All posts by Joel L. Watts

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

St. John of the Cross on a “new revelation”

English: Statue of St. John of the Cross at Ca...
English: Statue of St. John of the Cross at Carmelite Monastery, Varroville, NSW, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No new revelations are to be admitted in the matter of that once made, beyond what may be consistent with it, lest we should go astray by admitting contradictions, and stain the soul, which should keep the faith. We must bring the understanding into captivity, and cleave in simplicity to the faith and teaching of the Church, ‘for faith,’ saith S. Paul, ‘cometh by hearing.’ No man will give heed or credit easily to new revelations, unless he has a mind to be deceived.[1. Saint John of the Cross, Benedict Zimmermann, and David Lewis, The Ascent of Mount Carmel (London: Thomas Baker, 1906), 217–218.]

As a fundamentalist, I believed that Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all based their beliefs on “new revelations.” Why? Because nothing they did or said could be found (explicitly) in Scripture. I didn’t understand the notion of progressive revelation at the time.

This is different than progressive politics and progressive Christianity.

I have no doubt St. John would look at modern Christianity with so many new revelations and utterly despise it.


a helpful dose of possibility

Major religious groups
Major religious groups (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When discussing theism and things such as this with others, I sometimes hear the phrase “X needs a dose of reality.” This can come from either the theist or the atheist. I am troubled by the notion that theism is supposed to represent reality when in fact we have such a difficult time “proving” it. So, the thought occurred to me that what we may need is a dose of possibility. In summarizing Farrer’s Saving Belief, the authors write,

…Farrer already is in the process of transition to making this view explicit in a brilliant opening chapter on the relation of faith and reason. There he introduces his concept of “initial faith.” The notion of God is not a neutral but a loaded term, to which we react positively or negatively. Farrer compares it to the concept of a mother. Even an orphan feels moved by simply entertaining the notion of a possible mother, whom he imagines he might still have but whose whereabouts is unknown to him. So too with God. If we do not find ourselves at all moved by the notion of the possibility of God, we will not be able properly to recognize the data that relate to the existence and reality of God. God will remain an abstraction, unable to move us toward a full faith. But if we are at all inclined to the possible reality of God, then this “initial faith” can turn into an explicit commitment as we carefully consider the testimony of nature, the gospel stories, the life of the Church, and the lives of saintly people. To pursue such intellectual work properly requires some positive engagement, some spiritual development in order to overcome the blindness of those who stop with limited questions and do not allow admittance to what has the power to wholly convince the mind and heart.1

Does the possibility of a God, rather than the probability, offer a better heuristic analysis?

I am not a theist in the traditional terms, nor am I an atheist. Not because I believe or disbelieve in a higher power. Rather, I do believe there is the possibility of a higher power, of a deity… of the God. This is not a presupposition, but it is a subjective starting point to remind me always to question and in questioning, I have a better reason to believe.

I also have a tough time with people trying to prove God, more so than I have with people trying to disprove God.

  1. David Hein and Edward Hugh Henderson, Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 61–62.

Book Notes: The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons

Note, Book Notes is an abbreviated Book Review.

Christian education, liberal arts, and the humanities are all considered, usually, a dead field. Indeed, the concept of a whole person, much less a holy person, does not fit into the spectrum of higher education any longer, finding a whole person replaced with a better cog. Yes, there are some higher education institutions practicing certain ideological viewpoints, such as the Reformed (as the editor and several contributors point out), but what about the Pietist view? Does the Pietist theological tradition, underpinning whole denominations and contributing significantly to many of the Wesleyan ones, have such a vision and if so, what is it? This is the aim of Christopher Gehrz’s anthology, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education.

Gehrz easily separates the Pietist from the Reformed vision as one separates the mind (correct doctrine, i.e., Reformed) from the heart (transformation, i.e., Pietist) (p12). Perhaps this may rankle some Reformed Christians, but this separation is not new to Gehrz, and is quite familiar to Wesleyans (of which I am a part). This is the point of the book, to take the heart and mind and from there create a holy whole person. A historian who is a Christian. A Christian who is a scientist. The pietist view focuses on intellectualism, but does not forget the transformation of the heart.

Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705) known as the ...
Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705) known as the “Father of Pietism”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to focus on one essay, “Pietism and the Practice of Civil Discourse,” (123–33) written by Christian T. Collins Winn (PhD, Drew University). After recounting what has now become a familiar modern parable of the Civility Project, Winn addresses the interconnection between Pietism and civility. He begins with Philipp Jakob Spener who, in 1675, called for civility in the answering of others, namely Christians. This immediately won him the scorn of friends and foes alike. It is not that the argument, or conflict, that is to be avoided, only that one has a commitment to real dialogue, focusing on the topic rather than on the person. This means a practice of listening in good faith. One listens to listen, not to simply counter. Spener also included humility and love in discerning what civility looked like as well as a hopeful commitment to God’s peace. How does higher education fit into this? Because higher education should require “formal and informal interaction via a variety of actors” with those things that challenge us. Winn then presents several workable solutions as to how Christian institutions of higher learning can aid in forming the whole person to discourse civility.

If you separate Christian institutions of higher learning into four different streams, you get a pretty good idea of why the Pietist is often thought not to have a particular viewpoint. When one thinks of a Reformed college, or a Catholic school, or even a pentecostal university, immediately images spring to mind. But what about a liberal arts college founded by Pietists (or Wesleyans)? What usually springs to mind is a school remaining Christian in history only. But, these contributors aim to change that and to show why a Pietist vision of Christian higher education goes further than secular preparation, but has in its goal a personal transformation serving but the Church and the world. Overall, a book deserved to be read by deans and professors, secular and sectarian.

No Vote, No Schism — But (federated) forward

federated congregation or fight church
Photo credit: Fight Church Facebook page

There is a poll at the bottom. This is a thought experiment and while not vetted by BoD experts, makes use of current UMC policy and precedent. I have tried to be fair and impartial with my presentation of facts and stances. Sorry for the typos. If you want a PDF/Word version, let me know. Updates to commonly asked questions are at the bottom, under PostScript.

The experience of our present situation is one of distress. There are calls for schism, actions that speak to that, and entire jurisdictions practicing a nullification edict allowed neither in Scripture nor the Book of Discipline. Further, there is now the open rebellion by conservative congregations to withhold apportionments until the Council of Bishops promise to uphold a petition quite unrepresentative of the entire The United Methodist Church, and not in the least because it is not supported by the General Conference. There have been plans and proposals for changes to the Book of Discipline to allow for everything from schism to lifting the Trust Clause to changing the Book of Discipline so that one group may minister towards justice while another ministers towards righteousness, as both groups define it. The effect this has on our ministry, both global and local, is appalling.

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Ways of Reading Genesis 1 (CTP class)

The inspired penman in this history [Genesis] … [wrote] for the Jews first and, calculating his narratives for the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances, and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the understanding of the mysteries couched under them. – John Wesley, Notes on the Bible, Genesis 2.8

The Creation
The Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To my regular throng of readers, this post may not be for you so much as it is for the class I am leading. This CTP class (critical-theological-practical) focuses on Scripture and how to read it on different levels. We have just started, laying some groundwork first on how to read Scripture (for this class). This post, and maybe more like it, will help to facilitate discussion and provide background to the current chapter or passage under discussion.

The next up is the first creation story as found in Genesis 1–2.4a. At no point should you read this entire passage and be done discussing it within an hour. Why? Because not only do have to decide if this is poetry, myth, literature, history, or science (or a mixture of some or all these modern categories) but then you need to talk about how it sets within the Exilic context. Maybe the sun, moon, and stars are really just luminary bodies and not Babylonian gods. Then you have to talk about what it means when God said “it is good.” Then you get to the Genesis 1.26-27 and so on.

But, to start this we have to really look at the ways of reading the first creation story. I have four posts/articles to share from others. I don’t agree with some of the things in them, but that’s not the point of the class. The point of the class is to help people read Scripture contextually, theologically, and for themselves.

These posts don’t have to be read, but I post them here in case you want to read them:

Some other posts, from your’s truly:

If you are in Charleston, WV at 7am on Thursdays, look us up.