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Each of the four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — offers an account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These accounts contain several divergences in detail.

Was there one angel who appeared at the tomb (Matt. 28, Mark 16), or two (Luke 24, John 20)? Did Mary Magdalene go to the tomb alone (John 20), or with others (Mark 16, Luke 24)?

Critics have raised questions about these and other areas of divergence:

  • Was it still dark out? (Yes – John 20); (No – Matt. 28; Mark 16)
  • Did Mary Magdalene tell anyone? (Yes – Matt. 28, Luke 24, John 20); (No – Mark 16)
  • Were the angels (or angel) inside the tomb or outside? (Two angels inside – Mark 16, John 20); (One angel outside – Matt. 28)
  • Was the first appearance to the disciples in Galilee? (Yes – Matt. 28); (No – Luke 24; John 20).

How do we account for these variations? Are they a stumbling block to believing that Jesus rose from the dead?


A logical whole

According to an established rule of investigative practice, if a reasonable explanation fits the available evidence then divergences in detail do not necessarily constitute contradictions.

Click for full Holy Week timeline in PDF

So the real question is not, “Do the gospel accounts diverge at points?” but, rather, “Can those divergences be put together into a logical whole?”

In his book, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (College Press, 1992), retired judge Herbert Casteel, a trial judge for 26 years in Missouri, offers one example of how the various accounts could fit together:

Very early a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and Joanna set out for the tomb.

Meanwhile two angels are sent; there is an earthquake and one angel rolls back the stone and sits upon it. The soldiers faint and then revive and flee into the city.

The women arrive and find the tomb opened; without waiting, Mary Magdalene, assuming someone has taken the Lord’s body, runs back to the city to tell Peter and John. The other women enter the tomb and see the body is gone. The two angels appear to them and tell them of the resurrection. The women then leave to take the news to the disciples.

Peter and John run to the tomb with Mary Magdalene following. Peter and John enter the tomb, see the grave clothes, and then return to the city, but Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb weeping, and Jesus makes His first appearance to her.

Jesus next appears to the other women who are on their way to find the disciples. Jesus appears to Peter; He appears to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; and then appears to a group of disciples including all of the Eleven except Thomas.

False testimony?

According to Judge Casteel, the minor variations found in the four gospel accounts actually argue for their reliability as containing eyewitness testimony:

People who conspire to testify to a falsehood rehearse carefully to avoid contradictions. [This is why f]alse testimony appears on the surface to be in harmony, but discrepancies appear when you dig deeper. [On the other hand, t]rue accounts may appear on the surface to be contradictory, but are found to be in harmony when you dig deeper….

From ‘Evidence for Faith’
by John Warwick Montgomery

[In addition,] the Gospel accounts of the resurrection…[contain] numerous details of the very type that false accounts would be careful to avoid.

For example, it is related of the Lord’s appearances to His followers, that at first they did not recognize Him.

A false story would never have been made up this way, because it is obvious that this would support an argument that the disciples were mistaken and didn’t see Jesus at all.

Why did the Gospel writers tell it this way? Because their purpose was simply to tell what happened, and that is the way it happened.

Moreover, many witnesses to the resurrected Christ went to their deaths rather than recant their testimony.

Indeed, from the time of the resurrection forward, these witnesses devoted themselves, no matter the cost, to the proclamation that Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead.

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power
and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

— The Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:16

Related post
Podcast: Bill Bouknight on ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ’

Related resources
Chapter 12 from Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (PDF) |Herbert C. Casteel, College Press (1992)
The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity | An excerpt from Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question by John Warwick Montgomery, Probe Books (1991)
The testimony of the evangelists | Simon Greenleaf (1846)
The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (~400 A.D.) [NOTE: This sermon is read aloud in Eastern Orthodox churches on Easter (“Pascha”) morning.]
How Easter killed my faith in atheism | Lee Strobel, Wall Street Journal (April 16, 2011)
Celebrating the Resurrection | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (April 22, 2011)
Of first importance: The Cross and Resurrection at the center | Albert Mohler (April 22, 2011)
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The following commentary is by Timothy C. Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., one of the top training institutions for United Methodist clergy (Asbury also has a Florida campus).

Dr. Timothy C. Tennent

Below, Dr. Tennent offers a critique of Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne). Released last week, the book is already a New York Times bestseller.

Prior to being elected in 2009 to serve as Asbury’s eighth president, Dr. Tennent was a professor of World Missions and Indian Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

He holds a B.A. from Oral Roberts University, an M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell, a Th.M. from Princeton, and a Ph.D. from at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Ordained in the United Methodist Church, Tim Tennent is served as a pastor in the UMC’s North Georgia Conference from 1982-1990.

This commentary previously appeared in serialized form on Dr. Tennent’s blog. Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, Mich., a graduate of Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary. His latest book, Love Wins, is an attempt to deconstruct widely held evangelical notions about heaven, hell and the lostness of humanity and replace it with a God whose cosmic love triumphs over human unbelief. It is Bell’s attempt to counter a very poor story with a better story.

