An experiment at nonviolent communication

Asbury seminary president Timothy Tennent writes about why evangelicals spend so much time and energy talking about homosexual sex.

In one sense, you won’t read anything new here. But I do find the post and the comments thread an interesting case study in the way we talk past each other. For all the times we use terms like “Christian conferencing” and take classes on nonviolent communication and speak of hearing the other person before speaking, we do not practice that very well, at least not on the Internet. This is probably due as much to the nature of the medium as it is to our intentions. The Internet is not nearly as interactive or “social” as we claim it is.

What we tend to do in “conversations” about hard issues is lob arguments at each other. Often, these arguments include all manner of statements about the thoughts, motivations, and emotions of other people. Almost always as they go back and forth they lose all contact with the point the other person was trying to express or discuss. We seek to get our point across rather than listen to the other side. We don’t want to let anything with which we disagree go unchallenged. Or at least I know that is what I do when in a difficult conversation.

So, I want to try an exercise in listening on my blog. I’m going to try to write what I hear Tennent writing in his post. My goal here is not to offer my reactions or analysis, but to say accurately, without using a lot of direct quotation, what he would recognize as the point he is trying to make. I invite you to help me listen better by pointing out where and how my summary might miss important things.

Here is what I hear him writing:

Evangelical Christians feel the need to spend so much time and energy talking about and organizing actions with regard to homosexuality because they feel that harm is done to the church when something sinful is treated as if it were holy.

I’m not sure this is a fair statement of what he wrote. In a real conversation, I could ask him. (I have posted a version of this on his blog to try to do just that.) Before I react or respond, I would want to be certain I am hearing him as he intends to be heard.

What do you think? Is this close to what he is trying to say?

Weeping in Costa Rica

Asbury Theological Seminary President Timothy Tennent wrote recently about his vision for the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church. This story is excellent:

The true church is always characterized by prayer and a spirit of repentance.  We have not been faithful to God.  We need His grace in our midst.  I was in Costa Rica in December and had the privilege of preaching at a general conference of all the Methodist pastors, District Superintendents and the bishop (Bishop Palomo).  It was truly inspiring to see all these men and women on their faces before God weeping for the sins of their nation, asking God to have mercy on his church.  I witnessed Bishop Palomo moving from pastor to pastor, praying for them and anointing them for renewed ministry.  I felt like I was in the middle of a movement again – it was the 18th century all over again, but in Costa Rica.

I know that for some folks in our connection the idea of returning to the 18th century is nothing to get excited about. Indeed, we are being encouraged by some of our leaders to set aside any notion of “renewal” or recapturing of something that was lost.

They may be correct. There is certainly nothing about me or my ministry to suggest I am a brilliant strategist for United Methodist renewal. But I do find myself sharing some of Tennent’s enthusiasm for what he saw and experienced in Costa Rica.

Fetter Lane and sanctification

I listened this morning to a sermon by Asbury Theological Seminary president Timothy Tennent about personal holiness.

It raised as a central event in John Wesley’s faith a Pentecost-like watch night service at the Moravian Fetter Lane Society on Jan. 1, 1739. In his journal Wesley wrote about it this way:

Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our love-feast in Fetter-Lane, with about sixty of our brethern. About three in the morning , as were were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”

Tennent in his sermon speaks of sanctification, making reference to this journal entry, as an event that reorients the whole person in a new way toward love of God. This is distinct from the event of justification, which we Methodists all recount on May 24.

I must confess, I’d not encountered this before. In my reading of Wesley, I don’t see much evidence in his sermons of this moment as crucial. I may have not been looking for it, though.

Unity and diversity in Methodism

Asbury Theological Seminary president Timothy Tennent continues a helpful series of posts about why he is both Methodist and evangelical. His latest addresses the issue of doctrinal unity and difference.

Wesley was able to embrace considerable diversity among Christians who held different convictions than his on various points. On the other hand, Wesley frequently found himself embroiled in various controversies with Roman Catholics, Anglican bishops, and Calvinist thinkers. He held strong theological convictions and firmly upheld all of the historic Christian confessions. Wesley would have been dismayed at the erosion of orthodoxy in mainline churches due to the increasing embrace of secular ideologies and a post-modern epistemology. Wesley was both ecumenical and orthodox; he held firm convictions and had an irenic spirit and warm heart towards those with whom he disagreed. How was Wesley able to embrace both of these so ably? The key is to understand how Wesley understood theological inquiry.

Read the rest here.