45 years of vision for United Methodist renewal and reform

45 years of vision for United Methodist renewal and reform

By James V. Heidinger II

The first issue of Good News magazine was published in 1967. Charles W. Keysor, a Methodist pastor in Elgin, Illinois, published the first issue of the digest-size magazine for Methodist evangelicals out of the basement of his parsonage. At the suggestion of his wife, Marge, he called it Good News.

It had all begun a year earlier when James Wall, then editor of the Methodist minister’s magazine New Christian Advocate, asked Chuck, “Why don’t you write an article for us describing the central beliefs and convictions of this part [evangelical wing] of our church?”

Chuck’s article, “Methodism’s Silent Minority” was published in the July 14, 1966 issue of the New Christian Advocate, where he identified the major evangelical convictions (see original article on p. 14).

To his amazement Keysor received over 200 letters and phone calls in response to his article, most of them coming from Methodist pastors! Two themes surfaced in the responses: first, “I thought I was the only one left in the church who believes these things,” and second, “I feel so alone—so cut off from the leadership of my church.”

As he prayed about the letters and phone calls, Chuck felt he must do something. Having been a journalist prior to entering the ministry, he decided to launch a magazine which affirmed the evangelical message of the Wesleys and Francis Asbury. Good News magazine was born.

Responses to the first issue were much like today. One disgruntled Methodist in Alabama wrote, “Your magazine is JUNK!” But Carl F. H. Henry, then editor of the new evangelical journal Christianity Today, wrote, “A mighty fine beginning—congratulations!”

Rallying renewal groups: Seeing the immediate surge of interest in his magazine, Keysor chose 12 Methodists to serve as board members, and the Good News effort became incorporated as “A Forum for Scriptural Christianity.” The board’s first meeting was in May of 1967, only two months after the appearance of the first issue of the magazine.

Good News was a breath of fresh air for Methodists seeking spiritual renewal, quickly becoming their rallying point. Pastors and laity began organizing clusters of like-minded Methodists who came out of a felt need for fellowship, support, encouragement, and prayer. Soon, they began to map strategies for increasing evangelicalism within their annual conferences.

Today renewal groups exist in more than 40 of our United Methodist annual conferences, forming an extensive grassroots network for evangelical advocacy, fellowship, and prayer support. In my annual conference, the East Ohio Evangelical Fellowship—just one of such renewal groups—began in 1969 and has made an invaluable contribution in strengthening the evangelical witness in the conference, especially in youth camping programs and ministries.

Convo fellowship: The Good News board soon felt a need to sponsor some kind of national gathering to help unify Methodist evangelicals. Texas pastor Mike Walker, the youngest member of the fledgling board, headed up plans for the first national convocation held in Dallas in August of 1970. To everyone’s amazement, a whopping 1,600 United Methodists registered, coming from coast to coast! The Holy Spirit drew people together in a remarkable way.

Emotion and excitement filled the air as participants discovered other like-minded Methodists. Tears streamed down the faces of worshippers as they saw the evening crowds swell to nearly 3,000 persons jammed into the Adolphus Hotel ballroom. Folks heard luminaries such as missionary statesman E. Stanley Jones, Bishop Gerald Kennedy, Frank B. Stanger, Dennis F. Kinlaw, K. Morgan Edwards, Claude Thompson, evangelist Tom Skinner, Howard Ball, Billy Graham Association evangelist Akbar Abdul-Haqq, Ira Gallaway, C. Philip Hinerman, and Les Woodson.

In bringing greetings to the assembly, a message from evangelist Billy Graham stated: “Wish I could be with you for this momentous and historic conference. Methodism was born and it grew through revival and evangelism. It is my prayer that the United Methodist Church will have a spiritual renewal and help lead our nation in the spiritual revival that we do desperately need. May God bless you all.”

Twentieth century United Methodism was marked for renewal. Discouraged United Methodists received hope that they weren’t alone in their evangelical concerns. And most importantly, they began to dream of a new day of revival and renewal in their church.

For 30 years following the Dallas Convocation, Good News sponsored a national convocation nearly every summer. United Methodists came for fellowship, inspiration, and instruction. One couple remarked at our Washington, D.C. convo in the early 1990s, “Jim, when we came here we were so discouraged, we were considering leaving the church. But our hearts have been renewed, and we’re going back to our home church with new hope.” And return they have, by the hundreds, with programs and ideas for their local churches like Marriage Enrichment, Trinity Bible Studies, Faith Promise missions giving, Disciple Bible Study, Discover God’s Call, and Walk to Emmaus.

Improving Sunday school literature: One of the earliest concerns of the fledgling Good News movement was the need to improve dismal denominational Sunday school literature. Evangelicals were frustrated, but hardly knew where to begin to bring about change.

In 1968 Good News carried a stinging evaluation of Methodism’s new adult curriculum. One reviewer wrote, “What is missing here…is a particular and sustained biblical theology.” This reviewer looked in vain for any word about “salvation, any good news about the atonement of Jesus Christ, or any hint about the possibility of spiritual new birth….”

The next year a Good News team met for the first of many dialogues with the church’s curriculum editors and officials. The denominational leaders responded with obvious impatience and condescension toward evangelical concerns. One bishop informed the Good News delegation that they must realize that all contemporary scholars supported the Bultmannian notion that much of the Bible is myth. That was indicative of the gulf that existed between grassroots members and many in positions of national leadership.

Nevertheless, dialogue had begun. The United Methodist Publishing House gradually became more aware of its responsibility to serve the whole church, including the evangelicals. In 1975, Good News published its first edition of We Believe, a confirmation series for junior high youth. Pastors dissatisfied with United Methodist materials received it enthusiastically. It remains a widely-used confirmation curriculum yet today.

A 1985 evaluation of denominational curriculum revealed improvement in our church school literature. In addition, the Disciple Bible Study program has found a warm welcome in the church, as has more recently Christian Believer, a similarly-packaged in-depth study of Christian doctrine, a resource from the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) which is doctrinally sound.

The problem evangelicals have now with church school curriculum is its lack of consistency. For adults especially, one quarter’s materials might be sound while the next are disappointingly weak, which is the problem with materials that are published for a broad sweep of theological positions. This inconsistency, among other things, was the impetus that led Good News to begin publishing its  Wesleyan and evangelical Bristol Bible Curriculum.

Both the We Believe confirmation materials and the Bristol Bible Curriculum are published today by the independent, for-profit publisher, Bristol House, Ltd., headquartered in Anderson, Indiana. (Good News had begun publishing books and study materials in 1989, but sold its publishing ministry in 1991 to a small group of Good News supporters who formed Bristol House, Ltd.)

In what was viewed as a sign of increasing openness to the evangelical constituency in the denomination, a few years ago the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) and Bristol House, Ltd. joined in a cooperative project to produce Sunday school and small group curriculum for children and adults. This joint venture was welcomed by evangelicals as a new sign of openness on the part of the UMPH.

Doctrinal doldrums: From the start, Good News’ primary concern has been theological. Born in an era when church radicals were demanding “Let the world set the agenda for the church,” we were convinced that the biblical agenda was languishing from both neglect and from theological revisionism.

