviously if I had anything to do with a Wesleyan seminary, I would at least try to convince others of some of my ideas for Wesleyan identity.
But first of all, where in general might a renewed sense of identity come from--if it is even desirable? If I were at HQ, I think it would be a challenge to foster identity. Is LDJ helping? I think it has some potential. I'm not up to date on how it's working.
It seems like cultural factors are pushing churches away from looking to their headquarters as the sources of their identities. I get the impression that several participants in our conversation have distinct opinions on this trend. I suppose there is a possible world where the Wesleyan Church doesn't even have an HQ any more. I'm not on that band wagon. If something like that did happen, I would want some strong substitute for theological and practitional integrity.
Regular events like general conferences or (in the old days) camp meetings used to contribute to a sense of identity. Our logos conferences do foster some identity with our youth. But I wonder if in our multi-tasking, cell-phone-in-one-hand, other-phone-in-the-other-while-text-messaging, blogging, and-emailing culture, 4 years is too far apart for identity forming. Maybe even once a year is too seldom.
With the next generation, I have a hunch identity will heavily involve this electronic domain. The loose association of Wesleyan blogs I think is just one symptom of that trend. I don't know how extensive it is, but there is already an electronic Wesleyan community (with non-Wesleyans fully welcome) developing here.
I think for the last few years our larger churches have provided some sense of identity. We went through a phase where we idolized some of the larger church pastors. The identity focused on "trying to become like them." This phase seems over as far as I can tell. So maybe now we can go back to remembering that Wesleyans believe in women in ministry, now that we're no longer promoting mega-church pastors who boast about how they would never be caught dead with a woman on their staffs.
I believe that strong personalities and "flavor" personalities also provide identity to movements and denominations. Take Wesley--not perfect, but what a personality! They can be anywhere, whether at an HQ, church, college, or wherever. We need more of these. Hey, we could have Wesleyan trading cards, each with a super power on the back and super suit with their head in it on the front. The Drurinator? OK, maybe not.
Ideology can form identity when it becomes "our watchword and song." I personally can't think of any specific ideology that I think will do the job today. I don't think the idea of holiness will unite the denomination. There are other denominations that hold that in common with us. Common stories are one of the strongest identity formers--but we're almost ashamed of our stories, which often involve adventures in legalism.
And to me, the emergent Wesleyans seem to have more of an anti-ideology, anti-identity edge than an identity that could serve as a new core. In this phase they seem to be deconstructing rather than constructing identity. So we could become activitists for the merger of pan-wesleyan denominations or become a collection of historically related independent churches.
Educational institutions can have personalities and provide identity. I would say IWU could become an identity focus for a hefty portion of the Wesleyan church, particularly in the northern half of the U.S. But it might never serve that function for the SWU and Bartlesville crowds. And that might apply to an IWU-focused seminary as well. We could work more intentionally to focus regional Wesleyan identity around the respective colleges.
And for flavor, I've never really viewed Houghton as a denominational college--I've usually thought of it more as our contribution to broader evangelicalism. In one sense, I would say Houghton actually has the strongest self-identity of any of our schools. While my impression is they are not internally unified, they have a strong sense of cohesion vis-a-vis everyone else...
By the way, I think having fun with ourselves--with all our quirks--can build identity. Houghton's our "smart" brother who knows he's smart and tries not to let on we're his brothers :) We have two economics professors here at IWU who both have very strong personalities and yet strongly disagree with each other. If I were IWU's president, I would lasso them and put them on show like a circus, "Aren't these guys great? Can you believe these guys!" I'm telling you, trading cards!
So should we work to consolidate a Wesleyan Church identity? If the answer is no, then we should try either to merge with other denominations with whom we might find one or we should dissolve away into a collection of individual churches or we should move to become an association with some theological or practitional commonality.
If the answer is yes, then we should be intentional about fostering that. Identities form around stories, rituals, institutions, beliefs, etc.
We need to get a story that at least recasts our story to this point. In the next few weeks I'll recast a few bits of the Wesleyan story as a small episode in the story of Christianity and salvation history. I'll try not to make it too much like the mural at Houghton that has creation, Abraham and Isaac, the crucifixion and resurrection, the founding of Houghton, the final judgment... :)
We have some beliefs, but they're morphing somewhat. I personally feel that holiness, long thought dead, has been reforming in a chrysalis and is beginning to reemerge with a new look.
Meanwhile, institutions like LDJ and our educational institutions are creating small sprouts of renewed identity. Enthusiasm for a seminary under construction might also rally the troops. Construct it somewhat publically to get denominational buy-in. Get all the seminary outcomes out in the open in the public domain. Get rumbles going: "Wow, I didn't realize our church taught that?" or "Wow, why didn't someone mention that when I was in seminary?" I think the founding of a Wesleyan seminary could be another identity shaping story.
And lastly, I suggest that someone, somewhere create a Wesleyan Church intranet, an internet island whose freeware could be downloaded by any Wesleyan from GS to laychild. Each district could have its own folder with its own concerns. There could be theological and practical chat rooms and table talk threads. There could be a "confessional" folder that would link you to an expert, where pastors or anyone struggling with sin could find counselling and repentance with anonymity. The whole denomination, on an intranet.