The poor story is the story of a God who is an angry tyrant who sends people to hell for an eternity because of “sins committed in a few short years.”

Bell writes, “[T]elling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do, or say, or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story.”

In contrast, Bell wants to tell a better story which is “bigger and more expansive.” It is the story of the power of God’s love to triumph over a world of unbelief.

Rob Bell is to be commended for exposing the weak theology which apparently is present in many evangelical churches. But he caricatures evangelical beliefs to the limit of one’s imagination, playing on the worst kinds of stereotypes. According to Bell, evangelicals often proclaim a God who “is a slave driver” ready to “inflict pain and agony” on those who don’t pray “the sinner’s prayer in precisely the right way.”

Exclusivists are stereotyped as those who insist that “followers of Jesus confess him in the precise way defined by the group” or you will not be “going to heaven.”

Bell portrays evangelicals as those who are arrogantly cramming the gospel down the throats of an unbelieving world. He suggests that evangelicals care nothing about the environment or poverty or nuclear disarmament, or pollution because all that really matters is “getting people to pray the right prayer,” or believe just the right things so they can die and go to heaven which is “somewhere else” and in a time which is a “different time” than that which we occupy today.

I could spend pages disputing Bell’s caricature of evangelical faith and practice. I have met hundreds of solid evangelical pastors who do not fall into the traps which Rob Bell cites. The historic relationship between evangelical commitments and social action is a powerful and compelling story.

But, for the sake of the argument, let’s accept Bell’s critique as fairly exposing some serious flaws in the theology of contemporary evangelicalism. If it is true, then Bell has definitely revealed that most evangelical pastors need to go back to seminary.

Apparently, today’s pastors have forgotten that the kingdom of God has already broken in to the present age and we are to live out the full realities of the New Creation in the present age.

Apparently, today’s evangelicals have confused the New Creation with 19th century hymns concerning heaven which depict the “other side” as a remote, vague place of passivity with little to do but pluck our harps and walk on streets of gold.

Apparently, quite a few pastors across our nation need to re-learn the basic lesson that God actually loves lost people.

If half of what Rob Bell says about evangelicals is true, then we need to declare a massive recall along the lines of what Toyota did last year when so many cars were discovered to be defective. We need to declare that listening to today’s pastors is no longer safe and reliable until they are sent back for a re-fit and some major theological adjustments. Something deep inside me suspects that Rob Bell may actually be on to something here. Thank you, Rob!

Indeed, it is time for a renewed emphasis on the grand meta-narrative which tells the “big story” and puts all of these doctrines in a larger and more robust theological frame. Perhaps we need a recall and a re-tooling of a largely Christendom-trained clergy to a clergy better prepared for a post-Christendom world which desperately needs a robust gospel, not a domesticated one.

Bell has been listening to the church and to the culture and he has insightfully diagnosed that the church is theologically anemic. He is saying, in effect, “Houston, we have a problem…” — and for that I applaud him.

Right problem, wrong prescription

My problem with Rob Bell is not so much with his diagnostics regarding contemporary popular evangelicalism, as it is with his prescription. The real question is not whether Rob Bell’s description of contemporary evangelical poor theology of “salvation” “New Creation” and “kingdom” is worth the attention the book is receiving. Bell is writing a popular book.

The book has received attention because of its prescription. Rob Bell is not just telling us we are sick, he is providing a remedy, a prescript for the theological malaise we are in. He may not be aware that his “solution” is not new, but dates back to at least 1963 and the writings of Karl Rahner. Nevertheless, for many evangelicals who avoid any books with footnotes, Bell’s “solution” will be received like a fresh new “third way” between a highly caricatured, mean-spirited “exclusivism” and an unbridled, relativistic “pluralism” which levels the playing field between all religions.

The question is this: Is Rob Bell’s prescription worthy of wide dissemination in the church? Should I commend it to our seminary students preparing for ministry today? The answer is a resounding no. Here are four reasons which give me pause.

First, Bell profoundly misunderstands the Biblical notion of God’s “love.” The entire premise of the book is to declare that God’s essence is “love” (which Bell states repeatedly). However, Bell never actually describes the biblical and theological relationship between God’s joyful engagement with the human race and God’s justice upon which the very gospel he celebrates is declared. Bell sentimentalizes God’s love throughout his book, making it almost equivalent to God being nice and reasonable to modern sensibilities.

I suspect that Bell has underestimated how shockingly tepid and sentimental our understanding of biblical love has become. If he had inserted the phrase “God’s holy love” for every place he has used “God’s love” he would have gained more biblical traction, but, in the process, much of his own argumentation would have become unraveled.

Bell’s argument actually requires a logical separation between God’s love and God’s justice which is quite untenable in biblical theology.

