Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

By Charles W. Keysor, Editor

Late this summer we were saddened by an ugly accusation.

An editorial published in the September issue of the Interpreter, official United Methodist program journal, accused Good News of plotting to form a separate church.

If this is true, then Good News deserves to be condemned, for we have lied about our intentions. But if the ugly accusation is false, then Dr. Roger Burgess, author of the editorial, has come close to slandering tens of thousands of United Methodists.

This is not the first time we have heard this accusation. It has floated vaguely in the background, and some United Methodists have used it as an excuse to avoid taking seriously Good News’ concerns about the church.

But now the ugly accusation is in print. Publication in an official journal of the church has caused some people to suppose that Good News has been officially condemned by the United Methodist Church.  This is not true. But the wells have been poisoned; suspicions have been planted across the church as to our motives.

For this reason it seems necessary to comment on eight specific indictments made in this editorial. “Come let us reason together,” as Isaiah said.

Since Good News began in 1966, we have tried to make our motives clear. Our corporate title is, “A Forum for Scriptural Christianity WITHIN the United Methodist Church.” We have said many times that we desire to work within the denomination. We have urged countless discouraged people not to quit, but to stay in the UM Church.  Often we have been successful in this effort.

Nevertheless, we stand accused of plotting schism.

Indictment #1: Good News has criticized “the established church as weak and sick, thereby undermining confidence.” We have been critics and we shall continue to criticize, as directed by reason and conviction. We have not been perfect, but is criticism necessarily wrong? What about Dr. Burgess’ underlying assumption that criticism of an institution “undermines confidence?” Should loyalty be a matter of unquestioning acceptance?  Has blind conformity become the highest United Methodist virtue? If so, we have come a long, long way from Otterbein and Wesley who differed boldly, powerfully and persistently with the church in their day.

Good News is not the first to describe the church as “weak and sick.” Among the guilty are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nathan; Micah, Paul, Savonarola, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley and Otterbein. Jesus Christ was a stronger critic than all the rest. We are not ashamed to be included in this company.

History records that the institutional church often has been “weak and sick.” That is why the heavenly Father sent prophets, and why the prophetic spirit is needed afresh in each generation. To exempt the church from criticism is not justified by Scripture, reason, experience or tradition.

Other United Methodists freely criticize the church, why is Good News alone condemned? What about the flamboyant criticisms of the Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of Glide Memorial UM Church San Francisco? What about Dr. Burgess himself, the author of this editorial?  He vigorously criticized the church after the 1972 General Conference merged his Board of Health Education and Welfare into the Board of Global ministries.

We doubt that our criticisms have “undermined confidence” in the church. If the church was not very weak and very sick, our criticisms would roll off like water shed from a duck’s back. Good News has expressed openly the shattered and crumbling confidence of multitudes.  We have made public the frustration and heartbreak of many loyal United Methodists. Good News speaks for them; many are afraid to express themselves. These criticisms need to be said.

Indictment #2: Good News has established a “statement of doctrine as a rallying point and [plans to] issue a study book.” The 1972 General Conference urged all United Methodists to “accept the challenge of responsible theological reflection.”  This appears on page 79 of the current UM Discipline.

We had supposed we were fulfilling this challenge when our Good News Task Force on Doctrine and Theology spent more than one year preparing the “Junaluska Affirmation, pages 22-28. Is it schismatic to follow the Discipline? Or does Dr. Burgess really mean that the General Conference has stimulated schism by encouraging United Methodists to “do theology?” Is he saying that our theological statement is irresponsible? Read it and judge it for yourself.

Will the “Junaluska Affirmation” become the theological rallying point for a new church? This seems to frighten Dr. Burgess.

Since the time of Wesley, doctrine has not been a major cause of division among us. Other issues divided our forefathers: slavery, episcopal power, rental of church pews and religious formalism. But doctrine is not the major reason why Methodists have split off to form new denominations. And today, no statement of doctrine has enough appeal to attract many United Methodists into a new denomination.  Only radical dishonoring of UM doctrinal standards and their Biblical base could change this. Are Dr. Burgess and others moving in this direction? For example, if the UM Church should relax its present opposition to homosexuality, then hundreds of thousands will be driven out. Should this happen (and we pray that it won’t) a new church might be formed. The “Junaluska Affirmation” could help provide its doctrinal foundation.

A glance at history may be helpful.

Back in the 15th century, a Roman Catholic theologian named Martin Luther nailed a document containing 95 theses or propositions to a church door in Germany. He did this in order to open theological debate. He wanted to clarify theological contradictions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Scriptures. He succeeded! His 95 theses set in motion a chain of events which resulted in the Protestant Reformation. Luther did not choose to leave his church: he was kicked out. Why? Because he dared to differ with the hierarchy and because his convictions, based on Biblical theology, were not subject to crippling compromise.

Could history repeat itself?

Things have changed since Luther’s day. Expulsion of any group seems unlikely in a pluralistic church. But the accusations of Dr. Burgess conjure up fears of church division. This may be like tossing a lighted match a haystack.  There is deep discouragement   abroad in the church, and our leaders must be cautious about prophecies which could become self-fulfilling.  Hundreds of thousands have already quit United Methodism, and exodus continues unabated as our leaders pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Ugly accusations against evangelicals can turn the already alarming exodus into a torrent. If members vanish, who then will keep the church institution running?

Indictment #3: Good News is preparing its own “training and confirmation materials for membership.”  In 1976, we will make available materials to help pastors train junior high school students in Biblical faith before they join the church.  The denomination ought to make such materials available, but it does not. Our efforts to secure the needed materials met with a closed door in Nashville.

A survey of 1,200 pastors (500 responding) showed 85% dissatisfied with denominational confirmation resources. Therefore many are forced to improvise (one pastor reported using the novel, Bridge Over the River Kwai as a confirmation resource for his junior high youth).  We choose to fill the vacuum, and believe the United Methodist Church will be stronger as a result.

Is the church at the mercy of insensitive bureaucrats? Or is there a time when the bureaucrats must be bypassed in order that Biblical.  teaching resources may become available to those who desire them?

Indictment #4: Good News is proposing to develop its own theological schools. Many United Methodists agree with Dr. Ed Robb’s diagnosis of our UM seminaries, page 32. There is no need to elaborate here on the points which he has made so clearly. Since there has been much controversy about Dr. Robb’s address, we urge you to read it yourself and judge its validity.

If people choose to see schismatic implications in Dr. Robb’s message, there is an easy solution.  Let the denomination make adequate provision for orthodoxy in the theological education of our church. This could be done in either of two ways.

Several seminaries could be designated as orthodox. These could be staffed, administered and financed by UM evangelicals. This would still leave the majority of UM seminary facilities and faculties dedicated to secular humanism, naturalism, existentialism, or even a stronger Biblical viewpoint. So our proposal ought not to be threatening-especially in a church which prides itself  on encouraging different opinions. … the validity of varying views.

A second way would be to have in each UM seminary some professors who present the traditional view of Scriptural Christianity in theology, church history, Christian ethics, evangelism, devotional life, preaching and church administration.  This would require adding qualified professors and library resources at every UM seminary. It would require that the Biblical evangelical position enjoy the same academic freedom presently being accorded to non-evangelical and fragmented Biblical viewpoints in our seminary faculties, libraries and student bodies.

