21 November 2008

Why Does a Methodist Need to be a(n) [Add Modifier]?

My good friend, Dave Warnock over at 42 has been disagreeing with another chap called 'Warnock' (no relation to Dave) who has been making all sorts of claims about 'What an Evangelical has to believe in order to be A Real Evangelical'.

I admit that I'm rather fascinated by the fact that Dave and I often seem to agree on most topics theological but Dave calls himself 'an Evangelical' and I don't. For my own part, I'm pretty sure that this comes from my own personal background and baggage.  The kind of theology that 'the other Warnock' is spouting is stuff that I grew up with and I don't really want to have any part of it.

Now, I'm perfectly capable of believing that there are lots of different 'sorts' of Evangelicals around and that they hold a wide range of different views.  In fact, I know this from my own background and upbringing.

My only question is - 'Why'? Why would a Methodist want to label themself as 'an Evangelical'? Or why would a Methodist want to label themself as a 'liberal' or a 'radical' or a 'whathave you'?

Aren't these labels that come from outside Methodism in order to set oneself over and against others who are not liberals or not Evangelicals or whatever?  The problem with all these labels, it seems to me, is that when someone says 'I'm a liberal', they seem to want to communicate 'I'm not an Evangelical'. And when they say 'I'm an Evangelical', they seem to want to communicate 'I'm not a liberal.'

I'm a Methodist because Methodism believes that God offers his love to everyone (i.e. it is 'catholic').  I'm a Methodist because Methodism believes that the Gospel is such good news, that we are just bursting to tell others (i.e. it is 'evangelical').  I'm a Methodist because Methodism has historically been inclusive (i.e. it is 'liberal').  I want to be all these things.  I want to be a Methodist.

I really like the subtitle of Brian D. McLaren's book,
A Generous Orthodoxy: 'Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian'.

Why would I want to be just a liberal?  Or just an evangelical?

With due apologies to Dave, who has a great sense of humour and who will, I'm sure, engage this post with the goodwill with which it is intended.

18 comments:

Fat Prophet said...

I find that a lot of the time the problem with these labels is that they become too important to some people. I suspect that for many of us we would agree with you in that if I read your post correctly we as Methodists should be both evangelical and liberal.
Perhaps too with labels it depends who is applying the label and how far left or right they are - they will measure other peoples positions by where they stand and form a judgement based on their own views.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

I really like the subtitle of Brian D. McLaren's book, A Generous Orthodoxy: 'Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian'.

Then I am afraid I cannot work with you as you are not pentecostal! ;o)

On a more serious note - as someone who is outside Methodism I think within something like Methodism there is such a wide breadth of belief that just being called "methodist" is not enough because it could mean so many things along the spectrum that it would be almost impossible to work out what they meant if they just said "Methodist".

DaveW said...

Hi Pam,

Your link to 42 is wrong it is a blogger create post link - which might be fun. We could all write a post about a different label that we want to apply to you.

The problem with me blogging about wanting to be called a Methodist is that it is not very controversial :-) I mean nobody puts in the comments "How dare you call yourself a Methodist, you don't believe x,y,z properly". It does not make for fun blogging.

I too like Brian's book and agree with some of the sentiment.

My main reason for using evangelical is because I think the historical foundations of evangelicalism are really good and important: Biblicism, Christocentrism, Crucicentrism, Conversionism, Activism. I would like to see more of these and so attempts to take over ownership of this label for a minority of extremists annoys me.

We don't seem to have the same problems with other labels. I don't see extremist liberals trying to redefine liberal to mean ... (insert an amusing example here).

All your reasons for being a Methodist apply to me (and of course we also have more committees than anyone else which is really attractive).

PamBG said...

BWAHOA,

On the one hand, I understand what you're saying.

Except that the whole debate within Evangelicalism is a case in point. What does 'being an Evangelical' mean? Is Graham Kings right? Or Richard Turnbull? John Piper? Or Tom Wright?