Second, Bell has an inadequate understanding of Sin — not the little “s” kind, but the big “S” kind. In other words, Bell understands that we all sin, but he doesn’t seem to comprehend that we, as a race, are part of a vast rebellion against God’s holiness.

Without Christ we, as a race, stand under condemnation and desperately need a divine rescue. Sin doesn’t just impede our progress and slow down our autonomous capacity to receive God’s love. We are spiritually dead apart from God’s prior action. Both Reformed and Arminian Christians affirm the cosmic consequences of the Fall of man. We are not Pelagian.

Bell’s solution takes humanity out of the dock and puts God in the dock. After reading Bell’s book one gets the feeling that Bell has put God on trial. It is God who now has to justify why he would be so cruel as to sentence a sinner to eternal separation from his presence, especially given the “few short years” we have had to commit sins. An eternal punishment for temporal sins is just too much for Bell to bear and so God had better provide an explanation — a good one.

The unfathomable love of the Triune God which resulted in a sending father, a crucified and risen Son and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who ushers in the glorious realities of the New Creation into the present age is lost in Bell’s description of a “Son” who protects us from an angry “God.”

Third, Bell has an inadequate understanding of the Kingdom of God. He rightly chastises the collapse of salvation into personal justification, though he doesn’t use theological terms to describe this concern. However, in its place Bell fails to see that the kingdom has already been inaugurated, but is not fully consummated.

For Bell to say that heaven and hell are already here now is true in the sense that the kingdom of God is already breaking in (thus, heaven is breaking into the present age) and the absence of God’s rule and reign is hell. Bell correctly points out the relationship between “this age” and “the age to come.” Again, thank you Rob Bell! Bell correctly chastises a church with an under-realized eschatology which puts all redemption off into the “sweet by and by.”

However, Bell’s prescription is an over-realized eschatology which underestimates the massive redemption which still awaits societies, cultures, the kingdoms of this world and, indeed, creation itself. We live in an “already—not yet” tension. The Kingdom of God has already broken into the present evil age. Bell gets that point. However we still await our full redemption and the transformation which is ushered in by the eschaton will be dramatic and cosmic in scale. Bell misses that point.

Fourth, Bell’s solution exalts Christ’s work on the cross, but in the process sacrifices or ignores major themes in Scripture. Bell’s position regarding the state of the lost is known as inclusivism.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Bell is not a universalist, nor is he a full blown pluralist. A pluralist believes that all religions can independently save people and, therefore, there are many different, equally valid paths leading to God. In the pluralist world, Hinduism can save Hindus just as Christianity saves a Baptist. Bell does not take this position.

Bell’s argument is that you may, indeed, belong to a different religion, such as Islam, but it is Christ who saves you. You may be a practicing Buddhist or Hindu, but God is counting your faith as faith in Christ. It is a sort of Christocentric pluralism known as inclusivism and serves as a kind of half-way house between exclusivism and pluralism. It became popular in Roman Catholic circles in the wake of Vatican II and then spread to Protestantism and finally into evangelicalism in recent years.

The idea that a Buddhist could be saved by Christ has been called “Anonymous Christianity.” In other words, people are saved by Christ but do not realize it or know it.

(As an aside, I should note how offended many Buddhists were when they realized that some Christians taught that they were actually anonymous Christians. It is a form of stealth triumphalism which seeks to trump the dignity of unbelief.)

Bell drives a wedge between the ontological necessity of Christ’s work and the epistemological response of explicit repentance and faith. In other words, Christ’s work saves us even if we do not explicitly respond through repentance and faith. The relationship between God’s revelation and our response is severed. For Bell, God’s love saves “Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists as well as Baptists” and does so within their sincere seeking within their own religions.

Bell concedes that John 14:6 does claim that salvation is only in Jesus Christ, but he argues that the text doesn’t go on to say that we need to acknowledge this or know this truth or respond to this, in order to be saved by Christ. In contrast, Paul says, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). The relational link between the Redeemer and the redeemed is quietly dropped in Bell’s wider-hope inclusivism.

Bell makes a point that nowhere in the New Testament does it state that we need a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” However, Bell should remember that sin is not just a forensic, legal breach with God’s justice — it is also a relational breach with God’s person. Bell doesn’t seem to realize the vast implications his position has for the church, the Great Commission and the Biblical call to repentance and faith.

Bell’s ecclesiology has collapsed and we are left with an individual sincere seeker after God. The mission of the church has been, at best, stunted, since the other religions of the world have already brought (implicitly and anonymously) more people to the foot of the cross than has the global proclamation of the gospel.

However, it is only through dramatic theological reductionism that Bell equates biblical salvation in the New Testament to a lone individual seeker after God in a religion like Islam or Buddhism. Bell doesn’t just give us anonymous Christians, he gives us anonymous communities, anonymous Scriptures and anonymous sacraments.

