Our Side of the Street

Our Side of the Street

Our Side of the Street —

Editorial by Rob Renfroe —

I often read that we traditionalists are guilty of giving out misinformation about the United Methodist Church – its beliefs, practices, and future. It would be understandable for traditionalists to respond with a litany of falsities that have been stated by UM bishops and centrist leaders about our beliefs and our practices. Honestly, I’ve done my fair share of that. People need to hear the truth.

But we also have a responsibility to “take care of our side of the street.” We need to make sure we do not propagate untruths or write in such a way that we are easily misunderstood. If we have ever done so, we need to do our best to make it right.

One charge against traditionalists is we are telling people “the UM Church is going to change the Articles of Religion” which go back to the time of John Wesley. Along with a few other foundational documents, the Articles of Religion define what United Methodists believe about the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus, justification by faith, the sacraments, and many other important topics.

I can honestly state that I have never heard a traditionalist leader make this claim. I haven’t read everything my colleagues have written, but I’ve read a great deal. Over the past three decades, I have been in scores of discussions with other traditionalist leaders. Never in public or in private, never in writing or in conversation, has anyone stated that once we conservatives are gone, the UM Church will change its foundational beliefs.

What we have said is that the UM Church does not hold accountable bishops, pastors, and seminary professors who teach contrary to our doctrines and the Articles. You don’t need to change the rules if no one is enforcing them. Teach that Jesus is just one of many ways to salvation. Preach that he did not die for our sins. Declare that it is not important whether Jesus was raised from the dead. Undercut what the Articles of Religion (and the orthodox Christian faith) state, and you can remain in your pulpit or continue to teach in a UM seminary. Teach that Jesus was prejudiced and bigoted and you can be a UM bishop.

So, to clear up the misinformation, will the UM Church change the Articles of Religion any time soon? No. Will the UM Church and its bishops who are charged with upholding our doctrines enforce the Articles of Religion in the future? If they didn’t do so before the traditionalists left, it’s hard to believe they will do so in the future when most of us are gone.

Another accusation is we have portrayed everyone who is staying within the UM Church as theological liberals and cultural progressives. If we have, we were wrong to do so. I have close friends whom I respect and admire who are “staying UMC.” These are pastors who have a high Christology and who believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. Some of them even possess the same view I hold that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman and that sexual relations outside of marriage are contrary to God’s will.

Staying or leaving is a complex matter. Individual life circumstances come into play. Frankly, I have been baffled by some who are remaining. But we who are leaders within the traditionalist camp are grown-ups. We know the world and the human heart are complicated realities, and good people can differ on whether and when to leave. I am sure many centrist leaders love Jesus as much as I do and have devotional lives far superior to mine. I know that in the process and the politics of disaffiliation harmful things are said and there is a tendency to paint with an overly broad brush. If I have done that, I apologize. If laypersons on the way out have unfairly maligned the faith or the character of their pastor, they, also, need to ask forgiveness.

I have also been told that a common bit of misinformation is the conservative talking point that churches remaining in the UM Church will one day be forced to accept a partnered gay person or a theological progressive as their pastor. I don’t think we’ve ever put it that way, but this one is difficult to get just right. Churches that have been told they will never have to accept a pastor whose theology is progressive need to think carefully about that promise. By the end of this year most strongly traditionalist UM pastors will have left. A good number of those who stay will be nearing retirement age and will soon be gone. Very few young traditionalists will enter the UM pastorate in the future. So, in a very short time there will not be many conservative pastors to appoint to UM churches.

As for being forced to receive a practicing gay pastor, I don’t think anyone can guarantee that won’t happen. The definition of marriage and the requirements for ordination will change within the UM Church. There will be many more openly gay UM clergy and leaders. Most bishops and pastors who remain in the UM Church will see “full inclusion” as a matter of justice. Can you imagine a bishop promising a church that it will never have to accept a female or a black pastor? No, if the bishop thought such an appointment was best for that church, he or she would make that appointment, even if the church was resistant. To discriminate based on gender or ethnicity would be unjust.

In a similar way, it’s very likely there will come a time when giving in to a church’s desire to have only straight pastors will also be considered unjust. And bishops will decide to do what’s necessary to help a congregation grow, overcome its bigotry, and become “a real United Methodist Church.” Will it happen right away? Probably not. But will it one day happen? I can’t tell you for sure it will. But no one can tell you for sure it won’t.

I have assumed above that the UM Church will change its position on sexuality, marriage, and ordination. I have been told – and in the official UM series “Is the UMC Really …” it is stated – that no one truly knows where the UM Church is headed regarding sexuality. There are some proposals, we’re told, but no one is certain where the UM Church will come down, and it’s misinformation to say we know that the church will liberalize its position.

Ok, in the interest of full disclosure, I do not have a crystal ball, the gift of prophecy, or “a word from the Lord.” But it’s not disinformation to say that progressives and more recently centrists have for many years argued and fought for a more liberalized sexual ethic. Votes to uphold traditionalist views at General Conference have recently prevailed by only a few percentage points. It’s not “fearmongering” (as we are sometimes charged with) to conclude that once most of the traditionalists have left, the centrist-progressive coalition will constitute the majority and will be able to legislate what they have long wanted to be the UM position on sexuality.

The only question is “how far will they go?” As the culture becomes more and more progressive and begins to approve of loving sexual relationships beyond two adult persons, what will a denomination committed to full inclusivity and diversity not accept? If love is love, what love will be intolerable in the future UM Church? I don’t know. But have you heard any centrist leaders state they recognize this will be an issue for the UM Church in days to come? Have you read any bishop or denominational leader crafting a sexual ethic that states, “this we will accept, but this we cannot?” Have you seen anything that gives you confidence that the leadership of the UM Church is prepared for, or even aware of, the progressive wave that is coming its way regarding sexual ethics?

So, no, I don’t know where the UM Church will end up when it comes to marriage and sexual relationships. But it is not misinformation to say it will be more liberal than it is now. Possibly much more liberal.

We traditionalists need to be very careful when it comes to misinformation. We need to focus on issues, not attack people. We need to apologize and make amends where we have stepped over the line. But having a difference of opinion is not misinformation. Good people can differ. Grown-ups can talk about those differences. Christians can discuss those differences in a respectful way. That should be our goal and our commitment.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News. Photo: Shutterstock. 

