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Defining Beliefs - Conservatives

by John Miles

| Defining Beliefs | Critique | Response |

Dear Friends,

Over the next few weeks I am going to try to delineate the beliefs of the three groups in Methodism, liberal, moderate, and conservative. This week I want to attempt to describe the conservative position on the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, human nature, scripture and Christian ethics. I am especially grateful for the book "A LAYMAN'S GUIDE TO PROTESTANT THEOLOGY" by William Hordern. This book is dated but still useful.

I continue in my description of the three groups in United Methodism with an analysis of the conservative position.

Conservatives are much less confident of human reason and experience than are liberals. They ground their theology primarily in scripture and the teachings of the church, especially the early church. Conservatives tend to stress the transcendence of God more than the other two groups and are much more resistant to change in theology or ethics.

Incarnation- Conservatives believe Jesus was literally born of a virgin. They believe he was both fully human and fully divine. They believe he was unique in all of human history and represents one of the three Persons of the Trinity.

Atonement- Jesus came into the world, in part to die for the sins of the world. He knew early on that was his mission. Although conservatives may debate how substitutionary atonement works, they all agree that the prophecy of Isaiah 53:5 speaks of Jesus, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed."

Resurrection- The pivotal moment in human history was the physical resurrection. The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and Jesus physically appeared to the women and the Apostles. For the conservative, if this event did not happen then Christianity is empty and we are "still in our sins."

Human Nature- Humankind was made in the image of God, however, that image was distorted and broken and we are now separated from God by our sins. Even in our sin that image of God remains. We can be restored to our relationship with God through faith in Christ.

Scripture-The Bible is the Word of God. While few Methodists pastors believe in inerrancy, conservatives view scripture as the unique revelation of God. The Bible contains all we need to know to be saved and to live the Christian life. Conservatives believe that the four gospels are the heart of scripture and accurately portray the life of Christ.

Christian Ethics- Because of their skepticism of human nature and reason, conservatives believe we must be guided by the principles found in the Old and New Covenants. Christian love must be guided by the moral teachings of scripture and the church.

Next week I would like you to respond to this analysis of the conservative wing of the United Methodist Church. Do you think I accurately described this group? What would you add or subtract? I look forward to hearing from you.

Your Brother,


John Miles is:

  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

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