Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Mainline or Methodist?"

Book Review:
Mainline or Methodist?: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission by Scott Kisker

Scott Kisker has given The United Methodist Church a much needed wake-up call. He reminds us in the first couple of pages of his insightful book that the denomination is 40 years old. I have heard it said by some that it seems that the church is going through something of a “mid-life” crisis not unlike those feelings of fear of inevitable death and wondering what life is all about experienced by men and women sometime after they reach that age. Kisker’s book comes a just the right time.

Dr. Kisker (Associate Professor of the History of Christianity and former James C. Logan Associate Professor of Evangelism at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC) looks at The United Methodist Church with the eyes of a historian and the heart of an evangelist. He brings his deep knowledge of church history, theology, and the Wesleyan tradition to the task of examining the condition of the church that has shaped his own life. Dr. Kisker makes the case that much of the UMC’s current malaise has its roots in its alignment as one of the “Mainline” denominations.

The chief problem with “Mainline” churches is that they “bless the values of the larger society, and see very little difference between cultivating good citizens and cultivating Christians.” Their striving to be “respectable” and to play a role in the dominant culture “establishment” has resulted in adjusting the gospel of Jesus Christ to make it fit into cultural norms rather than challenging those norms. Kisker writes, “When we became “mainline,” we stopped being Methodist in all but name.” Meaning that, in the name of “respectability,” we jettisoned the practices, structures, and theology that formed the heart and soul of Wesleyan Methodism.

In a well written 128 pages Dr. Kisker describes what has been lost and gives practical ideas for restoring a United Methodist:
  • Vision
The distinctive goal of Wesleyan Methodism is holiness of heart and life. In mission of early Methodism was “To reform the nation, especially the church; and to spread Scriptural holiness across the land.”
  • Message
The historic Methodist message was salvation by grace through faith. We need to take sin, grace, and salvation seriously once again.
  • Method
+ Proclaim Christ in all his offices: Prophet, Priest, and King
+ Open-air preaching for the 21st century
+ Small groups for formation and growth in discipleship
+ A Rule of Life that leads the people toward holiness of heart and life (The General Rules)
  • Conversation
Practice true “holy conferencing” in the Wesleyan Spirit. Conferencing must be practiced at all levels of the church, beginning in the home.

Mainline or Methodist: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission is a sobering and hope-filled call to action for the people of The United Methodist Church. Scott Kisker gives some helpful and practical recommendations for a way forward. It’s clear that he believes that God will keep God’s promises. But the church must cooperate and participate with God’s mission for the world.


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