He has effectively disembodied the faith and separated it from ecclesiology despite the fact that it is the church which is the public, redeemed community Jesus Christ declares that he will build to manifest before the world all of the active “heavenly” engagement in this world that Bell longs for.

A domesticated gospel — or a robust, Apostolic one?

Bell is probably right about several things. A lot of pastors out there are teaching stuff which only vaguely reflects the actual teachings of the New Testament. If Bell’s book awakens in the evangelical community a fresh, robust conversation about what we really believe about the kingdom, heaven, hell, the lost and the New Creation, we should all be delighted.

It is important to recognize that Bell’s response reveals that the depth of his own theological reflection is a bit thin, too. He has given us a domesticated gospel which tries to make the gospel relevant to contemporary sensibilities. However, it is not the gospel which needs to be made relevant to us. It is we who need to be made relevant to the gospel. The gospel is always relevant whether it is recognized as such or not.

In my estimation, Rob Bell, and apparently quite a few evangelical pastors, need a thorough re-grounding in the biblical doctrines of God’s love, sin, the kingdom of God, the necessity of human response and ecclesiology.

While I sincerely believe that the spread of wider-hope inclusivism into the evangelical movement represents a serious breach of theological coherence which will undermine the gospel, I am not standing with a stone in my hand. As a seminary president, Bell’s book reminded me anew of the importance of biblical and theological training. He reminded me afresh why I have given my life to theological education.

If there is a “beam” in the eye of the evangelical church it is that we must hear the resounding bell (no pun intended) that a post-Christendom, post-modern generation is not hearing the gospel. However, the answer is not Bell’s further domesticated gospel, but a more robust, Apostolic one.

We can no longer give out gospel fragments which are not clearly tied to re-building the grand meta-narrative which gloriously unfurls from creation to covenant to incarnation to death and resurrection to ascension to Pentecost to the church of Jesus Christ to the Return of Christ and the final ushering in of the New Creation.

A post-modern world which has reduced all Truth to tiny socially constructed personal narratives is in need of a big, glorious grand Story. This is really the deepest cry of Rob Bell. This is the deepest cry of many of us.

Bell has reminded us that our deepest theological and pastoral work cannot be done in isolation from the world, the church and the larger cultural milieu. The world always remains God’s greatest theological workshop. Bell’s book, Love Wins, calls us all back to the workshop in a fresh way. Let’s get to work, shall we?


Related posts
Claremont president: Christians shouldn’t evangelize people of other faiths
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The first doctrine’
A word from Mr. Wesley: The way to the kingdom
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The gospel in an age of skepticism’

Related information
Preface from the audio edition of Love Wins | Read by Rob Bell (HarperAudio)
Asbury Seminary elects new president | news release, Asbury Theological Seminary (via Pastors.com) (Feb. 17, 2009)
Asbury Seminary accounts for greatest number of United Methodist elder/deacon graduates (Report on Seminary/Theological School of Ordained Full-Connection Elder or Deacon—2009) (PDF) | Sarah Combs, UM General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (June 1, 2010)

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MethodistThinker.com is on its semi-annual hiatus (observed in February and August). This month, we are showcasing podcasts from the fall of 2010.

The premiere podcast of our fall 2010 season featured Methodist theologian Dr. Billy Abraham, the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology

Dr. Billy Abraham in 1992

Born in North Ireland in 1947, William J. Abraham was educated at Queen’s University in Belfast, Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and the University of Oxford in England.

After teaching several years at Seattle Pacific University, Dr. Abraham moved the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. At Perkins, he served as the McCreless Professor of Evangelism and Professor of Philosophy of Religion before becoming the Outler Professor of Wesley Studies in 1995.

Billy Abraham is also an ordained clergy member of the UMC’s Southwest Texas Conference, and he serves on the advisory council of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Abraham’s books include Waking from Doctrinal Amnesia: The Healing of Doctrine in the United Methodist Church (Abingdon, 1995); Wesley For Armchair Theologians (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005 — also available in an audio edition); and Aldersgate and Athens: John Wesley and the Foundations of Christian Belief (Baylor Univ. Press, 2010 — also available in a Kindle edition).

With James E. Kirby, he served as co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies, published in 2009 (a Google Books preview is here).

This podcast features a 1992 lecture, edited for length, on “The Renewal of United Methodist Doctrine and the Revitalization of Evangelism,” recorded at an evangelism symposium held at UM-affiliated Emory University in Atlanta.

Listen using the audio player below (22 min.) — or download an mp3 file (10.2 MB; on a PC, right click and choose “save as”).

Dr. Abraham’s full lecture is available in print in Theology and Evangelism in the Wesleyan Heritage (Kingswood Books, 1994).

