Is the problem within United Methodism at its root theological rather than ethical?
I was reading Robert Fuller’s book Spiritual but Not Religious for my evangelism class, when I was struck by how well it describes the tensions within our denomination. The book is a study of the ways throughout American history that large groups of people have adopted spiritual beliefs and practices outside the domain of church-based Christianity. Fuller argues that such spiritualities tend to reject notions of original sin and the fallen nature of humanity in favor of a belief in the goodness of human beings and the innate divinity within us.
Here is one version of that contrast:
A doctrine of divine immanence affirms that divine spirit is equally present in all creation … This new understanding of God’s relationship to the universe also helps to correct outmoded ideas of “sin.” The biblical view of sin is the act of breaking the commands of a male authority figure. A theology that stresses divine immanence recasts sin as our failure to recognize the presence of God within us and our fellow creatures.
This one quote does not capture everything to be said, but it gives the gist of the contrast. And it is reading about this contrast that has me wondering about United Methodism.
Is our internal conflict these days fundamentally about differing understandings of who God is and what it means to sin?