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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Schism

Written by: on January 11, 2018

Bebbington’s renowned efforts to define Evangelicalism – including tenets of conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism – (interestingly terms not even recognized by spellcheck) and pay homage to a “neglected” British sect are comprehensive and enlightening.[1] I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t admit that England’s very own John Wesley – and his creation of Methodism highlighted by Bebbington – caught my attention and became the focus of this review.  You see, I am a United Methodist.  I was born into the United Methodist Church, was baptized and confirmed a United Methodist, and am a member and engaged participant in my community United Methodist Church.  And why is this relevant?  In case you haven’t heard, the UNITED Methodists are embroiled in a near division – “The Christian denomination is considering schism, largely over LGBT issues.”[2] As I follow this bitter denominational conflict, I’m intrigued by Bennington’s definition of Evangelicalism and how it can applied to the Methodist belief system – those both for LGBTQ inclusion and those against.

One thing is clear…United Methodists at their core are evangelical! From its beginnings, “Methodism has always been part of, and often at the vanguard of the broader movement within Protestant Christianity called “evangelicalism.”[3]  According to UMC.org “Declaring the good news of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ offered freely to all who wish to receive it is at the very heart of who we are as United Methodists. We declare that good news with the expectation that it will lead persons to an experience of conversion, of “entirely turning over” their lives to God by becoming disciples of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. And we expect that all disciples of Jesus Christ are transforming the culture in which they find themselves, individually and collectively, as they bear witness to and become agents of the work of God’s kingdom in the world. We are evangelical!”[4]  When analyzing the four tenets of Evangelicalism against the Methodist denomination, perhaps the concept of Biblicism is the area in which two factions of United Methodists cannot agree.  Because, according to Bebbington, Biblicism is a particular regard for the Bible.  Opposers of LGBTQ inclusion would likely point to the deeper issues of Biblical truth and interpretation as their foundation of their stance. A counter argument one might make is discussed in Bebbington’s Chapter 9, Time and Change…

In thought provoking statements, Bebbington concludes that “cultural context, not economics or politics, does most to explain the shape of Evangelical religion.”[5]  Bebbington goes on to say that “trends” in Evangelicalism were shaped by “shifts in cultural mood” that altered orientation of the population.[6]  Social class, intellectual climate and education, and cultural influence have modified Evangelicalism for hundreds of years. The theoretical concept of “diffusion” is the idea that socially and intellectually elite groups absorb new ideas and “fresh attitudes” which is eventually “diffused” to lower class, less educated people.  This diffusion process explains periods of time in history (and presently in the Methodist faith) where division/conflict spurred by deep theological debate is a cultural wave or attitude which hasn’t yet fully diffused from one class to another.  This same idea is further explored in “spacial diffusion” which is specific to urban/rural locations and the “differing degrees of proximity to the sources of fresh waves of opinion.”[7] You could easily connect the United States current political climate of the rural vs. urban support of President Trump.  A visual map clearly indicates urban sects support a more liberal leader while rural areas are staunch supporters of a conservative leader.

Brian Harris writes a thought provoking review (Beyond Bebbington:  The Quest for Evangelical Identity in a Postmodern Era) of Bebbington’s text.  Harris suggests that it may be “appropriate to move beyond” Bebbington’s definitions of Evangelicalism, to embark on a quest for evangelical identity that will be better suited to a postmodern era.”[8]  Harris shifts between theological and sociological lenses.  Having recently read and reviewed Contemporary Social Theory by Elliott, I appreciate Harris’ open-mindedness to trying to understand sociological influences in today’s world.  Harris also references Stanley Grenz’s model for theological construction as “representative of the move” to a marked shift in the attitude of evangelicals of the Bible.[9]  Harris eventually concludes that Evangelicalism is indeed a success – it is the “the largest and most actively committed form of Christianity in the West.”[10] However, he still challenges the reader to consider a “reimagination” of evangelicalism in which “diverse constituencies capture a vision of what it might mean to be missional communities of invitation, welcome, and embrace.”[11] In essence, applying Bebbington’s principals to constructively move beyond them.

In his 1767 sermon “The Witness of the Spirit” Wesley preached that Methodists — by God’s blessing — had recovered “this great evangelical truth.” Wesley explained the truth is “that we are the children of God.” The proper response to this truth, he said, “is the fruit of the Spirit: namely, ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness.’ ”[12] And this teaching and preaching of John Wesley is why I am committed to my personal belief system and United Methodist denomination.  Are we battling spiritual warfare in this LGBTQ conflict?  Absolutely!  But it is requiring believers to return to their Bible, engage in deep spiritual and theological discussions and prayerfully discern a future for the denomination.  As we know so well – and value – iron sharpens iron!

