December 6, 2017

Bodily Resurrection and Identity Formation in Paul

What does future bodily resurrection have to do with present life in the body? Do Paul’s pastoral goals shed light on his attitude toward resurrection? Does hope for resurrection bear on the formation of group identity in the Pauline communities? These are the questions that energized my doctoral research, which is now available electronically from the University of Gloucestershire Research Repository. Here's the abstract: 
This study investigates how Paul’s attitude towards future bodily resurrection functions in relation to his expectations for believers’ use of their bodies in the present, both as individuals and as a community. I argue that embodiment is essential to Paul’s anthropology, and that Paul understands future bodily resurrection primarily in social terms. Drawing on insights from the social sciences and rhetorical studies, I also argue that future bodily resurrection functions in the letters under consideration as a future possible social identity that contributes to Paul’s persuasive strategies with regard to his expectations for believers’ behavior. In general, it will become clear that Paul expects his recipients to use their bodies in ways that stand in continuity with the resurrection-oriented future social identity. After an introductory chapter orienting the reader to questions, method, and relevant scholarly discussion, chapter 2 sheds light on the social dynamics of Paul’s attitude toward future bodily resurrection in general and the function of the resurrection-oriented future identity in particular through a close reading of 1 Cor 15:12–58; 6:12–20; and 2 Cor 4:7–5:10. Chapter 3 offers a detailed analysis of the relationship between resurrection and practice in Rom 6:1–23 and 8:9–25 to argue that Paul’s understanding of that relationship provides a framework for understanding table fellowship as bodily practice in Rom 14 and 15. Chapter 4 takes up Phil 3:12–4:1 and argues that Paul’s language of resurrection fosters a common ingroup identity that serves the letter’s double goal of mitigating faction and strengthening the recipients to persevere in the face of persecution. A final chapter synthesizes the overall findings of the research.
If that strikes your fancy, you may just want to read the whole thing.

Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

May 24, 2017

Happy Aldersgate Day! (#umc)

May 24 is something of a holy day for the Wesleyan-Methodist family. On this day in 1738, John Wesley experienced his evangelical conversion, and the world hasn't been the same since. Here's the experience in his own words from his journal:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.
After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.
Don't miss the last line in that first paragraph. This was the first time Wesley trusted Christ alone to do something for him that he could not do for himself. In that crucial moment, Wesley was no longer attempting to add to the work of Christ. On this day, he experienced afresh the perfect and sufficient grace of Christ to atone for his sin and give him assurance of salvation. Thanks be to God.  

Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

May 22, 2017

New Book Notice: "Listen, Understand, Obey: Essays on Hebrews in Honor of Gareth Lee Cockerill" (@wipfandstock, @wesleybiblical)

I'm excited to announce the publication of a new collection of essays written in honor of Prof. Gary Cockerill on the occasion of his retirement. The book is called Listen, Understand, Obey: Essays on Hebrews in Honor of Gareth Lee Cockerill (edited by Caleb T. Friedeman). Dr. Cockerill has been a mentor to me for several years now, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to this volume as an expression of gratitude for his kindness. Dr. Cockerill is a scholar with the heart of a pastor, and he's impacted countless students during his 35 years of teaching at Wesley Biblical Seminary (WBS) in Jackson, Mississippi. He's served the last four years as Academic Dean and Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology, a role which has been instrumental in the growth and increasing strength of WBS. 

