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On this edition of the MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, Dr. Stephen P. Wende, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church–Houston, Texas, urges the election of delegates to the 2012 UMC General Conference “who will represent God-honoring, Kingdom-focused, Christ-first, biblically strong positions.”

Steve Wende addressing N. Ga. clergy in Jan. 2011

He says that the outcome of this year’s elections will determine whether or not the future of the United Methodist Church will “be built on the path of orthodoxy, the primacy of Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom.”

Delegate elections for General Conference 2012 are occurring now across the denomination, at annual-conference sessions that began in March. Most annual conferences in the U.S. hold their yearly gatherings this month (full schedule here—PDF).

To listen to the podcast (5 min.), click the arrow on the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (5MB).

Steve Wende, a native Texan, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He has served as the senior pastor at First Methodist Houston since 2001.

He is a board member of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to several UM General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

The audio of Steve Wende used on this podcast was recorded at a January 2011 meeting of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, a group of clergy in the North Georgia Conference. Dr. Wende’s full remarks at that event are posted here.

To subscribe to the biweekly MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
GC 2012 delegates set at 988 — Philippines gains delegates despite large membership loss
Steve Wende: Doctrinal orthodoxy should be deciding factor in choosing GC delegates
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Podcast — Randy Maddox: ‘Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline’

Related information
Schedule of 2011 United Methodist Annual Conferences (PDF) | General Council on Finance and Administration (Feb. 28, 2011)

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On this edition of the MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, Dr. George Hunter of Asbury Seminary details how Methodism, at least in its institutional United Methodist form, has become what it was once a reaction against.

Dr. George Hunter

In his remarks, recorded earlier this year at United Methodist Congress on Evangelism, Dr. Hunter asks if “a once great movement” — now greatly deficient in New Testament Christianity — “can become a contagious apostolic movement once again?”

To listen to a five-minute excerpt from his January 2011 address, use the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (5MB). (Audio of Dr. Hunter courtesy of GNTV Media Ministry.)

Dr. George G. Hunter III holds the Ralph W. Beeson Chair of Christian Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary, where he serves as Distinguished Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth. He the founding dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury.

Dr. Hunter is a graduate of Florida Southern College, the Candler School of Theology (Emory University), Princeton Seminary, and Northwestern University.

He is the author of a dozen books, including The Apostolic Congregation: Church Growth Reconceived for a New Generation (Abingdon, 2009) and The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again (Tenth Anniversary Edition) (Abingdon, 2010).

To subscribe to the biweekly MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, 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’
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’
Randy Maddox: ‘Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline’
Billy Graham at the 1980 UM Congress on Evangelism

Related articles and information
The Call to Action: A serious conversation | George G. Hunter III, Good News magazine (March-April 2011)
Barbarians in our midst: How the Irish spread the gospel | A conversation with George G. Hunter III, Good News magazine (March-April 2000 — via Thunderstruck)

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On this edition of the MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, Bishop Lindsey Davis of the Kentucky Annual Conference says the United Methodist Church must repent of its missional lethargy and re-commit itself to the purposes of God in Jesus Christ if it hopes to have renewed life.

Bishop G. Lindsey Davis

In his remarks, recorded last fall at a meeting of the Christian Educators Fellowship, Bishop Davis references Deuteronomy 30:19 (“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life…”) and Zechariah 9:12 (“…you prisoners of hope”).

To listen to a five-minute excerpt from that October 2010 address, use the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (5MB).

Before being assigned to the Louisville Area, Bishop Davis served for 12 years as the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference.

To subscribe to the biweekly MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Bishop Lindsey Davis: The wind-and-flame faith of Pentecost
Conversations with Bishop Lindsey Davis
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘Whatever it takes to reach the lost’
Bishop Lindsey Davis speaks to the Confessing Movement

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The MethodistThinker Podcast has returned from hiatus with a new, shorter format. Rather than featuring longer-form presentations, as it has for the past two years, the refashioned podcast is only five minutes long.

