Methodism as option 3

I’ve been reading William J. Abraham’s Dialogues: Amongst the People Called United Methodists.

People who read this book looking for a fair and balanced airing of various view points — expecting it to be a piece of journalism — will be shocked and disappointed. Those looking to see our current crisis through Abraham’s eyes, will find it an interesting read. (I suspect Steve Harper and Adam Hamilton may use words other than “interesting,” as will anyone who labels themselves a progressive.)

In the book Abraham touches on one proposal I find intriguing. The following proposal is offered by the character “Traditionalist,” but I have heard a version of it in the past from Abraham’s mouth, and I take Traditionalist to be the character in the book who most reflects Abraham’s views. This may be off base, but I don’t think it is far off base.

Traditionalist describes a taxonomy of three ways of being the church.

The first he call the “big C” Catholic and Orthodox option that puts an emphasis on “the historical episcopate, on baptismal regeneration, on an exclusionary account of the Eucharist, and on a clerical hierarchy with our without Rome.”

Traditionalist claims that Wesley started as an Anglican committed to this option up until it failed him spiritually.

The second option is Magisterial Protestantism, which Traditionalist says has as its core a commitment to “learn the original languages and finally figure out what to believe and do, not least what do do by way of church ministry and polity.”

Traditionalist argues this is a poor fit for Methodism because “we do not believe there is a normative church polity in scripture. We begin with the work of the Holy Spirit and effectively buy the slogan that where the Spirit is there is the church and the fullness of grace.”

Building on this thought, the third option offered by Traditionalist is Methodism as a Holy Spirit filled revival of the “Primitive Christianity that stretched beyond the New Testament era into the first centuries of the church’s life.”

Traditionalist argues that this option for Christianity coming forward from Wesley includes the Holiness movement, Pentecostalism, and much of the most vibrant expressions of Christianity now witnessed around the world.

I’m not sure how Traditionalist/Abraham fleshes out this notion of Methodism as a third way (based on the book, I’m pretty sure Abraham would not embrace calling it the third way) of Christianity. But the notion is interesting, and it speaks to some of the ways that Methodist evangelicalism often does not feel like the Reformed kind. It isn’t just about predestination, but about the robust embrace of the Holy Spirit. One of my professors calls it Metho-costalism.

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3 thoughts on “Methodism as option 3

  1. John: I think you put your finger on what Billy Abraham is seeking to do: Methodism as a third option, or as a third account of what Christianity is about, offers the way forward, especially with a robust sense of the Holy Spirit. I also think you are right to point out the ‘provocative’ nature of the dialogue: both Steve and Adam have spoken to Billy about that!

    1. I bet those were interesting conversations.

      I wonder how the UMC embodies that third account. I’m thinking nuts and bolts and on-the-ground stuff here.

  2. Billy Abraham is an analytical philosopher; as such, he pulls the wings off a vexing insect that has disguised itself as new revelation from God. Who else does this better than Billy? Methodism seems poised to shed traditional biblical morality in favor of sexual novelty. Billy cuts through the buzz to skillfully frame and characterize the conversation so far. The sticking points are transparently revealed. We’re at the nexus of a historical crisis of catastrophic proportions, but many have been asleep with their patrimony, oblivious of the danger. “Does anybody know what time it is?”

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