All of the essays in this book deal with Hebrews, which has been a central focus of Dr. Cockerill's scholarship throughout his career. In 2012, his commentary on Hebrews replaced F.F. Bruce's volume in the NICNT. Grant Osborne called that commentary one of  "the top three ever written" on that book of the New Testament. Dr. Cockerill has also written on Christian Faith in the Old Testament (2014). You can read about that book in the author interview on this blog (part 1 and part 2). The title of this new collection of essays comes from Dr. Cockerill himself, who would often exhort his students while lecturing on Hebrews to "listen, understand, obey." Here's the publisher's description:
"This volume brings together a diverse group of scholars, including biblical, systematic, and historical theologians, to honor Gareth Lee Cockerill, longtime professor of New Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary (Jackson, MS) and distinguished scholar of the book of Hebrews. The essays focus on various aspects of Hebrews' theology, ranging from the nature of -rest- in Hebrews to the interpretation of Hebrews in early Methodism. Readers will find resources to hear and comprehend Hebrews afresh and will be challenged to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:16)."
Here are the endorsements:
"This fine collection of essays by both senior scholars and our junior colleagues makes a worthy contribution to the scholarship of Hebrews and a fitting tribute to its honoree."
--Karen H. Jobes, PhD, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor Emerita of New Testament Greek and Exegesis, Wheaton College
Dr. Cockerill is one of the truly fine exegetes of our day, and his commentary on Hebrews is among the top three ever written. This Festschrift is a goldmine of fine material that will aid the cause of Christ for years to come. I look forward to using this work in my own writing and ministry.
--Grant R. Osborne, PhD, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
A big word of thanks goes to Caleb Friedeman, a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at Wheaton College, who did the hard work of editing the volume. He did an excellent job keeping the project on pace and bringing it through to completion. Get your copy from the publisher or Amazon.

Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

May 17, 2017

Unlikely People, Surprising Results

When you serve as pastor of a local church, you pick up on things. You don’t pick up on everything. But you do pick up on some things. One of those things is a perception held by many people in more than a few churches. A lot of people have it in their heads that God cannot work through them. Now this could be for any number of reasons. Maybe they think God is hindered by their lack of training or education. Maybe they are convinced that they don’t have the right gifts or talents. Maybe they are so immobilized by the shame of their past that they are sure God wants nothing to do with them, let alone use them to make the world a better place. If you are one of those people, then I’ve got some good news for you. God uses unlikely people to do surprising things. In fact, the more unlikely you are, the more God is pleased to work through you.

An unlikely apostle

This reality emerges from the life story of the apostle Paul. If that name is unfamiliar to you, he’s responsible for writing a healthy chunk of the Bible. He’s was also one of the first and most important people to spread the good news of hope in Jesus Christ. What’s interesting about Paul is that started out hating Jesus. Not only did he hate Jesus, he hated the followers of Jesus. So, if you were one of the first followers of Jesus in and around Jerusalem in the first century, Paul was somebody you would have wanted to avoid. Paul tells part of his story in his New Testament letter to the Galatians. He writes about an earlier period of his life when he was, “violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13 NRSV). Now we have people today whose religious convictions motivate them to act violently. Sometimes we call those people terrorists. And it may surprise you to learn that analogy is not altogether out of place when considering Paul’s life before Jesus got hold of him. Remember what I told you. God uses unlikely people to do surprising things. 

Later in life Paul could look back and see that God was at work in his life, even though he didn’t know it. A little further on in that same letter to the Galatians he wrote that God “called me through his grace” and “was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (1:15 NRSV). Did you catch that? God’s grace was big enough to cover the sins of a man who behaved violently toward God’s church. If that’s true, I’m thinking God can pretty much handle whatever messes we’ve made. And what was the result for Paul? God ended up using a man who hated the followers of Jesus to proclaim the good news about Jesus to the nations. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that an unlikely person with some surprising results.

Get ready for change

Now if you want God to use your unlikely life to accomplish something surprising, you need to be prepared for change. Radical change. Just think about Paul. He went from persecuting Christian believers to proclaiming the faith he had tried to destroy (Galatians 1:23). That’s what I call 180 degree turn-around. That’s some serious change. And here’s the thing. No one ever surprised anyone by continuing to do the same things they’ve always done. That’s what we call predictability, not surprising. So God may be calling you to do something unexpected, but it will require you to do some things differently. It will require new habits, new disciplines, new attitudes, new passion, and probably some new courage. God does surprising things through unlikely people, but not while they are doing the same old things.

