Once each year during most of my appointed years in United Methodist ministry, I was asked to put my theological position in writing to the Bishop and the District Superintendents. Was I liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or progressive, or some other defined stance? Supposedly, this position statement would help the appointive cabinet match the right pastoral leader with the right church.
I never liked this requirement. Partly because I thought it was far too simplistic. And partly because I didn’t really know how to answer. I had been raised in fairly traditional Christian home and equally traditional large membership church. But I had also attended a seminary which was unapologetically Neo-Orthodox—never sure exactly what that term really meant. In any case, “Traditional Neo-Orthodox” didn’t sound very compelling.
Some years, I simply had some fun with the question about my theological stance. I would put down “aggressively curious” or “fundamentally concerned” or “passionately persuaded” or “centrally located.” Or even “existentially focused.” I was never sure the cabinet ever read my response on the form, partly because nobody ever called me to ask, “What the heck does that mean?”
Finally, however, I settled on a term which meant something to me and – I hoped – accurately reflected who I was in ministry. I chose the label “catalytic centrist.” For me, this meant that I hoped to be an agent for creative change always centered on the person and work of Jesus.
A few years ago, I revised my answer. I said I was a “progressive evangelical.” I was not afraid or ashamed of some of the newer theological thinking, but I tried to always lift Jesus as the center of my life and what the Christian journey is about.
Who knows? I may choose a new label soon. (Even though no one still asks a retiree the question!) The exercise of naming who I am has moved from an attempt at humorous word play to a more honest reflection. Whatever the next phrase may be, it will always point to Jesus as the pivotal point, the fulcrum, the creative center point of what I believe life to be about.
I believe that Jesus is the ultimate expression in human form of who God is and what God desires for humanity and for the world. I believe that being a follower of Jesus means something far greater than doctrinal purity or theological correctness.
Gradually, I have come to believe that Jesus is best described as a deeply God-infused human being. More so than anyone else who has ever lived! As such, he was and is “the image of the invisible God.” And Jesus still issues the simple, life-changing invitation, “Follow me.”
In truth, this is what I initially began to discover while sitting in my very first class in systematic theology at Drew Theological Seminary under Dr. John Godsey in October of 1961.
Who are you theologically? How does that affect your living in these days? Does it communicate your deepest convictions? How does that impact your leadership style?