Indictment #5: Good News is talking about its own missions program.  In the center of this Good News magazine is a supplement about the work of the Evangelical Missions Council, created by Good News in 1974 as a means of dealing with the crisis in UM world missions.  EMC and Good News are usually linked together; actions of EMC credited to Good News, as well as the other way around.

As has been often stated, we are seeking a clear channel by which we can faithfully fulfill the Great Commission as United Methodists. Our first choice is to do this through our Board of Global ministries. But here we encounter a serious difficulty.  Contrary to Discipline’s good statement on missions, the Board of Global Ministries has substituted unofficially a radical, secular concept of missions. (You can see this in any issue of New World Outlook, the board’s official magazine).  Instead of welcoming us as brothers and sisters … instead of including us at the level of policymaking and program-planning, board leaders have patronized us with dialogue and effectively excluded us from the decision-making process.

We think that our dollars and our missionary candidates should be invested in an aggressive, creative outreach to win billions of lost people to Christ. To the extent we can do this through the Board of Global Ministries, we will. But we insist on the right, as United Methodists, to be ecumenical. The Kingdom of God is larger than any one denomination, including our own. The call to world evangelization is certainly bigger than one mission board. We intend to fulfill the Great Commission wherever God allows. We shall not turn down opportunities to cooperate with the Board of Global Ministries-this is a part of our responsibility. Nor should we refuse to become involved when calls for help come to us directly from autonomous Unite Methodist bodies and their leaders overseas-nor when United Methodists are doing missionary work in other evangelical organizations.

The United Methodist Church practices liberal ecumenism through heavy support for the National and World Councils of Churches. Good News would like to extend UM ecumenicity into orthodox areas also, thus fulfilling the “catholic spirit” of our heritage. If this frightens anyone it may reveal they have too narrow a vision of Christ’s Universal Church.

Indictment #6: Good News publishes its own general periodical.  We have done so since 1967. Why?  Because our denomination has provided no publication where evangelical viewpoints can be expressed extensively, and where our theological thrust can be made. It has seemed only right that we finance and create our own publication, not diverting funds from the treasury of the church for our purposes. We should be pleased to discontinue our own publication if the denomination should provide a comparable communication opportunity for us.

The United Methodist Church has a poor track record with general periodicals. For nearly 20 years Together, New Christian Advocate and, more recently, United Methodists Today floundered and died (see Summer ’75 Good News, p. 79).  Had Good News been published by the UM Church, chances are we would be dead and buried along with other official magazines mentioned above. We sense that the denomination is embarrassed by a maverick publication which grows, while official publications die. Are we being criticized for paying all our own bills, instead of adding to the deficit of $6,260,000 paid by the UM Church to subsidize general periodicals over the last 18 years?

Indictment #7: Good News conducts regional and national meetings.  In an effort to meet people’s needs, we have held six national convocations. Next year, by God’s grace, we shall hold one in each jurisdiction.  In addition, there have been many regional meetings held by Good News people.

What’s so dangerous about meetings? Ours are paid for by Good News people, so no financial drain on the church results from our gatherings.

Perhaps the fear is caused by our independence: Good News meetings are planned, financed and controlled by Good News people. We should think churchmen would rejoice when a group of United Methodist is able to fly on its own, rather than remain dependent on denominational staff and finances.

We have not heard Dr. Burgess express fear because many other UM groups also meet on their own.  Women. Ordained women. Blacks.  Asians. Youth. Young adults. Indians.  Chicanos. Charismatics.  Methodist Federation for Social Action.  The list is endless.

For United Methodists, going to meetings is as natural as breathing.  So by our frequent meeting we bear witness to the fact that we are true United Methodists.

We mean to threaten nobody.  We seek commonality in Christ, and to share together in the Biblical faith of the Universal Church. That is why we meet.

Indictment #8: Good News is discussing establishment of its own organization to elect its own bishops. Of all Dr. Burgess’ charges, this is the most surprising.  Every other UM group is up to its ears in the politics of electing bishops … everybody except Good News, that is. We are not promoting anybody for bishop. We never have.

At our most recent convocation, an idea was offered during the closing minutes of a major address. This was enough to set off the alarm bells of those who fear evangelical resurgence. Is it wrong for only evangelicals to talk of electing bishops?  Is this the much-advertised pluralism?

Dr. Burgess says that Good News.  ought to follow the example of United Methodist Women and Black Methodists for Church Renewal.  They have been successful in impacting the denomination, Dr. Burgess says, and Good News would be also if we copied them.

One thing makes this impossible:  Good News is primarily a theological movement. What motivates us is a desire for Biblical theology to be practiced in and by the UM Church.  This is a much different motive than the caucuses. They are primarily political, with theology incidental.  No caucus has produced a statement such as the “Junaluska Affirmation.” For the caucuses, theology is the tail rather than the dog. But for Good News, politics is the tail and theology the dog.

This explains why the caucuses operate as they do. Given their first priority as church money and church power, nobody can question their effectiveness.  They do have denominational “clout”; Good News does not.  But political power is less important to us than theological integrity.  This comes first on our agenda.  This explains why Good News alone has developed a major theological statement. Why Good News alone talks about the issues of seminaries and world missions. Why Good News alone among the special-interest caucuses publishes its magazine and is preparing materials for confirmation and youth membership training. The driving force behind all we do is transcendent theological concern. This dimension of church renewal is unique to Good News.

Where lies the real danger of dividing the UM Church? With Good News and its primarily theological concern? Or with those who cause large numbers of United Methodists to lose confidence in the church by promoting causes which are contrary to Scripture and repugnant to the feelings of ordinary people?

Is it possible that the only schismatics in the United Methodist Church today are the people who take seriously the teachings of our denominational forefathers? If so, this indicates how far the church has departed from its Biblical foundations.

Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

The Crisis of Theological Education in the United Methodist Church

The Crisis of Theological Education in the United Methodist Church

An address delivered July 22, 1975, at the sixth annual Good News Convocation, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina by the Rev. Dr. Edmund Robb, Pastor, St.Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3717 44th Street, Lubbock, Texas, and Second Vice-Chairman of the Good News Board of Directors.

United Methodism is a sick denomination. Any objective person will recognize this. Our membership has declined by one million in seven years. Worship attendance has declined by almost the same percentage. Professions of faith have declined from 379,390 in 1955 to 214,585 in 1974. At the same time the conservative evangelical denominations are showing very rapid growth. Any business organization that had suffered such a drastic decline would demand radical reform and change in policy and personnel. Shall we do less?

The Rev. Dean M. Kelly, a staff person of the National Council of Churches and author of the book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, told a recent gathering of United Methodists attending a seminar on evangelism that church memberships in their denomination mean very little. Criticizing the UM Church and other mainline denominations, he said, “You will not get members by requiring nothing of them. You have to be serious about the Bread of Life and demand that your members do the same.” Mr. Kelly said those who need religion most are not coming to the United Methodist and other mainstream churches because they are offered a seat on a church committee, rather than a chance for spiritual healing. He said that the churches experiencing the most rapid growth today are those churches which are ministering to the individual spiritual needs of their members.

“What does it mean to be a member of The United Methodist Church these days?” Mr. Kelly asks. “Is there anything you can do to get tossed out? What are you demanding of your members-and what difference does it make to them?”

A church prospers or declines because of its leadership. A study of the congregations of United Methodism will reveal that growing churches have strong, capable pastoral leadership with a positive message. Our denomination is suffering from weak, ineffective ministerial leadership. Many of our responsible leaders recognize this discouraging fact! The question is, who or what is responsible for this weak leadership?

