Excerpt from “Unafraid and Unashamed”

This month my new book, “Unafraid and Unashamed: Facing the Future of United Methodism” is being released. It is about the current challenges and opportunities facing the United Methodist Church. On deeper level, it also address how we love one across divisions in an increasingly divided world.  The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon. Below is an excerpt from the Introduction:

Jesus, John Wesley, and Scriptural Holiness
Spreading scriptural holiness has to do with a lot more than whether or not we remained the united United Methodist Church.  Regardless of whether we find a way to continue to reside within the same denominational polity, we will all have the opportunity to respond to the needs and controversies of our contemporary world in a way that spreads scriptural holiness.
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Scriptural holiness calls us to the highest standard of all.  It is a higher standard than orthodoxy which leads to correct beliefs.  It calls us to a greater goal than even social justice which leads to fair and life giving social policies.   While the importance of beliefs and social justice cannot be overstated, scriptural holiness is even more central within the life of Christ than beliefs or policies.
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Consider what we know of Jesus from the Gospel accounts.  Jesus spent much of his life teaching the truth about God.  But if Jesus’ primary goal was that we have a pure understanding of systematic theology, he would have been better served to have taught his followers to memorize a detailed outline of God’s nature rather than telling parables and eating with sinners.
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Jesus spent significant amounts of time lifting up the downcast and the outcasts.  And there’s no question that Jesus’ life has many political implications for the church and society at large.  But if Jesus’ primary goal had been a perfectly just earthly social order, why did he not form his followers into a tightly coordinated political party with a platform of perfect policies that would challenge Rome for political control of the Mediterranean world?
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Jesus was quite controversial in his day because he did not make his ministry simply about teaching correct theology.  The Pharisees did that.  Jesus also caught a lot of criticism for failing to form his followers into a political movement.  Many people thought the messiah was supposed to do just that.
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Instead, Jesus lifted up two values above even pure theology and correct social policies: loving God and loving neighbor.  I believe it was these overarching values that John Wesley referred to as “scriptural holiness”.
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The vision of spreading scriptural holiness that John Wesley articulated resonates so strongly with us because it bears so much resemblance to the example of Christ.   Scriptural holiness refers to the quality of our relationships.
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Scriptural holiness calls to us to a standard so high that it exposes our sinfulness and selfish.  It is much easier to believe correctly about God than to be in right relationship with God.  It is much simpler to advocate for ethical social policies than to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
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Jesus’s focus on scriptural holiness offends many of our well cultivated religious sensibilities.  We love that he ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.  But why did he have to also include slave owners, bigots, and assassins in his fellowship?  We love that Jesus taught the truth about God, but we struggle with how to understand the story of the Good Samaritan in which the faithful hero begins and ends the story with very different theological beliefs than those Jesus taught.
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I cannot tell you with certainty the exact solutions that will resolve the impasse in The United Methodist Church over the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our fellowship or even if such solutions can be found.  I certainly have my opinions and I am sure you have yours too.  I pray that through thousands of conversations among faithful United Methodists over the next 2-3 years those solutions will come to light.
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I can tell you that I think God is using this current crisis to call us all back to the high vision of scriptural holiness.  My great hope is that through our faith we will find the courage to look fully at our differences through the lens of our shared beliefs, our beloved means of grace, and our all-encompassing desire to love others as God has first loved us.  This book lays out how I believe these shared beliefs, means of grace, and desire to love our neighbors can guide us into a bright future.
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If we find within ourselves the courage to set aside our fears and embark on this journey, then I believe that we, the people called United Methodists, will discover a miraculous capacity to share hope, healing, and joy with a hurting and divided world.  Or as John Wesley would say, we will find ourselves spreading “scriptural holiness over the land.”
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