When Jesus Prays for Unity

When Jesus Prays for Unity

When Jesus Prays for Unity —

By Carolyn Moore — 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17:20-23

This prayer is the last thing to happen in the book of John before the writer begins to share the story of Jesus getting arrested, crucified and resurrected. There is a locker-room feel to this scene. Jesus and his followers are in a room together and this is the last conversation they’ll have before he is arrested. This is like the huddle before the fourth quarter, and Jesus is giving his team that talk you give when you want the team to stop playing “old man football” and start playing for real.

He tells them that from this point forward, they are to live by a new rule: Love one another, in the same gracious, generous, unselfish, mature way he has loved them. He beseeches them to love one another and then he prays for them. He prays lavishly and deeply, from the heart. If you want to learn how to pray like Jesus, study this prayer in John 17.

Jesus not only prayed for his followers but also for all those who would believe in him in the future. Jesus prayed for the ones who haven’t heard but eventually would hear. He prayed for all who would believe, in every age. Which means that Jesus prayed for us. And he also prayed for the people of Haiti. And for the people of India, for the people of Brazil and Venezuela and China and Pakistan. Jesus prayed for us!

I’ve been reading a little book called The Hidden Life, written in 1895 by J.R. Miller. One of the chapters has this title: “The Sin of Not Praying for Others.” It picks up on the story of Samuel, a priest in the Old Testament who had poured his life out for the Israelites, only to be basically fired by them in his old age. Miller says that our natural tendency when we are rejected like this is to do immature things. We get all emotional. We get bitter. We get vindictive. We don’t think to pray for people who hurt us or frustrate us or reject us, even though that lesson is all over the Bible. Unless we’re asking God to rain fire down on their heads, we don’t tend to pray for people who aggravate us.

But Samuel was a man of God, and these were his people and even when they rejected him, he said he would keep praying for them because it would be a sin to stop praying. Given their choices, Samuel believed prayer was the only sane thing to do.

He is right. Prayer is the only sane thing to do. When Jesus prayed for the ones in front of him and also for the ones who didn’t yet know him, and also for the ones who would not know for centuries to come, he was doing the most sane thing. Even while his detractors were breathing down his neck, he prayed for them. And he prayed that those who belong to him would be protected from the evil one, while he also prayed that they would learn to love one another. He prayed that all of us would be one, as he is one with his Father.

Yes, Jesus prayed for unity – “that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me.” This teaches us something important about unity in the Kingdom. As it turns out, the nature of Christian unity is not agreement on a set of issues. It is not everyone getting along, no matter what differences we must ignore in the process. That isn’t unity. That is tolerance, and the Bible never commands us toward tolerance. To tolerate someone is not the same as loving them. In fact, tolerance can sometimes be the opposite of loving someone well.

The nature of spiritual unity is agreement in Christ. Christian unity is rooted in Jesus. In other words, Jesus teaches us that the way to true spiritual unity is to gather at the foot of the cross and find our unity in all that Jesus died for. And in our prayers, unity means bringing those who are on the heart of Christ to the foot of the cross and agreeing in Christ over their lives.

Lord, hear our prayer, not that we will learn to tolerate each other, but that we will learn to love even those with whom we disagree. And give us grace to pray in Christ over the lives of those you have given us to shepherd and love into the Kingdom.

Carolyn Moore is the founding pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia, and the author of  When Women Lead (Zondervan). Her MDiv and Doctor of Ministry degrees are from Asbury Theological Seminary. She co-hosts a podcast and writes at artofholiness.com – where this article originally appeared. It is reprinted by permission. She is the chairperson of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Art: Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319): Christ Appears to the Disciples on the Mountain in Galilee. Public domain.


Maxie Dunnam: Finding His Pulpit in Life

Maxie Dunnam: Finding His Pulpit in Life

Maxie Dunnam: Finding His Pulpit in Life —

Known all over the globe, Maxie Dunnam may be his generation’s most recognizable Methodist. Of course, popularity contests are for politicians and marketing firms. Still, it is worth noting that we don’t know of a more beloved Methodist clergyman.

His first article in Good News appeared in 1984. It was ambitiously and positively titled: “You Can Grow In Your Walk With God.” He led with a wise admission: “For anyone to write on this subject is presumptuous at best. So, I accepted the assignment with some reservation, but keeping in mind the original ‘working title’ for this article: ‘Developing a Deeper Walk with God.’”

Dr. Dunnam went on to clarify: “Developing is the right word, and humility is the saving stance, when we talk about our relationship with the Lord. Yet, I’m convinced that no need is greater for Christians than a commitment to pursuing a ‘deeper walk with God.’”

In many ways, this has been the theme of his life’s ministry. In a world with chaotic church skirmishes, this is something that people of faith can agree upon.

“Maxie is known and loved by Methodists around the world probably more than any living United Methodist leader,” observed the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II, my former colleague at Good News. “Here is a pastor who has been effective in the local church, bold in addressing issues facing the nation, a visionary leader at the Upper Room, a prolific author, a seminary president, a voice for renewal – the Houston and Memphis Declarations, and a co-founder of the Confessing Movement – and a mentor to more pastors than we might imagine.”

The professional journey on his resume tells you a lot – but not nearly as much as locking eyes with him as he grasps the back of your arm to draw you in closer to hear about what is going on in your life.

Maxie married Jerry Lynn Morris in 1957 after he had graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory. She was a charter member of his first church plant, Aldersgate Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and went on to join him in planting two others, Trinity Methodist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, and St. Andrews Methodist Church in San Clemente, California.

I’ve always thought of her as the artistic one – the Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire. A famous politician from Texas once said that Rogers did everything Astaire did: “She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

Their daughter, Dr. Kim Reisman, described her mom as a “partner in ministry.” After all, it has always taken two to tango. “Jerry worked in the early days of the Fair Housing movement and the Laubach Way to English. While in Memphis, she was instrumental in the founding of the chapter of Habitat for Humanity and in organizing a local jail ministry for Shelby County,” Kim told me. “During their time at Asbury, she used her gifts in art and hospitality to provide ministries with students, including an annual Holy Week mime interpretation of the passion of Christ.”