Evangelicalism seems to encompass a sufficiently wide range of beliefs that trying to say 'I'm an Evangelical' requires the question 'But what sort of Evangelical?'

At the end of the day, isn't all that it really means something like 'I'm not a Liberal?' But we still don't know what a person actually believes until we ask elaborating questions.

And I have no idea how to label myself, either.

Peter Kirk said...

Dave, we Anglicans often write to other Anglicans things like "How dare you call yourself an Anglican, you don't believe x,y,z properly". Indeed I have several times told serving Anglican ministers that they should leave the C of E. That's what makes Anglican blogging fun! And are you sure we don't have more committees than you do?

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

At the end of the day, isn't all that it really means something like 'I'm not a Liberal?'

Perhaps.

But that is a good starting point when trying to work out where people are coming from!

I have worked quite closely on a couple of projects this year with a local methodist female preacher. She is great. She believes many of the things I do about scripture, Jesus, the cross, etc. She does not believe everything I do, and we would vehemently disagree on some issues, but I am more than happy to work with her.

A previous minister on the same circuit a few years ago now said publically "I don't care if you believe God lives in a tree at the bottom of your garden as long as you believe in God".

So when I hear someone is a Methodist, I don't take too much notice because that could mean anything.

DaveW said...

Bwahoa,

'On a more serious note - as someone who is outside Methodism I think within something like Methodism there is such a wide breadth of belief that just being called "methodist" is not enough because it could mean so many things along the spectrum that it would be almost impossible to work out what they meant if they just said "Methodist".'

a) Breadth within Methodism is much narrower than within the CoE (for example).

b) All Methodists always work together, we are really serious about being a connexion. We are organised into circuits of multiple churches. Our ministers are appointed to circuits, not churches. Local Preachers preach across a circuit not just in one church. A frequent comment from lifelong Methodists is that they want a variety of preachers to get different perspectives (which can be challenging as many Methodists are not convinced that is helpful in evangelism). When a circuit is looking for a new minister there is often a deliberate intention to look for balance and variety.

In conclusion being "Methodist" is a very helpful identifier and the connections and shared heritage are immense.

I was reminded of this when trying to find a networked contact with a Methodist Minister somewhere else in the country, a place where I know nobody. I emailed two ministers and both had strong personal contact with a minister in the circuit where I was looking.

c) 99.9% for Methodists that is more important as an understanding than any other label. Indeed I had been an active Methodist for years before learning that other churches did not work this way and had labels for people. That got me into trouble at University as I did not recognise the label language and so got immediately labelled as a non Christian by some.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

a) Breadth within Methodism is much narrower than within the CoE

That does not help! ;o)

b) All Methodists always work together

Which is even more confusing! Just kidding. I actually would question that though. The people I have heard saying the most negative things about methodists and methodism have been methodists themselves - one time even in a preach at an inter-church meeting!

They may "work together" within Methodism but can have some pretty strong public criticism of each other.

In conclusion being "Methodist" is a very helpful identifier and the connections and shared heritage are immense.

For those on the inside of the denomination I am sure that is the case.

I can see it is a valid identifier - just as I would see "evangelical" being for me.

But equally you don't know what i mean when I say "evangelical" and I don't know what you mean by "Methodist" - which is why I tend to hold fire and try to figure people out a bit first.

PamBG said...

Your link to 42 is wrong it is a blogger create post link - which might be fun.

Dave, sorry, for some reason I can't figure out, I can't seem to fix the link. It wants to turn the entire text of the blog into hypertext. Rather than potentially destroy the thread now, I'm going to leave it.

My main reason for using evangelical is because I think the historical foundations of evangelicalism are really good and important: Biblicism, Christocentrism, Crucicentrism, Conversionism, Activism.

The problem I have with all those things is not what they would mean 'In the Academy'. It's what people often take them to mean in pop Christian culture.

We don't seem to have the same problems with other labels. I don't see extremist liberals trying to redefine liberal to mean ... (insert an amusing example here).

