By Larry Duggins
Thoughts on Our Theological Task #11
The Present Challenge to Theology in the Church
In addition to historic tensions and conflicts that still require resolution, new issues continually arise that summon us to fresh theological inquiry. Daily we are presented with an array of concerns that challenge our proclamation of God’s reign over all of human existence. Of crucial importance are concerns generated by great human struggles for dignity, liberation, and fulfillment—aspirations that are inherent elements in God’s design for creation. These concerns are borne by theologies that express the heart cries of the downtrodden and the aroused indignation of the compassionate. The perils of nuclear destruction, terrorism, war, poverty, violence, and injustice confront us. Injustices linked to race, gender, class, and age are widespread in our times. Misuse of natural resources and disregard for the fragile balances in our environment contradict our calling to care for God’s creation. Secularism pervades high-technology civilizations, hindering human awareness of the spiritual depths of existence. We seek an authentic Christian response to these realities that the healing and redeeming work of God might be present in our words and deeds. Too often, theology is used to support practices that are unjust. We look for answers that are in harmony with the gospel and do not claim exemption from critical assessment. A rich quality of our Church, especially as it has developed in the last century, is its global character. We are a Church with a distinctive theological heritage, but that heritage is lived out in a global community, resulting in understandings of our faith enriched by indigenous experiences and manners of expression. We affirm the contributions that United Methodists of varying ethnic, language, cultural, and national groups make to one another and to our Church as a whole. We celebrate our shared commitment to clear theological understanding and vital missional expression. United Methodists as a diverse people continue to strive for consensus in understanding the gospel. In our diversity, we are held together by a shared inheritance and a common desire to participate in the creative and redemptive activity of God."
"Our task is to articulate our vision in a way that will draw us together as a people in mission. In the name of Jesus Christ we are called to work within our diversity while exercising patience and forbearance with one another. Such patience stems neither from indifference toward truth nor from an indulgent tolerance of error but from an awareness that we know only in part and that none of us is able to search the mysteries of God except by the Spirit of God. We proceed with our theological task, trusting that the Spirit will grant us wisdom to continue our journey with the whole people of God."
― from "The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016”
It is hard to read these words from 1972 and not see the reflection of #GC2019. The Discipline anticipates that it will be hard to address all of the theological issues that will arise in our global church. The world is more connected that it has ever been before, and the pressure of global awareness exposes problems that were hidden before. As a people of God, we are challenged to address social and personal injustice, and we are challenged to do so in the face of our global diversity.
Fifty years ago, we knew this would be hard. The Discipline calls us to address the issues of justice in a way that draws us together as a people in mission. We are explicitly called to exercise patience and forbearance with each other. We are called to acknowledge that none of us know the complete answer, and that we find answers by searching together with the Spirit. This is not what we have done in #GC2019.