The Risk of Renewal

The Risk of Renewal

By Charles W. Keysor, Founding editor of Good News

The Risk of Renewal

By Riley B. Case-

When Charles Keysor wrote his article “Methodism’s Silent Minority” in the Christian Advocate in 1966, an article that basically launched the Good News movement, he spoke about numbers of Methodists who affirmed historic Methodism and were faithful and active in their local churches but were basically unrecognized and unappreciated in the larger councils of the church. Keysor referred to these orthodox believers as a “silent minority.” He suggested their numbers were larger than what church leaders had usually assumed.

Keysor’s analysis at the time was in contrast to liberal observers who insisted that “fundamentalism” (a pejorative label used to refer to all evangelicals) was a dying ideology with no future in the Methodist Church, or anywhere else for that matter. Keysor quoted his own professor at Garrett Seminary, Paul Hessert, who foresaw a continued eclipse of orthodox influence within the seminary-trained Methodist ministry, but who believed that such a perspective might continue among supply pastors and pockets of lay people.

Surprise! Something happened on the way to extinction. According to the 2003 book, United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call, produced by a group called Information Project for United Methodists, and introduced with great fanfare to the press and to the Council of Bishops, Methodism is in danger of being “taken over” by this very “silent minority” Keysor spoke about.

In what appears to be a near-state of panic, The Information Project charges that “powerful,” “well-organized and funded” conservative renewal groups (the book refuses to refer to them as “evangelicals”) would take the church to a place where “diversity and tolerance and breadth of spirit are in short supply.” The “progressive” bishops, seminary professors, and board and agency staff people who dominate the Information Project characterize the renewal groups as those who “look backwards to times when knowledge was feared, questioning was suppressed, and imagination was squelched.”

The book is a call to action. It argues that the renewal groups and the point of view they represent are to be unmasked and resisted, presumably so that United Methodism can be kept pure for “diversity and tolerance.” Tolerance, in this case, is translated to mean anything that counters the traditional orthodox vision for Christian theology, marriage, and sexuality.

One reads United Methodism @ Risk with sadness. How is it that evangelicals have been so long in the UM Church and yet are so clearly misrepresented and misunderstood? How did evangelicals go from being people whose faith was criticized at one time for being “privatistic,” and “individualistic,” to persons who are really motivated by a certain social and political agenda? When did evangelicals move from being people who simply wanted to be left alone to do ministry in a United Methodist tradition, to being persons who are power hungry and want to take over the church?

The book is an attack on evangelical renewal groups — but it is more. It is an attack on the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church and upon many of the most loyal of the church’s members. The alarm is sounded not against people in power who oversaw the monumental decline of membership within the last several decades, but upon the people who believe that the people who are in power (bishops, seminaries, and boards and agencies) are not serving them well.

Consider the typical renewal group supporter: here is a couple in their sixties who have been loyal United Methodist all their lives. They have held most of the church offices; they have taught Sunday school; they have tithed. They have lived through a succession of pastors, some good, and some, while sincere, who didn’t believe much. They have agonized over Sunday school material that they didn’t understand. They have wondered why their local church struggles while the nearby Baptist church thrives.

Our United Methodist couple is finding that a lot of their spiritual nurture is coming not from their church but from a neighborhood Bible study. They struggle on how to answer their friends who show them newspaper clippings of a United Methodist bishop who publicly scorns the church’s affirmation that Christ did truly rise from the dead.

Our couple’s own children, away from home, are not affiliating with a United Methodist church. One daughter, who claims she never heard the gospel in her home church, was converted in college through Inter-Varsity, and is active in an independent church. A son, after marriage, attended a United Methodist church in the city until he and his wife were attracted to a Nazarene church with an active children’s program.

The wife of our couple has been active in United Methodist Women, and enjoys the company of other women in the group, but finds the programs boring. The man has sat through numbers of charge conferences where a district superintendent talks grandly about “the connection” and the importance of paying apportionments. On Mission Emphasis week the “missionary” who speaks at their church is really a person who did a two-week volunteer mission trip to work on a church parsonage in another state. There was no mention of Jesus in the presentation.

Our couple has identified with Good News or the Confessing Movement or Aldersgate Renewal Ministries because they are offer a message of hope. They understand that each ministry is working for change in its own unique way. Our couple may not understand everything implied in the words “doctrinal integrity” but they are aware of the difference between preachers who preach on the necessity of being born again, and those who offer vague homilies on “hope” or “love.” They respond to a Mission Society missionary [now TMS Global] who is working on new church starts in Bolivia.

This couple, however, along with 90 percent of all other United Methodists, would fall in the category of what Bishop Joseph Sprague has labeled “Christo-centric exclusivism that ipso facto prepares the soil of stiff-necked, exclusivistic arrogance.” The people who support the evangelical renewals groups are not “extremists,” nor could they be considered “right-wing,” if one were to understand these words in the context of the whole of Protestantism in America (and around the world, for that matter).

