Dueling blog posts on orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and heresy in the UMC

RecentlyReadThe net has been filled with responses to Asbury Seminary president Tim Tennent’s recent post titled Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy. In this post Dr. Tennent suggests that the ultimate division in the United Methodist Church lies in the differences between the two extremes:

However, the two groups should never be called “conservative” and “progressive” and they should never be viewed as equivalent groups. What we actually have is a group (however imperfectly) which is committed to historic Christianity. The second group (however imperfectly) is committed to a re-imagined church. One, however flawed, is committed to the recovery and defense of historic Christian orthodoxy. The other, however nice and erudite, has not demonstrated a robust commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy. Thus, we actually have two groups; one orthodox and one heterodox. I will be the first to concede that even orthodoxy in North America has become so weak and bland that is has become hardly recognizable. Likewise, I believe that many in the heterodox camp are driven by important “branches” of the gospel, even if they have lost touch with the Christian “root.” But, this should not confuse the deeper point I am trying to make.

This morning Morgan Guyton offers a lengthy response in which he unpacks the original meaning of the words to suggest that orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and even heresy have different understandings than those of Tennent and his supporters.

In a recent blog post, Asbury Theological Seminary president Timothy Tennent claimed that the real dividing line in United Methodism is not between “conservative” and “liberal” but between “orthodox” and “heterodox.” Since he gave few supporting details for his claim, I wasn’t sure which heterodoxies he was talking about. Does he mean when the Boy Scouts march an American flag into a church sanctuary as part of a Christian worship service? Or when a church council uses secular business strategic planning methods instead of the prayerful discernment of God’s vision? Or when parishioners choose soccer over church on Sundays to “focus on the family” instead of the kingdom of God? Heterodoxies like these have varying degrees of harm for the life of the church, but I consider a more critical problem in our church right now to be heresy, not heterodoxy. And one of the reasons we have so much rampant heresy right now in United Methodism is because heresy and orthodoxy are both very misunderstood concepts.

Click here to read Tim Tennent’s original article.

Click here to read Morgan Guyton’s response.

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31 Comments on "Dueling blog posts on orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and heresy in the UMC"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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james
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Dear Bloggers:

Search out and read the statement Good News has very recently made in regard to the umc….

Larry
Guest
Is disruptive behavior a valid cause to separate? If we all act more civilly and humbly, and not disrupt meetings, call names, and so on, then is it possible we could agree to be of two minds on this one issue? I’m simply hoping for unity, not uniformity, believing as I do that in most everything else we are of common heart and mind. On a different tack — I’m intrigued by the fact that the ‘side’ that has consistently ‘lost’ every General Conference vote since 1972 is the side that still hopes for unity. It’s the ‘winning side’ that… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

Larry the progressives don’t hope for unity, they desire UNIFORMITY, by their definitions of life, truth and morality. Big difference.

Larry
Guest

Methinks thou art correct.

Mark
Guest

It’s the liberals/progressives who have the most to lose by leaving since it is moderates/conservatives from whence most of the funding comes. So it makes perfect sense that liberals will forward the “can’t-we-all-just-get-along-and-stay-together” argument…they can continue to pursue their ideological agendas while someone else provides the funding. Pretty clever from a political perspective.

Larry
Guest
Oops. Methinks thou art correct about the “NON-progressives.” (Can’t we find better terminology?) I am more willing for the traditionalist wing to remain in the UMC with their own views than I believe they are for the progressivist wing to remain in the UMC with ours. At least that’s my personal view. And I am coming to agree with James below. No one is conceding anything. I am sad that the easy solution — Split — is becoming so prevalent, when there is so much more important work to be done. I don’t know whether trying to continue the dialogue… Read more »
james
Guest

ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!! Neither side of the issue will give–even a little bit. Articles and discussions accomplish nothing!! Split!!! Move on!!!!! The field is white with harvest……………. Keep looking up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Larry
Guest

I thought Morgan’s comments were hardly “juvenile” or “disingenuous.” I found them thoughtful, humble and sincere. I also think that while some UM’s are trying to follow the issue of homosexuality to root issues, none of these root issues would be divisive or problematic were it not for the pressing issue of homosexual ‘equality.” That said, I also agree with Jack Harnish’s comment at the top: “the real issue is not orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy, but how one feels about homosexuality. Can’t we allow for the fact that deeply dedicated, faithful, Biblically-minded Christians can differ on this issue?”

