This past February (2019), the General Conference of the United Methodist Church met in St. Louis. The primary item on the agenda was the existing language in “The Book of Discipline” regarding sexual ethics. After much debate and controversy, over 800 delegates cast their votes. Fifty-three percent favored retaining the language, and forty-seven percent voted against it, revealing how evenly divided the denomination is on this issue. At the time of this writing, it is unclear how the dissenters will proceed, but it is unlikely that the issue will go away or that unity will be the long-term result.
As many have observed, the identity crisis that the United Methodist Church and many other Christian fellowships seem to be facing is due, in large part, to a crisis of authority. Is Scripture the primary authority, and how is it brought to bear on the controversial issues of our day? This question is fundamental to the life and faith of the church and is pertinent to a wide range of topics. Because of the relevance of this question, the new issue of Christian Studies (available online here) is devoted to the theme of authority for Christian faith and practice. And this question is of utmost importance. Where does our authority for faith and practice lie? What are the proper sources for theology? What are the standards for evaluating different theologies? What should they be? What role do Scripture and the greater historic tradition of the church play?
The contributors to this issue have emphasized different aspects of these questions, and various solutions are proposed in its pages. In addition to biblical insights, the articles offer a range of theological, historical, and philosophical considerations regarding the authority and interpretation of Scripture. As always, our intent is to provide thoughtful reflection that will create dialogue about matters that are important to God’s people.
I invite you to read Christian Studies and share it with others who will benefit from it. All issues of Christian Studies are available here.