Holy Conversation

November 1st, 2014

What does United Methodist theology look like in congregations? What role does theology have in the church? Here are some of the answers our readers gave:

A young couple from a strong evangelical and non-Wesleyan background united with our church a few years ago. When asked why, the wife replied, “We visited many churches that told us God loved us. This was the first church that said, ‘God loves you. Now what are you going to do about it?’”

Bob Phillips
Pastor of First UMC in Peoria, IL


I think theology has a small role in most local churches and has, or should have, an important role in our denomination. We should do almost everything from a “theological imperative;” instead we squabble about trivia. If we would keep the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission in focus, we would stay on the right path.

Steven K. Brown
Retired elder in the East Ohio Annual Conference


Our “God talk” needs to be logical. Our Christology needs to be expansive. Our view of the human condition needs to be positive and hopeful. John Wesley’s theology is relevant and needed. Our task is to make it relevant to meet the great human need. 

Charles Schuster
Retired pastor in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference


Over the years there has been a constant dumbing down of our worship experiences; thus, the common forum for learning our theology has been diluted by the frequent absence of United Methodist hymnody, Wesleyan doctrine, affirmations of faith, prayers of confession, and the Social Principles. This is exacerbated by an ever-diminishing denominational loyalty. A lack of theological formation among clergy and laity further weakens the people called United Methodists. A fervent UM theology that nurtures our heads and hearts will guide our hands and feet in our witness.

Ernest S. Lyght
Retired bishop in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference


Lynnewood United Methodist Church, a multicultural community in the San Francisco East Bay, had this vision statement: Dare to question, love, and serve. We dare to question traditional interpretations of the Bible. Taking scripture as primary, we think about how it was written and what it means today. We dare to examine church traditions, choosing some old hymns but rejecting others, especially the ones that no longer represent our views on sin and salvation, because we believe the reign of God is within us and can be lived out in community. We dare to love radically, drawing from Jesus’s focus on the two great commandments: to love God and neighbor. Other doctrines just aren’t as important. We dare to serve, striving always to make church less about us and more about others.

Heather Leslie Hammer
Pastor of Lynnewood UMC in Pleasanton, CA


Theology is most powerful when it is a conversation between people of mutual respect and love, focused on the continuously elusive articulation of our individual and shared experiences of God in our lives and communities. When I experience theology in this way, it is neither trivial nor oppressive but a process by which the presence and guidance of God becomes ever more compelling and concrete. Pastors should be mediators of this conversation.

Stephan Ross
Vital Church Project Director in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference


When it comes to basic beliefs, we are not “united” Methodists at all. The only remedy for this is the serious exposition of our Confession and Articles of Religion through sermons, membership and confirmation classes, leadership training, and boards of ordained ministry. I refuse to despair. If there is going to be an orthodox and evangelical church in the Wesleyan tradition, it will be because we begin to speak and act it forward.

Tom Anderson
Pastor of Houghton Lake UMC in Houghton Lake, MI


If we’re going to be truly Wesleyan, we’ll find ourselves in Wesley’s type of orthodoxy. I believe that could help unify the UMC, iron out some of our present controversies, and make us more available to God’s kingdom work in the world. It will also require us to humble ourselves to the admission that we’re not smarter than the human authors (or Divine Author) of scripture and 2,000 years of Christian tradition.

J. David Trawick
Pastor of Northwest Hills UMC in San Antonio, TX


There is a massive population of uncommitted people who instinctively know that the pervasive influence of rigid Reformed theology and Fundamentalism is not what they are looking for. When they experience the Wesleyan theology of grace and Christian perfection, their response is, “Where have you been all my life?” United Methodism is not in decline because we don’t have the right product, but because we have not been offering it in ways that can connect with the people around us.

James A. Harnish
Retired pastor in the Florida Annual Conference


Most UMCs believe the church is a building, not people. Look on the average UMC website and what you are most likely to see is a picture of their church building. The same could be true about many worship bulletins. If it’s true that we are more what we do than what we say, then most UMCs believe the church is a building not people. We value our church building more than reaching out to lost people. We must change this theology if we want to be faithful to God’s mission. 

Bill Easum
Founder and president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc.


People are more interested in living out a belief system than debating it. They want to transform our world. The General Rules of our denomination are best demonstrated rather than debated, lived out rather than argued over. Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God. Living those rules in the midst of being a loving community of faith is far more attractive to folks than orthodoxy. Those who are not in the pews look to see if those in the pews are more interested in being right or doing right.

Robert C. Brown
Senior pastor of Rome First UMC in Rome, GA


For thirty years I have incorporated Methodist theology and doctrine into my sermons and studies and named it as such. I think that people realize that doctrine matters if the church is going to be different from the soft “spirituality” that is all around us.  

Dorcas Linger Conrad
Elder in the West Virginia Annual Conference


Conflict regarding same-gender marriage has persisted for forty years in parts of The United Methodist Church. The February 2015 issue of Circuit Rider will feature multiple insights and approaches to this controversy, with an emphasis on lived wisdom and discernment. Do you believe we as a denomination can yet choose to worship, live, learn, and serve together? Send us an e-mail to circuitrider@umpublishing.org and tell us what you think.

About the Author

Circuit Rider

Circuit Rider is a magazine for United Methodist clergy. Issues back to 2008 are available on Ministry Matters. For read more…
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