It has sometimes been suggested that “Methodist beliefs” is an oxymoron. Fortunately, an increasing number of voices are working to dispel this false notion. Aside from the simple sociological reality that a group with no common and definitive beliefs is no group at all, United Methodism falls within the broad stream of Protestant orthodoxy, as even a quick look at our Articles of Religion will easily demonstrate. Key United Methodist Beliefs is a new book from William J. Abraham and David F. Watson that clearly sets forth those doctrines that are most basic and central to our Wesleyan heritage and is a must-read for anyone interested in what it means to be a United Methodist.
Methodists have long recognized the importance of Christian experience. Sometimes, however, doctrinal integrity has been sacrificed at the altar of personal experience. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is the way Abraham and Watson consistently hold doctrine and experience together. Each of the first nine chapters begin with a section called “A Wesleyan Faith”, in which the basic belief that is the topic of the chapter is explained with particular regard to the life and thought of John Wesley. The initial section is then followed by another called “A Lived Faith”, which discusses practical implications of the doctrine, and then there is a section on “A Deeper Faith”, which takes up some of the more challenging aspects of the belief under consideration. The authors then summarize the topic through a series of catechetical questions and answers before concluding each chapter with a series of questions designed to aid the reader in working through the issues in their own words. This intentional movement from orthodoxy to orthopraxy – right belief to right practice – will challenge the reader to experience doctrinal contemplation as a formative spiritual discipline rather than a detached intellectual exercise.
While the authors show how Methodist theology falls squarely within the the boundaries of historic Protestantism, they also do a great job of pointing us to that which distinguishes the Methodist voice from others. This is seen especially in their discussion of sanctification in chapter 6, which takes up the question: “What is Salvation?” Wesley is known for his doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, which Abraham and Watson explain with clarity:
With God’s help, however, we can reach a point whereby we do live without sinning. At least, we do not sin intentionally. Wesley called this Christian perfection or entire sanctification. Wesley did not mean that we become perfect in the sense that we are free from error, mental or physical disabilities, or temptation. Rather, he simply meant that the Holy Spirit can work within us to such an extent that we no longer willfully sin (78, italics original).
This aspect of our Wesleyan heritage has been neglected in much recent and contemporary Methodism. Hopefully, Abraham and Watson will help us to recapture this doctrine for which Wesley himself believed God raised up the people called Methodists with the specific purpose of proclaiming.
This little book will be useful in a variety of settings and will be suitable in a local church adult education course, a new member class, or even as a textbook in a seminary course on United Methodist doctrine. Whether you are a lifelong Methodist or new to our denomination, Key United Methodist Beliefs will illumine and sharpen your understanding of what it means to be a part of the Wesleyan tradition. It will be the first resource I turn to in order to help others gain a better understanding of the transformative power of Wesleyan doctrine. I hope others will do the same.