For other MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Claremont president: Christians shouldn’t evangelize people of other faiths
Bill Bouknight: What I wish the Council of Bishops would say
Podcast: Bishop William R. Cannon on ‘The Whole Gospel for the Whole World’
Podcast: Sir Alan Walker — ‘Christianity at the Crossroads’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality

Related articles and information
Canonical Theism: Thirty Theses (book excerpt — via Google Books preview) | William J. Abraham — from Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008 )
Wesley for Armchair Theologians (excerpts — via Google Books preview) | William J. Abraham (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005)
Methodist philosopher Billy Abraham examines United Methodism’s decline | Mark Tooley, UMAction (Jan. 8, 2009)
Judicial Council Decision 1032 and Ecclesiology (PDF) | William J. Abraham — presented at a February 2007 consultation sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry re: the implications of UM Judicial Council Decision 1032, issued in October 2005 (text of decision)
The end of Wesleyan theology (PDF) | William J. Abraham, Journal of the Wesleyan Theological Society (Spring 2005)
United Methodists at the end of the mainline | William J. Abraham, First Things (June/July 1998) (via Leadership U)
C. S. Lewis and the conversion of the West | William J. Abraham, Touchstone (March/April 1998)
Healing our doctrinal dyslexia (adapted from an address delivered at a gathering of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, April 1995) | William J. Abraham, Good News (January/February 1996)

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This is the second installment of a monthly MethodistThinker feature for 2011 that  presents excerpts from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement.

Because the use of language changes with the passage of time, the wording in these excerpts has been slightly updated, based on the adaptation found in Renew My Heart (Barbour Books, 2011).

The following is from John Wesley’s sermon, “Salvation by Faith.” A link to the full text of the original sermon is included in the links below.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)

Salvation by faith must be preached as the first doctrine, and it must be preached to all. The Holy Spirit says, through St. Paul, “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).

“Whoever believes on Him shall be saved” is, and must be, the foundation to all else. That is, it must be preached first, and it must be preached to all. We must exclude no one. Not the poor. Not the unlearned. Not the young. For our commission is, “Go and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Never has maintaining the doctrine of salvation by faith been more seasonable that at this day. Nothing but this doctrine can effectually prevent the increase of delusions among us. Attacking one by one all the errors that assail us would be endless. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all errors fall at once where this truth is established.

It is this doctrine, justly called the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion, that first established Christianity on this continent. It is this alone that can save us now.

Wesley statue in Bristol, England
Photo by Chris Bertram (used by permission)

Nothing but this can give a check to the immorality which has overspread the land as a flood.

Can you empty the ocean drop by drop? But let the righteousness which is of God by faith be brought in and the waves shall be stayed.

Nothing but this can stop the mouths of those who “glory in their shame” and openly deny the Lord that bought them.

Bring in the gospel. Begin with the righteousness of faith, with Christ, “the end of the law” to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

Declaring salvation by faith strikes at the very foundations of hell. For this reason, our adversary stirred up earth and hell to destroy those who first preached it.

[But do not fear.] Even though you are as helpless and weak as a young infant, the strong man, Satan, will not be able to stand before you. You will prevail over him and subdue him, and overthrow him, and trample him under your feet.

March on, under the great captain of your salvation, conquering and to conquer, until all your enemies are destroyed, and “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Adapted in part from Renew My Heart,
published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Related posts
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Podcast: Donald English — Aldersgate Day address, 1988
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’

Related articles and information
Salvation by faith (full text) | The Rev. John Wesley (1738) (from The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 Edition — Thomas Jackson, editor)
‘By grace are ye saved through faith’ | John Meunier (June 24, 2010)
This still new doctrine of salvation by faith | John Meunier (Sept. 28, 2010)

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The final MethodistThinker Podcast of 2010 features an address by the foremost American evangelist of the 20th century, the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, speaking at the 1980 United Methodist Congress on Evangelism.

Born in North Carolina in 1918, William Franklin Graham gave his life to Jesus Christ at a evangelistic service in Charlotte in 1934.

The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham

Five years later, he was ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention. After graduating from Wheaton College (Illinois) in 1943, he served as a pastor and radio preacher.

In 1945, Graham became vice president of Youth For Christ, and in 1947 he was named president of Northwestern College in Minneapolis (now located in St. Paul).

Three year later, he launched the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and began his long-running radio program, The Hour of Decision.

In 1956, Graham helped found Christianity Today magazine, “partly to provide a voice for evangelicals in the mainline who did not find themselves represented in the Christian Century,” according to Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history at Duke Divinity School.

Throughout the 1950s, Billy Graham held evangelistic campaigns in many major U.S. cities, including a New York City crusade that ran for 16 weeks. He also held rallies in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe.

Graham continued to travel and preach regularly for five decades, until finally slowed by age and Parkinson’s Disease. His final crusade, at age 86, was in 2005 in New York City.

Billy Graham’s many best-selling books include America’s Hour of Decision, Peace with God and Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham.