I am convinced that our seminaries bear a major portion of the responsibility. If we have a sick church it is largely because we have sick seminaries. I have noticed most ministers’ personal theology can be determined by the seminary they graduated from, and the decade they graduated.

Bishop Roy C. Nichols wrote in the November 13, 1973, issue of the Methodist Reporter:

“… Seminaries themselves must effect a profound reorientation of purpose and function if their capability in ministry is to be substantially increased. United Methodism should be making a greater impact on the nation and the world. We can, if seminary faculties will redirect the theory and substance of their ministerial training responsibility toward preparing prospective pastors for the realities of ministries to people today!

“Most seminaries do a creditable job of academic preparation; but there must be a greater concentration on the role of the pastor as the spiritual leader of the “grass roots” people of God. God is what the church is all about. The ministry is not a profession. It is a “calling.” Congregations have a right to expect the proclamation and practice of certain realities validated in the personal spiritual experience of the pastor. The transcendent God, the incarnate Christ and the indwelling Spirit constitute the theological foundation for seminary education.

“If the seminary is not realistic, it ends up graduating a product that is naive in organizational techniques, ignorant of program and planning procedures, unable to conceptualize priorities and doomed to the continuing judgment of the “Peter Principle.” The end result crowds the appointment system with a disproportionate number of unhappy ministerial misfits.”

Bishop Nichols continues:

“It is not enough for the seminary to teach personal integrity, high ethical standards in the classroom. The professors and the campus climate must be carefully consistent with the same guidelines of Christian character, from top to bottom. When exaggerated permissiveness and “do-your-own-thing” lifestyles begin to dominate the campus, anarchy follows and clergy potential is drastically reduced. These are not the days, if such ever existed, for willy-nilly, wishy-washy preachers.

“Mature, prepared, totally committed ministers who understand where they came from and where they intend to go, in response to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, is the first essential to local church renewal.”

Most United Methodist seminaries, if not all, are committed to contemporary theology. We have seen them evolve from orthodoxy to classical liberalism, to neo-orthodoxy, to existentialism. With the bankruptcy of theistic existentialism, came the advent of secular theology. Then Drs. Altizer and Hamilton boldly announced that God was dead. To our amazement this was taken seriously for a short while. Then later came the theology of hope, realized eschatology, the theology of liberation and the theological and moral confusion of situation ethics. Our seminaries should remember, “He that is married to the times will soon be a widower.”

We are told there is room for everyone under the umbrella of United Methodism-the liberal and the conservative, the evangelical and the secularist. We are reminded of Wesley’s classic statement, taken out of context I might add, “We think and let think.”

The current hypocrisy in some of our professed pluralism can be demonstrated in so many ways. Often a graduate of an evangelical college is told he should go to a liberal seminary for balance. When is a graduate of a liberal college told by the establishment to go to a conservative seminary for balance?

If we are a pluralistic church, where are the proportional number of evangelical professors in our seminaries? Dr. Claude Thompson, that saintly professor from Candler School of Theology, who has since gone to be with the Lord, wrote in Christianity Today (1971):

“What can we expect from our pulpits when their occupants are men trained under teachers who profess no faith in God, doubt His existence, regard Jesus as only a good man and not a Saviour, have no place for prayer, minimize the authority of the Bible, dismiss any idea of spiritually transformed lives under the Holy Spirit, do not believe in life after death, and have long since come to regard our evangelical heritage as out of date? … Unfortunately, it seems to be more and more difficult to secure evangelicals as faculty members.” There are some notable exceptions to this, but they are far too rare. The bias is all too evident!

By pluralism, do we mean that the evangelicals can pay the bills, receive members and follow the program determined and directed by liberals? By pluralism do we imply that it is disloyal to question the program, literature or schools of our denomination? Is the episcopacy and bureaucracy of our church demonstrating the same attitude toward evangelicals that the Church of England’s leadership showed toward the Methodists of the 18th Century?

We see the hypocrisy in our professed pluralism in another way. There is an ecumenical spirit toward the theological left, but a rejection of the theological right. I personally know of a minister who belongs to an ecumenical fellowship made up of liberals. This same pastor said he could not cooperate with the Billy Graham Crusade. This is one example of the kind of ecumenicity often seen in our denomination.

Tonight I am asking for a new openness to evangelical education in United Methodism. Further, I am asking our denomination to provide opportunity for those seeking such education.

What do we mean by “Evangelical?”

An evangelical affirms the Scripture as inspired revelation – authoritative and normative for our faith the written Word of God.

An evangelical affirms the necessity of a personal Christian experience – an encounter – the new birth the rejection of universalism and syncretism as anti-biblical.

An evangelical affirms the priority of evangelism, missions and Christian education.

The evangelical does not see himself to have a negative or critical spirit, which prevails among some fundamentalists. He is not calling for a return to the 19th century. The new-evangelical does not despise scholarship and is not anti-scientific. The evangelical is not a separatist, but a churchman in the best sense of the term. The enlightened evangelical will have a sensitive social conscience and be involved in the world redemptively in the name and Spirit of Christ.

United Methodist seminaries have failed to give an evangelical education with this kind of understanding of the faith.

Where are the professors in our seminaries who affirm, without mental reservation, the deity of Jesus Christ – He is God – He is man?

Where are the professors who affirm that our Lord was born of a virgin, not just symbolically, but miraculously – biologically!? “He had no father on earth nor mother in heaven.”

Where are the professors who affirm the bodily resurrection-not just a continued spiritual presence, but who proclaim the empty tomb and glorified body?

Where are the professors who affirm that there will be a consummation – that Christ will personally return in glory to judge the living and the dead?

These issues are absolutely essential to the evangelical.

How many of our theological professors firmly believe in the uniqueness of the Christian faith? Do they have a concern for and obedience to the Great Commission? Do they reject universalism-the doctrine that all will finally be saved? Do they boldly proclaim that Christ is the Way?

Is there an acceptance and advocacy of supernatural Christianity in our seminaries today? Is there a question mark placed on the miracles of the New Testament? How many of our seminaries have courses in prayer and devotional life?

A dismal picture emerges from the final report of the Lilly Foundation Project on the spiritual life in the large denominations’ theological seminaries. In a number of these schools “both students and student wives reported that they had met with faculty satire and ridicule when they had asked from them help in prayer. Others sensed deep embarrassment on the part of faculty when confronted with their request for help here.”

Students who do come to the seminaries with some degree of faith in God often find their faith shattered after the first year of studies. Professors commonly assert that they are tearing down idols so that the seminary student can find out for himself what is really authentic. Unfortunately, the seminary faculty often fails to present to their students the alternative of a positive faith in Jesus Christ. The Lilly Report declares:

” … Many students testified to the predominately destructive nature of seminary I ife and study upon their frail faith in God. Exposed to a steady barrage of ‘debunking’ and skepticism, there was too little help offered them in building up a new, truer, stronger faith in God to replace that which had been destroyed.”

The Lilly Foundation study also disclosed that the loss of the disciplines of the spirit extended to the faculty. “A few faculty members even wanted to argue with those who were making the report, whether there is a God that can be prayed to, and if there is, whether communion with Him is even possible.” A group of students this very month complained to the leaders of an evangelism seminar, conducted in their United Methodist seminary, that there was no one they could go to for help in prayer and devotional life in their school. Of course, no such courses were offered!