Each “mini” podcast will feature a brief teaching excerpt from a Methodist leader.

We hope the shorter format will make the podcast more user-friendly for busy pastors and lay people.

Dr. Bill Bouknight

The first installment of the new bi-weekly MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast features Dr. Bill Bouknight preaching about the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Listen below, or download an mp3 file. To subscribe, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts link near the top of the right column.

William R. Bouknight retired from the pastorate in 2007 after more than 40 years of serving United Methodist congregations in South Carolina and Tennessee. He became an associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church in 2008.

Dr. Bouknight is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001), and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007). He was educated at Duke University, the University of Edinburgh, and Yale Divinity School.

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The following commentary is by Wesley Putnam, a full-time evangelist in the UMC and former president of the National Association of United Methodist Evangelists.

Wesley Putnam

Below, Mr. Putnam provides an eyewitness account of a Feb. 27 church conference at University United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, at which the church voted to affiliate with the pro-homosexuality Reconciling Ministries Network.

RMN seeks to change the United Methodist Church’s position on same-sex relations, which is rooted in the historic Christian teaching that sexual contact between two men or two women falls outside the boundaries of acceptable moral conduct for disciples of Jesus Christ.

RMN also seeks to end the UMC’s prohibition on accepting sexually active homosexuals as candidates for ordained ministry (¶304.3 of the UM Book of Discipline).

Links in the commentary below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.


I got up early on Sunday, Feb. 27, and headed out from Bedford, Texas, to Austin. This was the day that had been advertised by University United Methodist Church as the day they were going to vote on becoming a Reconciling Congregation.

“A local church or any of its organizational units may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement.

“Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church.”

Judicial Council Decision #871

“[A]nnual conferences may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions.”

Judicial Council Decision #886

The primary problem with this vote is that it is clearly forbidden by Decision #871 of the United Methodist Judicial Council [see excerpt at left]. In addition, Judicial Council Decision #886 has bearing on this matter [also excepted at left].

As soon as I found out that University UMC was planning this vote, I notified the pastor, the Rev. John Elford, that he was moving the church in a direction that seemed to be in clear violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. He indicated he was determined to continue and had already discussed it with his District Superintendent.

I then contacted the office for the District Superintendent in the Austin District, the Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones, citing the relevant Judicial Council Decisions. I never received a response.

Next, I contacted Bishop Jim Dorff of the Southwest Texas Conference and informed him of the plans of UUMC. He excused the action because, in his view, the congregation was only “affiliating” — not “identifying” — with the Reconciling Ministries Network.

I fail to see the difference. Affiliating with a group is identifying with a group. And Judicial Council Decision #871 simply says that Annual Conferences, local churches, and units within churches (Sunday School classes, UMW groups, etc.) are forbidden to “identify or label” themselves as “an unofficial body or movement.”

After weeks of back and forth emails, I decided to attend the Feb. 27 Church Conference at University UMC as an observer. I also attended the morning worship service just before the church conference.

A first-hand account

The sanctuary at UUMC is lovely, and the bottom floor was comfortably full with between 250 and 300 worshipers. The congregation that gathered was multi-generational. I was met by friendly greetings from several members as I made my way to my seat.

University UMC — Austin, Texas

I noticed that rainbow crosses and pink triangles were displayed on many lapels.

The pipe organ was belting out a rousing call to worship and the sound reverberated off the ample hardwood surfaces of the room. The atmosphere was celebratory as the congregants anticipated the purpose of this day.

The style of worship was traditional. There was a lot of liturgy and an assortment of ancient hymns, plus also a couple of more recent songs from the hymnal supplement.

Everything in the service was designed to lead up to this historic vote. Even the children’s sermon was a call to remember that there are many different pieces that make up a puzzle.

“When God’s peace is at work, even though we are going in lots of different directions, God brings us together and gives us God’s love,” the pastor told the children. “To love each other, care for each other and be reconciled to each other. We want to be with all different kinds of people, not just people just like us,” he said.