A profile of the supporters of the several evangelical renewal groups shows them to be among the most loyal and faithful United Methodists in their local churches. They pay their apportionments and pray for their bishops. Many claim if it were not for one or several of the renewal groups they would no longer be United Methodist. Neither they, nor the groups they support, wish to “take over” the denomination for a very simple reason. They understand the essence of the denomination to be the local church, not the seminaries, nor the boards and agencies, nor the episcopacy. They also understand that the purpose of the church is to save souls and nurture disciples, not to make public declarations about government public policy.

This is not to say, however, that renewal group supporters, and perhaps the vast majority of United Methodists, are content that their own convictions are often undermined by the seminaries, their own understandings of the Bible’s view on celibacy and faithfulness are continually being challenged, and that their “leaders” claim to represent them while denouncing a fellow United Methodist who is President of the United States.

United Methodism is indeed at risk. It is in the midst of a 100-year decline. According to Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, in their book, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (University of California Press, 2000) the number of Methodist adherents in America has decreased from 84 of every 1,000 Americans in 1890 to 36 in 1990. The years of the decline correspond exactly to the years that liberalism and institutionalism have dominated Methodism.

From 1970 to 2003, membership of the United Methodist Women has declined by 54 percent. One would think, whether liberal or evangelical, that such statistics would call for some sort of reform, or at least some self-examination. Something clearly in not going well. Yet when the renewal groups call for reform of the Women’s Division it is absurdly interpreted as an attack on women. Women’s ministries are alive and well in numbers of churches, but are criticized as being “unofficial” because they do not have the blessing of the Women’s Division (United Methodist Women).

In their sociological analysis Stark and Finke distinguish between “low tension” and “high tension” churches. Low tension churches, where few demands are made (read “tolerance,” “diversity,” and “breadth of spirit”) are becoming increasingly irrelevant and are dying in America. High tension churches, with an emphasis on moral and doctrinal values, are growing. Stark and Finke argue that it seems impossible that once a group becomes low tension and starts down the road to decline, it can ever be reclaimed. There may be an exception, however, in United Methodism. If there is it will be because of groups like Good News and the Confessing Movement. They have done studies in several conferences to substantiate statistically what many of us already know instinctively, namely, that liberal churches are dying and evangelical churches are growing.

Stark and Finke are doing sociological work in a secular setting. If the Information Project really wants “dialogue” perhaps a discussion of the Stark and Finke book would be a good place to begin. 

Riley B. Case is the author of Evangelical & Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon). He is a retired United Methodist clergy person from the Indiana Annual Conference, the associate director of the Confessing Movement, and a lifetime member of the Good News Board of Directors. This adapted essay originally appeared in the September/ October 2003 issue of Good News.

Archive: Shaping our Theological Core

Archive: Shaping our Theological Core

Archive: Shaping our Theological Core

Ed Robb

Evangelist Ed Robb preached a sermon on seminary education that sparked a controversial debate.

It was the fiery speech about seminary education given by Dr. Ed Robb Jr., an outspoken evangelist from Texas, that caught the attention and ire of Dr. Albert Outler, preeminent Wesleyan scholar at Perkins School of Theology. Through the eventual friendship of these two unique and legendary figures within United Methodism, nearly 150 Wesleyan scholars committed to the historic faith have since earned PhDs or ThDs through A Foundation for Theological Education (AFTE).

The foundation affirms the divine inspiration and ultimate authority of the Scriptures in matters of faith and practice; incarnation of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully human; necessity of conversion as a result of repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; the church is of God and is the body of Christ in the world; and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are means of grace.

During the 1970s, Good News focused upon seminary education, launching Catalyst (now published by AFTE), funding worldwide missions, and engaging “theological pluralism” with the “Junaluska Affirmation,” an orthodox statement on Wesleyan theology. Good News requested time before the Association of Deans and Presidents of United Methodist Seminaries to present its concerns in more detail. This request was denied. However, the association did indicate receptivity to visits by seminary students, faculty, and administration.

As a result, representatives from Good News were able to have on-campus discussions with representatives of ten official United Methodist seminaries. Two seminaries turned down the request for dialogue.

As Good News celebrates 50 years of ministry within The United Methodist Church, we share the following report of Ed Robb’s speech and the creation of the Junaluska Affirmation by Dr. Riley B. Case, author of Evangelical & Methodist: A Popular History, as a testimony to the faithfulness of men and women who sacrificially prayed for and contributed to the cause of renewing United Methodism.