The Dunnams have endeavored to answer “yes” to the divine calls in their walk together with the Almighty. It has led them on a remarkable path.

That resume is colorful and significant. After serving in the local church, he became the World Editor of the Upper Room devotional with a circulation of four million and was instrumental in founding the church’s Walk to Emmaus program and launching the Academy for Spiritual Formation. He became a leader in the World Methodist Council, served as senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, and was elected President of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. In 2004, Maxie and Jerry returned to Memphis where he serves today on the staff as minister-at-large at Christ Church.

Maxie believes his most significant contribution to the Christian cause was The Workbook of Living Prayer (The Upper Room). That may prove to be a memorable legacy. “Prayer is one of the ways we link ourselves with God, we put ourselves in the channel of God’s moving power, and we participate with God in ministry to all persons,” he wrote. “I am convinced that this is one of the most glorious privileges given to Christians.”

The prayer workbook was first published in 1974 – nearly five decades ago – and is, remarkably, still in print. Available in six languages, the publisher estimates that more than one million copies have been printed.

It is always a pleasure to be in the company of the Dunnams. I sat down with my old friend recently to go over some of the highlights of his life’s story. This is part one of our conversation. Part two will appear in the next issue of Good News. I’m grateful for his time and our friendship.

– Steve Beard, editor of Good News


You were born in Mississippi during the crest of the Great Depression. Aside growing up without electricity or indoor plumbing, what do you recall about your childhood?

I grew up in rather extreme poverty in rural Mississippi. We lived way out in the country and were limited in all sorts of ways – educationally and culturally. We had expressions of Christianity all around us, represented primarily in small Baptist churches. We had a minister that came to our area once or twice a month and held evangelistic services. They called them holiness preachers – primarily holiness in terms of morality and enthusiasm. These preachers would preach on the front porches of homes or in a barn or outdoors.

Hellfire and brimstone preachers?

Always hellfire and brimstone. We lived way out in the country and we just couldn’t go to church often – but we went whenever we could.

These services were held in people’s homes?

Well, there were a lot of the traveling preachers. Lots of little Baptist churches. I can’t remember any other kind of churches. We moved closer to town when I was in my early teens. There was about 800 people.

About 150 yards up the road from where we lived was East Side Baptist Church. My mother was a professing Christian. My father was not – although he may have been more Christian than the rest of us. We went to that church. They would have services with Brother Wiley Grissom.

Let’s talk about him. In your book, God Outwitted Me, you write: “Memory of him kept me aware of the fact that calling and anointing are as important (ultimately, maybe more important) as education.”

He was a fifth-grade educated Baptist preacher. I seem to have experienced him in a different way than I had all the other preachers I had heard. There was a tenderness. The invitation was never a rigid hellfire and damnation. It was more, “Come on, join the people of God.” And that part of it really attracted me.

Two things were going on in my life. One, I had heard enough of the gospel – in a lot of different ways – to know that I really needed to reckon with it. But the other thing that was just as strong was feeling that I had to get out of my circumstances – culturally, educationally, economically.

I have repented of a lot of the feelings I’ve had about my circumstances because my mother and father were really loving and outstanding parents. My father was a very wise man – ponderous and reflective. My mother was very emotional. I think I may have gotten more of my mother than I did of my father in that emotional bit.

Brother Grissom’s preaching made a difference in your life.

One Sunday morning, it came to a head. I said, This is it. I’m going to make a commitment to Christ.

How old were you?

I was 14. I walked the aisle and made that decision. My father didn’t walk down with me, but he was there. Sometime during the next three weeks he made a decision. I’m sure he had really made it earlier but he felt he had to make that formal.

He and I were baptized together by immersion in a running creek. I was probably more serious as a teenager than I should have been, but I tried to live that out. We were about a mile and a half from the little town of Richton [in southern Mississippi] and we had absolutely nothing for young people in our little Baptist church and I just wanted to be with young people.

How did you get involved with Methodism?

I had heard of the dynamic youth group at the Methodist church in the same town. I had never been to a Methodist church, and I didn’t know anything about Methodism. I started going to that youth group, and the minister was very dynamic and educated. He took tremendous interest in the youth group and really paid attention to me. The youth group had a short term retreat in a rural area on the banks of a big lake. I vividly remember he rowed out not very far from the shore and stood in the boat and preached to us.

I formalized my commitment to Christ and decided then that I was probably going to have to do what the preacher was doing. I went off to my first year of college, but I was poor and didn’t have the kind of clothes everybody else did. I was wrestling. I knew God was calling me to preach, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I knew I was going to get an education and get out of what I felt was the trap of poverty. I wrestled with that intensely while I was in my first year of college.

Sounds like a difficult time to struggle with the call to preach.

I ended up leaving college and moved in with my married brother in Mobile, Alabama. I got a job selling women’s shoes. My brother was newly married and I knew I’d have a lot of time alone. He was generous. I couldn’t pay any rent.

During that time – it didn’t last but about six weeks – I said to myself, I’m gonna do what God wants me to do and I believe God wants me to preach. I believed I had to share this with someone and I said it to that young Methodist preacher. He smiled and said, “I have known it a long time.”

I became a Methodist and he began to shepherd me. I attended Mississippi Southern College [in Hattiesburg] in the early 1950s. We had an outstanding Wesley Foundation director. He took us to the National Student Movement conference at the University of Kansas. The president of the student movement was Jameson Jones, the father of Bishop Scott Jones. He gave an address to that group and I was tremendously inspired.

In reflection on my whole story, that director of student ministries at Mississippi Southern really was a liberal theologically and socially and that’s one of the places I got my social commitments.

I made it through college, but my passion always has been to preach. My mentor was a marvelous young Methodist preacher named David McKeithen.

This is a little bit neurotic on my part but this whole business of feeling that I had been cheated economically, socially, educationally, culturally was not a healthy thing with me. I didn’t want to do anything but preach.

What did your mom and dad think about this trajectory in your life?

They were very happy. My Mama said, “I hope you’ll be as good a preacher as your great grandfather was.” He was a Free Will Baptist.

