30 August 2007
One of the presentations I found very interesting was given by the Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, a research fellow at the conservative evangelical Anglican think-tank Latimer Trust. His paper was on the objections of both Methodist and Anglican Evangelicals to Anglican-Methodist union in the 1960s.
As a non-cradle Methodist, one of the most interesting revelations to me from this presentation was the fact that Methodist Evangelicalism and Anglican Evangelicalism were not historically the same thing.
For various reasons, I think that I have always tended to view Evangelicalism in the 'Anglican manner'. With apologies to Atherstone, I was not able to copy down the characteristics of Anglican Evangelicalism that he rattled off rapidly by heart, but in my own definition of 'Evangelical' in the 'Anglican manner', I've seen belief in penal substitutionary atonement and belief in the bible as God's infallible revelation to humankind as being two big hallmarks of evangelicalism.
My reluctance to see the bible as infallible revelation and to affirm penal substitutionary atonement as the central and most important doctrine of atonement have made me want to demur in calling myself an 'Evangelical'.
I now come to find out that, historically, this has not been the definition of 'Evangelical' within British Methodism, although a number of the participants expressed the opinion that the Anglican definition may be currently gaining a foothold in Methodism. Atherstone reckoned that the British Methodist Church during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was decidedly theologically liberal and that Methodist Evangelicals were simply Methodists who were commited to evangelism.
I asked Atherstone after the session whether this wasn't simply the old battle between Arminianism and Calvinism. Wouldn't a conservative Calvinist view Arminianism as theologically 'liberal' by definition? Atherstone agreed with me on this point: that Arminianism is 'liberal' by evangelical Calvinist standards.
I found this interesting because I think it explains some of my confusion when Methodist friends who appear to me to be decidedly theologically moderate insist that they are 'Evangelical'. I do fear, however, that the Anglican form of Evangelicalism is creeping into Methodism. That, of course, is my own bias.
25 August 2007
After reading a couple of blogs lately, one thought has occured to me with regard to sexism and I offer it as a point of discussion.
I'm not sure that the British Methodist Church takes the theology of 'complimentarianism' seriously. This is a theology that says that men and women are ontologically equal before God but that God requires 'functional subordination' of women to men.
We don't take this theology seriously because we don't hold it. However, 'complimentarianism' is held by many Christians in the United Kingdom including the growing 'New Frontiers' denomination. Complimentarianism is 'preached' by the Calvinist theologian John Piper who seems to be increasingly popular with many younger Christians in the UK as well as in the US.
I think that we need to vigorously refute the theology of complimentarianism and we must not stick our heads in the sand and write it off as a theology that is only held by those on the fringe of Christianity. We need to know why it is that we believe in the equality of men and women before God and we need to be able to articulate good biblical and theological arguments. If we cannot articulate why it is that we believe in biblical equality, then we are vulnerable to the charge that we are just following secular thought. (The organisation Christians for Biblical Equality can provide guidance and reading.)
22 August 2007
19 August 2007
We had a wonderful service with our Anglican neighbours. Theirs is a team ministry that includes three Anglican churches in the area; they all worship together during August. We joined them as Methodists at one of their churches and they will be joining us next Sunday.
How fantastic it was to have almost 100 people in the congregation rather than 20 or 30. There was an awful lot of goodwill and I hope that we can all work together more closely in the future.
18 August 2007
17 August 2007
Their main theological argument seems to be that God demands that people help others with a sincere heart. They seem to be arguing that medical care for the poor not be given by the State because this precludes giving 'with a sincere heart'.
Am I the only one who thinks that this logic leads inescapably to the theological conclusion that, 'It's more important to God that the well-off give with a sincere heart than that the less-well-off live a decent life'?
These people typically claim to be 'biblical', but you really have to wonder if any of them have read the Prophets. Are we reading the same bible??? Anyone who reads the bible and sees a God with a heart for the poor and oppressed is apparently creating a theology from their own subjective 'feelings' and is not genuinely biblical ('Give unto Ceaser....' apparently trumps the cows of Bashan). It makes me want to scream. It's like reading an apologetic for Apartheid.
I think that there is another entirely different question about how well State healthcare works. But even with all the problems in the NHS (and they are many), it's nothing near like the hyperbolic statements I'm seeing on US blogs.
The efficient delivery of healthcare is an issue that is separate from Christian theology; we might end up honestly disagreeing about what the best delivery system is. However, I wish Christians would stop making the argument that God puts the rights of the well-off to decide when and if they give to charity before the needs of the less well-off to live a healthy and dignified life.