–Good News

By Riley B. Case

The spirit at the 1975 Good News Convocation at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, was exhilarating, but it was intended to be more than just an evangelical family reunion. Good News was in the business of renewal, and The United Methodist Church was experiencing very little renewal. The reports were discouraging:

• In the church’s new structure, power was concentrated in the General Board of Global Ministries, which, under domination of the Women’s Division, had declared itself on behalf of liberation theology. The Commission on Social Concerns in the former Methodist structure, controlled by persons many considered social extremists, had been elevated to the status of a board, while evangelism and education had been diminished by being subsumed as divisions under the Board of Discipleship. Youth ministry was disintegrating; curriculum sales were plummeting.

• The Church’s new doctrinal statement was serving further to undermine the Church’s historic doctrinal heritage. The seminaries were still not open to evangelical presence.

• The former Evangelical United Brethren were finding that the merger was not a marriage of equals, but a corporate takeover. EUB practices and beliefs, such as freedom of conscience in matters of baptism and infant dedication, contrary to reassurances given before merger, were being scuttled by the new Church.

These discouraging developments were being reflected in dramatic reversals in membership, worship attendance, and Sunday school enrollment.

Dr. Ed Robb’s keynote address at the 1975 convocation spoke to the evangelical discontent with the seminaries. The presentation, entitled “The Crisis of Theological Education in The United Methodist Church,” linked the problems of the Church to leadership and the problem of leadership to the seminaries: “The question is, who or what is responsible for this weak leadership. I am convinced that our seminaries bear a major portion of the responsibility. If we have a sick church it is largely because we have sick seminaries.”

Among the litany of failings and shortcomings linked to the seminaries, Robb further charged: “I know of no UM seminary where the historic Wesleyan Biblical perspective is presented seriously, even as an option.”

Robb asked (1) that two seminaries be entrusted to evangelical boards of trustees and continue as United Methodist seminaries; (2) that in the spirit of inclusiveness, every United Methodist seminary invite competent evangelicals to join the faculties; and (3) that greater support be given to established evangelical seminaries, especially those in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.

The seminaries, and the Church’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry, if they even were aware of the Good News critique, were not inclined to treat the Robb challenge with any seriousness. No established “leaders” in the Church would ever even consider allowing evangelicals to operate a United Methodist-related seminary, and no seminary would allow such a radical shift in focus. And, these “leaders” would argue, the seminaries were already inclusive and diverse. Furthermore, there was absolutely no interest in  supporting non-United Methodist schools, especially evangelical schools.

From the perspective of the institutional church and the seminaries, Good News was a reactionary throwback to a dead past. Though the convocation and Robb’s address were well reported, especially by The United Methodist Reporter, there was little denominational response to the events of the convocation – with the exception of Albert Outler, professor of Historical Theology at Perkins School of Theology. Dr. Outler did note the address and was offended by the Robb charges, especially the accusation that there was no seminary where the Wesleyan biblical perspective was treated seriously, even as an option.

Outler, too, was longing for United Methodist renewal. In many respects, Outler was “Mr. United Methodist” of the 1970s. He had chaired the Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards for The United Methodist Church. He had lectured bishops and represented the Church in ecumenical councils. In his lectures at the Congress on Evangelism in New Orleans in 1971, Outler recognized a growing evangelical renaissance, the sterility of liberalism, and sought to call the Church to an authentic Wesleyan theology.

In the lectures, however, Outler was not pleased with much of evangelicalism, especially with that offered by Good News: “[T]hese fine old words [‘evangelical,’ ‘evangel’] have … generated many a distorted image in many modern minds – abrasive zealots flinging their Bibles about like missiles, men (and sometimes women!) with a flat-earth theology, a monophysite  Christology, a montanist ecclesiology and a psychological profile suggestive of hysteria.”

It is no wonder Outler reacted strongly to Robb’s address. In a letter to The United Methodist Reporter, Outler expressed his unhappiness: “I was … downright shocked by one of the quotations. It is sad that a well-meaning man should lodge a blanket indictment against the entire lot of United Methodist theological schools in terms so unjust that they are bound to wreck incalculable damage to the cause of theological education in the UMC – which is, as we all know, in grave enough peril already ….

“What shocked me, though, was Dr. Robb’s reported declaration: ‘I know of no United Methodist seminary where the historic Wesleyan biblical perspective is presented seriously, even as an option.’ The point, of course, is that, since Dr. Robb knows of Perkins, he has said, by strict logical entail, that the historic Wesleyan biblical perspective is not presented seriously at Perkins, ‘even as an option.’

“Now, either the phrase ‘historic Wesleyan biblical perspective’ means something that neither I nor other Wesley scholars – here and elsewhere – understand or else this accusation is simply false …. I can think of many ways in which a much needed, candid debate about Methodist theological education could have been stimulated and helped ahead; Mr. Robb’s way resembles none of them.”