It takes preparation

Developing new habits and new disciplines and new passion does not usually happen overnight. It typically takes some preparation. When God called Paul to be a church-planting missionary, Paul didn’t get started right away. He reminded the Galatians that he went away for a while. A long while. This new and surprising vocation would require some essential preparation. Paul had to learn how to read his Bible again; he had to develop an eye for how God’s promises are kept in Jesus. Most of us don’t have the kind of dramatic conversion experience that Paul had. And even with that experience he still needed substantial time being trained and equipped for the mission God had planned. How much more for all of us?

It may seem crazy

Chances are that if God uses you to do something surprising, somebody is going to think you are crazy. God may call you to sell your house in the suburbs and move to the most dangerous part of town to bring the light of Jesus to that dark place. God may call you to move to Costa Rica and join the effort to rescue women and girls from the sex trade. God may call you to go plant a church in a part of the world where terrorists cut off the heads of Christians. Or God may call you to do something else. The point is this: God uses unlikely people to do surprising things. Often times, other people think those surprising things are also crazy things. But hey. If it seemed normal, it probably wouldn’t be surprising.

It's God’s pleasure

What may be most surprising is that God does not begrudgingly work through unlikely people. He is not sitting around lamenting the fact that he has generally inadequate folks to work with. It turns out that God actually enjoys working through unlikely people. He gets a kick out of it. Remember a few minutes ago when we were talking about when God called Paul. Paul said God was pleased to reveal Jesus to him. God was pleased. Not only does God do surprising things through unlikely people, he is pleased to do it. The way I see it, being unlikely just keeps getting better and better. 

This post was originally published in The Call News on March 29, 2017.

Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

May 3, 2017

Community is messy, but lines are essential (#umc, @spiritchatter, @huffpost)

Official statements abound in the wake of last week's Judicial Council ruling on the consecration as bishop of Karen Oliveto by the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church (#UMC). One that came across my desk this morning is from the Dean of Perkins School of Theology, Craig C. Hill. It came via the Huffington Post in a blog by Professor Jack Levison of Perkins. The post was intended to point readers to the Dean's letter and contained a few brief affirmative comments regarding the letter's substance and aim. One line from Levison's post struck me, however, and prompted some further reflection. He writes, "Truth be told, authentic community doesn’t allow for sharp lines and clear distinctions." I want to be careful because Levison didn't offer much in the way of explanation in terms of what he meant. I don't want to attribute views to him that he doesn't express. Nevertheless, the comment prompts a number of questions and was offered in a public forum. So, public reflection on possible implications is fair play. Let's have the conversation.

What sort of lines?
That's the first question that comes to mind. I can only imagine that "sharp lines" here refers to community boundaries. The above quote follows on the heels of Levison's stated commitment to holding the community together in the midst of discord, and Hill's letter deals with questions of community boundary in relation to human sexuality. The context would suggest then that the "sharp lines" in question would be those that mark the boundaries of the United Methodist community and make a distinction between those practices that are acceptable and those that are not. 

A group with no boundaries?
But this raises the question of what it would look like to have a community without "sharp lines" at the boundaries. What sort of group would that be? How would we know who is in that group? How would we know who is outside of it? How would we distinguish a group with no lines at the boundary from other groups? 

If you were to ask someone who studies the formation and maintenance of social identities, they would tell you that distinction is the key category for defining a group. If you want to talk about a group in any meaningful sense, then you need to identify what it is that makes members of that group perceive themselves to be distinct from other groups. What values and commitments do they hold in common that distinguish them from members of groups that hold different values and commitments? Social identity theory recognizes that sharp lines at the boundaries is precisely the stuff of which groups are made. And if there are no lines at the boundaries, then there is no community to speak of. In reality, authentic community depends on sharp lines. Distinctions are the sine qua non of every group. 