Adding to United Methodism’s already-existing theological malaise, the 1972 General Conference adopted a new doctrinal statement of “theological pluralism.” While pluralism may have been included to express some of the legitimate diversity found within the parameters of historic Christianity, it was interpreted by many to mean United Methodism offered members a proliferation of theological views, many of which far exceeded the boundaries of sound biblical doctrine. I remember a young pastor friend who was distressed because a United Methodist seminary professor had denied the bodily resurrection of our Lord. He expressed his concern about the matter in his church newsletter. His district superintendent admonished him, saying, “Ed, you must remember that you are in a church that embraces theological pluralism.” For that superintendent, theological pluralism meant that some may affirm the bodily resurrection of Christ and some may not.

In 1974, Good News authorized a “Theology and Doctrine Task Force,” headed by Paul Mickey, associate professor of pastoral theology at Duke University’s Divinity School. The task force was charged with preparing a fresh, new statement of “Scriptural Christianity” which would remain faithful to both the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren traditions. In addition to Mickey, the committee included Charles Keysor, Frank B. Stanger, Dennis F. Kinlaw, Robert Stamps, Lawrence Souder, and this writer.

In 1975, the Task Force presented its statement to the Good News board and it was adopted at its summer meeting at Lake Junaluska. It thus became known as “The Junaluska Affirmation.” Albert Outler praised Good News at the time for being perhaps the only group within the church to respond to his challenge for United Methodists to “do theology.”

Theological issues were always top drawer for Good News. Our questions and frequent criticism of theological pluralism played a major role in the 1984 General Conference decision to develop a new doctrinal statement for the church. The theological commission, authorized by that General Conference and chaired by Bishop Earl G. Hunt Jr., brought a new and much improved theological statement which was adopted overwhelmingly by the 1988 General Conference. It cited “the primacy of Scripture” as the new guiding principle for doing theology. The term “theological pluralism” was purposefully and conspicuously omitted from the new statement. Some today still try to resuscitate “theological pluralism” under the guise of diversity. However, United Methodism has its clearly articulated doctrinal standards which are protected by Restrictive Rule in the Book of Discipline (Par. 17. Article I).

The seminary challenge: Good News has long been troubled over the liberal domination of theological education. Across the years, evangelicals at our United Methodist seminaries have consistently reported unfair caricaturing, ridicule, and intolerance toward their orthodox, biblical beliefs. They also have cited a troubling dearth of evangelical faculty at our seminaries.

In 1975, United Methodist evangelist Ed Robb Jr., in a fiery address at Good News’ summer convocation, called upon the church to restore Wesleyan doctrine to our United Methodist seminaries. Institutional leaders fumed and seminary professors fussed about his challenge. One could hear the murmurs echoing from their hallowed halls: “How dare he be so critical!”

However, Robb’s hard-hitting address led to a new friendship with Albert C. Outler, United Methodism’s eminent Wesleyan scholar, who taught at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. Together, with help from others, they formed A Foundation for Theological Education (AFTE). To date, more than 110 evangelical scholars, called John Wesley Fellows, have participated in the scholarship program, receiving grants to seek their PhDs with plans to return to teach at our United Methodist colleges and seminaries.

In 1976, Good News also began publishing Catalyst, the newsletter sent free to all United Methodist seminarians, with the goal of making them aware of evangelical scholarly resources which they did not always have in their liberal seminary setting. The Rev. Mike Walker, the board member who organized the first Good News convocation, has coordinated the editing and mailing of Catalyst from its inception. (It continues today under the auspices of AFTE, which is now chaired by Dr. Ed Robb III, senior minister at The Woodlands UM Church in Texas.)

In 1977, Good News sent teams to nearly all United Methodist-related seminaries, engaging them in dialogue and urging them toward greater openness to evangelical faculty, course materials, and library resources.

Missions derailed: In 1974, United Methodist evangelicals from 23 states gathered in Dallas to discuss their concerns with the church’s world missions program. Those gathered criticized the declining number of overseas missionaries, the mission board’s preoccupation with social and political matters, and its lack of concern for matters of faith—including conversion and the planting of new churches.

The group formed the Evangelical Missions Council (EMC) which several years later would become an arm of Good News. David A. Seamands, Good News board member and former missionary to India, was named EMC’s first chairman. Conversations with the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) continued. However, after no less than 22 “dialogues” over an 11-year period between Good News and GBGM, Seamands and others learned that “the unfortunate gulf separating us from the GBGM policymakers was wide and deep.”

For eight years, the Rev. Virgil Maybray, a highly-respected clergy member of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, served as full-time executive secretary of Good News’ EMC effort, spending most of his time speaking in, and consulting with, local churches about expanding their missions programs. During that time, Virgil ministered in more than 350 UM churches in 35 states, raising millions of dollars for missions, with more than $1 million channeled directly through GBGM’s Advance Special Programs.

In 1983, when evangelical discontent peaked upon learning about the proposed new leadership of the World Division of GBGM, 29 large-church pastors and 4 missions professors (all United Methodist) met in St. Louis to form a “supplemental” missions sending agency. It was to be called The Mission Society for United Methodists. It opened its doors for ministry in February of 1984 and began helping United Methodists get to the mission field. Today, with headquarters in Norcross, Georgia, and now known as simply The Mission Society, the young sending agency now has 224 persons in ministry (full-time, standard support) in 31 countries. (This compares, interestingly, with recent numbers from GBGM which report just 247 full-time, standard support missionaries.)

Legislative landmarks: United Methodist evangelicals and traditionalists have struggled with how to respond to the church’s liberal theologies and programs. They could ignore them, find another church, or use their influence for positive change. Good News opted for the latter.

At the 1972 General Conference in Atlanta, Good News launched its first involvement in the legislative process. Board members Bob Sprinkle and Helen Rhea Stumbo prepared and distributed ten petitions and four resolutions. They also cranked out occasional newsletters. Although the 1972 conference was a disaster, approving abortion and adopting the statement on theological pluralism, Good News had thrown its hat in the ring.

The 1976 General Conference brought a stronger Good News showing with the additional help of Robert Snyder and John Grenfell. By 1980, Good News had launched its first full-orbed effort, led by Don and Virginia Shell. They continued leading Good News’ legislative strategy program until 1992, when they turned the leadership over to Lynda and Scott Field, a former Good News board chair and senior pastor of the Wheatland-Salem United Methodist Church in Naperville, Illinois. They gave extraordinary leadership to the Good News General Conference effort from 1996 through 2004.

Whether Indianapolis in 1980, St. Louis in 1988, or Pittsburgh in 2004, the Good News effort has worked behind the scenes in annual conferences to get evangelical and traditional delegates elected, well-crafted petitions channeled properly, and a series of position papers published which articulate our stand on major issues.

The nearly two weeks we spend on site at General Conference with our 40-person team is the culmination of more than two years of careful preparation. As a result of Good News’ field work and legislative training efforts, more United Methodist evangelicals have decided to get involved in the legislative process. Good News, along with other members of the 2008 Evangelical Renewal and Reform Coalition, will once again have a team on site at the 2008 General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas.