Even Spurgeon Dunnam, editor of The United Methodist Reporter, was taken aback by the forcefulness of the Outler letter and contacted Robb for a response. Robb wrote a response but believed more was needed. Robb called Outler and asked if he might come to see him. Outler, according to Robb, had to think about that request for awhile before he gave grudging consent. And so it was that Ed Robb and Paul Morrell, Good News board member and pastor of Tyler Street Church in Dallas, made their call on Outler at Perkins School of Theology.


Dr. Albert Outler of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas.

Outler gave his version of the visit in an article printed in The Christian Century: “It was … downright disconcerting to have Dr. Robb and some of his friends show up in my study one day with an openhearted challenge to help them do something more constructive than cry havoc. Needless to say, I’ve always believed in the surprises of the Spirit; it’s just that they continue to surprise me whenever they occur!

“Here, obviously, was a heaven-sent opportunity not only for a reconciliation but also for a productive alliance in place of what had been an unproductive joust. Moreover, as we explored our problems, some unexpected items of agreement began to emerge.”

Thus began an unlikely friendship and alliance that would eventually lead to the establishment of A Foundation for Theological Education (AFTE). Outler’s friends in the academic world were willing to trust Robb because of Outler. Robb’s friends in the evangelical world were willing to trust Outler because of Robb.

Outler would later comment that AFTE was the most satisfying achievement of his life. In his own affirmation of Outler, Robb and the AFTE board, and not Perkins or Southern Methodist University, initiated the campaign to raise $1 million to endow the Albert Outler Chair of Wesley Studies at the seminary. The money was raised and the chair established.

Outler’s pluralism 

Albert Outler, however, was not universally appreciated by Good News, primarily because of the 1972 doctrinal statement affirming “theological pluralism.” In some circles it was also known as the “Outler Statement.”

Good News had, from its inception, believed that the recovery of classical Wesleyan doctrine was the key to denominational renewal. Charles Keysor charged that the feature of “doctrinal pluralism” meant that “anybody was free to believe anything – with no negative limits.”

The great Methodist middle, however, was at best ambivalent, and in some cases downright hostile, to the suggestion that renewal in the Church was directly linked with a recommitment to historic doctrine. The arguments depreciating doctrine took several forms:

• Methodism was never a confessional church;
• Wesley had said, “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand,” suggesting that Methodism was primarily a religion of experience;
• the way a Christian lives is more important than what a Christian believes;
• doctrine divides; and
• the emphasis on correct belief is judgmental and unloving.

A time of turmoil in politics, moral traditions, and social customs, the 1960s also brought with it a time of theological confusion: existentialism, personalism, fundamentalism, Death of God theology, process theology, and liberation theologies.

With the merger of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church in 1968, the matter of stated doctrine had to be faced. Whether or not anybody believed in them – or even knew they existed – doctrinal statements had been carried in every Discipline of all the predecessor denominations from the first Methodist conference in 1784. What was now to be done with these statements, specifically the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the EUB Church?

The task was handed to a commission headed by Outler and board and agency representatives, several prominent pastors and laypersons, and a heavy preponderance of seminary professors, including outspoken liberals.

Good News, though still a fledgling movement when the commission was established, asked to participate in the discussions. There was not even a response to the letters that asked for Good News involvement. For his part, Outler was devoted to the commission and its task. He was also, perhaps more than any other person, aware of the problems the commission faced:

• Both churches, the Methodist and the EUB, had stated doctrinal standards, even though there was some discussion as to what precisely the standards were. For Methodists, the standards started with the Articles of Religion. But did they include Wesley’s sermons and his Notes Upon the New Testament?

• The doctrinal standards had been widely ignored, and even scorned, for a number of years. They were almost never referred to in Methodist seminaries.

• The scuttling of the EUB and Methodist statements, or the combining of the two, even if desirable, would probably not be possible, because of the restrictive clause in the constitution of the Methodist Discipline that stated: “The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.”

The Outler solution was ingenious. Do not tamper with the restrictive clause (this would be a long, complicated, unproductive, and probably unsuccessful constitutional engagement), but write an additional statement that would interpret the doctrinal standards, placing them in historical perspective, and letting them inform the present task of theologizing even as they did not inhibit that task. Then call the Church to a new challenge to theologize and, in the process, to restate the doctrinal tradition while all the time making doctrine relevant for the present time.

The emphasis of the new statement would not be on content, that is, on the actual teachings of Methodism and Christian faith, but on process, that is, how the Church went about determining what it believed: “In this task of reappraising and applying the gospel, theological pluralism should be recognized as a principle.”