My father didn’t say much because he was not a churchman. I didn’t know his daddy, but everybody seemed to have loved his daddy. He was poor and  uneducated but somehow ended up being a Free Will Baptist preacher, rather than a what they call a Missionary Baptist. I remember the first time my father visited me at the seminary. I was preaching in chapel that day, and the students gathered around him and one of them said, “Well, what did you think of that sermon?” My daddy said, “Maybe a B.” [laughter]

That was when you began preaching?

My mentor started sending me to a little group of people that were attached to his church. He was the pastor of the church in town, but there was a little church further out and he would send me there to preach. That’s the way I got started. Over a six month period, I told him I wanted a church. He talked to the district superintendent. My commitment to preaching was so passionate.

The district Superintendent in Atlanta – Nat Long was his name – wanted to plant a church. He felt that if he could get two students from Candler School of Theology in Atlanta to do that, they could get it done – at least get it started. I became one of those students. Elton Smith and I went out into southeast Atlanta, near the federal prison. We organized that church. My colleague felt that he didn’t want to stay with it, and so it was my church after the first year. We planted a good church. That’s where I met Jerry. Her whole family became part of it.

When did you and Jerry get married?

I was married my last year in seminary, and she knew that we would go back to Mississippi. I didn’t know there was anything else to do. You just went back to your home conference and that’s where you served the rest of your life.

After graduation, you were assigned to Gulfport, Mississippi?

Our church in Gulfport really began to grow and get attention. Tom Carruth had been the minister at the First Methodist Church in Biloxi, but he was teaching prayer at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I think Asbury was the first seminary ever to have a full time professor teaching prayer. We had him at the church to do a prayer retreat. Carruth is really the one that recommended that Asbury give me an honorary degree.

Bishop Gerald Kennedy of California had heard about what we young preachers were doing in Mississippi. Some of us went to hear him preach in New Orleans.

What was he doing in New Orleans?

He preached all over the nation. And whenever he was anywhere nearby, I would drive to hear him preach. He said, “If you all want to come to California, we’ll find a place for you.”

While you were pastoring in Mississippi in the early 1960s, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson. The civil rights leader had been helping in James Meredith’s efforts to enroll in the University of Mississippi.

You were one of 28 Methodist ministers in the Mississippi Annual Conference who gathered to present a statement, “Born of Conviction,” to the church in Mississippi.

The civil rights movement was raging in higher education and the first black student, James Meredith, was admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962.

Five of us young ministers decided we had to do something – at least say something publicly to the whole church. When I say the “whole church” I mean the Mississippi Conference of the Methodist Church. We thought it may be good if some of us young preachers voiced our opinions because we were the future of the church. Five of us got together over three days. We wrote this “Born of Conviction” statement. If you read that statement, it really is not a strong statement – but it was clear.

In the context of all that was going on … 

Oh, all hell broke loose. Yeah. We issued it to the church – to the Mississippi Annual Conference – through The Methodist Advocate.

What was the reaction?

Oh, Lord. Mercy.

Dr. Joseph T. Reiff, a professor at Emory & Henry College in Virginia has written a book about it called Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society (Oxford). The issue that we felt we had to address in the statement was, of course, the race issue. But we were being accused of being communist. The three areas of focus were race, freedom of the pulpit, and public education. Looking back on it, it was not really as prophetic as people have credited it being.

By the standards of the day, however, this was a shot across the bow. In God Outwitted Me, you wrote, “Within eighteen months of the signing of the document, eighteen of the twenty-eight signers had left Mississippi, two left later, and only eight continued their total ministry vocation in the state.”

In 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of Medgar Evers’ death, the Mississippi Annual Conference presented The Emma Elzy Award, an award celebrating those who had contributed to the improvement of race relations in Mississippi, to “the 28 ministers.” Eight of the twenty-eight signers who were still living were present. You and your colleague, the Rev. Keith Tonkel, accepted the award for the 28. In your remarks, you said, “Fifty years ago some young men, now old men, signed a statement, and now this Annual Conference is saying, ‘We appreciate that.’ God outwits us.”

How do you view your statement today?

Reiff believes the reason that it was so prophetic was that it was the church speaking to the church – but also it was a small group of Methodists speaking to their denomination. He compared it to “The Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and the response that the pastors made to that. Almost every person that signed the statement – 28 signing it – ended up leaving. Many of us went to California.

These were days of great turmoil. 

This was a sign of how dramatic it was: Dow Kirkpatrick – the most liberal pastor in Georgia back then – left to be the pastor at First Methodist Church in Evanston, Illinois. Back then, it was one of the most liberal churches in Methodism. Dow invited me to be his associate minister. Instead, I chose to plant a church in Southern California.

You felt you had to leave because of threats?

We had threats. We didn’t have crosses burned on our lawn, but Jerry got telephone calls.

My church got angry with me and held special meetings. It was a new congregation. They loved me as the only pastor they ever knew. We were flavored with people from all over the nation because we were in Gulfport – there was a big air base nearby and a big veterans hospital facility and a retirement home. We had people in the congregation from all over the United States. That made it less against me.

My closest friend in the town – in terms of ministers – was the Rev. Henry Clay, Jr. He was black, and he became a leader after all this in the Mississippi Conference. I can’t believe this now, but we never had him in our home and he never had us in his home. He told me later that they didn’t have the sit-in people that were traveling on buses come to our church because they knew where I stood and they didn’t want that threatened. But we never visited in his home until he moved to California. That’s the ugliness beneath the surface.

Bishop Gerald Kennedy called you and invited you to California. Kennedy was a fascinating maverick. He was despised by fundamentalists of his era, but evangelicals within Methodism considered him an ally. Interestingly enough, he wrote an article for the first issue of Good News magazine, became the chair to the Board of Evangelism, and led the crusade committee of the 25-day Billy Graham preaching mission in 1963 when it was held in Los Angeles.

The district superintendent that finally extended the invitation to me was Andy Miller’s father [Andy Miller is the Director of Publishing for Seedbed]. Kennedy was my hero. He was such a great preacher and he was evangelical and orthodox, but he was considered liberal. I think he made it out there because he filled a unique gap culturally.

Let’s talk about Brother E. Stanley Jones. In an earlier era, Jones was a remarkably well-known missionary to India. In the 1930s, Time magazine referred to him as “the world’s greatest Christian missionary.” He is well known for his friendship with Gandhi, his creation of the Christian Ashram Movement, and inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How did you get to know him?