United Methodist evangelicals were encouraged by the efforts of concerned denominational leaders to formulate pre-General Conference activity such as the 1988 “Houston Declaration” and the 1992 “Memphis Declaration.” Both of these initiatives were spearheaded by the leadership of what is now known as the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church—which includes prominent leaders such as James B. Buskirk, Maxie D. Dunnam, Ira Gallaway, John Ed Mathison, William Bouknight, and the late William H. Hinson. The grassroots efforts noted above reflected the growing conviction that evangelicals must engage in the legislative process to make their voices heard if the church is ever to experience renewal and reform.

Proliferation of evangelical voices: I am still amazed to think that at one time there were no groups or publications that spoke on behalf of United Methodism’s evangelical or conservative constituency. That, no doubt, helps explain the immediate flood of responses to Chuck Keysor’s inaugural article, “Methodism’s Silent Minority.”

It’s a different world today and the United Methodist Church is not the same church. Think of the organizations that didn’t exist 40 years ago: Good News, The Institute on Religion and Democracy, United Methodist Action, A Foundation for Theological Education, The Mission Society, Transforming Congregations, Lifewatch (the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality), the Renew Network, Concerned Methodists, the American Family Association, and the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

We should also note the important contribution of several groups affiliated with the General Board of Discipleship, including the Council on Evangelism, the Foundation for Evangelism, the National Association of United Methodist Evangelists, and Aldersgate Renewal Ministries. The above groups have been faithful voices on behalf of our Wesleyan theological heritage.

All of these groups, of course, have their own histories and purposes. They do not walk in lockstep, to be sure. But let’s not miss the significance of their existence. The voices of United Methodist evangelicals and traditionalists are finally being heard. Channels now exist to guarantee this will happen. Thousands of United Methodists have found avenues for evangelical ministry as well as ways to address effectively the spiritual, moral, theological, and social issues that exist in our church.

Emerging new spirit: The various evangelical groups noted above are a part of something new that is emerging within the United Methodist Church. I would call this new surge a growing expectation that the church be faithful to its historic message. I was visiting an annual conference last June and a clergy member, noting the large number of evangelicals elected to his General Conference delegation, said to me almost matter-of-factly, “We expect our delegates in this conference to affirm the evangelical faith.” I was encouraged to hear that. It was another sign that more and more United Methodists have grown weary of theological revisionism and doctrinal fads; weary of those who would use the church in order to advance an ideological agenda. It is time for all of our United Methodist leaders to embrace, believe, and teach the historic doctrines of our Wesleyan tradition.

Many of us have been encouraged by Tom Oden’s The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, published in 2003. After observing the evangelical gains at the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland, Oden says those gains are an indication that the United Methodist Church is re-centering itself around the Apostolic Faith. He wrote, “These gains came largely as a result of a preceding and continuing network of prayer, a coalition of numerous renewing and confessing movements working closely together, and widespread demoralization among the old-guard liberals.”

The 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh saw further gains that would indicate that the evangelical presence at United Methodist General Conferences continues to grow with each quadrennial gathering. On some 15 votes on issues of human sexuality, delegates affirmed more strongly than ever the church’s long-standing, scriptural position. A motion to allow homosexual unions or marriages was defeated by an 83 percent vote. Surprisingly, delegates by a 77 percent vote went on record to “support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” We are the first and only mainline denomination to be on record on this issue.

As we move toward the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Good News will enthusiastically support the four emphases coming from the Council of Bishops. We are especially excited about the proposal for starting new congregations all across the country. Evangelism has always been a passion for the Good News constituency. For seven years, we have been a promotional partner with The Alpha Course through Good News magazine. By their account, this has been a major factor in the Alpha Course being used in more United Methodist churches than any other denomination in America.

The story of the past decade of Good News’ ministry cannot be told without mentioning the unusual advocacy ministry of the Rev. John Grenfell, a retired member of the Detroit Annual Conference. A former district superintendent, John was tutored well by the late Bishop Dwight Loder that the administration of the church should be done justly and with integrity. John has participated in more than 50 supervisory response sessions, helping pastors who are in need of good and godly counsel, and who often need the help of an advocate. John brings to these sessions a profound understanding of the Book of Discipline and our administrative processes, always urging pastors and laity to be sure they understand due process and the rights provided them in the Discipline.

Even though Good News has sold Bristol House, we continue to publish books for our constituency on themes such as prayer, evangelism, and renewal. One of our newest is Beyond the Badge, by our board member, the Rev. Dr. Chuck Ferrara, a clergy member of the New York Annual Conference. This outstanding book, aimed at bringing police officers to faith in Christ, is already in its 6th printing, even though it has been out less than two years. Churches have been buying the book in quantities to give as a ministry outreach to local law enforcement personnel. The book has great credibility because Chuck, himself, served for 16 years as a member of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Now a pastor, he also ministers as a police chaplain in New Fairfield, Connecticut.

Cry for leadership: When United Methodists feel compelled to form alternative groups within the church and gather at their own expense to issue declarations to the church, as they did at Houston and Memphis, what you have is a plea for godly leadership. We look hopefully to our bishops who are charged with the teaching and overseeing function in the church. Our bishops, according to Paul, “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught,” so they can “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).

It is easy for evangelicals to grow weary in the struggle for renewal. Some who do will often say, “Jim, the struggle is a distraction from the real ministry of the church.” But Presbyterian clergywoman, the Rev. Sue Cyre, editor of the journal Theology Matters, has written an apt reply to that sentiment, saying that this is not a distraction from real ministry. She writes, “The battle over truth and falsehood is the real ministry of the church. Everywhere the church goes, it is to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, but it is always against a backdrop of some false beliefs.” What a timely word. And those who hold false beliefs do not let go of them easily—Scripture attests to that. So, “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).

New day for United Methodism? So perhaps a new atmosphere is emerging within the church. Granted, we still face serious problems, but there is much reason for hope.

At an earlier anniversary observance, I wrote words that I believe are still relevant today. I will close with them. “Evangelicals today believe the church has been entrusted with a divinely-revealed plan of redemption. This message is set forth clearly in the Word of God. This fact automatically establishes the relevance of the Christian message. We must resist attempts to impose other standards of relevance upon it. And even the slightest mishandling of that biblical message must be ruled out of order. The biblical message, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, will still bear fruit today. This trustworthy message will revitalize and renew United Methodism and enable us to share in the evangelical awakening that already is moving across our land and world. When our pulpits are alive again with the faithful proclamation of the Word of God, we can be sure the Lord will once again add daily to the United Methodist Church ‘those who are being saved.’”

James V. Heidinger II is the president emeritus of Good News.

45 years of vision for United Methodist renewal and reform

The Legacy of Theological Liberalism

By James V. Heidinger II

Recently a pastor wrote in a conference paper a defense of United Methodism’s being a “liberal” denomination. He insisted the “L-word” was not bad. For support he cited Webster’s Dictionary which defined liberal as “generous, openhanded, broad-minded, etc.”

Such shallow thinking compels us to look again at theological liberalism to see where it came from, what it affirms and what it does not affirm. Most certainly, the presuppositions and principles of liberalism are still present in United Methodism.

Most lay people have little interest in liberal theology. When they hear modern brands of liberalism preached they are likely to respond kindly, “That sermon was profound. I’m not sure I understood it though. It was over my head.”

But if the last three decades have shown the mainline churches anything, it is the bankruptcy of theological liberalism. Realizing this will be an important key to mainline church renewal.