Larry
Guest
Respectfully in turn, “enemyhates,” I wrote a longer post yesterday thanking you for your comments and your even tone. The UMR opted not to print it for some reason, though I aimed to be equally respectful in turn. I’ll try again. My response, in a nutshell, is to affirm that I (and I believe those who think as I do) do not see a different stance on the issue as being one based on ‘feeling’ or disregard of the Bible. There is ample solid scholarship that interprets some key passages differently than I would assume you do. That no more… Read more »
Rick
Guest

I don’t think we’ve gone to far off topic re: Gagnon. He’s the go-to person for evangelicals whenever this topic is raised, and his name inevitably appears in these threads. Considering all that can be known about Gagnon through his prolific writings (not just biblical exegesis but many offensive and downright disgusting claims about the lives of LGBT persons), it is reasonable to raise objection. If he is the best evangelicals can offer as proof of their position, that’s not in their favor.

Mark
Guest

Larry, there simply is no valid scholarship that reasonably demonstrates the Bible condones same-sex behavior. If you disagree with the Bible, or you think it is mistaken or outdated, then so state, but let’s not engage in dubious intellectual gymnastics.

One can argue that the Bible doesn’t condemn same-sex orientation, but arguing that the Bible condones homosexual behavior is akin to arguing that 2 + 2 = 5. If we cannot agree on facts then we have no basis for a productive discussion.

Rick
Guest

How do we determine what is “objective” scholarly research? It is very hard for me to see Gagnon’s work as objective, considering the overt animosity that comes forth in his writings. Equalitymatters does not pretend – at all – to be unbiased. The direct quotes from Gagnon are representive of what he writes and are of deep concern to those who work for the just treatment of all persons.

Rick
Guest
I’ve read that description here twice re: Robert Gagnon’s work: “objective scholarly research.” How is it determined that his work is objective? My sense (expressed by other critics, as well) is that a very strong, loudly expressed bias comes forth in his writings and seems to shape all of his conclusions. The extreme statements he has made about committed same-sex relationship being morally worse according to Scripture than incest and bestiality – and his insistence that homosexuality is psychologically related to pedophilia – make it hard to see his work as “objective.” He has positioned himself as an expert on… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Rick, Robert Gagnon has probably done more objective scholarly research in this area than anyone. Attacking him personally with unfounded accusations will not change that.

Equalitymatters is a totally biased source that makes little pretense of balance or objectivity.

Rick
Guest
I am always astonished when Robert Gagnon’s work is invoked by those engaged in this argument. I have followed his writings for most of the past decade, and honestly most of what he presents is hard to stomach. The shrill, emotionally immature tone of nearly everything he writes overshadows whatever scholarship he may possess. His defensiveness (and his book-like responses to small disagreements from others) is legendary. Gagnon is assumed to be a closeted and deeply-self-hating gay man by many. His over-the-top rhetoric and all-out, life-consuming campaign to fight LGBT equality continually present him as someone who simply “protests too… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Sad?? What’s sad is people refusing to acknowledge clear teaching staring them straight in the face. I have read—-extensively—-and digested most of those arguments (Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuality, David and Jonathan were lovers, Paul really meant that heterosexuals should not engage in homosexual sex, etc. etc.) and they are a stretch at best, and at worst a purposeful obfuscation and distortion. I start with a reasonable interpretation of Scripture, in both OT and NT, and work from there. Robert Gagnon has perhaps done more objective research on this that anyone, and he disagrees with many of the… Read more »
Larry
Guest

Wow, that’s sad. No valid scholarship? One place to start is “Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality,” by Jack Rogers, Professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. Of course, if you only define “valid scholarship” as only that which you agree with, then we have a problem.

Larry
Guest
Thank you, “enemyhates,” for your respectful reply. I agree with almost everything you said, certainly about the importance of sinful behavior being confronted in love. I apologize that my quoting Jack Harnish’s use of the word “feels” implied mere personal preference; I can try to be clearer. I would humbly yet strongly disagree that “the Word of God in the Bible condemns homosexual behavior” as it applies to this issue today. Without going here into detailed exegesis of the relevant passages, the issue is NOT that people who believe as you do are true Bible Believers, and people who believe… Read more »
Pastor Casey
Guest

Forgive my ignorance and I mean no disrespect by asking this question, but how is one blog post in response to a seminary president’s article recognized as newsworthy? Had a bishop or other seminary president written a response, I would easily see the newsworthiness.