In the midst of the Mississippi crisis, one of the writers of that statement and I went to an Ashram in Florida being led by Stanley Jones. We were with Stanley for a week. Dr. Tom Carruth really loved me and saw things in me that I didn’t see. He’s the one that got me involved with Stanley Jones.

This would have been in the mid 1960s?

Yes, early 1960s. We left Mississippi in 1964. I had been reading Stanley Jones along with a group of people from my church in Gulfport. His little book In Christ really shaped my theology. That’s the crux of my theology. [Editor’s note: The book is a study of the 172 times the phrase “in Christ” or its equivalent is found in the New Testament]. I was with Stanley Jones as much as I could be that week. He was gracious. Tom  Carruth thought I needed to spend time with Stanley and tried to make every opportunity he could for me to be with him. Tom invited me to go with him and Stanley Jones to lead ashrams in Europe, and I was to speak to the youth.

That was before the Berlin Wall came down, and we were in Sweden and Germany. I never had a lot of private time with Stanley. That was my fault. I just felt that he didn’t need to be spending his time with me. I regret that now.

You’ve written dozens of books. How did this begin?

I was reminded of Stanley last week when I pulled out the first book I ever wrote. It was a collection of columns I wrote for the church page in the Gulfport newspaper every Saturday. I named it “Channels of Challenge.”

Two women in that church –  this is important to my history – mentored me in prayer. One was Nettie Beeson. She was married to one of the Beeson brothers that later gave substantial money to Asbury Theological Seminary. Nettie was in her 80s. The other was Claire May Sales. She was a retired missionary but had taught English and literature all over in little church schools.

Claire May showed up at my office one day with a bundle of these columns that I had written for the newspaper and she said, “You’ve got to publish these as a book.” I didn’t know anything about anything like that. She said, “I think they’re worth publishing and I think you can get them published and I’ll help you organize them.” And she did. Abingdon published it. That book is recommended by Stanley Jones on the back cover.

Wow, he gave you a blurb.

[Laughter] He gave me a blurb. Yeah, pretty great.

No matter what someone’s religion, prayer seems befuddling because you’re basically – to the naked eye – speaking to yourself in hopes that someone invisible is visible in a different realm. Where have you come down on attempting to explain what it is that we’re doing in prayer?

Communion is one word – and extend that to communication. I believe that God is personal, though spirit. God is personal, and persons need to communicate personally. We pray as though he is flesh, or he is our Father. We speak to him in that fashion. In my own pilgrimage, I had difficulty praying. That’s the reason I had to be mentored in prayer.

It’s okay for people to struggle with this?

It would be surprising if they didn’t. I don’t believe any person really ever feels that they have mastered the art of prayer. We look at some people like Frank Laubach, Tom Carruth, and Stanley Jones and believe they know. On second thought, I don’t think Stanley Jones would be on that list.

I’m somewhat embarrassed when people think I know how to pray because I’ve written about it. I pray – but I wish I knew how to pray more effectively.

There are times when Christ is vivid to me. But there are times when I keep on talking to him as though he’s left the room. There is a sense in which I believe that we can’t base our discipline of prayer on what we feel. The Father has told us that he loves us and he wants to be related to us. We just keep on accepting that, even though we may not feel it – and we keep on talking to him and that’s what prayer is. It’s just talking with God.

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. In the next issue, we will publish the second half of this interview with Maxie Dunnam and touch upon his work with the Upper Room, some of his heroes, and his hopes for the Global Methodist Church.

Our Primary Calling

Our Primary Calling

Our Primary Calling —

By Stephen Seamands —

I was a young pastor in my mid-twenties, just three years out of Asbury Theological Seminary, attending a day-long continuing education event for pastors. But before they introduced the main speaker I was looking forward to hearing, they trotted out a retired, white-haired Salvation Army officer to lead us in a time of prayer and worship.

His name was Lyle Rader. He was in his late seventies. Years later I would get to know his son, Paul Rader, who became the first American-born General and world-wide leader of the Salvation Army, who also served on Asbury Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees for a number of years.

In his devotional talk, the elderly Lyle Rader began reminiscing about his relationship as a young Salvation Army officer with Samuel Logan Brengle (1860-1936). Brengle was a spiritual giant and a great leader in the Salvation Army during the early decades of the twentieth century. He was a powerful preacher and prolific author as well as a close friend of Henry Clay Morrison, the founder of Asbury Seminary. When Lyle Rader was a cadet in officer’s training school, Brengle became his friend and mentor. They developed a close Paul-Timothy type of relationship.

One day, Rader asked Brengle a question that had been on his mind for a long time. “Sir, over the years, what have been your greatest temptations in ministry?”

Brengle was silent for a few moments. “Actually, I’ve only had one great temptation in ministry,” he said. “And I’ve learned that if I win the battle with this temptation, then it seems as if everything else in my life and ministry falls into place. But it I lose the battle here, it’s as if all hell breaks loose, and I find myself wrestling with lots of other temptations.”

Lyle Rader wasn’t expecting an answer like that. His curiosity was piqued so he asked, “Well, then tell me, Sir, what has been your one great temptation.”

I’ll never forget what Rader told us Brengle (pictured right) said: “It’s the temptation to want to do something for God each day, before I’ve spent time with him.”

I needed to hear that because in my first few years after graduation from seminary, as I plunged into to my work as a pastor, doing things for God had become my focus, not spending time with him. Moreover, when I did spend time with him – like a car pulling into a gas station when its running on empty – it was mainly so I could get fueled up to get back on the road again to do ministry. Spending time with him, deepening my relationship with him, rather than being an end in itself, was essentially a means to the end of furthering the work of ministry.

I had forgotten what my primary calling was. So, what Brengle said convicted me. And that conviction only grew deeper as shortly thereafter I found myself drawn to study Jesus’ words to his disciples about ministry in John 15:1-16.