Where do we draw the line?
If you want authentic community, the question isn't whether there will be lines and distinctions. The question is where those lines will be drawn. The line is currently drawn in one place; Levison and Hill would like it drawn elsewhere. No matter where it's drawn, there's still a line. And that's what makes community messy or, as Levison puts it, "sloppy" and "unkempt." If we didn't have any lines, we wouldn't have to worry with being unkempt, because there wouldn't be a we in which to disagree. We only run into differences that have to be sorted out because we want to draw the lines in different places. The question of boundaries are precisely what makes community challenging. We have to come to some agreement on how we will conduct ourselves. We have to have some shared values and commitments that we will not betray. Sorting those out is tough. But sorting those out is also how the lines get drawn. Sorting those out is how the community gets formed. Clarifying and maintaining those lines is how the community is perpetuated. When a subgroup of the larger group crosses the line and refuses to abide by the shared values, the group is endangered. And if the lines get moved, the community will change. You are likely to lose some of the people in the community. New communities may form. However that plays out, things get messy. The point is that things are only messy because there are sharp lines. Take away the lines and distinctions, and the mess goes away also. But then so does the authentic community. 

I noted above that a number of statements have been released. I decided to write about this one instead of the others because the commentary that accompanied it seems to me internally inconsistent. In the end, the argument for authentic community without sharp lines and distinctions regarding shared values and practices is self-defeating. There is no such thing as a community with no boundaries. Every group has lines drawn around it. That is unavoidable. The question for United Methodists going forward is where those lines will be drawn.

Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

April 27, 2017

5 Keys to Fill the "Sanctification Gap" (#UMC, @IVPacademic, @OfficialSeedbed)

Is holiness a missing element in evangelical theology? That's what Gordon T. Smith says in the opening chapter of his recent book, Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity. Smith points to an observation made by Richard Lovelace in the late 1970s "that evangelical theology and spirituality were marked by a 'sanctification gap'" (14). Lovelace traced this to evangelicalism's emphasis on revivalism where the focus was on conversion leaving Christian maturity and holiness to be treated as secondary matters. Smith suggests that the gap remains and substantiates the case in part by pointing to the fact that theology texts in evangelical seminaries tend to give holiness superficial attention. When sanctification is in view, Smith observes, the interest is in how not when. That is to say, attention is given to the process of sanctification, not the goal or end of sanctification (14-15). He believes we need more than that.

The sanctification gap and Wesleyan identity
Reading Smith as a pastor steeped in Wesleyan theology, I cannot help but think of John Wesley's conviction, articulated in a letter near the end of his life, that the doctrine of entire sanctification "is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly he appeared to have raised us up" (Works, XIII, 9). You might say that Wesley perceived a sanctification gap in 18th century English Christianity, and he was persuaded that God had specifically called and equipped the people of the Methodist movement to fill the gap. To that end, he rode countless miles on horseback to preach thousands of sermons and organize communities of worship and accountability committed to growing in grace and maturity that intentionally pursued, not just sanctification, but entire sanctification. For Wesley, that's what it meant to be Methodist.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and you'll find a Methodist family tree with no few branches. The denominations that trace their heritage to Wesley are many and varied. Some embrace robust teachings on holiness. Others don't emphasize it quite as much. Within my own branch of the Wesleyan family tree - The United Methodist Church - we have a number of tribes with distinct subgroup identities, but we are largely without a widely held sense of identity on the denominational level. The theorists would say that we have a number of competing subgroup identities but lack a superordinate social identity that cultivates and maintains a sense of coherence between the subgroups. We've got high church folks, low church folks, mainliners, progressives, and evangelicals. The point there is to illustrate the range of groups, not provide an exhaustive list of UMC subgroups. All that to say, the UMC is a denomination without an identity, and we are feeling the anxiety and the pain that comes with that. 

My hope is that we will be able to recover the identity that Wesley left us: we are the people called by God "to spread scriptural holiness over the land." The reason there are Methodist churches all over the world with so many branches on the Wesleyan tree is because John Wesley believed with all his heart that God raised up the people called Methodist to revitalize the Church with the message of holiness for the life of the world. That is who we are. That is our identity. That should be our mission. Because that is what it means to be Methodist. It's our vocation to fill the sanctification gap.

