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Navigating the Future: The Role of Scripture in the Global Methodist Church


That the Global Methodist Church (GMC) needs clarity in relation to our doctrine of scripture is clear. One of the chief reasons we left the United Methodist Church had to do with inadequate views of the authority of scripture through much of the connection, not least among the Council of Bishops. One might assume that all of us who've come to the GMC are on the same page. That questions remain, however, was demonstrated in a recent exchange between Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary and Dr. Thomas McCall of Asbury Theological Seminary. (Read that debate in this order: 1, 2, 3, 4.) So, where are we and where do we need to go?



Infallibility

I think at base there is agreement among Global Methodists on the infallibility of scripture. This doctrine affirms that scripture accomplishes what God intends for it to accomplish.

so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11 NIV).

We believe that scripture is powerful. It reveals God and his purposes for the world he has made and for his people in that world. Scripture convicts us of sin and convinces us of our insufficiency. Working through the Holy Spirit, God uses scripture to give us new life and to renew us continually after our conversion. All of this I take to be uncontested among Global Methodists.


Inerrancy

Inerrancy, on the other hand, is a word that gives many Methodists shivers. I think this is because the term came to prominence outside our tradition and has been central to some debates that Methodists have tended not to get mixed up in. I, for one, am generally happy with the language of inerrancy, properly understood to mean that the text of scripture speaks without error in what it affirms and taken in light of its genre and the author's intent. Nevertheless, I don't think there's much potential for some in the Methodist tribe to warm to the language of inerrancy, if only because it comes with a lot of baggage.


Trustworthiness

I do think we should work to clearly articulate our confidence in the trustworthiness of scripture. I take this to mean that scripture speaks truthfully in all that it affirms when understood in terms of its genre and the literary conventions of its original context. I take this to be substantively quite similar to what is meant by inerrancy, and I find that a number of my friends who are suspicious of the language of inerrancy are happy to affirm the full trustworthiness of scripture. The conviction that scripture is trustworthy is grounded in our understanding of scripture as God's word. God is true. When God speaks, he speaks truthfully. If the Bible is God's word, and if God's word is trustworthy, then the Bible is trustworthy. Surely Global Methodists can agree on this. And if so, I would love to see the language of scripture's trustworthiness become common currency in the Global Methodist Church.


Reconstructing Methodism

The doctrine of scripture is one of many topics we'll take up at the Reconstructing Methodism conference on April 26-27, 2024, at Christ Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Chris Bounds of Asbury Theological Seminary will speak to our Methodist understanding of scripture. Reconstructing Methodism presents an opportunity for Global Methodists to gather publicly and reflect together with charity on who we are what we believe. Consider joining us.



 

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Christ Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Director of Research at Wesley Biblical Seminary, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians. A two-time recipient of the John Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement, he is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations: A Devotional for Short-Term Missions. Connect at theologyproject.online and follow @mporeilly.



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Methodism fell apart on account of our abandonment of our own high view of Scriptures. Given the debates we had with progressive Methodists, I believe many rural southern lay people (who now constitute the majority of the GMC) fully understand we cannot pick and choose which parts of the Bible are inspired and authoritative. Once the Africans join (who assume Inerrancy without question) we will be in majority. Now is the time to reclaim Inerrancy!


What calls itself Soteriological Inerrancy, or our modern re-definition of Infallibility, is just the old Socinian heresy in new garbs.

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Hello again Dr. O'Reilly


Are you (and Dr. Chris Bounds) aware of that excellent book by the early British Methodist theologian Edward Hare (d. 1818), "A Preservative Against the Errors of Socinianism In Answer to the Rev. John Gundry's Lectures on the Principle Doctrines of Christianity"?


I strongly recommend you, Dr. Bounds, (and anyone for that matter!) see the Rev. Hare's chapter on Biblical Authority of that said book. See "Chapter XII Of the Divine Inspiration of the Sacred Writings"....


Andrew V. Sullivan

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Matt,

This is excellent! The word "trustworthy" is very helpful in that it sheds the baggage of other words used to describe the scriptures while still affirming its value and truth.

In my mind "inerrancy" has become synonymous with a fundamentalist literalism, especially in the eyes of secular people. As such, to me, the use of inerrancy does harm to the cause of Christ when we could use another word.

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