The last statement was directed to the adult congregation more so than it was to the children.

University UMC’s pastor, John Elford, is a tall man with a quiet and conversational speaking style. In remarks sprinkled with humor, he emphasized that UUMC is a “welcoming congregation” and the people there are “learning more and more every day” about all that term means.

Ironically, the Scripture Pastor Elford chose to speak on was “Blessed are the peacemakers” — on a day when he was leading the church to take a divisive action.

Audio of John Elford’s Feb. 27 sermon (19 min.)

I certainly didn’t disagree with everything he said. He spoke of the hard work Jesus calls us to of reconciling the world to God. He said it is not always easy to make peace. Peacemaking can be back-breaking work in which we must trust God’s providence for success.

Pastor Elford said we need not fear as we do this work because evil is being overcome with good. He declared that the forces we are up against are what Paul called “principalities and powers.”

Regrettably, the context of the day infused Pastor Elford’s words with a meaning that differs from church’s historic proclamation of the gospel. Ultimately, the pastor of University United Methodist Church was challenging his congregation to “make peace” with what God’s Word has declared to be sinful. In this new meaning of things, a person cannot be truly “welcomed” unless his or her behavior is affirmed and even endorsed.

The Rev. John Elford (standing, blue shirt) awaits the vote

Pastor Elford was calling his church to celebrate behavior that has been condemned for thousands of years — including in both the Old and New Testaments.

Further, he was asking them to violate the spirit of our denominational Book of Discipline and the clear intent of the UM Judicial Council by joining an unofficial group whose statement of purpose is opposed to church law.

The controversy over how the church will treat homosexual behavior has been “front and center” in every General Conference for four decades. The United Methodist response has been consistent, clear, and gracious. We view homosexuals — as we do all people — as being of sacred worth, but we recognize homosexual behavior as being contrary to the teaching of Scripture and the established body of doctrine held by the church. That is our stand.

It is not the prerogative of a pastor or local church to purposely rebel against settled church law, while suggesting that everyone who opposes them (including, by implication, the UM Judicial Council, the General Conference, and every orthodox UM member) is a part of the “principalities and powers” of darkness.

But led by their pastor, and with the district superintendent present, this is precisely what University United Methodist Church did. After the 11 a.m. service, by a vote of 228 to 15, UUMC became affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network.

Why this matters

The wording of the ballot (shown below at right) makes it clear that the ruling of the Judicial Council has been violated. By calling itself “a member of RMN” and placing the phrase “A Reconciling Congregation” on its website and other communications, UUMC has identified or labeled itself as an unofficial body or movement.

Click to enlarge

There are several possible chargeable offenses inherent in this action.

I believe in presiding over this vote, the Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones failed in her job as a District Superintendent. When this Church Conference was called for, she should have ruled the meeting out of order and refused to place the power of her office behind this action.

Moreover, because Bishop Jim Dorff was made aware of this action and refused to intervene, he has, in my opinion, failed to do his job in upholding and defending the faith and enforcing the Discipline.

Why does the action of University UMC matter? In a word, it’s all about covenant. As an elder in the United Methodist Church, I am in covenant with all other elders, bishops and district superintendents included.

From the UUMC website

The Discipline defines that covenant in Paragraph 306: “An order is a covenant community within the church to mutually support, care for, and hold accountable its members for the sake of the life and mission of the church” (emphasis added).

This is serious business.

This whole debate began in the 1990s when my home conference in Northwest Texas voted to become a “Confessing Conference.” This action was challenged and the Judicial Council rulings cited above were made. Any church or conference that had declared itself as affiliated with the Confessing Movement or Reconciling Movement were asked to remove any mention of it from their signage and printed materials.

The Confessing Movement churches and conferences complied. But as the Reconciling Ministries Network continues enlisting churches in its cause, the bishops are turning a blind eye.

