A plea for theological passion

I know this argument is already over. I know it is settled. I know no one who matters will listen, but I cannot escape the conviction that the thing we most need as a church is the thing that has been ruled off the table by the Call to Action and all its related programs and initiatives. We’ve been told that theology is irrelevant to congregational vitality, and so it is unimportant. Indeed, it is divisive to talk about it because it will only lead to disagreements that will bog us down. Leave theology to theologians.

As a congenital conflict-avoider I understand that impulse. I really do. But if I know anything at all about the state of the United Methodist Church, it is that our theological fog is killing us.

Tell me a time when the church has been vibrant — not this or that congregation blessed by a charismatic pastor but the church. Tell me a time when the church has been vibrant without a burning theological vision of its mission and purpose? Show me a revival, an awakening, a reformation that was not at its heart fueled by a passionate conviction about God and God’s purposes and God’s people.

Yes, yes. John Wesley said “think and let think.” But when he said that he was talking of outsiders. He was trying to get critics to lay off his movement. This same tolerant John Wesley had no doubts at all about the reason God had raised up Methodists. He might say having right opinions had nothing to do with true religion, but he had passionate the powerful opinions about what it meant to be a Christian, a real Christian, and he lived that out to his dying day. Methodism was born of theological passion.

Where is our passion? Where is our fire? Do we believe the world needs Jesus Christ? Will we sacrifice our lives for that? Will we sacrifice our pension plans? Would we go hungry or to prison for it? Would we stand in a field while drunks threw rocks and mud clods at us?

22 thoughts on “A plea for theological passion

  1. I visit several Methodist blog sites regularly to keep up with what is going on in my church. I look for several elements on a blog before I consider bookmarking it. I like; cogent writing, the willingness of the blogger to tolerate other opinions, that the blogger knows what he is talking; other people read his blogs (judged by the number of comments posted). This site has all of that and I like it but this post disappointed me. The statement that “we have been told that theology doesn’t matter” reads like a cheap shot. If prominent people are telling us that I would like to know who they are.
    For those who say theology does not matter I would ask you to look at the Pastor in North Carolina last year who suggested there is no hell. How long did he last? He was a case study in “theology matters”. Simply because we do not think about deep theological questions from day to day does not mean we have no passion for them. Isn’t the current struggle over homosexuality a theological one when stripped down to its core elements? It matters to a lot of people. You can say the same about other issues such as abortion, universalism and on and on.
    You also say that no one who matters will listen. Again I disagree. Those who matter are the folks in the pews and the ones going to Conference. Since they get to set policy that our bishops must follow they matter and I am sure many of them read your words. This site here is one of my Methodist favorites. I will not list the ones that I think are totally lame but they outnumber the good ones by ten to one. This is one of the good ones. The people who matter are reading your words. Please be aware of that. With great blogging comes great responsibility to borrow a phrase from Stan Lee.

    1. Kevin, thank you for your comment and your reading of my blog.

      The reference to being told theology does not matter is about a finding in the Call to Action report that says theology makes no difference in church vitality. I should have made that connection explicit for those who have not spent so much time engaged with the Call to Action process as others.

      As for all the theology that rips us up, your point is a good qualification. We do spend huge amounts of energy fighting over theology. I wish we would channel that energy into finding a common Wesleyan theology to stand on and move out with boldness together.

      My writing style in this post may have assumed too much. Thanks for helping me see the plank.

      I will always accept a rebuke from the pen of Stan Lee with a grateful heart. Peace to you.

  2. I’m a United Methodist pastor in campus ministry. I’d say that there’s some passion in our midst. Here’s a video clip of me reading my poem “adventus absurdus.” It’s inspired by the intersection of the Occupy Wall Street/ Occupy Wall St. movement and the season of Advent this past fall. I hope you like it. Feel free to share. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXr_BmyV1Ps

  3. Just finished reading ‘Christianity after Religion ‘ by Diana Butler Bass. And she reminded me: “The early community that followed Jesus was a community of practice. Jesus’ followers did not sit around a fire and listen to lectures on Christian theology. They listened to stories that taught them how to act toward onw another…They healed people, offered hopitality, prayed together, challenged traditional practices and rituals, ministered to the sick, comforted the grieving, fasted and forgave. These ACTIONS [all caps mine] induced wonder, gave them courage, empowered hope, and oepned up a new vision of God. By DOING [all caps mine] things together, they began to see differently.”

    In another place she talks about how initially early Chritianity was called the Way and people were held accoutable for their actions, not for what they believed and all sorts of Christian based beliefs were tolerated. Wesley’s bands/classes/societies were based on accountability of actions, not beleifs/theology.

    This book has an interesting insight in getting all hung up on beleifs/theology.

  4. My own Wesley quote which explains the core problem for me is this: “You have nothing to do but to save souls; therefore spend and be spent in this work.”

    Purifying the doctrine in a move toward scholasticism is the historic trend of religious movements away from growth and vitality. The direction is not toward the perfection of heaven where everything is clearly and neatly defined, but incarnation toward the messy darkness of the world that needs Christ … and those who wish to follow Christ need to be “willing to be more vile” and follow Him there in order to have conversations with messed up people as Jesus did at the home of Matthew the tax collector. “Acts of Mercy” are good but they are no replacement for conversations of grace.

  5. John, My greatest concern about the church today is not how it is organized, my concern is whether we are presenting the Gospel in a relevant, compelling, invitational way. I have raised this concern. I’m unsure if it’s heard. It has to do with passion for reaching people who are unfamiliar with Christian faith, who may confuse the ideology of the current political conversation with faith, and who don’t know the language of faith. We lack a passionate embrace of the world and its people, in my opinion. I understand part of the reason for this–conflict and polarization. These result from dogmatics. Yet, we focus on organizational structure as if it prevents or encourages how we relate to the people of the world. How strange. I believe we make disciples by being disciples. And I believe the measure of discipleship is our compassion. And I believe the practice of faith is about being faithful and not solely about dogma. And this is a passionate concern. So, I say “yes” to your post. Thank you for raising the issue.

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