Category Archives: Society and Religion

An image of Zwingli v the Pope

honest to goodness… This is the exact likeness of Zwingli – or as the Scientologists say, Xenu


Creeds as a litmus test

John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism
“Honestly, Joel, don’t you think they get it? “John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1788, John Wesley wrote in his journal,

“There is no other religious society under Heaven which requires nothing of men in order to assure their admission into it but a desire to save their souls. Look all around you; you cannot be admitted into the Church, or Society of the Presbyterian, Anabaptists, Quakers, or any other unless you hold the same opinion with them, and adhere to the same mode of worship.

The Methodists alone do not insist on your holding this or that opinion; but they think and let think. Neither do they impose any particular mode of worship; but you may continue to worship to your former manner; be it what it may.

Now, I do not know any other religious society, either ancient or modern, wherein such liberty of conscience is now allowed, or has been allowed, since the age of the Apostles. Here is our glorying; and a glorying peculiar to us. What Society shares it with us?”

But… this is the same Wesley and the same Journals that declare the Methodists right in their calling, the Creeds vital, orthodoxy essential, and holiness of life a must. This is the same Wesley who lauded the Church of England, with her Creeds, her doctrines, and her doctrinal standards. This is the same John Wesley who fought against various heresies — yes, he was a heresy hunter. How can this be the same Wesley?

Was Wesley bi-polar? Was he otherwise a person who changed dramatically from day to day?

He didn’t. He was consistent. He sought to remove the dead religion of intellectual legalism and move it to a religion alive in word and deed. He would not refuse admission to anyone who sought to love God and do good. For Wesley, Creeds were not the litmus test of admission to his society (note, society, not a church). Further, he did not make them, or seem to make them, a requirement of continued membership in the United Societies. You did not have to think a certain way, but you did have to work and work towards perfection. And, in the end, Wesley would use the Creeds and the Anglican doctrinal standards to fight against the vile theologies infecting Anglo-Catholic Protestantism — Socinianism and Calvinism.

However, the sum total of his work, we see the creeds do something else — something they were meant to do. The Creeds provide a “beautiful summary” of the Christian faith and unite us in a common work. This is why, besides Scripture, Wesley would require one to read Bishop Pearson’s book on the Apostles’ Creed.

Dr. Kevin Watson (the other, other Dr. Watson) has a post up on the essentialness of shared doctrine. You should read it.

I have recounted this a few times, but it bears repeating. When I came from fundamentalism (From Fear to Faith, Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls), I timidly came to the United Methodist Church. In discussing certain things with my soon-to-be pastor, I told him what I thought about a few things, including the Trinity. He simply said that the UMC does not require us to think a certain way, only to think. I think Wesley would agree with that. At no point should we require intellectual legalism as a litmus test.

Batman V. Superman = Calvin v. Wesley

Superman: Red Son
Superman: Red Son (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over on a my facebook wall, someone posted a link to the trailer for Batman V. Superman movie due out next year. Most of you know I am a comic book nerd and I love my superhero movies. I am also a huge fan of the Batman.

In Batman V. Superman, there are supposed to be some callbacks to a Frank Miller storyline wherein Batman returns after years away to find a very different world, one where Superman has become the fascist leader we have always expected him to be. In the end, Batman defeats Superman.

In the middle of all of this, is critical theory and, I think, something to do with Mimesis… a rather natural mimesis where we see motifs replicated in various ways. Because of this, I think I can see in Batman V. Superman various theological points. This is pretty clear in Man of Steel. (Rodney has a four part review up).  So, here are some thoughts on Superman and Batman and how they as characters relate to our Christian theology.

Superman is the symbol that pushes is to a better humanity — but there is an equal danger of having humanity rely upon Superman. If we rely only on Superman, we will grow apathetic. We must take the little bit of order and safety he gives and work to expand it and make it our own. Batman is the reality which we face but there is a danger in accepting this reality as the only worldview. We become cynics and suppose we can impose our vision of justice in the absence of justice. Then we become the villain when we take away the objective system and replace it with a subjective one. Superman’s power is tempered by his refusal to do everything for humanity. In that regard, Superman is rather weak because he is limited. He is, one may suggest, Arminian, whereas Batman is almost Calvinistic because he decides fates. He is almost all powerful, because he will find a way to solve any problem, even if the end is rather extreme. Batman’s limits are challenges to overcome.

The question is rightly raised about whether or not the world still needs Superman (a recurring theme in both the comics and in Superman Returns). I would think so. Even with his powers that are godlike, and almost silly in light of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy not to mention Netflix’s Daredevil, we still need Superman. Why?

Why couldn’t Superman just end it all, take over the planet and restore order? If you have ever read Red Son, then you know why. Because, the human spirit is ended. Superman has become very much the answer, even via pop culture, to the question of why doesn’t God just end evil. Because, we couldn’t then be human. Our human experience would be meaningless. Salvation is meaningless if we aren’t human.


Trailer for New #UMC movie… Star Wars, maybe you’ve heard of it

For a time, Vader was a Calvinist but soon same back to the Force

See, I can post this because Star Wars is essentially a Methodist invention.

Only [humans] can exchange information. And the test of how accurate the information is will be whether we all die or not. If we all die, then it wasn’t the right information. I would rather see us be a positive force in the universe than a cancer. We have the knowledge to be either one. That, in essence, is what “Star Wars” is about. We are both good and evil, and we have a choice.

Well, now he’s sort of a Methodist like they have in the West. (Sorry, Gary)

I was raised Methodist. Now let’s say I’m spiritual. It’s Marin County [California, a very liberal area]. We’re all Buddhists up here


…the San Joaquin Valley put its stamp firmly on both Lucas and his films. Without the white upper-middle-class Methodist values he absorbed during his upbringing in this most complacent and righteous of regions, the Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones series, even the more eccentric THX1138, let alone American Graffiti, would have been very different. Indeed, they might not have existed at all, since Lucas, unlike the directors who joined him in building the New Hollywood in the sixties and seventies, is anything but a natural film-maker. Nothing in his character fits him to make films. The process irritates and bores him… It is easy to forget that Lucas, for all his fame and influence, has only directed four feature films in almost thirty year. Repeatedly he’s handed the job to others, supervising from the solitude of his home, controlling the shooting by proxy, as Hollywood studio producers of the forties did.1

Oh, and there is something of Wesley in the Star Wars…

For all his later embrace of Eastern mysticism, there remained in Lucas more than a little of the Methodist.2

I am a bigger fan of Star Trek — and you can’t really compare the two given their focuses. My son does love Star Wars so I guess, as a good United Methodist and father I have to go and see this movie.

  1.  John Baxter, Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas, Avon Books: New York, NY (1999), page 16
  2. ibid, 126

#QOTD – The Bible as State Book

Incunabulum Blackletter Bible 1497
Incunabulum Blackletter Bible 1497 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It threatens to reduce our sacred scripture to nothing more than a secular symbol, and that’s a slippery slope,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris told foxnews.

Exactly. I don’t want the Cross as a penant for politicans. I don’t want the Creed as an oath of office. I don’t want Scripture to be used as a “state book,” ranking right up there with flowers, dogs, and bugs as symbols of State pride.