Where is the United Methodist seminary that recognizes and encourages the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world today? Where is the seminary that deals sensitively with the holiness and charismatic movements in the church?

For the evangelical the church is the Body of Christ. He believes in the priority of preaching, the necessity of the sacraments, and the need for a community of faith.

Historic Christianity rejects humanism and secular salvation. The world does not set the agenda-the Word does. Freedom and prosperity cannot be equated with salvation. For the Biblical Christian, heaven and hell are realities we must ultimately come to terms with.

Lest I seem unduly harsh, I want to inject here my due appreciation for many of the capable, dedicated professors in United Methodist seminaries. I recognize them as persons of integrity, and many have made significant contributions to Christian scholarship and reconciliation in the fellowship. There are others with whom we radically disagree, but we do not for one moment question their desire to serve the Lord in the manner they understand the faith. Our quarrel is not a personal one at all, and certainly not meant to be an attack on any individual. Men of good will can disagree and still have respect and appreciation for each other.

However, on the whole there is a misrepresentation of evangelical theology in UM seminaries. Every form of radical humanism is exemplified. I know of no UM seminary where the historic Wesleyan Biblical perspective is presented seriously, even as an option. I do know of a professor who had his facts so confused about the “holiness movement” that he represented H. C. Morrison as a bishop who withdrew from the Methodist Church and founded Asbury College! He had not bothered to check the facts. Is this being objective? Orthodoxy is often ridiculed, ignored or caricatured.

If pluralism prevailed in fact, as well as in theory, then every United Methodist seminary would have faculty and Iibrary resources by which the historic Wesleyan perspective was not only taught, but was prominent in the inter-mix of lifestyles and ideological choices.

Dr. Carl Henry says that orthodoxy in the United States in the last 15 years has been the only perceived heresy in a theological education. There is no fair or equal treatment of it in systematic theology, or even in survey courses in theology.

I am concerned that on a systematic and non-defensive basis, students ought to have opportunity for exposure to evangelicals who are serious scholars and dedicated in their faith. Some seminaries, for example, will bring in charismatics and others who are “in vogue” to the day, but this remains a part of a theological circus in which odd courses and odd names are paraded before the student body, without any genuine intention of inviting students to serious intellectual exposure. The evangelical theologian ought to be given equal time, certainly, in United Methodist seminaries.

Humbly may I make some modest proposals for reform in the theological education in United Methodism? I realize that these proposals may well be resisted by the mutual-support system of the hierarchy. By this I mean the strange reluctance to act or even to admit that anything could be wrong with the institution. As I recall, the quadrennial committee on the seminaries, reporting to the 1972 General Conference, complimented the seminaries of United Methodism on their fine job and superior product. One part of the bureaucratic brotherhood automatically affirms every other part. It is a part of the long-established survival mechanism and ritual of being a “loyal” United Methodist. Thus all rush to the defense of one who is being questioned or criticized. Even those who might privately admit that they were not happy with our seminaries would simply say or do nothing.

Anyone who has studied the “Hartford Heresies” will recognize the urgent need of reform in theological education. In fact, I am convinced that schools type the denomination. The theological assumptions criticized in the “Hartford Heresies” are the assumptions that dominate United Methodist schools. Unless there is reform, our church will soon cease to be a significant influence in the world.

A study committee in the UMC has recommended that our seminaries be reduced from fourteen to ten. I propose that two of these seminaries be entrusted to evangel ical boards of trustees and continued as official United Methodist seminaries. These seminaries would share in all current denominational funding, as well as the responsibilities given to any other United Methodist seminary. Endowments and libraries for these evangelical seminaries are to be maintained and enlarged for all UM seminaries equally. The money and help is available. The students are waiting. I predict in a short time these two seminaries would become among the largest theological schools in our denomination.

These Wesleyan, evangelical, United Methodist seminaries would demand the highest academic standards and a committed spiritual life. Such schools would be loyal to the church, orthodox in theology, Wesleyan in interpretation, twentieth century in outlook, socially prophetic and involved, evangelistic in spirit, missionary minded and concerned for the local church. Such schools would do more to bring renewal to the church than any other single thing.

I want to ask the leaders of our denomination that if we are truly pluralistic, why can’t this be done? The Task Force on Theological Education of Good News stands ready to dialogue at any time!

A second proposal to resolve our dilemma is to establish truly inclusive theological faculties. We are asking for every official theological school to invite competent evangelical scholars to join their faculties, especially in the fields of Biblical and systematic theology. Let us stop being hypocritical about an inclusive church and practice pluralism where it counts-in the schools. Qualified scholars with impressive credentials are available.

A third proposal I would suggest is that greater support be given to the established independent theological seminaries, especially those of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition. A surprisingly large number of effective pastors and church leaders in our denomination are graduates of such institutions. I know of one annual conference in United Methodism that provides $1,000 scholarships annually to every student from its area who attends a well-known, independent evangelical seminary. This money is contributed by concerned laymen and churches. That conference now has between 25 and 30 students enrolled in evangelical schools. Every cent of this money is sent through the conference treasurer. This is bringing about significant evangelical renewal in that conference. Most conferences represented at this Convocation could support such a program. All we need is vision, courage, daring and faith.

United Methodist students attending unofficial seminaries today do so at great financial sacrifice. For some it is an impossible burden. It is our responsibility as evangelical churchmen to make it possible for young, Spirit-filled students to be theologically equipped for the ministry.

Brethren, it is time we “bit the bullet” and paid the price, financially and professionally, for our convictions. The battle will be won or lost in our schools. What shall we do?

If all else fails, then a final suggestion would be in order. Ultimately it may be necessary that the establishment of a new, independent theological seminary be considered. If the denominational leadership is unresponsive to our need, we have no alternative but to provide adequate training for our future ministers. Though the barriers are almost insurmountable, because of accreditation problems, etc., by God’s grace it can be done! If it needs to be done, it shall be accomplished.

Let us serve notice, here and now, that we will no longer turn over our converts to the theological liberals who neither understand or teach the Biblical faith.

Let us serve notice that evangelicals will no longer be silent concerning the great issues of the church, and follow blindly their impotent policies. We are dedicated to evangelical renewal within the United Methodist Church. We are not going elsewhere. Rather, we propose to radically alter the direction of our great denomination. This will come with revival. The revival fires are spreading across the land. Its impact will organizationally and educationally change United Methodism.

Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

Father Otterbein – The Gentle Revolutionary

Father Otterbein – The Gentle Revolutionary

Part II

by Sondra O’Neale

In the last issue of Good News, we met William Otterbein. We saw his godly family of six brothers who preached the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in and around Germany. And we saw God lead the fiery Otterbein to the German immigrants of America, known affectionately as the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”

In mid-eighteenth century America there was little affection for these settlers. Ninety thousand were in Pennsylvania alone. They came mostly from the German Palatinate where war, ruin, devastation and poverty had been their heritage for 400 years. There were Mennonites, Amish, Lutheran, Reformed, Moravians, Dunkers-all German, all persecuted at home, unwanted in the new land.

A stream left to itself, with no fresh currents, will die. So did the language, the culture, and especially the religion of these new Americans begin to die. A home-loving people, they forged farms from the rough hills of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. They built churches, but there were few pastors. There were no schools, no teachers, no one to teach them English. So they taught their children as best they could from the few German books they had.