Coming out of the US and coming out of a very conservative Anglican environment in the UK, I'm not sure I agree with the implication that this is an easy label by which to understand someone. I'm absolutely and decidedly 'liberal' in both of those contexts - no doubt in my mind of that. However, I believe in a transcendent God and the creeds and all that, which would make the object of condescending understanding at a Sea of Faith meeting.

BWAHOA, I'd be quite interested in what you would assume by way of beliefs of the following statements:

* I am a liberal Methodist
* I am an evangelical Methodist
* I am a radical Methodist

Just asking as you say the modifiers are helpful. And it's always interesting to see what others think of you.

DaveW said...

"The people I have heard saying the most negative things about methodists and methodism have been methodists themselves"

We can be pretty devastatingly honest with each other.

They may "work together" within Methodism but can have some pretty strong public criticism of each other.

Of course, isn't that often the case with families. We are not trying to hide anything.

But equally you don't know what i mean when I say "evangelical"

Sadly I do know what many NFI people mean by it. Adrian and DaveBish articulate it a lot. I just don't accept that redefinition of the word.

and I don't know what you mean by "Methodist"

It means a Christian who happens to worship in a Methodist Church :-)

Dave Perry said...

Thank you for your gentle wisdom Pam. In my experience 'Labels' invariably inflict damage and foster exclusivist thinking; just think of Northern Ireland as a case in point. I have come to a place where I am not interested in labels anymore. As a Methodist all that I want to know is whether your heart is right with my heart, and how we can co-operate to follow Jesus and do the Kingdom of God in that typically Methodist way of activist Social and Scriptural Holiness (both qualifiers necessary as Brian McLaren shows).
love and peace,
Dave

Rev Tony B said...

"a) Breadth within Methodism is much narrower than within the CoE (for example)."

Not entirely convinced. I've met Methodists at as many points on the theological spectrum as I've found in Anglicanism. Unless there a some I haven't found yet! I suspect there are fewer Methodists at certain points on the spectrum - I've not met many members of the Society of the BVM, although I've met a few, and those who argue for transubstantiation must be a smallish group.

Labels can be handy as a way of tweaking the focus, and dangerous as a source of division. But come on, they can be a lot of fun. I generally say I'm a critically orthodox evangelical charismatic with liberationist tendencies - how dare you call me a liberal? ;)

PamBG said...

I've not met many members of the Society of the BVM, although I've met a few, and those who argue for transubstantiation

I do know one Methodist minister who told me that he wears a lacy cotta and he is also a big fan of Orthodox (Eastern) theology.

I grew up taught consubstantiation and whilst I'd not say that I believe in trans- or cons-, I'm way far away from the 'this is just a memorial meal' approach and I'd much rather see the leftover elements consumed rather than thrown on the grass. Try explaining why that's not 'superstition' to people who are convinced that it is, though.

stf (lorna) said...

Isn't part of the problem that the title evangelical = right wing, conservative, even narrow minded in some circles ...

whereas in its proper sense to be evangelical is very liberating.

Both the title methodist and indeed Anglican can mean a whole range of things -that said so can evangelical. so I'm happy to be a follower of Jesus :)

stf (lorna) said...

and Dave W,

"All Methodists always work together, we are really serious about being a connexion."

mmmm how do you explain the UMC then :)

Rev Tony B said...

"mmmm how do you explain the UMC then :)"

Typical Americans? Independently-minded?

No, actually, that would account for most of Yorkshire. And Tyneside. And Liverpool...

Look - forget connexion - it's just a word they use at Conference to pretend they're in charge. Nobody really believes it. Do they?

DaveW said...

"Look - forget connexion - it's just a word they use at Conference to pretend they're in charge. Nobody really believes it. Do they?"

Oh, I thought it was a word we used to show conference that they are not in charge. My mistake.

PamBG said...

Being serious again, I've seen (from the outside) a large congregationally-run free church go amok with all the Elders banding together to protect one of their own and gang up on his victim. I'd much rather have the support and oversight of a 'connexion' or a bishop. (N.b. these events did not happen in my current location lest anyone try to speculate.)