What are your ideas?
Sunday, March 05, 2006
1. First, Wesleyans continue to feel at home at Asbury, which is still the primary place to go to seminary if you are Wesleyan. There are 77 Wesleyan students at Asbury, more than twice as many as in 1990.
As a subpoint, Asbury is not going liberal (at least not in the vast scheme of things). Asbury has some world class scholars and top quality mentors. Certainly Asbury is primarily oriented around broader Methodism, but we've always known and expected that. It may be more empowered than ever in that direction. But it does not thereby undervalue its students from kindred denominations.
However, in relation to IWU, Asbury has attracted less than 35 percent of IWU's Wesleyan religion graduate students over the last 3 years, and only about 30% of our total students going on to grad school. IWU grads, including Wesleyans, are going to an increasingly diverse selection of schools. They are increasingly getting into schools traditionally thought of as "upper academic" (Duke, Princeton), and these institutions are courting our best students.
I would agree with Drury that IWU students are getting a product of increasing quality from our religion department. We have at least had some comments to the effect that seminary here or there has at times been "more of the same" or even less of the same. At the very least, most seem to agree that Asbury has tended to take IWU students for granted and is increasingly losing out on the market share here.
Logical Outcome 1: Since we apparently have more undergraduate religion students in our division than any other CCCU school, it would make sense for Asbury to court our students more aggressively, both Wesleyan and non-Wesleyan alike.
2. Secondly, another area for improvement would seem to be communication between the Wesleyan Church and its graduate students at non-approved seminaries. This could be done either on the general or district level, or perhaps better, both.
I personally agree with the idea of a favored seminary list. But I agree as well that the most basic list should be of Wesleyan students at seminaries, regardless of where they are at. Indeed, in some respects it seems more important to keep contact with those at non-approved places than approved ones.
Logical Outcome 2: I believe there is already a blog for Wesleyan students at non-approved seminaries. I think a great idea is to create some overarching "fellowship" of those at seminary somewhere. Maybe have yearly social gatherings for all called Wesleyans doing graduate work (there is already a graduate seminar, but it is pan-Wesleyan and mostly doctoral level).
3. Thirdly, and this is a really tough one. Neither Asbury nor the Wesleyan Church has made Asbury competitive in terms of finances (this may simply be a harsh reality). Many people will go elsewhere for financial reasons alone, especially if they are accepted at places like Duke or Princeton. This has apparently been a deal breaker for several.
Here I have no practical suggestion. The logical outcome is to get more money to our seminary students, but I have no specific ideas. If the WC starts a seminary, cost to students should be a major consideration.
4. Most pertinently, there is broad support for the idea of a Wesleyan seminary.
It is generally agreed that such a seminary should not be forced on Wesleyans. We are enriched by those who go to pan-Wesleyan institutions like Asbury and Wesley Biblical. We are enriched by those who remain in our fellowship after going to places like Gordon-Conwell or Princeton.
On the other hand, Drury and I have expressed strongly that having or not having a seminary at this point of our existence will be a good indicator of whether we have a distinct identity or not. "Real denominations have seminaries. If we are not a real denomination, we should hook up with one."
Someone else suggested that the current trend in American Christianity is away from centralized bodies... Will the Wesleyan HQ evaporate away into an association-like collection of individual churches? I would say that even if this were to happen (far from certain), we would even then have two very similar options: 1) we evaporate away as a denomination or 2) we invest our identity in a focal point of training rather than in central leadership.
Nate has suggested IWU all by itself is point in its development where a seminary (or at least a robust graduate school in religion) would be an appropriate next step. Houghton is already well underway to form a more academic graduate school.
So What will happen next?
Here are my predictions and you can see if I'm a false prophet (which means you can stone me).
1. I think we're ready as a denomination for this. I think it will actually happen this time. I think the general education level of the church has increased and so we are ready to have a seminary level identity--rather than seminary being an odd thing that a few egg heads do.
2. Somewhere in the Wesleyan Church a study committee will form. It shouldn't be some typical "see you in 4 years" committee. From an objective standpoint, IWU is really where it should start (although it doesn't have to end up limited to IWU).
a) for accreditation, the General Church can't be the base--it has to be an educational institution,
b) IWU has the largest operating budget (more students now than even Notre Dame, the largest private institution in the State of Indiana),
c) IWU has the most business-get-things-done people around (can you say satellite campuses in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky and indeed online all over the world),
d) IWU's religion division has the requisite "supply side" brain power to get things going, with corporate unity and synergy to boot (not to say our other colleges don't have this component as well).
I would like to see a group of Wesleyan, seminary level content experts sit down and create a master list of seminary outcomes. They should detail the total knowledge, skills, and dispositions that a Wesleyan seminary graduate should have.
Then I don't think such a seminary should reinvent the wheel. It should be genuinely innovative and intended to capitalize on non-traditional formats, online and satellite campuses. In particular, problem based learning seems to be a heafty part of the future.
3. This committee should start assembling a dream team of Wesleyan-Arminian thinkers and practioners, "google thinkers" rather than classic medievalists. The next generation is emerging from PhD programs everywhere now...
Let's see what happens!