Roots of liberal faith 

Liberalism began to move upon the American church scene around 1880. It brought sweeping changes to Christian churches in America during the first third of the 20th century—a period when a tide of secular thought was flooding in upon traditional American ideas.

Theological liberalism was the religious system that blended with the late 19th century, new scientific worldview. The new science claimed all events could be explained by universal laws of cause and effect leaving no place for unique events or divine revelation. All data should be subjected to empirical tests for verification, it insisted. Liberalism was essentially, then, the movement which accommodated the Christian faith to anti-supernatural axioms.

The first step in accommodation was to qualify certain doctrines. Harvard dean Willard Sperry characterized liberalism as the “Yes, but” religion. It would say, “Yes, I believe in the deity of Christ, but the language of Chalcedon has become meaningless. We must redefine the doctrine so as to make it intelligible to us who live in the 20th century. Yes, I believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ, but by that I mean….” And on it would go.

While denying tenets basic to historic Christianity, liberalism believed itself to be helping preserve traditional Christianity by making it relevant for modern man. Kenneth Kantzer said religious liberalism was an attempt to update “an old and beloved religion so it could survive in the modern world.”

 Tenets of theological liberalism

During the first third of this century, liberalism clashed head-on with evangelicalism. We see why when we consider the basic tenets of liberal faith:

1. God’s character is one of pure benevolence—without wrath. All persons are his children, and sin separates no one from his love.

2. There is a divine spark in every man and woman. All persons, therefore, are good at heart and need only encouragement and nurture to allow their natural goodness to express itself.

3. Jesus Christ is Savior only in the sense that he is our perfect teacher and example. He was not divine in any unique sense. He was not born of a virgin, did not work miracles, and did not rise from the dead.

4. Just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively, not absolutely, neither does Christianity differ from other religions. It is just most prevalent among the world religions, all of which stem from the same basic source. Thus, missions should not aim to convert but rather to promote a cross-fertilization of ideas for mutual enrichment.

5. The Bible is not a divine record of revelation, but a human record of the religious experiences of a nation. Thus few doctrinal statements or creeds are essential to Christianity. The only things unchanging about the Christian message are its moral and ethical teachings.

 Negation of orthodoxy

An important characteristic of liberalism’s tenets has been that they are primarily negations—that is, statements of what liberalism disbelieves about traditional orthodoxy. Liberalism almost always defined itself over against historic Christianity.

Consider the points cited above as negations for a moment. All persons belong to God, with none to be lost. Thus, universalism is affirmed, the need for salvation denied. Men and women are basically good, not sinful (original sin denied). Jesus was only a man like other men and did not atone for our sins (Christ’s Virgin Birth, atonement, deity, and Resurrection denied). Christianity is not unique, but just a bit more developed than other religions (church’s missionary mandate denied). And the Bible is only a human record, not the revealed Word of God (authority of Scripture denied).

Impact on American Christianity

Theological liberalism was euphoric early in this century, for it believed it was riding the new intellectual wave of the future—and it was. It believed it could rid the Christian Church of its restrictive, outdated worldview and help prepare it for a new, golden era.

So as a strategy by well-meaning churchmen, liberalism set out to attract people to Christianity by accommodating the Gospel to the wisdom and worldview of secular, scientific “modern man.” It was determined to preserve and strengthen Christianity. Unfortunately, the impact was just the opposite as liberalism devastated the vitality of the Christian Church in America.

J.I. Packer, contemporary Anglican theologian and author, summarized liberalism’s disastrous impact upon evangelical faith, saying “Liberalism swept away entirely the gospel of the supernatural redemption of sinners… It reduced grace to nature, divine revelation to human reflection, faith in Christ to following his example, and receiving new life to turning over a new leaf.”

Liberalism was determined to rid Christianity of its supernatural elements (miracles, the Resurrection, etc.) which just might cause a thoughtful enquirer embarrassment. And it succeeded.

What concerns me about all this is how much it sounds like modern day theology. Students at our denominational colleges and seminaries often report encountering these same negations in their classes. And several years ago our denominational journal ran an article in which the author/theologian recommended we forget the troublesome aspects of Christianity such as Jesus’ miracles, deity and resurrection. The author suggested we focus only on the ethical teachings of Christianity, for they are what is most important. Alas, the present generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one.

Continued benevolence 

I am sometimes amazed at how patient the Church has been toward liberalism and its subsequent offspring. (I realize there have been times of hostility, such as during the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the 1920s and 1930s.) Of late, however, we seem to have become theological pacifists, no longer shocked or offended by theological distortions regardless of how bizarre they might be. We calmly, benevolently discuss liberalism or its latter-day derivatives as we would the Sermon on the Mount, not realizing that in liberalism, historic Christianity has been gutted.

And while they mean well, those who reduce the faith to make it more acceptable to the modern mind do the Church no service. Liberalism in its various shades is still a shrunken Christianity—the pathetic result of sinful men and women who, in their quests for intellectual autonomy, would make man the measure of all things. It is a halfway house from faith to unbelief, from Christianity to secularism.

One hears Dorothy Sayers imploring, “You do Christ no honor ‘by watering down his personality’ so he will not offend. If the mystery of the ‘divine drama’ of God enfleshed in Christ shocks and offends believers, ‘let them be offended.’”

As long as our society is free, we will have those who wish to improve upon Christianity by restructuring it. But let’s be sure we know when this is happening.

In the meantime, let us boldly and unapologetically commend God’s revealed Word to our unbelieving world. Let’s not cower from the scorn of intellectual sophisticates for whom the word of the cross is still a rebuke. Let’s be workers “who need not be ashamed,” proclaiming the Gospel with no disguises, revisions, or scholarly addendums. And let us have the witness of his Spirit so we may, indeed, be preaching “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2:4).

 James V. Heidinger II is president and publisher emeritus of Good News. This article originally appeared in the November/December 1990 issue of Good News.

45 years of vision for United Methodist renewal and reform

Your Life, God’s Gift

By Rob Renfroe

We Christians believe the most remarkable things. Incredible things, really.

We believe that God exists. That’s our most important belief. But it’s not the most surprising or incredible.

We believe that God came to earth. We believe that he came to earth as a human being. We believe that as a human being he died on a cross.

All of those beliefs are incredible.

But most incredible of all is that God came to earth, took on human flesh inside a woman’s womb, experienced hunger and thirst and pain, grew to be a man, and finally died on a cross because we matter to him.

You matter to him.

I matter to him.

Of everything we believe about God, that is certainly the most incredible.

“If the Milky Way galaxy were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup,” writes Philip Yancey in his book, Prayer: Does It Make A Difference. “Even now two Voyager spacecrafts are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For almost three decades they have been speeding away from earth, approaching a distance of nine billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighbor of our sun—in truth the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their minions in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.”

What did the Psalmist say? “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

The great Christian mind of G. K. Chesterton put it this way: “All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.”

The God who created just the part of the universe that we’re aware of must be incredible. His power, his wisdom, his imagination? This God must be absolutely, incredibly beyond our understanding.

And that God—the God who is big enough to speak all of that into existence and hold it in the palm of his hand—says you matter to him. He says I matter to him.