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said (John 15:5). Branches, of course, exist to bear fruit. In fact, Jesus warns us that if they don’t bear fruit, they will be pruned away and thrown away. Bearing fruit matters, but branches can be fruitful only if they abide in the vine. “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

According to Jesus, what matters most is abiding. In fact, ten times in this passage, Jesus commands his disciples, “Abide in me.” Don’t miss the fact that it is a command. Even though fruit bearing is important, there’s no command in these verses to bear fruit. The command is to abide. That is our primary calling. Bearing fruit is not an end in itself; it is a consequence of abiding.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers expresses it like this: “The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain, and the atmosphere produced by that relationship.” Elsewhere in his book, Chambers writes, “The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for him.”

No one understood this better than Mother Teresa. She is famous for her incredible sacrificial ministry among the poor and the dying in Calcutta. But it is interesting what she said to Henri Nouwen when he was visiting with her in the 1970s.

“Mother Teresa,” Nouwen asked, “How can I best go about fulfilling my vocation as a Catholic priest?” His question, in a way, was like the one that Lyle Rader asked Samuel Logan Brengle and not surprisingly, he got a similar answer.

“Oh, Henri,” she said smiling, “Just spend one hour a day in adoration of your Lord, and never do anything you know is wrong. And you will be alright.”

At first, Nouwen thought Mother Teresa’s response was a bit simplistic, but as he reflected upon it, he recognized its wisdom. “Like all great disciples of Jesus,” he writes in The Way of the Heart, “Mother Teresa affirmed again the truth that ministry can be fruitful only when it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord.”

Often when we consider Christian calling, we immediately focus on what we are sensing Christ is calling us to do. But first and foremost, Jesus calls us to be with him, to abide in him. That is our primary calling.

In his book The Call, Os Guinness reminds us that we are called first to Someone, not to Something or Somewhere. Those callings, as significant as they are, are secondary. Eventually, they will pass away. Our relationship with Christ is eternal. So, the most important thing Christians are called to do each day is to abide in him, to deepen our relationship with him, to be a branch that abides in the vine.

In 2009, I was privileged to accompany a group of Doctor of Ministry students from Asbury Seminary to Korea. We had been invited by Bishop Sundo Kim, a long-time member of the seminary’s Board of Trustees. In fact, the single men’s dormitory on the Asbury seminary campus in Wilmore, Kentucky, is named in his honor.

While we were in Korea, we spent a good deal of time at the Kwanglim Methodist Church, the church in Seoul that Bishop Kim had pastored for many years and that had grown under his leadership to become the largest Methodist church in the world.

One day we went to visit Bishop Kim at his office up on the 6th or 7th floor of the office complex that’s part of the Kwanglim campus. He was such a gracious host to us and shared with us profound wisdom borne out of his years of fruitful ministry.

But let me tell you what impressed me most during my time at Kwanglim.  It wasn’t the vital worshipping congregation, state-of-the-art campus, gifted pastoral staff, or Bishop Kim’s beautifully decorated, spacious office. Rather, it was the small 4`x6` room connected to his office – the simple, unadorned “prayer closet” where Bishop Kim spends at least an hour each day reading scripture, praying – often on his knees – as he seeks to abide in Christ (pictured on the left).

I still have the picture I took of his prayer closet. Because – and Bishop Kim would be the first one to tell you – that’s where ministry begins and ends. As he emphasized in speaking to us that day, “Without a prayer life, you will not know the will of God.”

Throughout his ministry, Bishop Kim, who passed away last year, understood what matters most. He understood his primary calling.  And you cannot understand the abundant fruitfulness of Christ’s ministry through him apart from that. As Jesus said, “Those who abide in me and I in them, bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Stephen Seamands is professor emeritus of Christian Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He served as the Professor of Basic Christian Doctrine at Asbury Seminary for close to 40 years. In addition to that class, he taught Introduction to Spiritual Warfare, Introduction to Healing Prayer, and a class studying the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dr. Seamands has authored numerous books, including Wounds That Heal, Ministry in the Image of God, and The Unseen Real: Life in the Light of the Ascension of Jesus.

The Changing Shape of Methodism

The Changing Shape of Methodism

The Changing Shape of Methodism —

By Thomas Lambrecht —

As many churches considered the option of disaffiliation, there has been a focus on the contrast between a traditional understanding of our Methodist doctrines and practices compared with how The United Methodist Church has evolved over the past couple of decades. Now that the disaffiliation process is moving forward with the current wave of annual conference votes, it is appropriate to look at how the structure of Methodism will be changing as a result.

As of the end of May, 1,931 congregations have disaffiliated from the UM Church in 2023. Added to the 2,017 that disaffiliated before this year, that means 3,948 churches have disaffiliated, representing 13 percent of all U.S. congregations.

There have been arguments about whether this constitutes a “schism” or a “split” or instead a “splintering” of United Methodism. Some are unwilling to call it a schism or a split until it reaches half the denomination separating. (That is a somewhat arbitrary definition of schism or split, which simply refers to a division in the body.) It should be noted that five annual conferences have experienced the loss of more than 40 percent of their congregations. Even under the arbitrary definition, for those conferences it is a schism.

It is estimated that at least another 2,100 congregations will complete the disaffiliation process over the rest of this year. It will probably be more than that, as some conferences do not publicize the number of disaffiliating churches until right before the annual conference meets to vote on them. Even with this conservative projection, over 6,000 churches total will have disaffiliated by the end of 2023, which represents 20 percent of all U.S. UM congregations.

Although exact numbers are not available at this point, it appears that at least 80 percent of disaffiliating congregations are aligning immediately with the Global Methodist Church (GMC). Others are remaining independent for a time while they discern their future and heal from the wounds of disaffiliation. It is expected that many of these churches will eventually choose to align with the GMC. In addition, many new GMC churches are starting with the core members of congregations that did not reach the required two-thirds vote to disaffiliate.

Based on these projections, the GMC should have well over 4,000 congregations and nearly 1 million members in the U.S. when the current wave of disaffiliations is completed and churches work their way through the discernment and application process to join the GMC.

An international GMC

Of course, the GMC is a global denomination not limited to the U.S. The very first congregational members of the GMC were in the Bulgaria Annual Conference, which officially joined the GMC on its launch date of May 1, 2022. Last Fall, Slovakia also joined the GMC. Since that time, Estonia and four conferences in Russia and Eurasia have voted to leave the UM Church to become autonomous, and they may become part of the GMC when that process is completed.