The 1972 General Conference approved the report of the Doctrinal Commission 925-17 without amendment and without discussion. No Good News voice, nor any evangelical voice for that matter, nor any voice from any perspective, even raised a question about the report or the ideas therein. After accepting the report that asserted that The United Methodist Church was not a creedal or confessional church and that pluralism was the guiding principle that would inform future doctrinal discussions, the conference moved immediately to “the social creed,” and social principles in an extended floor debate that lasted six hours. During that time, the thought that diversity or pluralism might also apply to the Church’s social stances was not expressed even once.

The Good News board was devastated by the lopsided approval of the doctrinal commission’s report and the fact that it was received so nonchalantly.

The summer 1972 issue of Good News carried a twelve-page report on General Conference written by Chuck Keysor. Five of the pages were devoted to the doctrinal statement. Quoting reports in Engage magazine and the Texas Methodist, he also argued that the statement was a revocation and alteration of the present doctrinal standards and was thus in violation of the restrictive rule in the Discipline.

Dr. Outler was scandalized by the Good News evaluation. In true Outler-style, he wrote Keysor: “Your surprisingly harsh and reckless comments on the new UMC Doctrinal Statement … have left me utterly appalled. I had not, of course, ever hoped for your positive approval, but I really had thought you might have been willing to recognize our positive efforts to make room for both conservative and liberal theological perspectives in the United Methodist Church. … There is, therefore, something tragic in your reckless and total rejection of us, since it forecloses any possibility of further meaningful dialogue. This, in turn, can only result in mutual loss, to all of us and to the church as well.”

Keysor responded in true Keysor style: “We find it ironic to hear you saying that our editorial shuts the door to dialogue. As I have already named, there was no dialogue from you until after the editorial, so it seems that publishing more editorials is the way to increase dialogue.”

Good News was not opposed to pluralism or diversity as such, but insisted that pluralism needed to operate within carefully defined limits, or an essential core of truth. Otherwise, nothing would be unacceptable as United Methodist teaching. Outler and the commission insisted that there was an essential core but never defined what it was. To Good News and others, this was like the proverbial emperor’s new clothes; one might claim to see them, but they weren’t really there.

Outside observers as diverse as Christianity Today and Time magazine understood this quite well. The Time magazine report of the General Conference noted: “The Outler commission’s solution qualifies the traditional creeds – Wesley’s Articles and the E.U.B. Confession of Faith – with explanatory statements warning that they should be interpreted within their historical context. The statements maintain that Wesley and the E.U.B. patriarchs made “doctrinal pluralism” a major tenet and held to only a basic core of Christian truth – but the statements stop short of specifying what that core was.”

With its stand clearly taken, Good News was willing to stay the battle. As Keysor editorialized in the summer issue of Good News in 1972: “What are evangelicals to do, in the aftermath of Atlanta? Many are quitting, feeling that the United Methodist Church has abandoned and betrayed Christ, the Gospel and its members.

By Charles W. Keysor, Founding editor of Good News

By Charles W. Keysor, Founding editor of Good News

“Good News feels deep sorrow and pain at the exodus of these brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not condemn any person for following God’s leading, but we feel strongly that God calls us to remain. This has been our motive from the start…. To separate or not to separate, that is the basic issue. And so we feel it desirable to share with readers why we believe the most important place for evangelicals is inside the United Methodist Church.”

Keysor’s reasons for staying reflected a remnant kind of thinking: “In the past (God) has worked miracles through tiny remnant groups which fear only displeasing the One who has called them –  the One whom they know as Father. Who cares if we are a small minority? Numbers and success are pagan preoccupations. To gain control of the denominations means nothing; to be faithful to Jesus Christ means everything.”

Junaluska Affirmation

Chuck Keysor and Albert Outler had an intensive two-hour conversation when Outler came to Asbury Seminary in March 1974 to deliver a series of lectures on Wesleyan theology. In a detailed account of the conversation shared with a few members of the board, Keysor offered his impressions of Outler reacting to Good News concerns: Though Outler strongly believed in a core of irreducible doctrinal truth, he also believed that attempts at doctrinal definition “always result in inadequate conceptions of ultimate realities” (propositional statements demanding allegiance smacked of fundamentalism). He admitted, basically, that he was not interested in a specific of “core” essential doctrine, even though he believed the Church could refer to such a core.

Outler, however, was at least pleased that someone was willing to discuss doctrine and offered his own suggestions as to the sorts of actions Good News might pursue.

l. Good News could test the seminaries’ resistance to pluralism by underwriting the education of several outstanding young scholars who would take degrees at such institutions as Yale, Chicago, or Oxford in such areas as patristics, historical theology, and New Testament and, then backed by impeccable credentials, go to the Board of Higher Education and ask if there is any discrimination because of their conservatism (this would soon become the strategy of A Fund for Theological Education [AFTE]).

