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Response - Moderates

by John Miles

| Defining Beliefs | Critique | Response |

Dear Friends,

Michael Roberts offers a spirited response to my critique on moderates this week. I felt he did such a good job I would let his letter stand alone. Next week I will critique my own faction, the conservatives.

Your Brother,



I agree with most of your critique concerning the moderate wing of the church. Moderates do suffer from "doctrinal amentia." Moderates are overly subjective. Moderates do taut tolerance as a supreme virtue and are tolerant of everything except intolerance. Moderates do suffer from the "why can't we just all get along" syndrome and thus do not have much interest in doctrinal disputes. Moderates, "by embracing subjectivity and tolerance" have lost a certain passion for ministry. To put it in different language, moderates are everything the word suggest--mediocre, lukewarm, indifferent, un-committed, and unenthusiastic. My question is, does this represent the majority of the people in our church? I DO NOT THINK SO.

While it is true that the majority of our church are reluctant to move to out to the poles of liberalism or conservativism, this does not necessarily make them theological indifferent or lacking in passion. The majority of us are not moderate! We hold our "middle" position for strong theological reasons. Like Wesley and our Anglican forbearers (whom you acknowledge), we base our theology on the historic creeds. We affirm our Articles of Religion and hold them dear. We are, to put it in a word, Orthodox.

At the Council of Nicea Orthodoxy was defined as those who maintain the tension between the divinity of Christ and the humanity of Christ. Orthodox Christians, in the middle, are those who are comfortable with this tension, this paradox, this mystery. We hold the tension between the divinity and humanity of Christ, between good and evil in the world and church, between the kingdom as a future and present reality, between the obligation to preach the gospel and feed hungry stomachs. We are comfortable saying both/and to the question "did revelation stop with Christ and does God's revelation continue?" We appreciate the theological balance between the subjective side of faith (ie, personal, relational, experiential) and the need for more objective doctrinal guidelines. We affirm the "resurrection of the body" while recognizing in scripture the spiritual and mysterious nature of this doctrine. We struggle with current issues in the context of scripture and tradition without trying to polarize opposing views. We recognize that Scripture itself leads to a diversity of interpretation. I believe that this position in the debate is theological. It is anything but moderate!

In saying this I do agree that many in the middle have erred, many too far, on the side of subjectivity and tolerance. Living and thinking in the tension of Orthodox Faith can be challenging and difficult. There have also been times when we have become moderate in our passion for "Christ and His ministry." Nevertheless, I believe that most of us do not fall into this contrived category today. We see our positions as theologically sound. We are passionate for "Christ and His ministry." We are not moderate!

Thank you for your critique. I do, however, wish that we could all find a less negative word to describe so many of our faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.

Your friend who refuses to be called a moderate!
Michael Roberts

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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