Because of the vows I took as a member of the order of elders, I am compelled to speak up. I will not be silent.


Related posts
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Riley Case: Retired bishops’ statement is a sign of UMC’s sickness
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Riley Case: The future of the United Methodist Church is at stake
Judicial Council overturns bishop’s ruling on sexuality statement
Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08

Related information
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
A reply to Wesley Putnam | Adrienne Trevathan, MOSAIC blog (March 21, 2011) — Note: MOSAIC is a student-focused extension outreach of the Reconciling Ministries Network, “affirm[ing] all sexual orientations and gender identities as gifts of God.”
University United Methodist Church moves to become part of larger reconciling network | Joshunda Sanders, Austin American-Statesman (Feb. 26, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why bother becoming “reconciling”? | The Rev. John Elford, Keeping Jesus Weird blog (Jan. 15, 2011)
Why bother becoming “reconciling”? (part 2) | The Rev. John Elford, Keeping Jesus Weird blog (Feb. 7, 2011)
Three steps to affiliate with RMN (PDF) | Reconciling Ministries Network
Methodists to vote on GLBT inclusion | Audrey White, The Daily Texan (Nov. 22, 2010)
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
Judicial Council Decision 1032 and ecclesiology (PDF) | William J. Abraham, General Board of Higher Education & Ministry Consultation on Decision 1032 (February 2007)
The church and homosexuality | Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, e-Review (Florida United Methodist News Service) (July 12, 2006)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Debate at the 2004 General Conference on various legislation related to homosexuality (includes audio) | 2004 General Conference Archive
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Bible (PDF) | R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
Good News’ response to Cal/Nevada’s dismissal of complaints against 68 clergy involved in same-sex covenant | James V. Heidinger II on behalf of the Good News Board of Directors (Feb. 14, 2000)
Good News board urges bishops to preserve unity of church | United Methodist News Service (Feb. 2, 1999)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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During February, we’re showcasing podcasts from our fall 2010 season. This podcast features an address by the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, the flagship renewal ministry of the United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Rob Renfroe

Robert Lane Renfroe earned a B.A. magna cum laude from Rice University (1977) and an M. Div. summa cum laude from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (1982).

After graduating from seminary, he was appointed to be the associate pastor at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, north of Houston.

In 1988, he was named pastor of First United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Texas. Four years later, he moved to Mission Bend UMC in Houston.

In 1998, Renfroe was named executive pastor at Houston’s First United Methodist Church, serving alongside Dr. Bill Hinson (PDF). After three years in that role, he returned to The Woodlands UMC as the pastor of adult discipleship, a position he continues to hold.

From 2007-2009, Rob Renfroe also served as president of the board of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church. He is also a past member of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

Renfroe became the leader of Good News — and publisher of Good News magazine — in the summer of 2009, following the retirement of the ministry’s long-time leader, James V. Heidinger II.

“The Deeper Issues of United Methodist Renewal” is a presentation Rob Renfroe has delivered at various renewal gatherings. The four issues he discusses are:

  • The nature of moral truth;
  • The authority of the Scriptures;
  • The revelatory work of the Holy Spirit;
  • The uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

The particular address heard on this podcast was recorded in June 2007 at a gathering of the Arkansas Conference Confessing Movement.

To listen, use the audio player below (28 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (12.6MB).

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
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
UM renewal leader: ‘The UMC is worth fighting for’
Podcast: Charles Keysor—‘How then should UM evangelicals fight?’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
A salute to James Heidinger of Good News

