Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This We Believe and The Wesley Study Bible

Bishop Will Willimon wrote This We Believe, The Core of Wesleyan Faith and Practice as a sort of companion for Abingdon’s The Wesley Study Bible. I didn’t purchase or write about The Wesley Study Bible when it was released last year because, honestly, I have a few Bibles already. However, Willimon’s book caught my attention and, as it was designed to be read alongside the study Bible, I figured I better pick up both.

This We Believe is a pretty useful book all on its own. Willimon, heavily referencing scripture and the writings of Wesley, lays out a very clear synopsis of Methodist Doctrine. I have a lot of respect for the clarity and simplicity of the Bishop’s explanations. As an ordained Elder, I had to write an examination that covered some of the cores doctrines and these are some difficult concepts. The beauty of this work is that, without watering them down, the author has made these concepts readable and understandable.

The explanations are explicitly Wesleyan. I think it would be clearer to say that they are explicitly Methodist which I think makes this an excellent resource for the United Methodist Church. Covered in the book are key doctrines of the Trinity, the reign of Christ, the Holy Spirit, our understanding of scripture, the concept of salvation and a clear definition of the “Church.”

One could easily read This We Believe without a copy of The Wesley Study Bible. What you would miss is a great chance to tour this amazing resource. Throughout his book, Willimon gives reference to the resources within the study Bible – mostly to small sidebars in the study notes called “Wesleyan Core Terms.” There are around 200 of these throughout the study Bible covering issues of doctrine and Christian living through a distinctly Wesleyan lens. They cover some fairly core doctrinal topics like faith, salvation and grace; some Wesleyan particulars like Christian perfection and intineracy; and some distinctive Methodist concepts like character of a Methodist and General Rules. These alone make this an amazing resource for United Methodists. As Methodists, we believe that we read scripture in conversation with reason, experience and tradition. This study Bible gives us instant access to, not just the tradition of the interpretation of the texts as with most study Bibles, but also to the core doctrines of our faith tradition that speak to how we live out those interpretations. I need to spend some more time with The Wesley Study Bible, but I believe it may become one the recommended study Bibles for our core Bible studies like Disciple and New Testament Survey.

Back to This We Believe. I highly recommend it to United Methodists who want to have a better understanding of our Wesleyan faith: the core doctrines that guide our faith and practice. This would be a great small group study. There is a leader’s guide available. I am looking at my calendar for 2011 to see if I will be able to offer it.



Friday, October 8, 2010


I took my truck in for an oil change a couple of weeks ago and had the dealer check the front-end alignment while it was there. I felt it was a little off. Turns out it was off, way off. In my experience, unless you have some kind of accident or hit a really nasty hole or bump, alignment tends to slowly get out of adjustment. It is one of those things that I don’t really notice until it is fixed. But I realized what I was doing more and more as the months passed was steering more and more to the right as my truck tried to go my and more to the left. This wasn’t really good for me or the truck. At some point, alignment can get so far off that it actually get fairly dangerous to drive the vehicle.

But this isn’t a post about auto mechanics. (Though if it were, my Dad would be proud. He spent his early adult life as a General Motors mechanic and then fixed aircraft during the Korean War.) This is a post about my spiritual life and perhaps yours. I am officially on vacation much of this month. For me, vacation isn’t just about some fun time away; it is about re-creation and re-alignment. This year it is especially important. I have fallen into the pattern of taking most of my vacation and comp time and renewal time all at once in the fall. Last year I did this but also snuck away for a couple of long weekends during the year to tide myself over. This year, I never really did that. I pretty much went full-steam from last October to this October. The only break I took was for a couple of surgeries and even then I got back to work as soon as the meds wore off.

What I realized, as I got closer to this vacation time, was that I had gotten way out of alignment. Just like I don’t notice the gradual changes in my truck when I drive it almost every day, I don’t notice the gradual changes in me when I work almost every day. Fortunately, I don’t think I am fatally out of alignment, but I could use some correction. There are a couple of things I notice when I really check in on myself. (Put myself in the shop to keep up the rapidly tiring metaphor.) One is a misalignment of priorities. And this is a big thing. It affects how I spend my time and energy, what I worry about, what I focus on. When I step back and take inventory, I am not always pleased at what I put first or how I handled the stuff I put last. There other thing I notice in my misalignment is that just like in my truck, I am steering way too hard. When I am out of alignment, I am out of alignment with God’s will for my life. When I am aligned and refreshed and connected, the path at times may be difficult, but it is fairly clear to follow. When I am overtired and overspent, I am constantly correcting and over-steering – working way too hard because I am not driving on the right path.