12 August 2007
I was quite interested in his sermon - given to a university audience - on the subject of 'Is There a Christian Sexual Ethic?' Like many people, I've been unimpressed with the usual arguments for marriage and monogamy that are made by Christians, even though I agree that monogamous, faithful, lifetime partnerships are the best way to work out Christian discipleship in the sexual arena.
Below is my personal attempt to briefly outline the ideas in this sermon.
For many in our culture, it won't do to simply try to assert 'simple, traditional, biblical' teaching in the area of sexual ethics. Ours is a culture that prizes individuality and experimentation. People believe their circumstances are more varied than tradition allows and they believe that they need the ability to develop by trial and error.
Many individuals, including Christians, operate a sexual ethic on the basis of whether or not a relationship is hurtful or threatening to anyone: me, my partner, or anyone else. Some Christians may feel a little bit guilty at ignoring traditional teaching but they feel that they can't take it seriously.
Both the traditional approach and the 'new approach' (my term) have some Christian principles. The first talks of sacrificing one's own immediate gratification for the sake of discipline. The second talks of honesty, care, and taking responsibility for one's own choices.
Both approaches show an awareness that sexuality is a place of powerful emotion but both also suggest that people can 'get it right' once we understand the correct principles.
The problem is that the Christian Gospel is sceptical about me getting it right. It's sceptical about the usefulness of rules in getting it right and it's sceptical about using 'inner conviction and sincerity' to get it right. If the scepticism is correct then neither legalism nor good intentions will deliver a properly Christian sexual ethic.
However, the Gospel addresses itself to the 'deepest strata of injuredness and self-dividedness.' The Gospel says that 'pain, powerlessness, injury, despair, bewilderment, are laid open to a God who does not condemn or desert, but works tirelessly in the middle of our very betrayls and evasions to bring life.'
If life can communicate the meanings of God, then one's sexuality can be sacramental and speak of mercy, faithfulness, transfiguration and hope. The writer of the letter to the Ephesians tells us that married love is an image of the love between Christ and the Church. Christ gives himself up for the sake of his people and becomes dispossesed for the sake of another's life. In marriage, the husband's sacrifice is mirrored by the wife's obedience and both become dispossesed for the sake of the other. 1 Corinthians 7:3ff talks of mutual rights and belonging whether neither partner owns or governs their own body but makes it over to the other.
Married love is sacramental because it involves a lasting, not just momentary, resignation of control. It is a yielding to the other, a putting your own body at the disposal of another for that other's life or joy. What God has done for our life and joy we learn to do for God's joy: the joy in heaven over the return of the lost.
Within the Christian tradition, this surrender normally take place within marriage. Why? Partly because instinct warns us of the destructive energy that is the shadow side of sexual passion. 'Making oneself over' to another is always risky, especially if it is not a mutual exercise but an asymmetric one; I may give myself over to someone's greed or egoism.
Our yielding to God would be terrifyingly uncertain if we did not take it for granted that God was 'faithful', bound to us by covenant and by solemn self-commitment. This is why Christian tradition wants to talk about fidelity as the thing that makes sexuality meaningful in relation to God.
The grace that is to be discovered in nakedness and yielding can be itself when we give up the self-protection of non-commitment, experiment and gratification, when we go down the dangerous route of promising to be there for another person without having a 'get out clause'. A commitment without limits set in advance means that we have a lifetime to 'create each other' together. Without commitment, a relationship is in danger of one person turning themself over to another who manipulates them.Williams says that our main question with regard to Christian marriage should not be 'Am I keeping the rules?' nor should it be 'Am I being sincere and non-hurtful?', it should be 'How much am I prepared for this relationship to signify?'
(For lectionary aficionados, the sermon is not based on this Sunday's lectionary reading as I need a spare semon up my sleeve at the moment.)
09 August 2007
08 August 2007
I am also glad to see Martyn and Ruby using this form of communication.
03 August 2007
'Christian Perfection' is a concept that is very much part of Methodist tradition and one which many other Protestants found difficult to accept in Wesley's time. I'm of the view (although not everyone agrees with me) that Wesley waivered on what 'Christian Perfection' meant and whether or not it was achievable in this life. Wesley almost certainly would have read Gregory of Nyssa's work. Gregory's view of 'Christian Perfection' seems very different from much of current Protestant tradition.
For those who argue that 'peace' was not at the heart of early Christian tradition, I think this extract is evidence that they are wrong. I was particularly struck how Gregory seems to equate salvation with the death of hostility - expressed hostility as well as 'spiritual' hostility. Gregory exhorts followers of Christ to 'become peace' in order to 'be true to the name of Christ we bear.'