They fought in the Revolutionary War with the rest of the colonists. But this intensified their bitterness because they were alienated when the war was over. By then their churches were wrapped up in form: cold, strict obedience to dead rules. There was no Spirit and little life in them. Unbelief. In all of America everyone knew that the churches of Jesus Christ did not really believe God anymore. There was no reality. No new birth. Only six percent of all the nation’s people were on church roles and among the Germans of Pennsylvania it was worse than that.

God was not satisfied with this dismal state. He determined that this quaint people were to find satisfaction in Him. So He brought zealous Otterbein from Germany and fortified him to burn as a flashing light in the midst of this colonial darkness.

Otterbein preached and people cried out to be saved. Few in the German Reformed Church had ever heard of prayer meetings, but Otterbein started them. He would open these meetings with a familiar hymn and then gently encourage the curious onlookers to kneel with him in prayer. He lovingly exhorted each one in his congregation to seek the great salvation {as he always referred to it) and then to prove this salvation experience by holy living.

“Holiness,” to Otterbein, did not mean a self-righteous pride. Everyone who knew him marveled at his humility. Methodist Bishop Asbury often spoke of him as “modest Father Otterbein.” If there was any thunder in his character, any exertion of will or power, it was seen only from the pulpit as he unflinchingly called sinners to repentance against the Judgment Day.

By “holiness” Otterbein meant several things: peace … unpretended love for all true Christians who lived and believed the Gospel … a strong love for the souls of all men … a life unblameable before God and man.

This call for true religion cut across the grain of early America. Then as now, people were living for money, prosperity. They were drunk with freedom and independence. Ownership, power, growth, and expansion were in the air. Pride in doctrinal differences was the chasm that kept denominations stubbornly divided. Church was for Sunday. Religious talk was to encourage patriotism.

Tenacious Rev. Otterbein was getting on everyone’s nerves. He had become America’s gentle revolutionary. The strongest irritant to the Reformed Church was Otterbein’s insistence on preaching among non-Reformed Germans – or non-Reformed anybodies for that matter. He was always concerned about those outside the church, for “how can they hear without a preacher?” Never neglecting his own flock, Otterbein would none-the-less ride mile after weary mile on horseback or in buckboard wagon to reach the lost farmer, the drunkard, the forgotten German.

In each location he would gather converts together into class units and appoint one of them as overseer. They met often for prayer, Bible study and self-examination, witness and growth in holiness.

These overseers reported to Father Otterbein during his visits and at annual meetings, records of which show him mainly concerned that the brethren live in peace. No rivalry. No competition.

Self-examination was essential. Before communion each believer must confirm to the overseer, that his soul was cleansed, alive and wholly in love with God.

All these arrangements were solely to keep new Christians encouraged and growing. No one was thinking of a new denomination, least of all Otterbein.

But the Spirit of God was moving. And He determined that one of Otterbein’s overseers in Lancaster County was Adam Riegel, a man whose next – door neighbor God would sanctify and set apart for His special use. This man was Jacob Albright. The story of his dramatic conversion and itinerant ministry which grew to become the Evangelical Church shall be in the next issue of Good News.

It was also in Lancaster County that the Holy Spirit brought William Otterbein to meet Martin Boehm. The two would become the first bishops of the United Brethren Church.

Pentecost Sunday 1767 was the fateful setting of that historic beginning. Today little notice is taken of Pentecost Sunday, but for early American Christians it was a festive day of preaching at “great meetings.” The German immigrants called this joyful Sunday “Whitsuntide.”

In Lancaster that year the Whitsuntide festival was at Isaac Long’s barn. Church goers from three counties had come to hear the new preacher everybody was talking about. Long’s now-famous stone barn covered 34,596 square feet. Even so, it was not big enough to hold the crowd that afternoon. Those who could not fit into the barn gathered in a nearby orchard to hear other speakers.

But the main attraction was definitely Martin Boehm. With strong, clear voice Boehm urged his listeners not to mistake church attendance for true conversion. He recounted his upbringing in the Mennonite Church where the congregation had voted him minister. “I was 31 years old, a preacher and had nothing to preach,” Boehm explained. “While thus engaged in praying earnestly for aid to preach, the thought rose in my mind, or as though one spoke to me, saying, ‘You pray for grace to teach others the way of salvation, and you have not prayed for your own salvation.’

“This thought or word did not leave me … I felt and saw myself a poor sinner. I was LOST! My agony became great. I was plowing in the field, and knelt down at each end of the furrow to pray. The word ‘lost, lost’ (verlohren), went every round with me. Midway in the field, I could go no farther, but sank behind the plow, crying, ‘ Lord, save, I am lost.’

“And again the thought or voice said, ‘I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.’ In a moment a stream of joy was poured over me. I praised the Lord, and left the field and told my companion what joy I felt.”

Boehm began to bear down with emphasis in his message as he told of returning to the Mennonite Church with the news of his conversion.

“This caused considerable commotion in our church. None of us had heard or seen it before. When speaking of my lost estate and agony of mind, some in the congregation began to weep.”

As the erect, keen-eyed young man with long hair and flowing beard continued his testimony, many in Long’s barn began to weep also. Otterbein was deeply moved as he heard Boehm’s conversion experience. It reminded him so much of his own.

“Like a dream, old things had passed away,” Boehm continued, “and it seemed as if I had awaked to new life, new thoughts, new faith, new love. I rejoiced and praised God with my whole heart. This joy, this faith, this love I wished to communicate to those around me; but, when speaking thereof, in public or in private, it made different impressions on different persons.

“Some gave a mournful look; some sighed and wept, and would say, ‘O Martin, we are indeed lost!’

“Yes, man (der mensch) is lost! Christ will never find us till we know we are lost.”

Isaac Long’s barn was quiet. Silent, flowing tears witnessed to the Spirit’s presence as Otterbein made his way to the platform. “Wir sind Bruder (We are brethren),” he cried as he embraced Boehm.


Yes, hearts melted in the Isaac Long barn that day. Together Mennonite Boehm and Reformed Otterbein would be fishers of men. They would invade the frontier, make disciples and establish prayer groups. Neither had in mind building a new denomination. They just knew the tide of the Spirit was revival and they kept in step with Him.

Boehm was to preach for 54 years. He held the fellowships in Pennsylvania together during the Revolutionary War and afterward when Otterbein moved to Bal ti more.

Opposition grew among the Mennonites because Boehm held revival meetings, sometimes preached in English and associated with people from other churches until he was formally expelled in 1780. But no matter, Boehm’s magnetic preaching power and evangelistic zeal far outstripped his accusers.

Of the 14 founders of the United Brethren Church, five were Menonite followers of Boehm. Perhaps no single statement can best illustrate the affection and esteem Boehm had in the hearts of those touched by the Great Revival than that of Christian Newcomer, a second-generation leader of the United Brethren; who declared, ” Father Boehm preached with great power.”

(Continued in the next issue)

Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

Renewal Through Preaching

Renewal Through Preaching

by John R. Brokhoff, Ordained Minister, Lutheran Church in America
Professor of Homiletics, Candler School of Theology (United Methodist), Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

In addressing a church convention, a Canadian pastor recently said, “If my own church burned, I’d stand across the street singing, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’, with my hand out for the insurance money.”