The Body of Christ – believers – should be encouraging and edifying one another. When they do, they are like iron sharpening iron. Each believer becomes more effective in his calling. He comes to know God more and to more effectively carry out the good works for which he has been made. Ephesians 2:10 

 

 

[1]        David Bebbington, Evangelicalism In Modern Britain. (London: Routledge. 1993).

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/divided-methodist-church-lgbt/483396/

[3] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/is-the-concept-saved-born-again-unique-to-evangelicals-or-baptists

[4] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/is-the-concept-saved-born-again-unique-to-evangelicals-or-baptists

[5] Bebbington, Evangelicalism. pg272

[6] Bebbington, Evangelicalism. pg272

[7] Bebbington, Evangelicalism. pg274

[8]        Brian Harris. Beyond Bebbington:  The Quest for Evangelical Identify. Churchman 122, no.3(2008): 201-219

[9] Harris, Beyond Bebbington pg207

[10] Harris, Beyond Bebbington pg212

[11] Harris, Beyond Bebbington pg212

[12] http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/what-does-it-mean-to-be-evangelical

About the Author

mm

Jean Ollis

8 responses to “Schism”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Really thought-provoking post, Jean. I appreciate how you applied it to the current challenges in your denomination. And I love your hopeful conclusion.

    How do you think the “current cultural mood” about immigrants might shape evangelicalism in the US?

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    Great references to Elliott and Grenz! I think you did exactly what Dr. Jason wanted us to. Then you backed it up. Well done.

    I was really glad to hear your declaration, “United Methodists at their core are evangelical!” I concur.

    I have been wondering about the term “fundamental” when reading all the Blogs. Sure seems to me that both words are loaded with connotations?

    I am probably considered a Fundamental Evangelical. How about you? I would think that most Nazarenes and Wesleyans are, but of course it would depend on someone’s bias’ and definitions, like everything else we have studied together the past semester.

  3. Great post Jean! Reading your post makes me sad for you and the United Methodist church. I know your heart goes out to those marginalized people to be included in God’s family, and so does mine. Since all denominations put Jesus as the central person and example we are to follow, it blows me away that we are not treating the outcasts of society the way He did. Satan is winning when it continues to divide God’s church on these issues. I’m curious how your local church is handling these issues of inclusion.

  4. Greg says:

    Jean, I love that you do not steer away from the issues that seem to dominate the religious discussion of the day. How we love reflects our understanding of God. I appreciated your openness and struggle with the denomination that has helped shape who you are and how you see the world. How is your local fellowship handling discussions on this topic? Are people willing to loving discussion options or has the line in the sand been drawn for most people? Good reflections.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jean,
    I really appreciate your post. I grew up Methodist, went to a Catholic school, then when my parents divorced my dad started attending and Episcopal church and then I married a Southern Baptist and became a preacher in that denomination. The one thing I can say is similar with all, is this, Jesus is savior. I believe, as you stated, “But it is requiring believers to return to their Bible, engage in deep spiritual and theological discussions”, this is the best thing to come out of disagreements within ourselves. Seek God and his word, and love one another.

    Jason

  6. Bravo on your post… I loved how you integrated your Bebbington thoughts with Grenz and Elliott from last semester.

    Evangelicals historically have been the most creative and adaptable stream in Christendom. Of the four marks of evangelicalism, their commitment to two of them – conversionism and activism – leads evangelicals to be especially relevant to the culture in which they operate. Let’s pray this DNA continues influencing this stream of Christianity for its longevity and fruitful future.

  7. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jean,

    Please don’t tell my Presbyterian friends or my Presbytery, but I too am a United Methodist, born and raised. Though currently serving in the Presbyterian church my theology continues to be influenced by my Wesleyan heritage. I have watched from a distance the fracture occurring in the denomination over the LGBT issue and witnessed similar challenges in the PCUSA. It will be interesting to see what becomes of both denominations and how those in the Evangelical community will ultimately deal with this issue as I do not believe it is one that will go away. By splitting and forming ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ camps I am convinced that both become less than what God desires.

  8. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this post, Jean! You have a real gift for sifting through academic reviews and articles and blending them into your overall post. I think your passion is most evident when you linked the academic with the practical/pastoral/local concerns. You do both well, and that shows through in this piece.

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