Can we fill the gap?
But how do we do it? What disciplines and practices and strategies have to be in play to pull this off? There are several key pieces. And at this point, I'm moving beyond the UMC to think in terms of the wider Wesleyan world. It's not clear that the UMC will ever succeed in forming a unifying identity. I should add that I'm not suggesting any of this is new information. Lot's of folks are thinking about this. I've been involved in dialogue about this sort of thing for years. Here are a few things that keep coming up.
  1. Preaching - Wesley believed that every Methodist preacher should preach the doctrine of holiness. I've heard the observation made many times that the doctrine of entire sanctification is seldom preached these days. This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe we are unfamiliar with it. Maybe we don't understand it well enough to preach it confidently. Maybe we are afraid of being misunderstood. Maybe we don't believe it. Whatever the reason for the lack of homiletic attention to the doctrine of holiness, if we are going to forge and maintain an authentic Wesleyan identity, then we must have clear and robust preaching on holiness. 
  2. Singing - The observation has been made that the Methodist movement would never have made it with John's preaching alone. Charles Wesley's hymns were essential for planting the seeds of holiness in the hearts of the early Methodists. Not only do we need to be singing our own Wesleyan hymns about holiness, we need a new generation of songwriters who can ably transmit holiness theology melodically and lyrically. 
  3. Small groups - Wesleyans did small groups before small groups were cool. The movement happened because the people involved were involved with each other at deep levels. They didn't just worship together; they got deeply entrenched in one another's lives. They cared for each other. They got in each other's business, and they did it for love of Christ and love for one another. And if someone didn't show up a couple of times, they went looking for that person. This is essential. We can't be Wesleyan without deeply committed small groups explicitly focused on growing in holiness and entire sanctification. 
  4. Theologians - We also need theologians who can write the books and give the talks that lead the Church in thinking about entire sanctification. Some of these folks might be academic theologians; others might be pastor theologians. We've got some good folks out there doing this kind of work, but this is one of those things where there's never enough. And there's the question of who will receive the baton from the current generation of theological leaders in the Wesleyan tradition. Who will embody this key vocation as we move into the future? 
  5. Conferences and publishers - I am encouraged by the birth and growth of Seedbed and the New Room Conference. This sort of thing is going to be essential for connecting people of like heart and like mind around the topic of holiness. It's also essential for helping us discover new resources and develop a sense of group identity. Let's keep it growing.
All five of these center around our ability to speak and write about holiness with care, wisdom, clarity, and faithfulness. At the end of the day, we've got to be talking about holiness...a lot. So much that when people see us coming, they think "here come the people who talk about holiness." And our speaking must be filled with passion that is compelling and contagious. If we can do this, then we will be well on our way to filling the sanctification gap and recovering our God-given vocation to bless the Church and the world with the good news that God's grace is more powerful than the sin that besets us.

Your turn: Do you perceive a sanctification gap? What evidence do you see for a sanctification gap? What must we do beyond the 5 keys mentioned here? Is holiness essential to Wesleyan identity? Leave a comment with your input. 

Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

April 25, 2017

The United Methodist Church and the Sovereignty of God (#UMC)

To say that United Methodist anxiety levels are heightened would be an understatement. As deeply entrenched sides await this week's arguments before the Judicial Council (our ecclesial high court), worry and frustration abound. And there's no promise that it will subside, regardless of the Council's decision. It's painful. And in the midst of these stormy times, I have become persuaded that what the Church needs most - right now! - is a good dose of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about the doctrine of meticulous sovereignty that characterizes Calvinist theology propagated by the young, restless, and Reformed. I'm not talking about a God who irrevocably elects and condemns. I'm talking about what John Wesley meant when he said in his sermon "On Divine Providence" that God "is infinite in wisdom as well as power: And all his wisdom is continually employed in managing all the affairs of his creation for the good of all his creatures" (Sermon 67:14). About this teaching Wesley said, "There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation, which is of deeper importance than this;" he also said there is no other doctrine so "little regarded, and perhaps so little understood (Sermon 67:7)  In painful times, we need to focus on what's important. We need to know that God has not given up on his children. He loves us. And he is at work for our good.

