Dr. David Watson

Author's details

Name: Dr. David Watson
Date registered: March 3, 2012
URL: http://drwatsonselementaryblog.blogspot.com/

Latest posts

  1. Church Coffee: Bishop Johnson on Keeping Covenant — November 26, 2013
  2. Church Coffee: N. T. Wright and the Ethics of Blogging — November 25, 2013
  3. Church Coffee: Wendy Deichmann: What’s Right with Orthodoxy? — November 25, 2013
  4. Church Coffee: Dear UMC: Please study the nature and function of Scripture — November 20, 2013
  5. Church Coffee: This is not about sex — November 14, 2013

Most commented posts

  1. Church Coffee: Dear UMC: Please study the nature and function of Scripture — 2 comments
  2. Church Coffee: This is not about sex — 1 comment
  3. Church Coffee: Agreeing to disagree is not enough — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Nov 26 2013

Church Coffee: Bishop Johnson on Keeping Covenant

Original post at http://churchcoffee.blogspot.com/2013/11/bishop-johnson-on-keeping-covenant.html



I've been thinking about and praying for Bishop Johnson lately as she has dealt with church trials in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. I have worked with Bishop Johnson on a number of occasions. She is perhaps the most visible advocate for people with disabilities in the United Methodist Church. I can't say enough about the significance of her ministry in the UMC. I believe she is one of the finest bishops in the connection. Recently she gave a wonderful sermon at a commencement ceremony at United Theological Seminary. 

She gives us a lot to think about in this blog post on keeping covenant. I commend it to your reading.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/11/bishop-johnson-on-keeping-covenant/

Nov 25 2013

Church Coffee: N. T. Wright and the Ethics of Blogging

Original post at http://churchcoffee.blogspot.com/2013/11/n-t-wright-and-ethics-of-blogging.html


A couple of days ago I was invited by my former student Joel Watts to participate in a conversation with N. T. Wright and a few bloggers.  The event was, in part, to promote Wright’s new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Wright was on his game as usual. He commands an incredible range of material and has an amazingly lively mind. It was a privilege to listen to him reflect on a variety of topics.

One of the topics that came up was, as one might expect at such a gathering, the practice of blogging. If you spend much time on New Testament and/or Christian blog sites, you know that Wright’s work comes up quite often. He is one of the most visible and prolific Christian scholars of our time. At times, he has been harshly criticized by people who find his claims as a New Testament scholar and theologian disagreeable.

Disagreement, of course, can be a good thing. It can be a healthy intellectual practice. There are, however, helpful and unhelpful ways to disagree. Wright stated, “We badly need a new ethic of Christian blogging.” In saying this, he is referring to the kinds of “scorched earth” practices one sometimes encounters in the blogosphere. Bloggers need to represent others’ views accurately.  The practices of engaging in anonymous online “road rage” is neither fair nor productive. If you say something on a blog, you should be happy to say it in a crowded room, face to face. Anonymity in public discourse often gives license to unfair, inaccurate, and inflammatory comments.


I’ve made the case on this blog before that we need to invest ourselves deeply in intellectually virtuous habits of mind. (See the post, “Agreeing to Disagree is Not Enough.") In the blogosphere, writers must be particularly self-conscious of this since there is no peer review prior to publication. Anyone can say basically anything. If our goal, however, is to advance public discourse, then it is imperative that we blog ethically. Many bloggers do this. Some do not. This will likely not change, but the more of us who are conscious of this, the better off our communities of discourse will be. 

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/11/n-t-wright-and-the-ethics-of-blogging/

Nov 25 2013

Church Coffee: Wendy Deichmann: What’s Right with Orthodoxy?

Original post at http://churchcoffee.blogspot.com/2013/11/wendy-deichmann-whats-right-with.html


United Theological Seminary President Wendy Deichmann reflects in Catalyst on the virtues of Christian orthodoxy. This is definitely worth a read. You can find the article here. 

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/11/wendy-deichmann-whats-right-with-orthodoxy/

Nov 20 2013

Church Coffee: Dear UMC: Please study the nature and function of Scripture

Original post at http://churchcoffee.blogspot.com/2013/11/dear-umc-please-study-nature-and.html


So, the Schaeffer trial is over.