In the Philippines, UM congregations are moving to the GMC, and new congregations have been planted there. One or more Philippine annual conferences are in the process of being formed. One of the first GMC church plants last year was Good News of Life Church, planted in Antipolo City, a part of Greater Manila.

The GMC has been registered in the Democratic Republic of Congo for former United Methodists who have been evicted from their UM membership by some of the bishops there, and new congregations are being planted there. Preparations for registering the GMC in other countries of Africa are also taking place. It is believed that at least half of the African annual conferences will eventually join the GMC if the language in the Book of Discipline regarding marriage and ordination is changed. That would make African members the largest block of members in the GMC.

In addition, Methodists in other parts of Europe, Asia, and Latin America are exploring deeper relationships with the GMC as a way of linking with a theologically like-minded global denomination. Just this week, the Spain provisional district was formed with seven congregations centered around Barcelona. These explorations hold the potential for making the GMC a truly global denomination with a strong presence on each of five continents. Since the U.S. part of the GMC may not be a majority of the church, it will be an opportunity to explore what it means to be truly global, with voices from other parts of the globe giving leadership to the church and counterbalancing some of the “bad habits” U.S. Methodists have fallen into. There will be challenges and a learning process for all, but the end result promises to be a different kind of Methodist denomination that truly represents what the Kingdom of God will look like someday – people of every language, nation, and tribe!

Impact on United Methodism

While a new GMC denomination is growing up, rampant disaffiliation will have a serious impact on the structural reality of The United Methodist Church, as well.  A recent UM News story begins, “The United Methodist Church will look and operate very differently going forward.”

That structural change impacts two particular areas: the general church budget and the number and allocation of bishops.

The recent meeting of the UM General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) and the Connectional Table agreed upon a proposed 2025-2028 budget that would be 40 percent lower than the 2017-2020 budget for the general church. The budget would decrease from $604 million to $371 million, the lowest amount in absolute dollars since 1984. Of course, with inflation, a $370 million budget in 1984 would be equivalent to over $1 billion today! Needless to say, the general church budget has not kept up with inflation over the years.

The membership of the church has declined in those 40 years, as well – from 9.2 million members to 6.1 million. Whereas, in 1984 the budget amounted to roughly $40 per member, today it would amount to over $60 per member. When adjusted for inflation, however, today’s number is about half what it was in 1984.

The recommended 40 percent decrease in the budget is prompted by the disaffiliation of an estimated 17-20 percent of church members, plus the “normal” decline in membership that has been averaging 3-5 percent per year. With the pandemic, local church expenditures have also decreased 7 percent from their normal levels. Until all the dust settles on disaffiliation, it is unclear what the financial ramifications will be, but there is no question there will be dramatically less money to work with at the general church level. That will undoubtedly mean reductions in the size and number of general church agencies and a reduction in the programs the general church can offer.

Number of Bishops

Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton is quoted as saying, “I don’t think that there’s anyone who is wanting to preserve the episcopacy in its current form. The numbers speak for themselves.” The budget proposal includes a 25 percent cut to the Episcopal Fund that pays bishops’ salaries and expenses.

The U.S. jurisdictions have already cut the number of bishops from 47 to 39. The Northeastern Jurisdiction cut four bishops to go from ten bishops to six. The South Central Jurisdiction cut two bishops to go from ten bishops to eight. The Southeastern Jurisdiction cut two bishops to go from 13 bishops to 11. In total, that represents a 17 percent reduction to the number of U.S. bishops.

Under the Discipline’s formula for determining the number of bishops, what will each jurisdiction be entitled to after this round of disaffiliations is complete?

The North Central Jurisdiction would be entitled to seven bishops, meaning they would have to cut two bishops from what they currently have. One possible scenario would have Wisconsin and Michigan sharing a bishop and Northern Illinois and Illinois Great Rivers sharing a bishop.

The Northeastern Jurisdiction would be also entitled to seven bishops, one more than they currently have. Currently, New England has no resident bishop and Susquehanna is sharing two bishops with other conferences. Some form of realignment would allow New England to have its own resident bishop, probably shared with another conference.

The South Central Jurisdiction would be entitled to eight bishops, the number it currently has. Realignment of conference boundaries will have to account for the fact that 80 percent of the Northwest Texas Conference will have disaffiliated, half of the Texas Conference, and one-third of both the Rio Texas and Central Texas Conferences. Five previous Texas annual conferences will probably become four, and may include New Mexico, as well, which could be down to 16,000 members.

The Southeastern Jurisdiction would be entitled to ten bishops, one fewer than it currently has. South Georgia and Alabama-West Florida currently share a bishop, as does Holston and North Alabama. Perhaps Mississippi and Tennessee-Western Kentucky will also share a bishop, or another alignment may be proposed.

The Western Jurisdiction will keep its five bishops, since a minimum of five bishops per jurisdiction is guaranteed by the Constitution. Reducing the number of bishops in the West would require a Constitutional amendment. This creates an inequitable situation, since each bishop in the West would have only half as many members and congregations to care for as bishops in the rest of the U.S.

Reducing the number of bishops according to the Discipline’s formula would result in 37 bishops, a reduction of 21 percent in the number of U.S. bishops. That is still short of the 25 percent reduction in budget proposed to the General Conference.

The reduced budget also does not appear to have room in it for the additional five bishops promised to Africa in 2016. Without further reductions in the number of U.S. bishops below the number allowed by the Discipline’s formula, it would appear that additional bishops for Africa will be off the table.

The changing alignments within Methodism will result in significant structural changes. The Global Methodist Church will be navigating how to structure itself as a truly global church with equal and mutual contributions from all geographic areas of the church. The United Methodist Church will be navigating how to restructure within the limitations imposed by a dramatically reduced budget and reduced number of bishops. Those looking to keep things the same as they were at the denominational level will find comfort in neither camp. But such changes hold the possibility of inspiring new ways of doing ministry that make the church more effective at reaching a lost and needy world.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. Photo: Lay people and pastors of the Bulgaria Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of the Global Methodist Church.