Again, I’m not a journalist, just trying to understand.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor
Admin

Actually, there were several blog posts in response to Dr. Tennent’s post. We found Rev. Guyton’s to be an interesting response worthy of sharing. Was it “news?” Only in the sense that it seemed to represent an ongoing conversation across the church about the nature of the divide we face. However, our “Recently Read” articles don’t claim to represent breaking news, and as such we hope that you will ready them in a spirit of conversation.

Mark
Guest

Jay, I think Pastor Carey’s question related mainly to the difference in background between the two bloggers (with Tennent having more rigorous academic training), and I think the response of Rev. Guyton (who did make some insightful—if sometimes overly creative—points) demonstrated fringe, diversionary analyses that didn’t factually address Tennent’s main arguments head-on. (I do agree, however, that it was quite interesting…though perhaps for different reasons)

We know the UMR is more sympathetic to the left, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude balanced treatment of contemporary topics, and you have done an exemplary job on many issues.

Paul W.
Guest

Morgan’s rebuttal to Tim essentially boils down to Morgan conveniently redefining the meaning of the word “heresy” so that he positions Tim as the bad guy and doesn’t have to address any of Tim’s real points.

I enjoy reading and usually learn much from the strongest arguments presented by those I disagree with; I was hoping to see that here. Sadly though, redefining terms to try to obfuscate areas of disagreement and control debate seems to be the progressive tactic of late. This is a disingenuous debating tactic and should be called out as such.

Mark
Guest
Both Pauls make valid observations (in accordance with the apostle Paul). If you allow me to redefine terms, use obscure definitions of them, or take them out of context, I can argue for just about anything. This is why Guyton’s “rebuttal” cannot be taken seriously. By Guyton’s definition Christ Himself, as well as the apostle Paul, were both heretics. While standing for doctrinal positions as taught and exemplified by Christ Himself may, in many contexts, be divisive, it cannot reasonably be construed as “heretical” based on historical understandings and holistic Scriptural interpretations. Some Christians proclaim orthodox positions in uncharitable ways,… Read more »
Talbot Davis
Guest

Mark, whoever you are, can we please elect you Bishop?

Mark
Guest

Thanks Talbot. I always enjoy your blog. I am not in ecclesiastics, just an armchair apologist and a veteran of multiple Discipleship courses (by the way, I was a college tennis player as well—maybe we need to get more ex-college tennis players in UMC leadership!)

Mark
Guest

Don’t want to be too specific due to this being a public forum but I will say Emory, early 80’s. I was not a star—played #6 on a mediocre team. Wish I lived in your area as I would love to visit your church. Our enthusiasm for the UMC, for obvious reasons, is waning. May God bless your (His) ministry.

Talbot Davis
Guest

Mark – Got it! What school and when?

Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth
Guest
Thoughtful article. Early in the article, attention was turned from heterodoxy to heresy. And then heresy was defined according to Biblical evidence and suggestion. However, the Biblical picture of heresy seemed to miss the mark — at least to this reader. Back in 1979, Peter L. Berger (sociologist of the most thoughtful order, who is now a university professor at Boston University) published The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation (Anchor Press/Doubleday). It contains this comment on p. 27: “The English word ‘heresy’ comes from the Greek verb ‘hairein,’ which means ‘to choose.’ A ‘hairesis’ originally meant, quite simply,… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Tennent’s comments were, in comparison to Guyton’s, more substantive and less juvenile.

Gary Bebop
Guest

It’s about time we had “pushback” from orthodox-evangelical scholars! Let MORE of them speak out. Methodist communications should not be monopolized by the sectarian Left.

Jack Harnish
Guest
Viewing the world as clearly divided “we/they”, “us/them”,” you’re either with us or agin’ us” is not helpful. That kind of simplistic division of the good and the bad denies the broad range of interpretations and understandings of the Gospel. In another day, I think it was called “Fundmentalism”. If you want to be simplistic, let’s just admit that the real issue is not orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy, but how one feels about homosexuality. Can’t we allow for the fact that deeply dedicated, faithful, Biblically-minded Christians can differ on this issue? It is more helpful to acknowledge our common ground, then… Read more »
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