The Need for a Confessing Movement
I write this letter each week because I believe that there are crucial issues that must be addressed and discussed within the United Methodist Church. I believe that honest debate and dialogue can help us renew the vision of Wesley, "to spread scriptural holiness". This week I would like to address a facet of the Confessing Movement. Next week I will share information on what went on at Annual Conferences around the United States this last month.
Several people have questioned the need for a Confessing Movement within the UMC. The Confessing Document focuses on the central problem facing the UMC. I quote, "The crisis before us is this: Will The United Methodist Church confess, and be unified by, the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ; or will the United Methodist Church challenge the primacy of Scripture and justify the acceptance of beliefs incompatible with our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith?"
The United Methodist Church is now incapable of confessing with one voice the orthodox Trinitarian faith, particularly Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of history and the Church."
I recently read an article by James Heidinger that illustrates well this concern about the present condition of biblical scholarship and theology within our denomination and her seminaries. The article is lamenting the loss of faith in the historical Jesus. "A third challenge comes from a book by Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, which was reviewed warmly last year by UM Bishop Joseph Sprague. Borg, a participant in the Jesus Seminar, tells about his first New Testament course while attending a mainline seminary: "There I learned that the image of Jesus from my childhood-- the popular image of Jesus as the divine savior who knew himself to be the Son of God and who offered up his life for the sins of the world--was not historically true. That, I learned, was not what the historical Jesus was like..." He adds that he learned the gospels "are not divine products inspired directly by God, whose contents therefore are to be believed..."
Borg laments that the crucifixion story of God's only son coming "to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world... is simply incredible. Taken metaphorically, this story can be very powerful. But taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message." Borg admits being at a postcritical naivete state, "in which one can hear these stories (in the gospels) as 'true stories' even while knowing that they are not literally true."
We might be able to write off Borg as some obscure religion professor from Oregon except that he is widely read. Last year he came to share these ideas at Hendrix College. His book is taught in many of our seminaries and course of study schools. If you went down to the Cokesbury display at Conference you would have found his book and others along the same line. Ironically the book countering the Jesus Seminar and Borg by Luke Timothy Johnson was sold out. That at least is a hopeful sign. However, it did leave the impression that most 'real scholars' accept the notion of the Christ of myth not history.
I also have to agree with Borg's comments concerning my own 'higher education'. Most of my religion professors in college and seminary were profoundly influence by the notion best presented by Bultman that the gospel story of Jesus was a divine myth. I now know that there are plenty of brilliant scholars who completely reject this notion. I also know that a literal understanding of the atoning death of Christ, far from being a "profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message", is essential to evangelism. I guarantee you one thing if you want to win people for Jesus you better believe the gospel record is accurate. Wherever Borg's ideas are preached there is only decline and the death of the church. Check out German Christianity today where this stuff was first taught.
Borg is just one illustration among many of why we are, "now incapable of confessing with one voice the orthodox Trinitarian faith". There is no reason for us to accept Borg's premise. It is bad scholarship and it is devastating to our church. We can easily counter his arguments and we must. I am proud to be a part of the Confessing Movement and the men and women who stand for the "Real Jesus" of the holy catholic church and the New Testament.
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