The message on this podcast, edited for length, was recorded in January 1980 at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism, held that year on the campus of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

Dr. Graham’s message, “Confusion About Evangelism,” discusses the following:

  • Confusion over what evangelism means;
  • Confusion over the motive for evangelism;
  • Confusion over message of evangelism;
  • Confusion concerning strategy of the enemy in opposing evangelism;
  • Confusion over methods of evangelism.

To listen, use the audio player below (26 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 file (12.3MB).

The Congress on Evangelism is sponsored each January by the United Methodist Council on Evangelism and the UM General Board of Discipleship, with support from the Foundation for Evangelism.

For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.

Related posts
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Podcast: Eddie Fox—‘That the World May Know Jesus’
Podcast: Sir Alan Walker: ‘Christianity at the Crossroads’
Podcast: Harry Denman: ‘Are We Making Christ Known?’
Podcast: Bishop William R. Cannon: ‘The Whole Gospel for the Whole World’
Podcast: Terry Teykl on ‘Praying for the Lost’
Podcast: Charles Keysor—‘How then should UM evangelicals fight?’(NOTE: Keysor, founder of the UM renewal ministry Good News, came to Christ at a Graham crusade in 1959.)
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’
Related articles and information
Billy Graham and his last crusade? | Greg Laurie’s blog (Nov. 19, 2010)
Billy Graham’s legacy | A lecture by historian Grant Wacker, Duke Divinity School (April 24, 2009)
Graham ends crusade in city urging repentance and hope | New York Times (June 27, 2005)
The Billy pulpit: Graham’s career in Mainline Protestantism | Grant Wacker, Christian Century (via Beliefnet) (Nov. 15, 2003)
RNSGRAHAM-thumbnailA copyrighted photo of Billy Graham speaking at the UM Congress on Evangelism | Religion News Service (January 1980)

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The premiere podcast of our fall 2010 season features Methodist theologian Dr. Billy Abraham, the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology

Dr. Billy Abraham in 1992

Born in North Ireland in 1947, William J. Abraham was educated at Queen’s University in Belfast, Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and the University of Oxford in England.

After teaching several years at Seattle Pacific University, Dr. Abraham moved the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. At Perkins, he served as the McCreless Professor of Evangelism and Professor of Philosophy of Religion before becoming the Outler Professor of Wesley Studies in 1995.

Billy Abraham is also an ordained clergy member of the UMC’s Southwest Texas Conference, and he serves on the advisory council of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Abraham’s books include Waking from Doctrinal Amnesia: The Healing of Doctrine in the United Methodist Church (Abingdon, 1995); Wesley For Armchair Theologians (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005 — also available in an audio edition); and Aldersgate and Athens: John Wesley and the Foundations of Christian Belief (Baylor Univ. Press, 2010 — also available in a Kindle edition).

With James E. Kirby, he served as co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies, published in 2009 (a Google Books preview is here).

This podcast features a 1992 lecture, edited for length, on “The Renewal of United Methodist Doctrine and the Revitalization of Evangelism,” recorded at an evangelism symposium held at UM-affiliated Emory University in Atlanta.

Listen using the audio player below (22 min.) — or download an mp3 file (10.2 MB; on a PC, right click and choose “save as”).

Dr. Abraham’s full lecture is available in print in Theology and Evangelism in the Wesleyan Heritage (Kingswood Books, 1994).

For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


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Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
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Bill Bouknight: What I wish the Council of Bishops would say
Podcast: Bishop William R. Cannon on ‘The Whole Gospel for the Whole World’
Podcast: Sir Alan Walker — ‘Christianity at the Crossroads’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality

Related articles and information
Canonical Theism: Thirty Theses (book excerpt — via Google Books preview) | William J. Abraham — from Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008 )
Wesley for Armchair Theologians (excerpts — via Google Books preview) | William J. Abraham (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005)
Methodist philosopher Billy Abraham examines United Methodism’s decline | Mark Tooley, UMAction (Jan. 8, 2009)
Judicial Council Decision 1032 and Ecclesiology (PDF) | William J. Abraham — presented at a February 2007 consultation sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry re: the implications of UM Judicial Council Decision 1032, issued in October 2005 (text of decision)
The end of Wesleyan theology (PDF) | William J. Abraham, Journal of the Wesleyan Theological Society (Spring 2005)
United Methodists at the end of the mainline | William J. Abraham, First Things (June/July 1998) (via Leadership U)
C. S. Lewis and the conversion of the West | William J. Abraham, Touchstone (March/April 1998)

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The president of a United Methodist-affiliated seminary says Christians who feel the need to evangelize people of other faiths have “an incorrect perception of what it means to follow Jesus.” The comment from Jerry D. Campbell, president of California’s Claremont School of Theology, was published July 2 by the United Methodist Reporter.

Dr. Jerry D. Campbell

“The correct perception [of following Jesus] is much more on [the] side of learning to express love for God and love for your neighbor as yourself,” he told the newspaper.