1. Your life matters.
That is a foundational Christian belief. In the person of Jesus Christ, God became an infant, was born in a Bethlehem stable, walked among us, went to a cross, and died the most painful and shameful death the Roman Empire could devise because my life matters to God, because your life matters to God.

If it weren’t true, it would be the height of human arrogance to make such a claim: that a God like the one who created the universe cares about creatures like us. But we believe that we matter to God because that’s what Christmas tells us.
Every one of us wants to believe that we matter.

In the movie Shall We Dance?, one of the characters, Beverly, wrongly believes that her husband is having an affair and she hires a private detective.

In one scene, she says, “All these promises that we make and we break, why is it that you think people get married?”

The detective responds, “Passion.”

Beverly shakes her head: “No.”

“Why, then?” the detective asks.

Beverly responds: “Because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on this planet. I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything: the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all the time, every day. You’re saying your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.”

Every one of us wants to live a life that matters. And every one of us wants to share our life with someone who matters to us.
And here’s the good news. Married or single, young or old, successful in the eyes of the world or not, your life has not gone unnoticed. It has not gone, and it will not go, unwitnessed.

There is one who has promised to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it, all the time. Because you matter to him.

He is the God of the universe who has made himself known in the person of Jesus Christ. And because he cares for you, because he loves you, your life matters.

2. It matters what you do with your life.
How you think about life makes a difference. And people view their lives in very different ways.

For some, life is a game to win. For others it’s a challenge to overcome. For others it’s a riddle to solve. I’ve known men and women who see life as a sentence to bear, or a struggle to survive.

Some are more positive. They see life as an adventure to enjoy.

And what you think about life will determine what you do with the life you have.

Here’s what I’ve concluded. Life is a trust. Life is a gift that God places in our care. We have been entrusted with this most precious thing called a human life. And like any gift, it can be wasted or squandered. Or it can be used for the purpose it was intended.

And whatever we choose to do with our lives, it matters. It really does matter.

Why? Because we matter to God. Your life is God’s gift to you. And all that you have and all that you are is part of the gift.

Your time, your education, your wealth, your influence, your mind, your creativity. It’s all a trust. And it matters what you do with all of that because your life matters to God.

It matters enough that when we made a mess of things, when we were unfaithful with the trust we had been given—the Bible calls it sin—God thought we mattered enough that he sent his son Jesus in the vulnerable form of a baby, knowing that he’d have to die to be our savior, so we could begin life over, forgiven and clean.

When it hits home that your life is a trust from God, that he sent his son to die on a Roman cross, to pay the debt you owed but couldn’t pay, so you could live an abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world to come; when that becomes real to you, you get it. You get the fact that your life matters and it matters what you do with your life.

When you stand in front of a cross and you realize that, as Jesus said about himself, he had come to seek and to save the lost—when you realize that you were the lost he came for, and that he came, knowing it would take his life, it hits home: my life matters. The choices I make. How I spend my time. What I do with my energy and my influence and my finances. What I put into my mind. Whether or not I live for self or for something greater. It really matters.

Your life matters because it matters to God. And because your life matters to God, it matters what you do with your life.

3. Every life matters.
All that I’ve said about you thus far is true of every other person who has lived or will ever live.

For example, one of the amazing facets of the birth of Christ is the wide range of persons it involves. It involves a Jewish priest named Zachariah, who was told that his son, John the Baptist, would prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming.

It involves wise men from the East. Though we don’t know much about them, they were wealthy intellectuals, and certainly not Jewish.

Of course it involves Joseph and Mary, part of what today we would call the working class.

And it also involved the shepherds. We think of shepherds and we think of salt of the earth types, caring and strong, close to the earth and probably close to God. But in the time of Jesus, that’s not how people thought of shepherds, and that’s not how they thought of themselves—just the opposite, in fact. Shepherds were assumed to be dishonest and immoral.

In the whole world, you would find no occupation more despised than that of the shepherd. To the list of those who could not give testimony in court, add robbers, extortionists, shepherds, and all who are suspect in money matters. Their testimony was invalid under all circumstances.

For shepherds, tax collectors, and revenue farmers, it was difficult to make repentance. Why? Because shepherds routinely led their flocks across land that belonged to others, eating grass and drinking water along the way.

In the arid climate of the Middle East, nothing was more precious. Whatever was eaten or drunk by the shepherd’s flock was considered stolen. And even if a shepherd wanted to make things right, he would find it practically impossible to remember everyone he had defrauded, much less make restitution.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were held in contempt and despised as roving, unscrupulous gypsies and thieves. And often that’s exactly what they were.

Why were these undeserving, marginalized shepherds pivotal characters in the birth of Christ? Why were they given an angelic invitation while the world slept to be the first to visit the newborn Christ? Because Christ came for everyone. And the Christian message is that everyone matters to God.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people’” (Luke 2:10).

All the people. Jews and Gentiles. The intellectual and the uneducated. The religious and the irreligious. The wealthy, the working class, and the poor. Those who have done everything right and those who have done everything wrong.

Christmas is for everyone because everyone matters to God. If that’s true, it leads to something else.

A. It matters how we treat others. 

“Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare,” writes C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory. “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities…that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.…No flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love….”

I love the line: “There are no ‘ordinary’ people.”

Everyone has a soul. Everyone is eternal. Everyone is on a journey that will lead them to God and to a destiny of beauty and splendor—or they’re on a journey that will lead them away from God and to a destiny that is hideous and dark.

And regardless of where they are or where they are heading at the moment, everyone matters to God. That means it matters how we treat others.

God loves everyone, none more than the other. But if you read the Bible and if you look at the life of Jesus, you will find that God has a special concern for those like the shepherds—the lost, the least, the looked-over, and the left out.

One of my favorite artists is Darden Smith. He wrote a song called “Broken Branches.” He lives in Austin, Texas, and was downtown near the bus station watching the street people who hung out there. One couple in particular got his attention. He wrote about them: “Two people stand on the corner / Counting up some bus fare change / Boy and a girl 26 or 7 / Clothes are all in disarray.”

He describes their appearance and the kind of life they must have lived to end up the way they are: “Back alleys, back seats / Park bench beds / Careless love.”

And then he asks: “Which way does the wind blow? / How blue is the sky? / Can you count the teardrops / Falling from a mother’s eyes? / Hey, that’s somebody’s daughter / That’s somebody’s son. / Somebody’s pride and joy / Turned out to be / A broken branch off the family tree.”

Remember, Darden tells us, before you dismiss a person, or judge them too harshly, or walk past them and pretend not to notice, that’s somebody’s daughter, that’s somebody’s son. Tears have been shed for him or her. Long ago there were hopes and dreams, pride and joy. Once they mattered to someone.

They still matter. Because they matter to God. And because they matter to God, they have to matter to us.

Not just street people and the homeless—that would be a good start—but everyone. Before we dismiss them, before we give up on them, before we decide they’re not worth what it takes to love them, before we walk past them and pretend not to see, remember: They matter to God.

There were once hopes and dreams, and maybe it’s not too late. Maybe we’re part of God’s dream for that person, and maybe he wants to use us to help them come to know his love and step into the beauty and splendor for which he created them.
People matter to God. And so it matters how we treat people.

B. Jesus Christ taught us how to live a life that matters.

There are many ways we can live, but I want to point out a few specific ways.