'Christ is our peace, for he has made both one.' Since Christ is our peace, we may call ourselves true Christians only if our lives express Christ by our own peace. As the apostle Paul has said: 'Christ has brought hostility to an end.' So it is incumbent upon us not to allow that hostility to be resuscitated in us in any way at all; we must proclaim its death absolutely. God has destroyed it in a marvellous way for our salvation. Thus it is important that we do not allow ourselves to become resentful or to nurse grudges because these things will threaten the well-being of our souls. We must not stir to life by our evil actions the very thing that is better left dead in us.
But because we bear the name of Christ who is peace, we too are called upon to secure the end of all hostility. In this way what we believe with our minds will be professed in our lives. Christ destroyed the dividing wall and brought the two sides together himself, thus making peace. We too, then, should not only seek to be reconciled with those who attack us externally, we should also be actively seeking to reconcile the warring factions that rage within us, so that flesh and spirit are no longer in constant opposition. Then, with our minds stable and our flesh subject to the divine law, we will be refashioned into a unified creature, into men and women of peace. When the two have been made one, we shall experience peace within ourselves.
Peace may be defined as a harmony between opposing factions. When, therefore, the civil war in our nature has been brought to an end and we are at peace within ourselves, then we ourselves will become peace. Only then can we be true to the name of Christ that we bear.
02 August 2007
01 August 2007
First of all, I want to explain that I'm writing this post from the context of British Methodism. If you happen to be an expert in the history of Christian liturgy or a Vestment Vixen, this post is definitely not for you. This post is my explanation into a denomination where I perceive that congregations generally don't have have much regard for formal, written liturgy and often look down upon it.
Secondly, I use the word 'kinda' because I want to explain what I think is good about formal, written liturgy. Often, I think, Christians assume that if one likes liturgy, one will also hate a service with extempore prayers and/or charismatic worship. I do not hate informal or extempore worship; For me, personally, these two forms of worship serve different purposes; I suspect that they may also reach different types of people and that some people are best reached by formal, written liturgy and others are best reached by extempore worship.
So here is why I 'kinda like' formal, written liturgy.
1) Most worship has 'liturgy' or ritual in it anyway. When I attended a church with informal worship, we always began with three praise songs, two which built us up into praise of God and one which quietened us down a bit to come before God in a prayer of approach. Believe it or not, that's actually liturgy. As are the words 'Oh Lord, we just want to come before you today and bless your holy name.' That's liturgy too. This is probably how the first ancient liturgies got written. People found patterns of worship and words that worked and these were repeated until they eventually got written down.
2) Formal, written liturgy has good theology and is well-written. This is important to me. I don't think I've had any 'bad theological experiences' in Methodism, but I've had them in other informal contexts. What can you do when someone says something in prayer or leading worship that is simply incorrect doctrinally? Not a lot, really. Also, in my experience, the theology expressed in informal worship almost invariably centres around 'having a personal relationship with Jesus' or possibly with 'healing' if it's a healing service. Both are well and good, but somewhat limited. Formal liturgy references all three persons of the Trinity and their work, Christian discipleship and stewardship as well as having a personal relationship with Jesus.
3) Formal, written liturgy links us with Christian tradition. I suspect that for many this might be an argument to abandon formal liturgy altogether! But I don't actually think that Church Tradition has gotten everything wrong all the time. When we use formal, written liturgy, we are not only linking ourselves with other Christian brothers and sisters who are saying those prayers right now, but we also link ourselves with our Christian brothers and sisters who went before us into glory.
4) Formal, written liturgy helps us to pray when we don't have the words to pray ourselves, especially those of us who have not been given the gift of speaking in tongues. People often testify to being held in the practice of prayer during times of emotional distress by saying the Daily Office. Also, one benefit of saying the daily office is that you get into the habit of praying whether you 'feel like' it or not.
I think that the number one criticism I hear of formal, written liturgy is that it is rote and insincere and done by people who don't 'really believe'. As someone who values liturgy and who believes and feels that she is 'really and sincerely worshipping' when she uses it, that can often be hard to hear. That said, I know I've certainly seen and heard liturgies where it appeared that neither the worship leader nor the congregation were getting much out of it. But I think that flags up a danger with respect to written liturgy. I don't think it's correct to say that all practice of formal liturgy must necessarily be insincere.
One of the things I love about Methodism is our 'wide church' approach. We are theologically wide and liturgically wide. I hope that Methodists can respect each other no matter what form of worship they prefer.
N.b. This post is not a criticism of any individual or any group in Methodism. I hope it's not perceived that way. It's been born of some discussion about 'worship styles' both on the internet and In Real Life.