Let me try another analogy. Ever driven on the beach? (For my environment loving friends – yes you are right, we should really keep our cars off the beach but this is just an analogy.) Have you driven on the part where the sand is pretty deep? And have you ever tried to stay in the ruts that are already there but found that the stance of your car or truck is just a little wider or narrower than the ruts? It is this horrible constant steering in and out of the ruts. But when, all of a sudden, you hit a section where your wheels fit, you don’t even really have to steer. Just keep your foot on the gas and likely those ruts will lead you right to the next beach access road.

So that is what I am trying to do on my time off: get my wheels back in the ruts (the ones made by God) and get myself back in alignment. That might entail some reading, some writing, some sleeping, some praying, some hiking and who know what else. I will just try and follow the track.



Friday, October 1, 2010

No one said there would be a quiz!

Okay, so I have been largely absent from the blog and the rest of the online world for a while now. Basically, I scheduled my vacation a little too late in the year and I have been limping along trying to get to a break. I am a little behind the curve on writing about this piece from the news. However, it too closely ties into the purpose of this blog to completely ignore it. A recent phone survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life showed clearly that Americans don’t know much about the Bible, Christianity, other world religions, famous religious figures and the rules about religion in public life.

This has been out for a little while, so instead of my summarizing, follow a couple of these links and then come back here.

Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans - New York TimesDon't know much about religion? You're not alone, study finds - Belief Blog @cnn.com

Okay, welcome back. Big shock, right? Not really. Let's set aside for a moment the issues of other world religions; protestant Christians really don't know a lot about their own faith and their own book. Two questions arise right off the top: who is responsible for this and why does it matter?

This seems really obvious, but clearly it is not: If American Christians don't know the most basic tenants of the faith, it is the because of the failure of the Church. Really. Who else's failure could it be? This is exactly why I am so committed to systematic discipleship, speaking to people's hearts and minds about the basics of the faith and how we are to live them out. The mainline churches have been especially guilty of just assuming people know the basics. When people come to our congregations, we need to assume that they don't know the Bible, they don't know the basic doctrines and they don't know the heritage of the faith. If they already do know, fantastic! I little review never hurt anyone.

More importantly, why is this so important? Isn't it more important that people know Jesus in their hearts than know about Jesus with their minds? They are both important and here is why: We live in a complex and broken world. As Christians we are often called to speak to the brokenness in our world in terms of our faith in God. Too often, we just don't know what we are talking about. Let me use a very current example. Here in San Antonio, there were recently two tragic suicides of high school students from two local schools. In such moments of tragedy, grief and confusion, Christians have a word of hope and peace to speak. However, what we found is that Christians didn't know what word to speak and were sometimes speaking the wrong word. Christian denominations differ on their understanding of the theology of suicide. However, United Methodists have a view. The Social Principles in our United Methodist Book of Discipline (par. 161) state:

A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.

We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia.

It is important to note that these words are contained in the Social Principles which do not represent church law but represent our efforts to wrestle with complex social issues and be faithful to scripture.

Interestingly, the view about is not the view that if often expressed by United Methodist who often share the belief that suicide results in a clear condemnation to hell. Often people who do express that view have trouble explaining why they have that belief or where, biblically, it comes from. While suicide is a complex and tender topic and raises a number of theological questions, a United Methodist familiar with his or her theological heritage can be a voice of hope and peace in the midst of tragedy. But only if they know what they believe. (My friend and our Director of Youth Ministries who has recently by in the midst of this topic has written clearly and eloquently on this topic. You should read his blog post on the topic: The Lord Bless you and keep you.)

This is a just one example of many. The point is this: it doesn't matter how we do on a quiz or survey. That is not the point. However, this latest report is symptomatic of a lack of understanding of our faith. And understanding our faith is an important part of living it out in the world. At University, we are working hard to teach and equip people through our Pathway to Discipleship. Yet we know that this is just part of the solution. I hope that as week seek to clarify and improve our instruction at University, the Church universal is continuing to consider how we teach the faith and pass it along to a new generation.