The debate over human sexuality in the UMC is not.

I’ve been watching social media pretty closely during this time. There are lots of hurt feelings and many people who feel a great distance from one another in the denomination. The rhetoric has been wild. The emotions have been strong. I wonder if we will have a chance to regroup, pray, and heal before the next such controversy emerges.

There are numerous issues swirling about in the controversies around Rev. Schaeffer and Bishop Talbert. One issue, of course, has to do with human sexuality. That’s pretty obvious. One issue has to do with the binding force of the Book of Discipline. A third issue has to do with the interpretation of Scripture.

This third issue, spoken of the least in these controversies, is perhaps the most significant. What we have seen recently is that people of vastly different theological and ethical positions can and do use Scripture in support of their arguments. Recently I’ve heard talk of “inerrancy” in the midst of the conversation, a term that really doesn’t have much currency in the UMC. (Insert indignant comments below.) Perhaps it's gaining traction because of the perceived vacuum of authority in the UMC. Perhaps there are other reasons. 

The use of Scripture in theological debate to support opposing positions is nothing new. Consider the Arian controversy of the fourth century. It wasn’t just Athanasius and company who were using Scripture in support of their claims. Arias and his partisans could quote Scripture with the best of them.  The debate could not be settled by simple appeals to Scripture because Scripture lends itself to a variety of interpretations.

Consider the following image. What do you see? Is this an image of the profiles of two faces or a chalice? 




The interpretation of texts, including the text of the Bible, is rather like this. We may see the same set of texts but draw different conclusions from one another. This is not to say that there are not better and worse interpretations. I'm not arguing for some form of relativism here. Imagine a concert pianist playing a well-known concerto. We might say that there is no right way for the pianist to play the concerto, but there are of course many wrong ways. The interpretation of Scripture is rather like that, and that is why we need more common standards of interpretation within our communal life. 

I’ve written before on the contributions of the biblical scholar James Sanders. In particular, his two books Torah and Canon  and Canon and Community are very helpful as we think about the nature and function of Scripture. Sanders talks about “sacred tensions” within the canon, and he describes the scriptural witness as “variegated.” In other words, the Bible expresses a variety of perspectives that have developed as people have prayed and reflected communally on the mysteries of God. In addition to the subjective nature of interpretation, this is another reason that Scripture can be used to support such different theological and ethical positions.

Scripture is complex. The nature and function of Scripture are not self-evident. Nevertheless, we deploy Scripture quite readily in debates regarding complicated and multi-layered issues. This practice leads to increased entrenchment and misunderstanding, as well-intentioned people cannot see why others view things so differently than they do. 

It would be helpful for the UMC to commission a study on the nature and function of Scripture which could be considered for adoption at a General Conference, much like our studies on the sacraments. This should take place prior to any further denominational initiatives regarding human sexuality. If we could draw upon a more commonly held set of assumptions about Scripture, we would have a better chance of engaging in meaningful dialogue with one another on topics related to the Christian faith and life. 

I have to admit, writing this makes me feel a bit vulnerable. The current climate of the UMC is so divisive that to raise questions regarding the authority of Scripture makes one suspect in many quarters. Let me be clear: I have spent the last twenty years working to teach and promote the Nicene-Constantinopolitan faith. My theological commitments are to the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Resurrection, not simply as metaphors, but as ontological realities. If that doesn't make me "orthodox" enough for you, so be it. I'll only note, however, that in the long history of the faith, the use of a doctrine of Scripture as a litmus test for orthodoxy is a rather new development, and, in my opinion, a negative one. 

Denominationally, we need to talk about not just what the pages of Scripture say, but the way in which we interpret Scripture. Of course, we will not all interpret Scripture in lockstep with one another, but we need a common set of principles for scriptural interpretation. We cannot resolve complex debates without a clearer sense of the common ground on which we stand. Right now the most prominent issue is homosexuality, but in the future there will be other pressing issues. Will we be prepared to talk about them? Right now, we most certainly are not. 


Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/11/dear-umc-please-study-the-nature-and-function-of-scripture/

Nov 14 2013

Church Coffee: This is not about sex

Original post at http://churchcoffee.blogspot.com/2013/11/this-is-not-about-sex.html


Let’s get this out of the way: good people within the United Methodist Church, with all the best intentions, disagree on matters of human sexuality. There’s no way around this. Whether or not the General Conference petition by Mike Slaughter and Adam Hamilton would have made for effective legislation, the fact of the matter is that their proposed legislation reflected a truth that inheres within United Methodism: we disagree with one another about homosexuality.

In fact, we disagree about many things. That is why we have a set of regulations that effectively functions as church law. These regulations are contained in the Book of Discipline.

For years, many United Methodists have defied the Book of Discipline on matters of doctrine. Denial of doctrines such as the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection are violations of our doctrinal standards, which are protected in the first Restrictive Rule. We have been able to deal with this matter, though, because of the gray area created by the section of the Discipine called “Our Theological Task.” In other words, for all its faults, the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral has created enough ambiguity to allow us to avoid church trials over matters of deviation from the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith.

Ethical matters such as homosexuality, however, while certainly related to theology and doctrine, fall into a different category. These are specifically matters of behavior and practice, and, at times, the General Conference has seen fit, rightly or wrongly, to issue clear regulations on ethical matters.

This is where church law comes into play. Church law emerges specifically because of our disagreement. When there is deep disagreement and debate over important matters, the church may see fit to regulate itself internally. The resulting regulations will necessarily make some people unhappy. Yet without such internal regulations, the UMC cannot function as a denomination. We have regulations regarding our internal hierarchy, our appointment system, the ministry of the ordained, and many other such matters. Granted, the level of adherence to these regulations has at times varied, but I don’t recall a time when there has been such widespread open defiance of the Discipline as is the case now in relation to issues of human sexuality.

We can say that we are held together in our love for Christ and the unity of the Holy Spirit, and indeed we are. We are held together as Christians in this way. Denominations, however, are held together by their internal self-regulation. If we disregard our church law, we are no longer a denomination.

The ministers of the church who are openly defying the teaching in the Book of Discipline are engaging in de facto schism. The question is not, at this point, whether the church will divide. It has divided because of the open defiance of the Discipline. It has not divided de jure yet, but continued de facto division will result in a de jure division. Perhaps this is the goal of such behavior. My own opinion is that dividing the church in this way would be a huge mistake, but it wouldn’t be the first huge mistake in the history of either the UMC or the Church universal.

With all due respect to Dr. Thomas Frank, who is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts in UM polity, referring this issue back to conferences for discussion among ordained clergy seems to repeat a process that has not worked. Annual conferences have discussed this issue to the point of neglecting other business of the conferences. The General Conference has repeatedly taken up this issue. No doubt, we will continue to have discussions along these lines, though the extent to which they will be productive is questionable. Our discussions of human sexuality have been more rhetorical than reasonable, more political than persuasive. Real discussion of these matters cannot take place in settings in which caucus groups control the conversations.

Dissolving our denomination will have tragic consequences. There are huge problems facing the world today, and not all of them relate to human sexuality. My own primary concerns relate to ministry with people with disabilities. I want the church to pay attention to this matter, to take it seriously, to make more of a tangible difference in the lives of people who live with disabling conditions. And yet there are more problems: a child dies from the effects of extreme poverty every three seconds. Half the world lives without clean drinking water. Christians in many parts of the world continue to be martyred for the faith. The list could go on. As long as we are consumed to the extent we are by a single issue—the issue of human sexuality—we divert proportionate time and resources from the myriad other issues facing the church today.

Church law matters because it allows us to go about our work together. It is not always right, but it is a necessary way of organizing our corporate life.  Apart from this realization, the UMC cannot exist.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/11/this-is-not-about-sex/

Nov 13 2013

Church Coffee: Very good post on new atheist "churches"

Original post at http://churchcoffee.blogspot.com/2013/11/very-good-post-on-new-atheist-churches.html


United student Joseph Graves makes some very interesting points about the new atheist "churches." I commend this blog post to your reading. The most salient point he makes has to do with the degrees of difference between many "mainline" churches and these atheist gatherings. To what extent is God the center of our ecclesial life? 

http://josephdavidgraves.com/post/66778305173/church-without-god-lessons-from-atheists

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/11/very-good-post-on-new-atheist-churches/

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