This may shock those who believe the church is not to be burned down but to be built up, but it is a desperate way of saying that today’s church needs renewal. No one can deny that the church is in a critical state. In 1968, the church in America enjoyed an increase in membership of only one-half of one percent. Accordingly, the church is not keeping up with our population growth. Church attendance and offerings are declining. Public opinion polls reveal that an increasing percentage of people believe that the church is becoming less effective and relevant to society. These facts cry out that the church needs renewal.

Isn’t this what we have been talking about for some time now? We have talked about “renewal” so much that the term has lost its impact. Vatican 11 was the Roman Catholic Church’s gigantic effort to update the church. Likewise, many Protestant churches have been concerned with renewal.

But to date efforts have dealt largely with externals. We tried innovations and changes in worship with jazz masses, moving altars closer to the people, and giving laymen a part in the leadership of the service. Structural changes have been made, like the dropping of ineffective auxiliaries for men and youth. We interpreted renewal in terms of getting out into “the world” and getting engaged in social improvements. Or we tried to get renewal through the ecumenical movement.

But we now see, in spite of all this, that our merged churches are no better off, no more spiritually vital, and are as apathetic as ever.

The renewal which the modern church needs is one that is internal, dealing with the spirit and heart of the church. Like in Ezekiel’s day, the people of God today are dry, dead bones needing new life. According to Ezekiel, only the Spirit of God can give this life. Thus, renewal does not come from revolution, the burning down of churches, nor from renovation by rearranging ecclesiastical furniture. Instead, renewal is an internal matter. God commanded Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones … O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”

What does preaching the Word have to do with renewal? The Spirit comes in, with, and under the Word. It is the Spirit who creates life through God’s Word, resulting in rebirth and renewal.

Thus, the renewal of the church depends upon preaching the Word.

This claim can be justified by the very nature of preaching. It is none other than the very Word of God – provided that preaching is Biblical and Christ-centered. Preaching is Kerygma[1], the proclamation not of preachers’ opinions about life, but instead the truth of God through a messenger called by God to perform this function. It is the good news of God’s action in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is a message of truth, grace and redemption.

A sermon is not a speech about God, but it is God-speech. This distinguishes a sermon from other forms of speech. It has a perpendicular dimension: God speaks through a man to mankind. The prophets expressed it in this way, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Other forms of speech are horizontal in dimension: a person speaking to fellow persons, sharing facts, ideas and opinions about life. A sermon is not an address in which a man comments upon life and its problems. Preaching is not an editorial. It is the proclamation of God’s truth in Christ.

This understanding of preaching runs counter to a popular view that a sermon is a sharing of ideas. It is not a matter of “tell me what you think and I’ll tell you what I think.” Preaching is not a dialogue between preacher and people, but between God and people.

One of the “new wrinkles” in preaching is for the pastor to meet at the beginning of each week with a chosen group of laymen to discuss what he might preach about the following Sunday. According to the Bible, a preacher is to learn what God wants him to say to His people. This gives a declarative element to a sermon. It is a message of authority because it is God’s Word to His people. The truth is declared whether the people like it or not. The truth is not open to discussion or question: the Word is to be accepted and believed, because it is Divine truth.

Preaching as the key to church renewal can be justified also because of the nature of the Word that is proclaimed in preaching. The Word is of and from God, and therefore it is a Word of power. This Word has the power within it to produce and actualize what it promises. The Word of God is as good as the deed; no sooner is it said than it is done. When God, at the time of creation, said, “Let there be light,” there was light immediately. A Roman soldier learned that his servant was healed at the very time when Jesus said he would be healed. In Romans, Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God to salvation.

What is people’s basic need? It is, we submit, to be right with God. When we say that the Word has power to save, we mean that it has power to bring sinners to repentance and then to provide faith to accept the gift of grace.[2] The Word brings this grace to mankind and therefore it is a means of grace. For man to be saved he must also have faith to accept God’s mercy. How does a man come to faith? Paul teaches that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. If the church’s business is to bring man into a harmonious relationship with God, then the church must get busy preaching the Word.

The Word that is preached is not only one of power but of life. The Word is identified with the Spirit of God and the Spirit gives life. As Ezekiel brought dead bones to life again through the preaching of the Word of the Lord, so today preaching of God’s Word will bring new life into a dead church.

The church has all of the externals to be effective. It has millions of members. Church facilities are more adequate and beautiful than ever. There is an ample supply of leaders for church staffs. We are saturated with publications, publicity, policies and programs.

The one thing lacking is God’s Word empowered and illuminated by His Spirit.

In spite of our ecclesiastical machinery and promotional aids, we lack drive, spirit and life. Ask the average pastor what is wrong with his congregation and he will answer, “No interest.”

Why don’t more people come to church? No interest. Why do so few people tithe? No interest. Church people lack motivation. Church programs are crippled by apathy and lethargy. Many could not care less what happens to the church or to the world.

Here is where Biblical preaching is desperately needed. The Word gives life to the church. Sound, Biblical preaching will serve the church as a spark plug serves a motor. The Biblically sound sermon will be the source of motivation and inspiration for activity.

If the church is dead, it is usually because the pulpit is dead. The church on Sunday at 11:00 a.m., is empty because the pulpit is empty.

The Biblical pulpit calls for action: people are to repent, souls are to be saved, a world is to be conquered for Christ. Evil is to be eradicated from society. The motivation comes from the preaching of God’s love expressed in the cross. Preaching should develop in people a sense of gratitude for what God has done in Christ. The sermon should challenge them to rise up and Iive, work and sacrifice for Christ.

Preaching is also the key to church renewal, because preaching is the best method of communication. In our day this is not a popular position because preaching, as a method of communication, is often considered outmoded and old-fashioned. Today many are looking for substitutes for preaching.

A magazine article on preaching began, “Hurrah, no sermon! Let’s dialogue.” (The sermon time is given to questions and comments from the congregation).

One preacher displayed scenes from Playboy to illustrate his sermon. Another stepped into the pulpit and began to shave. One preacher has the custom of taking a dummy into the pulpit and speaking through it. (In this case you have two dummies in the pulpit instead of one!)

Let it be said emphatically that there is nothing wrong with preaching as a technique of communication! The trouble is with the kind of preaching that is being presented in the church. Because preaching has hit a new low, there is a search for sermon substitutes.

If preaching is the key to church renewal, why then is the church still in the doldrums? Surely we have plenty of preaching in America. Each Sunday 70,000,000 people listen to 230,000 preachers.

The sad fact is that preaching itself is in need of renewal. How can the blind lead the blind? Kavanaugh, in A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church reports that a study of sermons in 30 churches in five states indicates that only two out of 100 sermons could be considered worthy of an average audience. One minister expressed the feeling of many of his colleagues, “Preaching is the occupational hazard of the ministry.” For many laymen, sermon time is drop-out time.

This sad condition has resulted from a general practice of offering topical sermons on current events and social problems. In most cases a text is not used – except, perhaps, as a pretext. The sermons are preacher-centered rather than Christ – centered. Consequently, much of today’s preaching is a waste of time.

If the renewal of the church does depend upon the renewal of preaching, then it follows that the renewal of preaching depends upon the renewal of the preacher himself. For preaching ultimately depends upon charisma involving a man’s personal relationship with Christ. He cannot effectively preach unless he feels called to preach, and he dare not be disobedient to the call. He has nothing to preach until he has a deep conviction about the truth of God. Because of his own faith he feels, like St. Paul, an inner drive to preach: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”

If there is going to be any church renewal through preaching, the preacher will not wish to see his church burned to the ground to collect the insurance money. Instead, he himself will burn with zeal for the Gospel. When a young man asked John Wesley how he drew crowds he said, “Put yourself on fire with the Gospel and people will come and watch you burn up.”