Dr. Campbell’s remarks were reported in an article about Claremont’s plan to become an “interreligious institution” that offers clerical training for Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis as well as Christian pastors (see this June 14 MethodistThinker report). Claremont intends to later add training for Buddhists and Hindus, as well.

(On June 25, the United Methodist Church’s University Senate approved Claremont’s new multifaith educational model; details below.)

In dismissing an evangelistic imperative in relation to people who practice non-Christian faiths, Dr. Campbell appears to be calling into question the church’s historic understanding of the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28, as well as much of the Christian movement’s evangelistic and missionary ministry over its 2,000-year history.

Further, Dr. Campbell’s comments seem at odds with official United Methodist doctrine, which declares that the “ultimate concern” of the church’s ministry is “that all persons will be brought into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ” (United Methodist Book of Discipline ¶127). The Book of Discipline also states that while United Methodists “respect persons of all religious faiths,” the UMC “affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all” (¶121).

The United Methodist statements about Christ’s uniqueness, lordship, and salvific work stand against a “pluralistic” religious view that sees all religions as equally valid and as serving essentially the same function.

From the religious pluralist’s perspective, evangelizing people of other faiths is not only unnecessary but constitutes an exercise in arrogance, as summed up by missiologist and theologian Lesslie Newbigin in his influential 1989 book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (here via Google Books):

If what matters about religious beliefs is not the factual truth of what they affirm, but the sincerity with which they are held; if religious belief is a matter of personal inward experience rather than an account of what is objectively the case, then there are certainly no grounds for thinking that Christians have the right— much less any duty — to seek conversion of [others] to the Christian faith….

[According to the religious pluralist, we] have no right to affirm…that there is no other name given under heaven whereby we are to be saved.

The issue of how — and if — Christians should seek to evangelize people of other faiths was a “recurring theme” at Edinburgh 2010, last month’s ecumenical world mission conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, according to a June 4 report published by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.

Many perspectives emerged among the 300 delegates from 67 countries and more than 50 Christian denominations…. A few voices in a study section on other faiths spoke in favor of a “live and let live” approach to non-Christians, but the temper of the small group reports there reflected that of the overall Edinburgh 2010 conference — witnessing to one’s faith in the contexts of living….

Dr. Dana L. Robert at Edinburgh 2010

A witness approach prevailed among the panelists of conference speakers in the June 4 press conference. “Mission is the church breathing,” said Dr. Dana Robert, the conference keynote speaker, who is a professor at Boston University School of Theology and a United Methodist. “If we don’t breathe, we die,” Dr. Robert said.

In relating to people of other faiths, she recommended an approach of engagement and hospitality to all people…. For Christians, she said, “witnessing to the love of God in Jesus Christ” is an essential part of life, but the results of that witness lie with the Holy Spirit.

Groups participating in the Edinburgh 2010 conference included (partial list): the Anglican Communion, Baptist World Alliance, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches, and the World Methodist Council.

Dr. Dana Robert, in addition to serving as the Truman Collins Professor of World Christianity and History of Mission at the Boston University School of Theology, also heads the School’s Center for Global Christianity and Mission. One of the Center’s stated tasks is “to explore the relationship of mission studies and interfaith dialogue in theory and practice.”

In his 2002 book, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, Timothy C. Tennent, now president of Asbury Theological Seminary, argued that inter-religious dialogue and faithfulness to historic Christianity are not mutually exclusive. But he rejected acceptance of an “all-religions-are-fundamentally-the-same” ideology.

[W]e must not succumb to the forces of religious pluralism that seek to bring to the table of dialogue a version of Christianity that has been robbed of its distinctiveness. For too long interreligious dialogue has been advanced and identified with a pluralist agenda that openly seeks to accommodate other world religions by discarding distinctive Christian doctrines such as the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ….

True interreligious dialogue acknowledges that all religions in one way or another seek to defend certain truth claims. It is not fair to any religion to allow it to be ensnared in the swamp of religious pluralism, which concludes that we are all saying the same thing….

Many of the proponents of dialogue… [insist] that any desire to convert another person is a fundamental violation of the mutuality inherent in dialogue. The result is the advocacy of a dialogue without persuasion. However, the mutuality of dialogue is not sacrificed if everyone is permitted to speak with persuasion….

[W]e must learn to listen to and understand the actual claims of other religions in order to effectively bear witness to our faith. The New Testament does not just call us to preach the gospel, but to communicate the gospel. This means we cannot speak the gospel into thin air; rather it must be effectively communicated to specific contexts, and we must be ready and willing to respond to real and specific objections and doubts, giving reasons for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15)….

[I]t is argued [by some that] Christians who dialogue are actually engaged in a monologue disguised as a mutual exchange. On the contrary, I have discovered over and over again that I am enriched by the mutual exchange….