Providence and well-being
Wesley's doctrine of God's providence derives from his doctrine of creation. If God made everything that exists, then God knows every detail about everything that exists, because he is the author of that detail. And he did not create this complex world only to ignore the details. After all, the number of the hairs on our heads, be they many or few, are known by God (Luke 12:7). Scripture led Wesley to conclude that God is deeply concerned with what seem the most insignificant details in the lives of his children. There is no affair so small that it is beneath the regard of the triune God. "For we know that, to those who love God, he works all things together for good, to those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28, emphasis added). 

Brothers and sisters, the current troubles of the United Methodist Church have not taken God by surprise. He is not caught off-guard. He frets not. He is not wondering what to do with us. To the contrary, he is at rest. And from that posture he is working within our circumstances to bring good for those who love him and are committed to his purpose for the Church and the world. His countenance is marked by noble and kingly joviality. His care for his beloved is unhindered. And his ultimate purpose to fill his creation with the knowledge of his glory will not be undone. Rest assured. 

Be patient
This means that, despite what we want, we can and must be patient. We want all of our problems to be resolved, and we want them to be resolved now. Patience feels like doing nothing. And we don't want to wait around for the next press release or the next conference or the next declaratory decision. We want to do something. We want it fixed. We want the pain to go away. 

But patience is not idleness; it's the fruit of the Spirit. It's an expression of faith that we can trust God to work for our good no matter how long it takes. It is of the utmost importance to remember that God's great priority is not our daily or temporal comfort. He is primarily concerned to fill the world with the unparalleled beauty of his glory by reproducing his holy love in creatures who bear his image and bear it well. And that takes time. 

Wesley understood this and made the point in paragraph 15 of "On Divine Providence." To summarize, it takes time because being made in the image of God comes with some degree of liberty, and far too often we've use that liberty to mess things up. God will not magically fix all of our problems today because that would counteract his work of making human beings in his image with the relative freedom that involves. I don't know how long it will take to find resolution for our United Methodist mess. I do expect that it will get worse before it gets better. But we must not allow that expectation to rob us of joy. We must trust that God is at work to renew us in the image of Christ in the midst of this mess. That's what we need. That's what the Church needs. That's what the world needs. That takes patience. So, pray for me. And I'll pray for you.

There's a condition
I cited Romans 8:28 above to make the point that God is attentive to every detail in the lives of his children, and that he is at work in every circumstance to bring good. It would be inattentive, however, to neglect the point that this promise comes with a condition. It is for "those who love God" and "are called according to his purpose." Let us not forget that, for Jesus, love is expressed in obedience (John 14:15). God has revealed his purposes in scripture. He has called us to be his people. He requires our believing obedience. If we are committed to those things, we can rest assured that he is at work for our good. The operative word there is rest. Love Jesus. Obey scripture. Rest in the knowledge that God loves you and is at work for your good. 

I don't know what the Judicial Council will decide after all the arguments are made later this week. I do know that, whatever they decide, a lot of people will be unhappy. Now more than ever, the faithful need to remember that the God who loves us is at work in us to reproduce his character in us for the life of the world. That is what matters. And he will not be thwarted. The bride of the Lamb will one day be clothed with holiness and splendor. You can count on it. God will not give up. And neither must we. 

Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

April 19, 2017

New Post: Resurrection Makes Us Holy (@OfficialSeedbed)

During my recent trip to Wilmore, Kentucky, I had the opportunity to film another episode for Seedbed's growing Seven Minute Seminary series. This one explores the relationship between future bodily resurrection, Christian identity, and holiness. These three themes were at the heart of my PhD research, and I'm grateful to Seedbed for making some of that available more broadly. If you receive this via an email subscription, click here to watch the video. And be sure to check out my other contributions to Seven Minute Seminary over on the video page.



Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Connect on Facebook or follow @mporeilly.

April 17, 2017

Resources for Easter and the Great Fifty Days - @sowhat_podcast, @officialseedbed

We are now into the season of Easter (or Eastertide). That's right. If you follow the Church calendar, Easter is not just one day. It's fifty days. And that, of course, is why we call it "The Great Fifty Days." In the spirit of the season, I wanted to point to a few resources that I've had the chance to be part of, along with some great colleagues, that highlight the significance of the season. The first three are from the team at So What? Podcast (Web, Soundcloud, iTunes). The fourth is a 7 Minute Seminary (with bonus footage) from Seedbed. All of them dig into the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in the past and the resurrection of believers in the future, and all of them take the practical and pastoral significance of resurrection as major points of consideration. 



Dr. Matt O'Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Connect on Facebook or follow @mporeilly.

April 11, 2017

In Memoriam Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw (#UMC)

Serious engagement with the Wesleyan tradition began for me during my college years with a book by Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw. A Christian since childhood, I had long suspected there was more to the faith than the mere forgiveness that often characterized evangelicalism in the second half of the last century. The book was The Mind of Christ, and it was given to me at a missions conference in 2000 by Dr. Harold Spann, then Chancelor of Wesley Biblical Seminary. That book exposed me like never before to the deep truth for which I longed but had not yet understood. With it, Dr. Kinlaw taught me that forgiveness of sin is only the beginning of the Christian journey, not its end. I learned that forgiveness is an instrument and necessary means to the end of holiness. I learned that what the world really needed was to see women and men embody the holy love that is the character of God revealed in Christ and Spirit, and to do it consistently and comprehensively. And I learned that all of that is above all a work of grace. It is no understatement to say that this book set me to the course I am on today. Other important volumes have come along. This one will always have a prominent place among them.

From that point forward, I read everything by Dr. Kinlaw that I could get. I sought out his sermons online and listened to as many as I could find. Some repeatedly. Kinlaw had a way of communicating stunningly rich and deep theological truth in a clear and understandable way. His turns of phrase often gave me pause and prompted extended reflection on scripture, discipleship, and ministry. My first published book review was in the Wesleyan Theological Journal, and the book I chose to review was Let's Start with Jesus. With this book, Dr. Kinlaw flexed his theological muscles to interpret scripture in light of the Church Fathers and give us a vision of the unparalleled beauty of the God who is triune. This book was altogether robust and practical in every way as an invitation to dwell in the beauty of God's perfect love, and to have that love made perfect in us.

During my time as a student at Asbury Theological Seminary, I was privileged on one occasion - and long after his retirement - to have Dr. Kinlaw as a substitute lecturer. The course was Triune Theism taught by Dr. Al Coppedge, who is also a mentor to me and son-in-law to Dr. Kinlaw. Dr. Coppedge had to be away one day, and the class was a small one. So, we were instructed to meet at Dr. Kinlaw's house that day instead of in our regular classroom. We were to read Let's Start with Jesus beforehand so that we could discuss it with the man who penned it. That day will always stand as a highlight of my seminary education. I couldn't be more grateful.

Word began to circulate yesterday that Dennis Kinlaw died, and the Wesleyan world now feels the weight of losing one to whom so many of us looked for leadership, instruction, and nurturing. He modeled a combination too rarely seen. He was a scholar thoroughly familiar with advanced issues in biblical criticism, but his sermons never sounded like lectures. He was both theologian and preacher. And he was one of the first to model the union of those two vocations for me. My own sense of calling and vocation has been indelibly stamped by his preaching, his scholarship, his witness. He was a man set apart by and for the love of Christ to preach scriptural holiness. And we are all the better for it. His death for us is a loss, though it is gain for him. He has joined the saints at rest in the presence of the One whose love abounded in his life. And he now waits in hope, with all the saints, for the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. Thanks be to God.