• We can live life without God. Many people do just this—even many of us in the church.

We may believe in God, but that’s as far as it goes. We live the same way we would if we didn’t believe in him. We run after the same things the world runs after: possessions, position, power, and pleasure.

We think we’re unique. We think we’ll do something that makes us stand out. We’re writing our own story. But it’s the same story that most men and women write for themselves, a self-centered story of a life that is as hollow as it is shallow.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) wrote about such lives in his poem There Breathes The Man. “High though his titles, proud his name / Boundless his wealth as wish can claim / Despite those titles, power, and pelf / The wretch, concentrated all in self / Living, shall forfeit fair renown / And, doubly dying, shall go down / To the vile dust, from whence he sprung / Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.”

There’s no honor in this kind of life. In fact there’s no life in this kind of life, certainly not the kind of life that matters.

• We can live with God as a part of our story. That’s the way most church folks live.

We live our lives and then somehow we figure out that there is a God and that we need God. And we ask God into our lives, accept Christ, trust him as Savior, go to church, give some money, and ask God to give us strength to live a better life.

But if we’re not careful, it’s still primarily our story. We write the script, we determine our goals, we stay in charge of the storyline of our lives. We’ve written God into the story. And God is there to give us advice and direction and strength. But our lives are still about our stories.

However, there is a better way.

• We can become a part of God’s story.

Some folks get it. They understand that true meaning comes when we become more concerned about God’s story than we are about our stories.

God’s story is a story of redemption. It’s a story that began when the first human beings broke fellowship with God. And God decided that he would make a way for us to come back to him.

It’s the great storyline of the universe. Since it began, kingdoms have come and gone. Empires have risen and fallen. And all of them claimed to be the story. They would last forever, they would bring hope and peace and life to humankind.

But they’re gone, and God’s story goes on.

It’s the story of God weeping over the broken branches that were once his family tree. And it’s the story of God acting in history to bring his children back to him through miracles, signs, and wonders, through priests and prophets and shepherds.

It’s Mary saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll join your story. May it be to me as you have said.”

It’s Joseph saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll be a part of your story, and take Mary as my wife.”

It’s the story of a baby in a manger.

It’s the story of a sacrifice on a cross.

It’s the story of a tomb that’s empty and a Savior that’s risen.

It’s the story of faithful men and women who, for 20 centuries, have determined that they exist to tell the story with the words they speak and, even more, through the lives they live.

It’s the men and women who have realized that life is about more than their little stories with or without God in them. It’s about joining God in the ongoing story of his redemptive work that brings life to wise men and shepherds and tax collectors and Jews and Gentiles and geologists and engineers and bankers and moms on welfare and deadbeat dads and people on the corner counting up bus fare change.

There are a hundred ways to be a part of God’s story. You’ll do it in different ways than I do it. You’ll do it in ways that I can’t.
What’s important is that we do it. Whether it’s teaching a Bible study or leading a small group, sharing cookies—and Christ—with your neighbors, or shoveling snow with an outreach ministry, building churches in South America or loving orphans or some other way, what’s important is that our lives join in God’s story, the big story of redemption.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.

45 years of vision for United Methodist renewal and reform

Why I Remain a United Methodist

By James V. Heidinger II

Each week, word comes of persons who have decided to leave The United Methodist Church and it’s happening too frequently across the church. 

Sadly, many who leave have been lifetime United Methodists. They have served, given, prayed, attended, struggled, endured, become discouraged, and finally given up. With heavy hearts they leave the church their parents and grandparents attended in order to seek a fellowship more compatible with their understanding of the Christian faith. 

With full awareness of the various controversies and conditions we face within the church, we would still encourage United Methodists to reject the urge to leave.

Ultimately, of course, that decision must be made by each person individually, in the context of his or her own personal struggle. We are also aware that the United Methodist Church may not be for everyone. But we are convinced there are compelling reasons for United Methodist evangelicals to remain and labor faithfully in their church.

First, though we acknowledge serious problems in our denomination, we must also recognize, in fairness, that in thousands of United Methodist churches, persons are finding Christ as Lord and Savior, are being grounded in his Word, and nourished in Christian fellowship. We fail to see the picture adequately unless we acknowledge that at altars of prayer, in counseling rooms, church school classes, Bible study groups, and in the pews, thousands of United Methodists are hearing the Word and responding to it in faith. Lest we be unfair in our analysis, we must admit that numerous United Methodist churches are doing many things right. As evangelicals within the denomination we have a responsibility to help strengthen, establish, and preserve the fruit of such ministries. When evangelicals leave, they weaken the Body in its nurturing function.

Second, to pastors the responsibility has been given to “Tend the flock of God that is your charge…” (I Peter 5:2). They are charged with the task of overseeing the flock, to be shepherds willing to lay down their lives for the flock. But when evangelical pastors, grounded in the Word of God, leave the denomination, it diminishes the general spiritual wellbeing of 9½ million United Methodists. In addition, upon leaving, many find a new set of problems in their new church and discover that all communions of Christ’s Church have their struggles and disagreements.

The Wesleyan contribution 

Third, the Wesleyan branch of Protestant theology has made a major contribution to Christendom. United Methodists are the largest group in a world Methodist community of over 50 million members. And it is the evangelicals within United Methodism who are excited about Christian doctrine and committed to the Wesleyan theological tradition. The great Wesleyan distinctives of prevenient grace, original sin, justification by faith, assurance, sanctification, and perfect love must not be relegated to the theological archives. We can be sure that today’s liberals will not maintain our rich Wesleyan tradition. Only the evangelicals will do that.

Fourth, the United Methodist Church remains a strategic opportunity for the proclamation of the Gospel and the renewal of the nation. Through a vast connectional system, this church reaches into villages, towns, and cities the length and breadth of the land. There are more local United Methodist churches today than there are post offices in America! We have a chance to be God’s vessel for spiritual and evangelical renewal all across the nation. If we think this is not possible, let us remember that “…with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

 Contending for the faith 

Fifth, we must be willing to contend for the faith. Jude wrote: “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We must “contend” for the faith without becoming contentious in spirit. In spite of being misunderstood or misrepresented, it is imperative that in our contending, we exhibit the love of God and the very fragrance of Christ. If we don’t, we find ourselves in the contradictory posture of contending for the Gospel which brings holiness of heart and life, but doing so in an unholy manner.

The early church soon and continually encountered doctrinal controversy. Paul confronted Peter when he compromised with the Judaizers. Paul did not just affirm that they had diversity. Rather, Paul “withstood” or “opposed” Peter “to his face” (Galatians 2:11). Peter, who walked with Christ, was literally rebuked by Paul, the apostle born out of season. Why? Because Paul knew that a vital theological principle was at stake. He would accept no deviation from the doctrine of justification by grace alone though faith. To do so would have destroyed the Gospel. What significant “contending” that was on behalf of the integrity of the Gospel!

Many pastors and lay persons have talked with me about how much they dislike controversy. I share those feelings. I would much rather focus on reconciliation. But I am alarmed that many choose to avoid controversy totally. To follow that course may mean never standing firmly and publicly for anything.