2. If the Church really wanted a descriptive statement of the “core” of essential United Methodist doctrine, it could do so by amending or altering the present statement with a 51 percent vote of the General Conference (this, in fact, would soon become the Good News legislative strategy in coming General Conferences).

3. Outler’s intent in the 1972 statement was to sketch broad theological generalities and encourage “theologizing,” in which identifiable groups in the Church would delineate their own essential core – what they would be willing to die for.

It was this third suggestion that gave additional impetus to a Good News effort, already being discussed and planned, to offer a contemporary evangelical statement of the essential core of Wesleyan doctrine for United Methodism. To do this, Good News called upon Paul Mickey, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at the divinity school at Duke, to lead a committee to draft a statement. Good News leaders such as Chuck Keysor, James V. Heidinger II, myself, and Lawrence Souder were joined by Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, president of Asbury College and Dr. Frank Stanger, president of Asbury Seminary, to draw up the statement.

The Junaluska Affirmation would be an evangelical response to the 1972 doctrinal statement’s invitation for groups to engage in theological discussion and affirmation, seek to identify the “core of doctrine” that the 1972 statement alluded to but never defined, and serve as a rallying point for evangelicals in the Church.

Before the final draft, the statement was shared with Albert Outler. He was obviously pleased that at least one group was taking the 1972 statement seriously enough to draw up a doctrinal statement. In response, Outler wrote: “Thanks for that copy of the ‘draft statement’ of ‘Scriptural Christianity for United Methodists.’ I’ve read it with care and real appreciation. This is an important response to that invitation … I welcome the venture, even as I have found it interesting and edifying. Power to the project – especially in its tone and temper!”

Outler continued with an eight-page critique of the statement. His critique perhaps said more about his own theology than the work of the committee. Outler argued that the approach of the statement, that is, the organizing of essential doctrines around themes of systematic theology (sin, God, atonement, Jesus Christ) was not Wesley’s approach, who rather located the “essentials” in the proclaiming of the holy story.

The statement was made available at the 1975 Good News Convocation at Lake Junaluska, where it was discussed in small groups, adopted by the assembly gathered, and became known as the Junaluska Affirmation.

The United Methodist Reporter editorialized positively on the Junaluska Affirmation and printed it in full. UMCom, the official United Methodist news service, commented briefly that the “affirmation” had been adopted and added remarks from Paul Mickey about the need for ‘theological clarity in a time of theological confusion” and from Good News referring to the doctrinal standards and the ancient creeds as the “foundation for historic faith.”

There was some disappointment on the part of Good News that the affirmation failed to stir up either reaction or critique or comment from the larger Church. It was pointed out, however, that except for the bishops – given the charge in the Discipline “to guard … the apostolic faith” – no board or agency or group in the Church felt ownership or responsibility for doctrine. It was not so much that the general Church agreed or disagreed or affirmed or denied the Good News doctrinal effort. It was rather that it just did not care that much.

Later, the September 1975 issue of Interpreter magazine carried an editorial by Roger Burgess entitled “Has Good News Become Bad News?” Burgess did not critique the Junaluska Affirmation but was uneasy that Good News should draw up a statement in the first place. He concluded: “I find it hard to discover much that is constructive or loyal in these actions and proposals.”

As far as Good News was concerned, the Burgess comments were a misreading of the intent of the Junaluska Affirmation and of the purpose of Good News. But for once, Good News was secure enough it did not need to be defensive about the accusations of the editorial. It would direct its energies from this time forth not needing to define who it was, but in understanding and seeking to bring renewal to The United Methodist Church.

And the task, at least as it related to doctrine, was formidable. The general Church, already in a state of doctrinal confusion, seemed to be able to make no sense out of the 1972 statement. The attempts to clarify seemed only further to obfuscate. In 1976, the General Board of Discipleship published the pamphlet “Essential Beliefs for United Methodists.” It was to be an attempt to interpret to local churches and individuals the 1972 doctrinal statement.

The pamphlet managed to feature “essential beliefs” without the first mention of doctrinal standards or of the Articles of Religion or the Confession of Faith or of the sermons of Wesley. The one belief that seemed more essential than all others was the belief that “our strength comes through unity in diversity rather than through rigid uniformity.”

If there were “essential beliefs,” they were what we were to formulate for ourselves (the opening sentence was, “Our beliefs grow out of our experiences”), based on the quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. These core beliefs evidently had nothing to do with Christ’s death on the cross for our sin or, for that matter, Christ’s death on the cross for any reason. Nor did it refer to the Resurrection, to salvation, justification, sanctification, heaven or hell, or to the New Birth. At least none of these were even mentioned.

The pamphlet was obsessed with the importance of the quadrilateral, and that discussion took twelve of the sixteen pages. It spent time with sacraments and mentioned creeds, but only with the discounting qualification that “the living God cannot be reduced to or contained in any creed.”

