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Wrestling with Theology

Thirty years the pastor of a local church, I lived out of the conviction that the pastor should be the resident theologian of his/her appointed community of faith (local faith).  Being elected bishop has not in any way changed that conviction.  To the contrary it has strengthened it. I found in my own life that it was so easy to get lost in reading books on the church and its life that I could drift away from cardinal theological insights and the deep, spiritually rich doctrines of the church.  With the best of intentions, it was (and is!) easy to exist on a diet lacking the nourishment of the faith’s great teachings.  It is a bit like someone who constantly partakes of starches and ends up battling scurvy due to lack of vitamin C. Over the years a part of my personal prescription has been to make sure that I spend some time reading deep theological works.  Often I try to include at least one in my summer reading list.  This summer I have read Alister McGrath’s Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth.  Alongside of that stimulating work (McGrath is a longtime Oxford University Professor now at the University of London), I’ve read Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.  (Ben Disney put me on to this challenging book.  Douthat is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times.)  The two works have stimulated my thinking about what it is we must lift high and the critical relationship between doctrine and the health of the larger Christian movement.  Both are worth the reading. Now I am folding in the dough of doctrine, heresy and culture a further work.  Professor Ted Campbell of Perkins School of Theology wrote a basic primer on Methodist Doctrine (entitled Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials a little over a decade ago.  It is been such a popular seller that now it has been reprinted in a revised edition.  As I read through Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, I am reminded again of those core convictions that led me to Methodism in the first place.  It makes a third stimulating conversation partner in the dialog. One of our major strategies for the transformation of the United Methodist Church in the Central Texas Conference is the recovery of a truly Wesleyan Theology and Spirituality.  Dr. Campbell will be leading our Cabinet retreat on September 11th as we dig deeper.  Whatever the future holds, we must live out of core convictions that lift high the gospel.  Paul put right, “But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. This message has been preached throughout all creation under heaven. And I, Paul, became a servant of this good news” (Colossians 1:23).