The major temptation for United Methodist clergy may be just that—to become so amiable that they stand firmly for nothing. To assume such a posture means one has settled down and become comfortable with some things that should arouse anger and opposition. The One who called us into ministry said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). It was the Prince of Peace who said our peace might be disturbed because of the Gospel.

United Methodist clergy would do well to remember periodically that we were asked when ordained if we would “…give faithful diligence duly to minister the doctrine of Christ, the Sacraments, and the discipline of the Church, and in the Spirit of Christ to defend the Church against all doctrine contrary to God’s Word?” We answered, “I will do so, by the help of the Lord.” Not to defend against contrary doctrine is an abdication of our responsibility as ordained ministers. Our charge is to “contend,” not leave.

Enabling bold leadership 

Finally, by remaining and bearing faithful witness, United Methodist evangelicals will encourage other leaders to be bold in their stand. A United Methodist bishop once remarked, “Some bishops are really evangelical, but to be very honest, we don’t want to risk the scorn of some fellow bishops who identify conservatism as not being intellectually respectable.” The specter of intimidation among evangelicals in the church is a sad reality. Many are silenced or compromised by such intimidation. Laity know of it too, so let none of us underestimate the power of intimidation. To feel the scorn of one’s colleagues can bring fear to even the strongest.

An encouraging sign is that an increasing number of laity, clergy, and church leaders are voicing their convictions. By remaining in the church and continuing to bear faithful witness, United Methodist evangelicals will give encouragement and support to United Methodist leaders to speak their mind boldly as they ought. Renewal within the United Methodist Church will continue as the Holy Spirit helps us restore church discipline and accountability within the community of believers. He will enable us to confront one another in love. Bonhoeffer’s words from Life Together have never been more timely: “Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine of life imperile the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured.”

Good News has been and remains committed to working for renewal within the United Methodist Church. We believe there are compelling reasons for such a commitment. We urge United Methodists to remain within the church, working and praying fervently for the Lord to do in and through us that which he wills.

James V. Heidinger II is president and publisher emeritus of Good News. This article originally appeared in the July/August 1982 issue of Good News. 


45 years of vision for United Methodist renewal and reform

Believe, Experience, Grow

By Rob Renfroe

The bad news, as you know, is that the United Methodist Church is declining. Membership, attendance, and giving have all decreased. In fact, membership in the United States is at its lowest point since The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church merged in 1968.

The good news is that many of our denominational leaders are now talking about the decline openly and honestly—and it seems they are committed to doing something about it. They are to be commended. Of course the question is: What is to be done?

Several groups have been commissioned to address the worldwide nature of The United Methodist Church, as well as restructuring the denomination. We are grateful for all who love our church enough to care about its vitality and its future. No doubt the global dimension of United Methodism needs to be re-thought and the structure of the church needs to be reformed to be effective in reaching a changing world for Christ.

John Wesley took the structure of the early Methodist movement seriously, as did Francis Asbury when he came to the American colonies. Because of their organizational genius, Methodism became more than a powerful but brief revival. It became an enduring force for spiritual renewal and social holiness on both sides of the Atlantic.

Believing that churches should grow and developing criteria by which congregations and pastors can be held accountable is not only justifiable—it’s important. Too much emphasis can be placed on numbers. But in the 8,200-member congregation I serve, we look at numbers all the time. Our senior pastor Ed Robb often says, “We count people because people count.” And we count how many people join every year; how many attend church, Sunday school, and small groups; how many are going on mission trips and serving the poor in our own community; and how many give regularly to God’s work, because all of those markers provide some indication of whether people are growing in their faith.

Structural change—certainly necessary. Markers to determine growth—important. But the United Methodist Church and its future will not be transformed by either.

What is required for United Methodism to become a powerful movement of God again cannot be engineered by task forces, boards and agencies, or denominational leaders. They can remove some barriers to growth and they can hold local churches accountable for growth. But they cannot produce the movement of God that will produce real growth and they cannot create the dynamic spiritual leaders who will lead local congregations in effective ministry.

The United Methodist Church will never see dynamic growth again until our pastors and our congregations:

1. Believe that people are lost without a saving faith in Jesus Christ. John Wesley instructed his preachers that they had nothing to do but to save souls. Of course, he was committed to helping the poor and transforming his culture. But his primary task for his preachers was to bring people to faith in Christ so that their souls could be saved from judgment and hell. I once sat in a meeting of 30 UM preachers who were asked why we need to take the gospel to people outside the church. Many answers were given but they all had a common theme—so people can have a better, more meaningful life. Not one said because their sins have separated them from a holy God and unless they come to faith in Christ they will spend eternity apart from his love. When the pastors believe that the main reason people need Christ is a quality of life issue—it does not create the passion or the urgency found in Wesley’s early preachers who believed that eternal souls were at stake.

2. Experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The work of the church is spiritual work. In fact, it is spiritual warfare. It will not be won in the flesh, no matter how well-meaning or how well-structured or how well-measured we are. When Jesus began his public ministry, in Luke chapter 4, he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me….” He did not begin his ministry until he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, after his resurrection he told his disciples not to begin their ministry until the Holy Spirit had come upon them and they had received his power (Acts 1:8). God is free to anoint his preachers and his churches with the Spirit whenever he chooses. But the pattern we see in Scripture is that the power of the Holy Spirit most often comes when persons have committed themselves to times of prayer, worship, and fasting. Personal revival among our pastors, I believe, will be required before we see a revival in the true effectiveness of the church.

3. Increase their vision for ministry. Some of us by our inherent nature are more visionary than others. But all of us can become more visionary than we are at present. How do we do this? First and foremost, we get our eyes off ourselves and spend time contemplating a God who is sovereign, omnipotent, and passionate about lost people. He is a God who can overcome every obstacle we face and inadequacy we possess. Second, we must spend time looking at a world that is lost. When local congregations focus on themselves and their needs and their problems, they die. When they look at the world God loves and Christ died for, when they care about the lost and the hurting, and when they believe that others are more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3), their hearts and their vision are enlarged. And as a result, their mission increases in impact and effectiveness.

What can our leaders do to help the United Methodist Church grow? Yes, address structural concerns and the issue of accountability. But every bit as important, if not more so, they need to speak to us as if people without Christ are lost and souls matter; call us to prayer and worship and fasting—that we might experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit; use the resources of the church to bring us in contact with the most effective pastors in the country, men and women who are passionate visionaries whose love for God and the lost is inspiring and infectious.

Our leaders also need to pray for us. I’m sure they do already. But they need to pray for our pastors and our churches. This battle for an effective United Methodist Church that reaches the lost and impacts our culture will not be won by power or might, but by his Spirit.

Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.

45 years of vision for United Methodist renewal and reform

What We Believe: The Junaluska Affirmation 

The Junaluska Affirmation 

The Board of Directors of Good News adopted the following theological statement during a gathering at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, in October 1975.


In a time of theological pluralism, Good News and other evangelicals within United Methodism have thought it necessary to reaffirm the historic faith of the Church. Our theological understanding of this faith has been expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and in John Wesley’s standard Sermons and the Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. We affirm in their entirety the validity and integrity of these expressions of Scriptural truth, and recognize them as the doctrinal standards of our denomination.