Timothy Keller’s Apologetic Legacy

Timothy Keller’s Apologetic Legacy

Timothy Keller’s Apologetic Legacy —

By David F. Watson —

On May 19, Timothy Keller went home to his eternal reward. The church is richer for his ministry and poorer for his passing. Keller was a man of remarkable gifts. He was faithful to his calling, and he left an intellectual and spiritual legacy that will bear fruit for generations to come.

It seems like every week there is some new megachurch pastor or other Christian celebrity who has fallen into disgrace. Indeed it is almost surprising now to see someone as well-known as Keller who traversed a life of ministry with honor and humility. Yes, there were many who did not agree with him, even those who didn’t like him. Princeton Theological Seminary initially selected Keller to receive the Kuyper Prize but then reversed its decision when an uproar arose over Keller’s conservative theological positions. He responded with admirable Christian character, demonstrating dignity and grace, and he still gave the Kuyper lecture that year.

As a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Keller was shaped by and committed to the Reformed tradition. Put differently, he was a Calvinist. There are some significant differences between Calvinists and Methodists, including our doctrines of grace and election and our views on Christian perfection. One difference in practice is that the PCA does not ordain women. Generally speaking, Methodists do – even very conservative Methodists – and I fully support this practice. Nevertheless, the areas of agreement between Methodists and Calvinists far exceed those of disagreement. In fact John Wesley declared there was but a “hair’s breadth” between Calvinists and Methodists. Keller brought many people into a living, saving faith, and there is much that we Methodists can learn from his example.

Remarkably, Keller established a successful ministry right in the belly of the secular beast: New York City, Manhattan no less. Many of his congregants were young professionals. His preaching was straightforward, thoughtful, and engaging. He combined the gifts of an evangelist with the gifts of a teacher. Some might call Keller “winsome,” but he was more than that. He was compelling. He had that rare gift of making difficult concepts accessible and presenting hard truths with grace and gentleness. This is an age in which many confuse abrasiveness with truthfulness. A stereotyped hyper-masculinity is held up as the ideal of Christian manhood and family life, particularly in some Reformed circles, to the extent that one wonders whether Jesus’ teaching “blessed are the meek” has been excised from the canon. In a theological world where the loudest, most obnoxious voices often get the most attention, Keller showed restraint and maturity. He was a gentleman, one of a disappearing breed.

He was also prolific. Keller authored too many books to mention here, and I have not read all of them. I will, however, mention one: The Reason for God: Belief in An Age of Skepticism (Riverhead Books, 2008). In the first part of this book each chapter takes on a difficult question or contention he undoubtedly encountered in the work of pastoral ministry. Chapter one, for example, is called “There Can’t Be Just One True Religion.” In chapter two he addresses the question, “How could a good God allow suffering?” Later in chapter six he refutes the contention that science has disproved Christianity. In the second part, rather than addressing criticisms, Keller makes a positive case for the truth of Christianity. Chapters eight and nine look at evidence for and our ability to perceive God. Other chapters deal with sin, the meaning of the cross, the resurrection, and other topics. I have recommended this book on several occasions.

Since the earliest days of the faith, Christianity has had its cultured despisers. Many Christians have undertaken to confront the critics and demonstrate the reasonableness of the Christian faith. This type of literature is called “apologetic.” When used in this way, “apologetic” does not refer to an admission of wrongdoing but to an intellectual defense. We might think of the writings of Justin Martyr, the Letter of Athenagoras written to the co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, or Origen’s Against Celsus. In more recent years, C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, William Lane Craig, and Bishop Robert Barron, among others, have produced important work answering the critics of the Christian faith and providing a reasonable account of what we believe. Keller made fine contributions to this body of modern apologetic literature.

We Methodists do not have a strong apologetic track record. Yes, we have had our apologists, but who is our C. S. Lewis? Who is our Tim Keller? It’s hard to think of one of our own since Wesley who fits the bill. Let’s face it: apologetics is not our strong suit. One reason for this may be that Methodists have often relied on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to confirm the truth of the Gospel in the lives of the faithful. Why make rational arguments for God when God himself will confirm his own reality in our lives? This approach misses a crucial aspect of apologetics, however: people may never become receptive to the work of the Spirit if they are convinced beforehand that Christian beliefs are untenable. I suspect that another reason also lies behind our apologetic deficit: since at least the mid-nineteenth century, Methodists have been more likely to ape the surrounding culture than to confront it. Rather than transforming the world, too often we ourselves have been the ones transformed.

Apologetics, of course, can only take us so far. Generally speaking, we are not going to convince people to become Christians through argument. What arguments can do, however, is remove obstacles to belief. They can clear out the intellectual clutter that may prevent our embrace of the gospel. They can address our nagging doubts. They can help us to understand that there is no sacrifice of intellect in becoming a Christian, and even that our faith describes reality more truly and meaningfully than the alternatives. In my own faith journey, an important work was The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History, by C. Stephen Evans (Oxford, 1996). In this book, Evans offers a powerful philosophical defense of the historicity of the church’s story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I read this book while I was a graduate student, when so much of what was being published in biblical studies argued exactly the opposite – that Jesus was not who the church said he was, that ancient myths would not suffice for modern people, that to believe what the church has always taught about Jesus was naive and intellectually deficient. Evans didn’t convince me that Christianity was true. Rather, he helped me to navigate the intellectual obstacle course that I had encountered in my scholarly vocation. I needed that. It deepened my faith.

We are going to miss Tim Keller. He was a person of remarkable skill and insight. He was much more than a Christian apologist, but his apologetic work was important. In each generation, we need people who can help to bridge the gap between the heart and the head. We need people to address our cultured despisers and offer an account of the hope that is within us. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that when we do offer our account, we should do so with gentleness and respect. No one is brought to the faith after a verbal beating on Twitter. We do not lead people to Christ by embarrassing them or insulting their intelligence. Rather, we engage them with gentleness and respect and ask God to be in the midst of our conversation. I pray that God will raise up for coming generations more people like Keller, whose considerable intellect was matched by the Christian character he demonstrated.

David F. Watson is Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of  Scripture and the Life of God: Why the Bible Matters Today More Than Ever and the editor of Firebrand Magazine. Dr. Watson is an elder in the Global Methodist Church. He blogs at www.davidfwatson.me. Photo: Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Photo: Nathan Troester/Icon Media Group.