But, according to the pamphlet, the Church was not without stated beliefs. United Methodists did have agreement, if not about doctrinal beliefs, then on the social principles. “Essential Beliefs for United Methodists” closed with the Social Creed prefaced with the words: “Our Social Creed provides a summary of our beliefs as United Methodists.”

Good News had a long and laborious task ahead of it.

Riley B. Case is the author of Evangelical & Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon). He is a retired United Methodist clergy person from the Indiana Annual Conference, the associate director of the Confessing Movement, and a lifetime member of the Good News Board of Directors. This essay is adapted with permission from Evangelical & Methodist.

The Risk of Renewal

Archive: Coming Out of Exile

Archive: Coming Out of Exile

Photo courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. All rights reserved.

By Riley Case-

The 1960s were not a good time for evangelicals. For one thing, the Methodist liberal establishment did not even want to admit evangelicals were evangelicals. When I went to the head of the chapel committee at my Methodist seminary and asked if we might be able to include some evangelicals among the chapel speakers, he informed me everyone at the seminary was evangelical, and just who did I have in mind. When I explained he replied, “I believe you are talking about fundamentalists and we’re not going to share our pulpit with any of them.”

When Billy Graham came to Chicago and some of us wanted to ask Graham to visit our campus, the president of the school said, “No, because we do not wish to be identified with that kind of Christianity.”

The prevailing seminary and liberal institutional view was that “fundamentalism” was an approach to Christianity of a former day and was not appropriate for Methodists, neither in the present day nor for the future. Methodism was set in its direction. In a survey of seminaries conducted in 1926, every single Methodist seminary had declared its orientation as “modernist.” As early as June 1926, the Christian Century had declared that the modernist-fundamentalist war was over and fundamentalism had lost. It announced its obituary in these words: “It is henceforth to be a disappearing quantity in American religious life, while our churches go on to larger issues.”

Other larger issues in the 1960s included war, race, COCU, economic disparity, Death of God, the Secular City, liberation theology, rising feminism, process theology, and existentialism.

Institutional liberalism was out of touch – and I was frequently bemused in those seminary days by how out of touch it was. When someone mentioned revivals in seminary, the professor indicated that revivals were a thing of the past and he had not heard of a Methodist church that had held a revival for years.

It so happened that a friend of mine from Taylor University days, Jay Kesler, was at that very moment holding a revival and would preach at 152 revivals during his years at college, most of them in Methodist churches. Youth for Christ was on the scene, as was Campus Crusade and Billy Graham’s ministry. Evangelical schools were flourishing.

That was the situation when Chuck Keysor, a pastor from Elgin, Illinois, wrote an article for the July 19, 1966 issue of the denomination-wide Christian Advocate entitled, “Methodism’s Silent Minority.”

“Within the Methodist church in the United States is a silent minority group,” Keysor wrote. “It is not represented in the higher councils of the church. Its members seem to have little influence in Nashville, Evanston, or on Riverside Drive. Its concepts are often abhorrent to Methodist officialdom at annual conference and national levels.

“I speak of those Methodists who are variously called ‘evangelicals’ or ‘conservatives’ or ‘fundamentalists.’ A more accurate description is ‘orthodox,’ for these brethren hold a traditional understanding of Christian faith.”

Keysor explained in the article that this minority was often accused of being narrow-minded, naïve, contentious, and potentially schismatic. This was unfortunate because these people loved the church and had been faithful Methodists all their lives.

In making his case Keysor mentioned that there were many more of them than official Methodism was counting. At least 10,000 churches, for example, were using Bible-based Sunday school material instead of the official Methodist material. The 10,000 figures brought strong reaction and led to charges of irresponsibility and plain out lying. But Keysor knew whereof he spoke.

Trained as a journalist he had served as managing editor of Together magazine, Methodism’s popular family magazine. He had then been converted in a Billy Graham crusade and spent some years as an editor at David C. Cook, an evangelical publisher. The 10,000 churches figure had come from his years at Cook. He knew more about what churches were not using Methodist materials than did the Nashville editors at the time. At Cook, he also became aware of the evangelical world.

Riley B. Case

Riley B. Case

Keysor’s article drew more responses than any other article Christian Advocate had ever published. The responses followed a common theme: “You have spoken our mind. We didn’t know there were others who believed like we did. What can we do?” Keysor called together some of the most enthusiastic responders. Hardly any of those early responders would be recognized today. Nor were they recognized then. They, after all, were the “silent minority.” They were the little people, the populists — rural church pastors, long-suffering lay persons, conference evangelists.