It is high time that we preachers prayed ourselves hot and became “burned up” with zeal for God’s Gospel. Then, like the Phoenix, out of the ashes of her preachers, the church will rise with newness of life to meet the challenges and causes of the coming century.

[1] Kerygma: The essence of the New Testament message that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the enfleshed Word of God; whose life, death and resurrection provide God’s means of saving all who believe.

[2] Gift of Grace: The undeserved mercy, forgiveness, cleansing and salvation which God extends to all sinners.

Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

Getting to Know the Old Testament

Getting to Know the Old Testament

Part Three

How to Study the Old Testament

by John N. Oswalt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical Languages and Literature, Asbury Theological Seminary Elder, Kentucky Annual Conference, United Methodist Church

The preceding article closed with the observation that the “problems” of the Old Testament need not prevent us from perceiving the message of God’s Word. In order to do this, however – more so than with the New Testament – systematic study will be necessary. Devotional, verse-by-verse reading of the Old Testament is not as productive as in the New Testament. Therefore, this article will devote itself to suggestions for study preliminary to the thumbnail sketch of the Old Testament which will appear in the final article of this series.

First, a workman must look to his or her tools. The absolute minimum for Old Testament Bible study would be four and I would suggest six “tools.”

The first is a modern language edition of the Bible in paragraphed form. The archaic language of the Authorized (or King James) Version presents enough problems in the New Testament. These are multiplied in the Old. I would suggest the New American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the Jerusalem Bible and/or the New English Bible in that order. The Word of God will speak clearly and accurately through all of these, but the first is the most likely to literally represent the original; the latter is most likely to offer some creative guesses at points of textual difficulty.[1] The Living Bible is fine for rapid reading, but because it is a paraphrase[2], it is not best for detailed study.

Second, a good Bible dictionary is needed. Probably the best one-volume edition is the New Bible Dictionary, edited by J. D. Douglas, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans. Among multi-volume sets are Zondervan’s new Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, and Eerdman’s International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (now undergoing revision). These are both, of course, very expensive. Abingdon’s Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible is excellent for someone with critical training.[3]

Third, a one-volume commentary will be helpful in difficult spots. The most recent good one is the New Bible Commentary, Revised from Eerdman’s. Avoid the Abingdon one-volume commentary as well as Peake’s unless you have had some Biblical training and are equipped intellectually and spiritually to sift and evaluate the presuppositions of liberal Biblical criticism.

Fourth, a Bible atlas. There are a number of good ones available depending upon the amount you want to pay. The Westminster, Macmillan and Oxford are all good in the $10 to $15 range. My choice would be Macmillan since it concentrates upon maps without extensive text. Oxford’s second edition, which has a good bit more text, is now available in paperback at about $4.

These four tools are essential. But, as mentioned above, I would add two more: a concordance and a Bible handbook. Young’s and Strong’s concordances are based on the King James, but there is enough similarity among the versions for them to be highly useful regardless of the Bible version you are using. Nelson’s concordance is based on the Revised Standard Version.

The most attractive and useful handbook to appear in some time is Eerdman ‘s new Handbook of the Bible. This ought to replace the old standby, Halley’s, both in terms of format and content. Some who are pinched for funds may want to purchase this book in place of the commentary and atlas mentioned above. Along with short introductory articles on Biblical books and various Biblical themes, it includes brief commentary and maps. Even if you purchase a commentary and an atlas, this volume contains enough other material, handily arranged, to make it worth buying.

With tools such as these in hand, really profitable Old Testament study is possible. The following are suggestions for such a course of study.

First, read the entire Biblical passage before reading any commentary or exposition. It is the Bible which is inspired, not the expositor or commentator. Look up unfamiliar names and places as you go along, but try to form your own estimate of a passage’s meaning before you look at someone’s else’s opinion. You may want to revise your understanding after reading others, but it is far better to revise your own thoughts than have no thoughts except someone else’s.

Second, read entire thought units, not single verses. Try to get the big picture and keep it in mind as you read. When you begin a new book, glance over it quickly. Try to see what material it includes and how this material is organized. All the time ask yourself, “What is the point of this book?” Then go back and look for smaller units of thought, probably groups of chapters. Look for the same kinds of things just mentioned. It will help to find these groupings if you will ask yourself, “Where does a common idea begin or end?” The key in this process is found in the word “relationship.” Keep asking yourself, “How are these ideas related or connected? Are they primarily related to what goes before or to what follows? Is there a break in the chain of relationship, suggesting a new unit or division?”

Now take the first group of chapters (comprising a thought unit) and look for smaller thought units within that group. These will probably be about a chapter in length, but they may be more or less. Chapter divisions and verse numbers were added to the Bible thousands of years after the original writing.

Next take the first of these smaller thought units (probably roughly equivalent to the first chapter} and give it a title. This will force you to sum up in a few words the basic thought or action of the unit.

As an example of the process just discussed, let us look at the book of Genesis. A quick survey shows us that this is a book of biography. It seems to show God’s working in the lives of selected men. This is especially so after chapter 12. Beginning there we can see that 12:1-25:12 covers Abraham; 25:19-35:29 deals with Jacob (Isaac is also dealt with in the first two chapters of the unit); 35-50 cover Joseph. Throughout these chapters God’s promise and His faithfulness in keeping it are prominent.

This leaves chapters 1-11. Once again individuals are prominent: Adam in chapters 2-5, and Noah in 6-10. Here we can see the problem of human sin and God’s preparations for dealing with it. A more detailed way of grouping the chapters in the 1-11 unit might be as follows: 1:1-2:3 Creation; 2:4- 3:24 Fall; 4-5 Adam; 6-10 Noah; 11 Babel. The movement in these chapters is from one man to the whole world and then from the whole world to one man.

Chapter 1:1-2:3 might be simply titled “Creation.” However, this is rather general and does not clearly distinguish the unit from the following chapter. Investigation reveals the prominence of God as Creator and the goodness of Creation as important themes in the thought unit. Therefore “God’s Good Creation” might be appropriate, although this is somewhat analytical and prosaic.

After creating the unit (or chapter) title, you are in a position to study the paragraphs to see how the inspired writer put these basic building blocks together to make a point. Be alert for such devices as repetition, contrast, comparison and climax. Once again, writing titles for each of the paragraphs will help you pin down the content. If you will examine Genesis 1:1-2:3 in this way you will be struck by the centrality of God’s action (e.g., study the verbs which describe God’s creating acts), by the order and symmetry of the whole process, by the cumulative impact of the repetition of “it was good,” all moving in concert to the climax in the Sabbath.

As you work through a book in this manner, you will probably want to revise some of the findings of your earlier survey, but this is all to the good. Along with this kind of detailed study, you will also want to get a copy of the Living Bible or some other easily-read paraphrase. Use this to read great blocks of the Old Testament, simply for the overall exposure.

If you will faithfully apply such a process of disciplined study to the Old Testament (it is equally profitable in the New), the first part of your Bible will no longer be a lump of stone. Instead you will discover that it is a diamond shining with hundreds of facets of beauty.

But someone, throwing up his hands in despair, is saying, “Do you mean that the only way I can ever understand the Old Testament is to go through that wringer.”