Related articles and information
The deeper issues of United Methodist renewal | Rob Renfroe, Good News (via The Sundry Times)
What do United Methodists expect from their bishops? | Rob Renfroe, Good News (Feb. 17, 2011)
Should the UMC change its ordination standards and allow sexually active homosexuals to serve as clergy? | Rob Renfroe, Good News (Feb. 17, 2011)
In pursuit of truth | Rob Renfroe, Good News (January/February 2011)
Good News moves ministry to Houston, Texas area | Good News (November/December 2010)
Your life, God’s gift | Rob Renfroe, Good News (November/December 2010)
Believe, experience, and increase | Rob Renfroe, Good News (June/July 2010)
Grace and truth | Rob Renfroe, Asbury Seminary Chapel podcast (April 13, 2010)
Health care and the most vulnerable | Rob Renfroe, Good News (November/December 2009)
Speaking the truth in love | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2009)
For the cause of Christ (PDF) | Rob Renfroe, Good News (May/June 2009)
I wonder if you’re like me (PDF) | Rob Renfroe, We Confess (January/February 2007)
Defining the issues: A Methodist witness | Albert Mohler (Nov. 1, 2006)
United Methodism in crisis: Scriptural renewal through the Good News Movement | Chapter 4 of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)
Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church (ordering info) | Thomas C. Oden, Baker Books (2006)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
The story of Good News: A recollection by Charles W. Keysor (PDF) | Good News (March/April 1981)
The Junaluska Affirmation: Scriptural Christianity for United Methodists (PDF) | Forum for Scriptural Christianity (Good News) (July 20, 1975)

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During February, while MethodistThinker is on hiatus from new postings, we’re showcasing podcasts from our fall 2010 season. This podcast features an address by Bishop Alfred Norris.

Bishop Alfred Norris in 2005 (via UMNS)

Born in Louisiana in 1938, Alfred Lloyd Norris was educated at Dillard University in New Orleans and Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta.

After serving for 16 years as a United Methodist pastor and district superintendent in his native state, he was named president of Gammon in 1985.

In 1992, he was elected to the UM episcopacy and assigned to the New Mexico and Northwest Texas conferences. Later, Bishop Norris moved to the Texas Annual Conference, where he served until his retirement in 2004.

In 2006, he was asked to return to the active episcopacy to fill the term of North Texas Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure, who had died in office. After leading the North Texas Conference for two years, Bishop Norris retired again from active status in 2008.

Last year, he returned to Gammon Theological Seminary when asked to serve as the school’s interim president and dean, a position he held until Jan. 1, 2011. Gammon, founded in 1883, is the United Methodist part of a consortium of six historically African-American theological schools in the Atlanta area collectively known as the Interdenominational Theological Center.

This podcast features Bishop Norris’ address, edited for length, presented at the 2005 ordination service of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Listen using the audio player below (18 min.) — or download an mp3 file (8.2 MB; on a PC, right click and choose “save as”).

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: Maxie Dunnam on ‘The Pastor as Prophet, Priest, and Evangelist
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Bishop James King on ‘Preaching Authority’
Podcast: Tom Atkins — ‘We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit’
Podcast: Bishop Robert E. Hayes on ‘A Long Fight with a Short Stick’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’

Related articles and information
Interim president-dean for Gammon Theological Seminary appointed | General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (March 22, 2010)
Bishop Alfred Norris to lead North Texas Conference | United Methodist News Service (Sept. 13, 2006)
Biography of Bishop Alfred L. Norris | Council of Bishops Gallery, United Methodist Church

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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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The pastor of one of the United Methodist Church’s largest congregations is urging those casting votes for delegates to the 2012 General Conference not to allow personal friendships to carry more weight than theological orthodoxy.

“[If a brother or sister wants my vote] and yet they don’t believe the same things I do, all I can say is ‘I love you, but I’ve got to vote my conscience,'” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Wende, pastor of Houston’s First United Methodist Church, in a Jan. 8 address to a clergy group in the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Dr. Steve Wende at North Georgia's Mt. Pisgah UMC

Wende urged the the election of General Conference delegates “who will represent God-honoring, Kingdom-focused, Christ-first, biblically strong positions.”

The elections will occur at annual conference sessions across the UMC this year. The General Conference will be held April 24-May 4, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

The outcome of this year’s elections, Wende said, will determine if the United Methodist Church will “be built on the path of orthodoxy, the primacy of Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom.”