The obvious step forward for Keysor, a trained journalist, was for a magazine. A notable voice of encouragment was from Spurgeon Dunnam of Texas Methodist (eventually becoming The United Methodist Reporter). In the September 6, 1968, issue Dunnam editorialized that the church needed a conservative voice. The liberal voice was presented by the official Methodist press with Christian Advocate and Concern (Dunnam was one who believed that an official “press” was too often public relations-oriented and thus reflected the views of the leadership) but there was no conservative voice and Good News could fill the void.

“The Texas Methodist is pleased to make known to its readers that within the past year a responsible ‘conservative’ journal of opinion has been born within the United Methodist Church. It is called simply Good News, and we think it is just that.”

Coming out of exile. Would it be possible for evangelicals to get together? On August 26, 1970, the first national convocation was held. Sixteen hundred registered and crowds on some evenings swelled to over 3,000. The speakers included luminaries such as evangelist Tom Skinner, Bishop Gerald Kennedy, Harold Ball of Campus Crusade, and E. Stanley Jones. Dr. K. Morgan Edwards of Claremont School of Theology gave the keynote address. People who came to the convocation prayed and hugged and worshipped and wept and said “Amen” and “Hallelujah” without fear of disapproving stares around them. Twenty percent of the attendees were between 20 and 35 years old. Keysor wrote of the event, “We are coming out of exile.”

The critics cried, “divisive.” Again Spurgeon Dunnam responded. In an editorial titled “Constructive Divisiveness” Dunnam commented:

“The question which remains is: are the evangelicals a divisive force within the church? Yes, they are divisive. Divisive in the same way Jesus was in first century Judaism. Divisive in the same way Martin Luther was to sixteenth century Catholicism. Divisive in the same way that John Wesley was to eighteen century Anglicanism. And, strangely enough, divisive in the same way that many liberal ‘church renewalists’ are to Methodism in our own day.

“A survey of Methodism in America today reveals these basic thrusts. One is devoted primarily to the status quo. To these, the institution called Methodism is given first priority. It must be protected at all costs from any threat of major change in direction….

“The other two forces do question the theological soundness of institutional loyalty for its own sake. The progressive, renewalist force has properly prodded the Church to take seriously the social implications of the Christian gospel…. The more conservative, evangelical force is prodding the church to take with renewed seriousness its commitment to the basic tenets of our faith…”

When Dunnam was writing those words, the Reporter was reaching a million persons per week and was the largest-circulation religious paper in the world. Under Dunnam’s leadership, it investigated both liberal and conservative activities. Even when Dunnam disagreed with Good News, he always treated us with integrity.

In the midst of all this activity, Good News was not on solid ground financially and staff-wise. Then a providential person and offer came on the scene. Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, president of Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, was cheering Good News on from the sidelines, but he came up with an idea to help Good News as well as Asbury College. He offered Keysor a job of teaching journalism part-time at Asbury with the understanding that the rest of his time could be used to edit the magazine. For the fledgling Good News board it was an answer to prayer. The move was made in the summer of 1972.

At the time Good News was not even recognized as an advocacy group in the church. Engage magazine listed the special interest groups at the 1972 General Conference: Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Women’s Caucus, the Young Adult Caucus, the Youth Caucus, the Gay Caucus. There was no evangelical caucus. By 1976 things had changed. Good News was able to generate 11,000 petitions, most having to do with maintaining the Discipline’s stand on marriage and sexuality in response to an aggressive progressive agenda.

Keysor knew that these controversial cultural and theological issues would divide the church. The institutionalists responded with the kind of language that would be used frequently of evangelicals of the Good News-type in the years to come: “reactionary,” “out-of-step,” “fundamentalist,” “highly subsidized,” “hateful,” “seeking to undermine the church’s social witness,” “not serving the interests of the church.”

One critic, Marcuis E. Taber, summed up the accusations in an article that appeared in the Christian Advocate (May 13, 1971) entitled, “An Ex-Fundamentlist Looks at the Silent Minority.” According to Tabor, Good News was an “ultrafundamentalist” movement with an emphasis on literalism and minute rules which was opposed to the spirit of Jesus. It had no future in a thinking world.

The Christian Advocate gave Keysor a chance to respond and so he did in the fall of 1971. The response, classic Keysor, was perceptive, straightforward and prophetic. It said basically that Tabor and others were reading the church situation wrongly. Storms were battering the UM Church and soon it will be forced to jettison more of its proud “liberal” superstructure. Meanwhile evangelical renewal was taking place: the charismatic movement, the Jesus People, Campus Crusade, stirrings in the church overseas. If there was a right side of history, it was with evangelical renewal. This is what it meant to be “a new church for a new world.”

Was Keysor right? Looking back on our history, this is worth a discussion.

Riley B. Case is the author of Evangelical & Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon). He is a retired United Methodist clergy person from the Indiana Annual Conference, the associate director of the Confessing Movement, and a lifetime member of the Good News Board of Directors.