“METHODISM… AFTER TAMPA” – A Response

by Pastor Tom Black, St. Paul’s UMC, Melbourne

As an attendee at the FLUME-sponsored breakfast at this year’s
Annual Conference, I came away with two primary impressions: First
of all, the breakfast itself was excellent! Secondly, I was
encouraged by the hopeful optimism regarding the future of
Methodism expressed by Dr. Bouknight and his challenge to return
to our Wesleyan roots. As I reflected on the thoughts shared by Dr.
Bouknight, I found “my heart strangely warmed,” as some of my
personal frustration and natural cynicism regarding denominational
issues gave way to a more hopeful perspective. This perspective
comes from my conviction that “methodism” will continue to be a
vibrant and fruitful expression of the Christian faith even if The
United Methodist Church passes from the scene. As a retread
Presbyterian and heir of the Reformed theology of two other Johns
(Calvin and Knox), I came to know and appreciate John Wesley later
in life. Since we tend to call ourselves “Wesleyan” Methodists, it
seems only consistent to embrace Wesley’s own definition of
Methodism as “biblical Christianity,” or as Jude called it, “the faith
that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

I believe that there is one fundamental, non-optional conviction
that is basic to all others in “biblical Christianity.” That conviction is
centered in the absolute trustworthiness and authority of the
primary documents of our faith: Scripture as the Word of God.
Although this conviction is not theologically in vogue today, it was
the bedrock of Wesley’s theology and fueled the evangelical revival
in Britain of his day. It has been the core conviction of those who
have led the powerful reform and renewal movements throughout
church history. Once we abandon this conviction we abandon the
primary foundation on which original Wesleyan Methodism was
based. The result is theological drift, being “blown here and there
by every wind of teaching.” A symptom of this drift in our
denomination was the debate over homosexual ordination at
General Conference, which was essentially a debate over the
authority of Scripture. The real hope for “Methodism. . . after
Tampa” is not structural rearrangement or mandating “missional
vital signs,” but a return to Methodism as defined by its founder:
“biblical Christianity.”

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