Wende spoke to a gathering of North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement, held at Mt. Pisgah UMC in suburban Atlanta.

The Texas pastor noted that the North Georgia Conference, the largest annual conference in the United States, plays a unique role in the overall direction of the United Methodist Church.

“We need North Georgia involved at the highest levels of the [UMC], helping the church keep its weight on scriptural authority and the apostolic tradition. And if North Georgia won’t [do that], then we’re all in trouble.”

According to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement’s December 2010 newsletter, the group seeks to “promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring [that] the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of [John] Wesley and the Bible.”

WRM clergy are “unified in our belief that the actions of [the] General Conference are key to revitalizing our church or to sending it further into decline,” the newsletter said.

In his address, Steve Wende said he is encouraged by many things happening in the United Methodist Church, believing that the denomination made a positive turn in the early 1990s.

Our numbers are not great because we are [not doing well] in certain parts of this nation. We are hemorrhaging members and ministry. But in other parts of this nation and in Africa…the Holy Spirit is moving in dramatic ways.

I think the best days of this denomination are absolutely ahead…. But I also believe that those good days are not automatic — and that if the corner has been turned, which it has, we now need to make sure that the ship keeps going in a healthy direction.

Wende urged his audience to recommit to “thinking theologically.” He noted that his own preaching has become much more doctrinally focused in recent years because “the most important challenges being launched against…the church today are not about ‘practical’ issues.” Instead, those challenges are focused on “what orthodox Christians believe,” he said.

Our ministry to the poor and service to others…is not what offends the culture. What offends the culture is Jesus…. It’s Jesus [who is] being attacked. And if we are not willing to defend at the point of attack, we have betrayed our Jesus.

We have to be willing ourselves to learn again how to think and speak theologically about the basics of the faith.

The Houston First pastor also said United Methodist pastors need to focus on building “healthy, caring, authentic Christian relationships” with each other as well as with lay people. “All healthy [church] politics grows out of people who first understand what healthy relationship looks like and who [build a] community of healthy relationships,” he said.

To listen to Steve Wende’s address to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, use the audio player below (35 min.), or download an mp3 file (12.5MB).

A native Texan, Steve Wende is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary.

He is a board member of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to several UM General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Dr. Wende has served as the senior pastor at First Methodist Houston since 2001.


Related posts
GC 2012 delegates set at 988 — Philippines gains delegates despite large membership loss
Four things the UMC must do ‘to serve the present age’
Bishop Scott Jones: Rethinking the path to a worldwide UMC (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)

Related articles and information
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: The Hitchens Transcript: An exchange between Christopher Hitchens and Marilyn Sewell | The Portland Monthly (January 2010)
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: A west coast lament (comparing growth trends in the North Georgia and Cal-Pac Conferences) | Steve Beard, Good News (October/November 2010)
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: Statement in opposition to Structure Study Commission Report | Albert C. Outler, from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference (April 17, 1972)
Wesleyan Renewal Movement | Steve Wood, pastor of North Georgia’s Mt. Pisgah UMC (June 14, 2010)
Unity Task Force Meeting: Dialogue with Renewal Leaders (PDF) | Meeting with the Council of Bishops Unity Task Force, Lake Junaluska, N.C. (Nov. 5, 2009)

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The hyper-commercialization of the Christmas season is nothing new. Fifty-two years ago satirist Stan Freberg produced “Green Chri$tma$,” a memorable indictment of the profit-above-all mindset that seeks to transform the celebration of the Incarnation into an endorsement of everything from soft drinks to soap.

Stan Freberg in the late 1950s

“All my life I had been disturbed by advertising’s increasingly blatant intrusion into Christmas,” Freberg recounted in his his 1998 book, It Only Hurts When I Laugh (Crown Publishing).