We also recognize that our situation calls for a contemporary restatement of these truths. The merging of two great traditions, the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist, with their two authentic witnesses to the historic faith, The Confession of Faith and The Articles of Religion, gives further occasion for such a statement. Moreover, we recognize the mandate which the doctrinal statement of the 1972 General Conference has placed upon “all its members to accept the challenge of responsible theological reflection.”

Consequently, we offer to The United Methodist Church this theological affirmation of Scriptural Christianity.

The Holy Trinity

Scriptural Christianity affirms the existence of the one Eternal God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three equal but distinct Persons, mysteriously united in the Godhead which the Church historically has described as the Holy Trinity.

God the Father

Scriptural Christianity affirms that the first Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, is the Eternal One and reigns supremely. He has provided a covenant through which His creatures can be redeemed and through which His creation will be liberated from all evil and brought to final righteousness at the end of the age.

God the Son

Scriptural Christianity affirms that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Eternal Son, became incarnate as Mary’s virgin-born Child, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. In His unique Person, He revealed to us both the fullness of deity and the fullness of humanity. By His life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension He provided the only way of salvation. His sacrifice on the cross once and for all was to reconcile the Holy God and sinners, thus providing the only way of access to the Father. Now He intercedes as High Priest before the Father, awaiting the day when He will return to judge every person, living and dead, and to consummate His Kingdom.

God the Holy Spirit

Scriptural Christianity affirms that the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was active from the beginning in creation, revelation, and redemption. It was through His anointing that prophets received the Word of God, priests became intermediaries between God and His people, and kings were given ruling authority. The Spirit’s presence and power, measured in the Old Testament, were found without measure in Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed. The Spirit convicts and woos the lost, gives new birth to the penitent, and abides in the believer, perfecting holiness and empowering the Church to carry out Christ’s mission in the world. He came to indwell His Church at Pentecost, enabling believers to yield fruit and endowing them with spiritual gifts according to His will. He bears witness to Christ and guides God’s people into His truth. He inspired the Holy Scriptures, God’s written Word, and continues to illuminate His people concerning His will and truth. His guidance is always in harmony with Christ and the truth as given in the Holy Scriptures


Scriptural Christianity affirms that man and woman are fashioned in the image of God and are different from all of God’s other creatures. God intends that we should glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Since the Fall of Adam the corruption of sin has pervaded every person and extended into social relationships, societal systems, and all creation. This corruption is so pervasive that we are not capable of positive responses to God’s offer of Redemption, except by the prevenient, or preparing, grace of God. Only through the justifying, regenerating and sanctifying work of the Triune God can we be saved from the corruption of sin, become increasingly conformed to the image of Christ, and restored to the relationships which God has intended for us.

The Holy Scriptures

Scriptural Christianity affirm as the only written Word of God the Old and New Testaments. These Holy Scriptures contain all that is necessary for our knowledge of God’s holy and sovereign will, of Jesus Christ the only Redeemer, of our salvation, and of our growth in grace. They are to be received through the Holy Spirit as the guide and final authority for the faith and conduct of individuals and the doctrines and life of the church. Whatever is not clearly revealed in, or plainly established as truth by, the Holy Scriptures cannot be required as an article of faith nor be taught as essential to salvation. Anything contrary to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures is contrary to the purposes of God and must, therefore, be opposed. The authority of Scripture derives from the fact that God, through His Spirit, inspired the authors, causing them to perceive God’s truth and record it with accuracy. It is evident that the Holy Scriptures have been preserved during the long process of transmission through copyists and translators, and we attribute such accurate preservation to the work of the Holy Spirit. These Scriptures are supremely authoritative for the Church’s teaching, preaching, witness, identifying error, collecting the erring, and training believers for ministry in and through the Church.


Scriptural Christianity affirms that God offers salvation to a sinful humanity and a lost world through Jesus Christ. By His death on the cross the sinless Son propitiated the holy wrath of the Father, a righteous anger occasioned by sin. By His resurrection from the dead, the glorified Son raises us to newness of life. When we appropriate by faith God’s atoning work in Jesus Christ we are forgiven, justified, regenerated by His Holy Spirit, and adopted into the family of God. By His grace He sanctifies His children, purifying their hearts by faith, renewing them in the image of God, and enabling them to love God and neighbor with whole heart. The fullness of God’s great salvation will come with the return of Christ. This cosmic event will signal the resurrection of the saved to eternal life and the lost to eternal damnation, the liberation of creation from the Adamic curse, God’s final victory over every power and dominion, and the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth.

The Church

Scriptural Christianity affirms that the Church of Jesus Christ is the community of all true believers under His sovereign Lordship. This Church, the Body of Christ, is one because it shares one Lord, one faith, one baptism. It is holy because it belongs to God and is set apart for His purposes in the world. It is apostolic because it partakes of the authority granted to the apostles by Christ Himself. It is universal because it includes all believers, both living and dead, in every nation, regardless of denominational affiliation. Its authenticity is to be found wherever the pure Word of God is preached and taught; wherever the Sacrament of Baptism and Holy Communion are celebrated in obedience to Christ’s command; wherever the gifts of the Holy Spirit upbuild the body and bring spiritual growth; wherever the Spirit of God creates a loving, caring fellowship, and a faithfulness in witness and service to the world; and wherever discipline is administered with love under the guidance of the Word of God. The Church, as the Bride of Christ, will ultimately be joined with her Lord in triumphant glory.


Scriptural Christianity affirms that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. These works are the loving expressions of gratitude by the believer for the new life received in Christ. They do not earn one’s salvation nor are they a substitute for God’s work of redemption. Rather, they are the result of regeneration and are manifest in the believer as evidence of a living faith.

God has called us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him. In the Scriptures are found the standards and principles that guide the believer in this walk. These ethical imperatives, willingly accepted by the believer, enable us to be a part of God’s purposes in the world. Moreover, in this we are called to an obedience that does not stop short of our willingness to suffer for righteousness’ sake, even unto death.

Our life in Christ includes an unstinting devotion to deeds of kindness and mercy and a wholehearted participation in collective efforts to alleviate need and suffering. The believer will work for honesty, justice and equity in human affairs; all of which witness to inherent rights and a basic dignity common to all persons created in the image of God. Such contemporary issues as racism, housing, welfare, education, Marxism, Capitalism, hunger, crime, sexism, family relationships, aging, sexuality, drugs and alcohol, abortion, leisure, pornography, and related issues call for prayerful consideration, thoughtful analysis, and appropriate action from Christians, and must always be a matter of concern to the Church. Thus, we remember that faith without works is dead.

© 1975 Forum for Scriptural Christianity Within The United Methodist Church (Good News.) Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this document without alteration, providing credit is given to copyright holder.

The Junaluska Affirmation was developed from the work of a Good News-appointed Theology and Doctrine Task Force chaired by the Rev. Dr. Paul A. Mickey, who was then Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. Additional task force members included: the Rev. Riley Case (retired Indiana Annual Conference clergy); the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II (retired President and Publisher of Good News); the late Rev. Dr. Charles V. Keysor (Founding Editor of Good News); the Rev. Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw (retired President of Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky); Mr. Lawrence Souder (retired layman from Centerville, Ohio); the late Rev. Dr. Frank B. Stanger (former President of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky); and initially, the Rev. Dr. Bob Stamps, who was then Chaplain at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.