Asbury's Dr. Timothy C. Tennent

I do not think my own appreciation for the doctrine of the Trinity would be nearly as deep if the doctrine had not been challenged so often by my Islamic friends. It was the Buddhists, not my own Christian friends, who finally helped me see the momentous dangers of advocating faith without a clear connection to the historical Jesus of Nazareth….

[W]e stand at an opportune time in the history of the church…. Many who so eagerly jumped onto the postmodern bandwagon are beginning to realize that the true struggle is not between tolerance and intolerance but between truth and falsehood. A new openness to revelation is emerging as well as a desire to reclaim the language of truth that has, until recently, been dropped into the abyss of relativism.

This makes it an exciting and strategic time to sit down at the religious roundtable and bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Although Asbury Theological Seminary is not one of the United Methodist Church’s 13 official seminaries, it currently educates about 17 percent of all those training to be United Methodist clergy, according to a 2009 article in Good News magazine.

On June 25, the United Methodist Church’s University Senate, a elected body that determines which schools meet criteria for being affiliated with the denomination, approved Claremont School of Theology’s new interreligious educational model.

The Senate also ordered the release of an estimated $800,000 in Ministerial Education Fund (MEF) money that had been withheld earlier this year pending a review of Claremont’s multifaith educational model and its overall financial situation. MEF funds are raised from local United Methodist churches via the UMC’s apportionment structure.

Riley B. Case, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, described the University Senate’s decision in favor of Claremont as “a tragic step for the United Methodist Church to take,” according the United Methodist Reporter (from the same article quoted earlier).

“[Is Claremont] really fulfilling what ought to be the purpose of United Methodist seminaries?” he asked. “Are they tied into the mission of the church, which is to make disciples for Jesus Christ?”

However, Ellen Ott Marshall, associate professor of Christian ethics at the UM-affiliated Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, told the Reporter that Claremont’s interreligious approach is “a tremendous and exciting leap forward.”

Although no other UM seminary has thus far adopted a multifaith model, in 2007 UM-affiliated Emory University, home of the Candler School of Theology, named Buddhist leader (and Tibetan head of state) the Dalai Lama as a Presidential Distinguished Professor.

This fall, Emory is sponsoring an Interfaith Summit on Happiness featuring Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Dalai Lama (a title that roughly translates as “Ocean of Wisdom”), Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (U.K.).


Related posts
UM seminary embraces non-Christian faiths, will train Muslim imams, Jewish rabbis
Podcast — Bishop William R. Cannon: ‘The Whole Gospel for the Whole World’
Podcast — Harry Denman: ‘Are We Making Christ Known?’
Podcast — Sir Alan Walker: ‘Christianity at the Crossroads’
Podcast — Eddie Fox: ‘That the World May Know Jesus’

Related articles and information
Claremont’s religious diversity: Church affirms multi-faith project | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (July 2, 2010)
United Methodist money to train Muslim clerics? | Riley B. Case, Good News (July 6, 2010)
Another PR release for Claremont | Terry Mattingly, GetReligion.org (July 6, 2010)
University Senate rescinds public warning (PDF) | news release, University Senate of the United Methodist Church (June 25, 2010)
University Senate organization, policies, and guidelines — 2009-2012 (PDF) | United Methodist University Senate
Members of the United Methodist University Senate — 2009-2012 | UM General Board of Higher Education & Ministry
Methodists, Muslims and Jews: Learning together to lead together | Jerry D. Campbell, On Faith, WashingtonPost.com (June 10, 2010)
Claremont seminary reaches beyond Christianity | Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times (June 9, 2010)
All religions are the same, right? | Bobby Ross Jr., GetReligion.org (June 10, 2010)
Theology school becomes 1st accredited U.S. seminary to train Muslim & Jewish theologians | Islam Today (June 9, 2010)
Methodist and multi-faith dialogue | Sandra N. Bane (chair, Claremont School of Theology board of trustees), Los Angeles Newspaper Group (April 24, 2010)
Being Methodist and multifaith | Jerry D. Campbell, United Methodist Reporter (Oct. 15, 2009)
Why Methodist seminaries are becoming irrelevant and dying | Riley B. Case, Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church (July 2009 — via Methodist Examiner)
Report from Church of England Bishops highlights unchanging duty to share the Good News | The Church of England (June 21, 2010)
Christian mission and other faiths: A complex issue | Elliott Wright, United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries (June 4, 2010)
Mission and unity in the long view from 1910 to the 21st century (PDF) | Dana L. Robert, keynote address at the Edinburgh 2010—Witnessing to Christ Today conference (June 3, 2010)
Report on Study Theme 2: Christian mission among other faiths | Edinburgh 2010—Witnessing to Christ Today (April 2010)
Statement on Wesleyan/Methodist witness in Christian and Islamic cultures (PDF) | World Methodist Council (Sept. 18, 2004)

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