[H]aving been raised as a Christian, in a minister’s home, was mostly responsible for my feelings about it, but once I began working as a professional advertising person around people in agencies and clients, I suddenly realized that the overcommercialization simply didn’t have to be….

If a company wanted to tie some product into Christmas that just didn’t fit or that was grossly out of place, it was the job of its advertising agency to talk them out of it. If the agency was the one who had dreamed up ways of lashing some extraneous product into the holiday… it’s the client’s job to talk the agency out of it. Client and agency should save each other from themselves.

Why? Because it is the ethical thing to do.

“Green Chri$tma$” was greeted with controversy even before its release, Freberg recalled in his book.

[After we made the recording,] I was in New York when a call came in from a man named Lloyd Dunn. He was the new president of Capitol…. He…did not share my sense of moral outrage that Christmas had deteriorated into a sell-a-thon. He was calling now to tell me that on the advice of legal and many other people at Capitol he was pulling “Green Chri$tma$” off release…

“This is a very offensive recording[,” he said].

“Who is it offensive to?” I asked.

“Everybody in the world of business!” he said. “You’ll offend everybody in advertising!”

“Not everybody,” I said. “Just the ones who should be offended.”

When Stan Freberg threatened to leave Capitol over the company’s refusal to release “Green Chri$tma$,” Dunn relented, but he demanded that Freberg “take out any mention of whose birthday we’re celebrating,” according to the account in It Only Hurts When I Laugh. Freberg refused.

Eventually, “Green Chri$tma$” was released as originally produced, but with no publicity from Capitol.

Nonetheless, the recording gained attention — including plenty of negative attention from advertisers and those businesses (i.e., newspapers and broadcasting stations) supported by advertising.

A Christmas Day (1958) editorial in the Los Angeles Times accused Freberg of attacking the spirit of giving. In a rejoinder, published in the paper three weeks later, Freberg wrote that Times had misidentified the object of his satire.

[“Green Chri$tma$”] is an attack on one thing and one thing only: advertisers who…decide to take a crack at tying their extraneous products into Christmas with Alka-Seltzer, soap, hair tonic and whiskey ads (to name a few), implying that it is indeed the Christian thing to be alkalized, clean, dandruff-free and loaded for Christmas.

Somehow this is a little sickening and a far cry from the gift giving that took place in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

In a interview decades later, Freberg noted that despite a few dated elements, the satirical point of “Green Chri$tma$” remained remarkably sharp. “I’m amazed that it holds up all these years,” he said.

Stan Freberg donated the proceeds from “Green Chri$tma$” to the Hemophilia Foundation.

To listen to “Green Chri$tma$” (4:30), use the audio player below. (This version, with some of the more-dated elements removed, is about two minutes shorter than the original production. The full version is available for purchase — as an mp3 download — here.)

Stan Freberg grew up in Pasadena, Calif., the son of a Baptist minister. He began providing voices for cartoons while still a teenager, then broke into network radio. After making series of popular satirical recordings in the 1950s, he concentrated his career on advertising and became known (in the words of Advertising Age magazine) as “the father of the funny commercial.”

In 1995, Stan Freberg was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.


Related articles and information
Let’s run it up the fir tree | TIME (Dec. 15, 1958)
Transcript of “Green Chri$tma$” | MyMerryChristmas.com
For the sake of the record (letter to the editor) | Stan Freberg, Los Angeles Times (Jan. 14, 1959)
Green Chri$tma$—fifty year$: An appreciation | A Christmas Yuleblog (Nov. 21, 2008)
Maestro of the mike | TIME (Oct. 18, 1999)
Commercials for God | TIME (July 12, 1963)
(NOTE: In 1963, Stan Freberg wrote and produced a series of commercials for the United Presbyterian Church, a denomination that was later part of the merger that formed the Presbyterian Church (USA) — tagline for the spots: “The blessings you lose may be your own.” In the 1970s, he wrote and produced several audio essays for the Southern Baptist Convention.)
Stan, the man | TIME (July 29, 1957)

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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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