This is probably true of many. Fortunately, God accommodates Himself to our weaknesses. He wants so deeply to be found by you that He will reward even your tiniest step toward Him! Thus, if you will open yourself to Him in His Word and will read with the larger thought continually in view, keeping alert for relationships between thoughts, looking up terms you don’t know, you will find glorious vistas of understanding opening up before you.

There are many people lamenting some of the directions in which our church is moving, calling stridently for a return to “Biblical” Christianity. Many such people do not have the foggiest notion what genuinely Biblical Christianity is. Why is this? Because they are not enough concerned about our church or their faith to do the hard, serious work required to discover what Biblical religion really is. The familiar slogan “Back to the Bible” throws down the challenge before us. Before we are too quick to accuse others of betraying Biblical Christianity, let us be certain there are no logs in our own eyes! May many of us in our Good News Movement begin to act as if the Bible really is God’s Word, as we claim it to be. May we take the time and the energy and the sweat to study it in a disciplined fashion. Then perhaps evangelicals will become a force to be reckoned with in our church. Otherwise, we will be merely a group of reactionaries who condemn things that do not “sound right.” The Bible demands more of us than that.

Coming in the next issue of Good News PART IV: “Your Roadmap of The Old Testament”

[1] TEXTUAL DIFFICULTY: Those places where the Hebrew language is obscure or various Interpretations are possible. In such places, the translator or paraphraser makes a judgment as to what was the probable intended meaning of the inspired author. So-called “textual criticism” is the study intended to discover what the original meaning was, and which of the various ancient manuscripts known to us is the most authentic to the original, inspired writing.

[2] PARAPHRASE: a version of Scripture where an attempt is made to convey the Biblical thought accurately, expressing this meaning freely but accurately, through expansion of the literal translation from the Hebrew (or Greek and Aramaic languages in case of the New Testament). The Living Bible is the most familiar paraphrase today. A “translation” sticks as closely as possible to the literal meaning of the original Biblical language.

[3] CRITICAL TRAINING: study of the various theories, methods and the history of Biblical criticism. This is a vast and highly complex area. Background is needed in order for the reader to wisely evaluate the various theories which are often presented so as to appear as fact rather than hypothesis. Untrained readers may easily, therefore, mistake theory for fact.


Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

Have You Been to Pentecost?

Have You Been to Pentecost?

by Ed Robb, Pastor St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas
Second Vice Chairman, Good News Board of Directors

Every Christian has been to Calvary … but every Christian has not yet been to Pentecost. Every redeemed person has been to the Cross … and every victorious Christian has been to Pentecost.

Pentecost was a divine breakthrough, greatly needed in the days of the Apostles and desperately needed in our day. The Holy Spirit brought to life a group of believers and made them the Body of Christ the Church. Today it is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the Church becomes an organism rather than just an organization. Before Pentecost, Christianity is doctrine and rules … after Pentecost it is life and power.

The first Christians were not likely to transform a world. Most of them were poor and weak. They had denied and forsaken their Lord. Certainly, they had no resources to combat the pagan world with all of its riches. And yet Jesus said to them, “You are the light of the world.” He was saying that they were the hope of mankind. How unlikely!

Jesus also said, “You are the salt of the earth.” He was saying they were the saving influence for righteousness in this corrupt world. And yet they were sinners! He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

They were so weak! But by the power of the Holy Spirit they fulfilled their Lord’s commission and became what He said they would be.

We need a new baptism of the Spirit in our day. The church has the form of godliness but not the power. Too often we are merely the defenders of the status quo. But a nominal religion will not withstand the challenge of paganism in our day. In a changing world, where our faith is being challenged and questioned, the institutional church is bewildered, confused, and uncertain.

We are being challenged by the left and questioned by the right.

The secular “Christianity” of the left says traditional Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. They say we are preoccupied with the “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” and that we neglect the dirty here and now. Secular Christians mock at saving souls. They say we must redeem the structures of society.

I attended a secular “church” service some time ago. It was a celebration of life rather than the worship of God. No prayer was offered, but a statement was read from “Sister” Angela Davis. In place of the organ there was a hard rock band. The Cross had been replaced by psychadelic lights. There were several suggestive dances rather than a choir. I am told the minister performs homosexual marriages.

Of course, I disagreed with all that. But this “church” did have some good points. There was excitement in the air. The sanctuary was overflowing. And a large percentage of the congregation were youth … and many third-world people were present. I heard a powerful sermon from a man who believed what he was preaching. There was a crusading spirit in that “church” which was challenging the Establishment.

On the contrary, many orthodox churches are lifeless. Often worship services seem more like a funeral than a celebration. Pews are half empty in many of our traditional churches, and most of the congregation is older people.

If the institutional church does not have a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the secularists shall win the battle.

The Church is also being questioned by the theological right.

A great spiritual awakening is taking place in this country. We first heard about it when stories of the “Jesus People” appeared in national magazines.Time put the likeness of Jesus on its cover. And Jesus Christ was nominated for the Man of the Year by Time editors!

Then we began hearing popular Christian songs on the radio. This movement perhaps reached its climax with Explo 72 when 80,000 young people met in the Cotton Bowl at Dallas – not to tear down but to build up, not to demonstrate but to witness and worship!

In 1972 the Hymn Book Revision Committee of the United Church of Canada voted to take “Amazing Grace ” out of their hymnal. They said it no longer spoke to youth. The very next month it became the most popular song among youth in all North America.

How badly we have misjudged the youth of our time! Many clergymen thought 20th century youth would not respond to the evangelical faith. But youth have become the most zealous evangelists of our day.

Many persons in the institutional church are afraid this new\spiritual movement will get out of hand. I pray to God that it will! You cannot domesticate the Holy Spirit!

During the Wesleyan revival there were excesses which perplexed John Wesley. But he did not allow this to drive him away from the central reality of revival. When the Holy Spirit reveals Himself there are always delightful surprises!

If we are to have the power of Pentecost, we must have the message of Pentecost.

The original disciples left Pentecost, first of all, convinced of the redeeming power of the Cross. They were convinced because they had been redeemed.

Sometime ago I was in downtown San Francisco witnessing to some hippies. As I visited with one young man, I told him I had been in San Francisco 26 years ago and had met Jesus Christ there.

He asked, “Did you really meet him?”

I said, “Yes, I really did … and He changed my life.”

The young hippy said, “I guess it would change your life if you really met him.”

These first disciples had really met Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit and they were convinced. We need that certainty today.

Second. The disciples left Pentecost convinced of the reality of the empty tomb. Before Pentecost, Jesus was a memory … after Pentecost he was a Presence. The early Church preached Jesus and the resurrection. In Him they found hope. Stephen was stoned, Paul beheaded, and Peter crucified in the assurance of the faith because they had found reality in the empty tomb. If we are to have the power of Pentecost, we must recapture the message of the empty tomb.

Third. They left Pentecost convinced of Christ’s promised return. This gave them a sense of urgency.

They were confident because they knew their Lord was the sovereign Ruler of history who would finally triumph.

Fourth. The disciples left Pentecost convinced they had been filled with power from on high. The Holy Spirit made them courageous in face of great danger. They were victorious in face of tremendous difficulties.

And finally, after Pentecost they were not only convinced, but they became a convincing people. As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we, too, shall be a convincing people. Yes, the power of Pentecost is available for us today.