The central task of a theology of evangelism is to provide a clear and credible account of the ministry of evangelism which will foster and illuminate responsible evangelistic practices by the Christian church and its agents in the modern world.
To date very limited attention has been given to this crucial subject
God alone renews and continues to bless his people. God has not abandoned his church, and calls us to keep faith with him and those dear to him. We are called to be obedient to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
In thanksgiving for God’s promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ, we seek to humble ourselves before him, pray, seek his face, and turn from sin, that he may hear, forgive and heal. We all stand under divine judgment; we all are in need of divine grace.
We give thanks also for this, the first North American gathering of renewing and confessing movements. Your conveners have asked confessing theologians to address three urgent questions facing all mainline renewal movements.
Why should we remain in our churches?
Why do our churches need faithful confessors?
Why does our society need faithful Christian confessors?
As Christ is one, so the Christian mission is one. That one mission can be and should be advanced in diverse ways. Legitimate diversity, however, should not be confused with existing divisions between Christians that obscure the one Christ and hinder the one mission. There is a necessary connection between the visible unity of Christians and the mission of the one Christ. We together pray for the fulfillment of the prayer of Our Lord: “May they all be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so also may they be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17) We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples.
One of the most heartening features of life in the United Methodist Church is the deep yearning for renewal that can be detected at almost all levels of the church. In the patchwork of renewal movements within the United Methodist Church, the Confessing Movement focuses quite deliberately on the need for our denomination as a whole to be faithful to the deep doctrinal treasures of the church across the ages which are spelled out so clearly in the Articles of Religion, The Confession of Faith, and in Wesley’s Sermons and Explanatory Notes on the New Testament. Equally, it calls the church to lift high these doctrinal treasures for the whole life of the church in evangelism, liturgy, mission, pastoral care, social action, and every aspect of the work of the church. Implicit in this call to fidelity, reform, and renewal is the judgment that we have neglected these doctrinal treasures or, more seriously, that we have replaced these treasures with alien doctrinal material, which distorts our tradition, which separates us from each other and from the classical faith of the church, and which undermines crucial aspects of our life and mission together. Why do we need a confessing movement? There are at least four very substantial reasons.
The United Methodist Church stands at a critical moment. Founded in 1968 at a time of ecumenical enthusiasm and euphoria, it now harbors within it forces that threaten to destroy it as a single body. Those forces did not arise overnight; indeed they stretch back into the parent bodies that merged to form United Methodism. Three groups, the liberals, radicals, and conservatives, are finding their uneasy compromise difficult to maintain. It has long been agreed that United Methodism is a coalition of diverse conviction and opinion, having been formed under the banner of theological pluralism. Church leaders took the view in the 1970s that the core identity of United Methodism, if there was one at all, was located in commitment to the Methodist Quadrilateral (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience), and that this not only permitted but in fact sanctioned and fostered doctrinal pluralism. Doctrinal pluralism, despite its intellectual incoherence, will work so long as something akin to Liberal Protestantism is held by the leadership of the church and so long as those who are not Liberal Protestants acquiesce. In fact pluralism is part of the intellectual structure of Liberal Protestantism. If you believe that Christian doctrine is essentially an attempt to capture dimensions of human experience that defy precise expression in language because of personal and cultural limitations, then the truth about God, the human condition, salvation, and the like can never be adequately posited once and for all; on the contrary, the church must express ever and anew its experience of the divine as mediated through Jesus Christ. The church becomes a kind of eternal seminar whose standard texts keep changing and whose conversation never ends. In these circumstances pluralism is an inescapable feature of the church’s life.
A Conversation with Recommendations for the Unity of The United Methodist Church
Dialogue on Theological Diversity within The United Methodist Church Nashville, November 20-21, 1997; Dallas, February 19-20, 1998
C. S. Lewis was one of the two internationally famous theologians which Ireland has produced in its long embrace of the Christian tradition. The other was John Scotus Erigena. I find Lewis an intriguing figure as I seek to come to terms with what it means to engage in evangelism in our contemporary Western culture. Even a cursory reading of Lewis reveals a network of proposals which deserve the closest attention. In fact, it is a great pity that those interested in the conversion or evangelization of the West have paid next to no attention to Lewis and what he has to say to us. I can think of at least two reasons why this is the case.