Navigating United Methodist Renewal

By Steve Beard

July 2009

Many years ago, I became a rather unlikely fan of the sailing memoirs of the late William F. Buckley Jr. In his book “Airborne,” the dazzling wordsmith chronicled a 4,400 mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean with his son and five friends. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is Chapter 9 where he endeavors to explain the painstaking practice of using a sextant in the middle of the ocean to read the heavens and thereby figure out one’s coordinates. Depending on the measurement, the time of day, a handy almanac specializing in this kind of celestial navigation, and tons of mathematical calculations, one can ascertain ones place in the world utilizing this antiquated instrument. While he admitted that this kind of calculation was fairly tricky business, Buckley seemed to relish the challenge.

In “Racing Through Paradise,” written 10 years later, Buckley wrote about his 4,000 mile adventure across the Pacific Ocean. This time, Chapter 12 was titled The Magic of GPS. Of course, this is where he celebrated the advent of the technological wonder of the Global Positioning System. “All the travelers in the world will smile when GPS is finally, completely, here, whether we travel on the ocean, or on land, or in the air,” Buckley wrote. “It would be fine to come up with a spiritual counterpart to the GPS, but that fix will remain inscrutable, while precious little else any longer is.”

His point was right on target. Even in a high tech culture that puts GPS in the family minivan, calculating the location and direction of the human soul is an entirely different enterprise — one requiring a spiritual compass, a theological sense of true north, and a set of charts designed for discipleship. The same could be said for leading a ministry like Good News. I thought of Buckley’s comment as we put together this issue of the magazine.

James V. Heidinger II and I have edited and published 111 issues of Good News together. Having worked side by side with him for more than 18 years, I will be the first to attest that Jim is the real deal — a devoted Christian, husband, father, and Sunday school teacher.

Over the years, we have weathered a lot of storms. In the face of controversy and acrimonious denominational squabbles, Jim never betrayed his core convictions, never violated his Christian conscience, and never gave up hope that spiritual renewal and reform could come to United Methodism.

Having recently reread all of Jim’s editorials, I chose three that best captured the heart and soul of Good News. “Remaining United Methodist” articulates our belief in working within the denomination for renewal and reform, “The legacy of Theological Liberalism” examines the negation of orthodoxy within certain quarters of United Methodism, and “The Road to Emmaus” expounds upon our belief that transformation and new life is found in Jesus Christ.

Good News believes that the spiritual integrity of United Methodism is worth defending. In his reform and renewal work, Jim always strove to be motivated by his love of Christ and the Church rather than by frustration or anger. When facing a fiery theological or ethical debate, he steadfastly contended for the faith without becoming contentious.

The poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. made a fitting observation: “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it — but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

Recognizing that neither drifting nor lying at anchor are options, we sail forward with a smooth transition from one first-class captain to another. The compass and helm of Good News has been handed over to the Rev. Rob Renfroe. As you will realize from his article on page 10, he represents a growing, vibrant brand of United Methodism that believes wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, the power of evangelism and missions, and the integrity of Wesleyan theology.

Rob Renfroe knows that you can’t just punch a GPS device and figure out the coordinates of United Methodist renewal. The procedure takes prayer, counsel, and a keen sense of discernment — the kind of old-fashioned work done with a sextant. With the spirit of a sailor, he knows that looking upward is the best way to move forward.

Welcome aboard, Rob.

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. Photo by Mike Bird (Pexels). 


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