Living Grace: An Outline of United Methodist Theology

Living Grace: An Outline of United Methodist Theology

by Manfred Marquardt, Walter Klaiber

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Living Grace: An Outline of United Methodist Theology by Manfred Marquardt, Walter Klaiber

Living Grace is the most comprehensive expression of systematic theology for United Methodism to appear in the 1990's. Its authors, Bishop Walter Klaiber and Dr. Manfred Marquardt, are leading theologians of continental European United Methodism. Their work meets the long-felt need to provide partners in ecumenical dialog a clearer exposition of Methodism's theology, as founded upon biblical witness, apostolic heritage, the Protestant Reformation, and the Wesleyan Revival.

The authors concede that Methodists are often regarded more as specialists in evangelization, ecclesial organization, or social engagement, than as representatives of a cogently articulated theology. Further, United Methodists today are frequently at the forefront of facilitating interchurch cooperation in worship and social outreach. It is the authors' hope that a clearer exposition of our common understanding could offer a foundation upon which the "vital Wesleyan accent" could better direct the Christian witness we are offering in the world. Their response to the challenge has produced a thoughtful attempt to find a solid theological basis for our identity as a church that will not only accent our distinctiveness but will also assist other faith communities to articulate their profiles of faith.

In this first English edition, the work has been adapted for the American historical and social milieu. As such, it becomes a pathbreaking effort to articulate for our American constituency the global dimensions of a United Methodist theology, in which the American church is increasingly called to participate. Four emphases of the book are: Responsible Proclamation, Basics of a UMC theology; Universal Salvation; Personal Faith; and, Fullness of Christian Life and the Reality of Love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780687054527
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 01/01/2002
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 538
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Manfred Marquardt is Director of the UMC Seminary in Reutlingen, Germany.

Walter Klaiber is Resident Bishop, German Central Conference, the United Methodist Church.

Read an Excerpt

Living Grace

An Outline of United Methodist Theology

By Walter Klaiber, Manfred Marquardt, J. Steven O'Malley, Ulrike R. M. Guthrie

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2001 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-5650-4


Responsible Proclamation, or Fundamentals for a Theology of The United Methodist Church

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.

1 Peter 3: 15

What can I know? What should I do? For what may I hope?" According to Immanuel Kant, these are the basic questions about human existence and they require philosophical answers. There are still many people in our day who are concerned with these same questions. They scarcely expect to find the answers to them in philosophy. They are searching for that court of opinion which can provide them with adequate answers. Although people today do not always pose their questions in this fashion, Kant's formulation of them undoubtedly indicates three basic dimensions of these existential questions. This becomes more apparent when we understand that the first question, "What can I know?" is not a superficial intellectual inquiry into the possible extent of accessible information. Instead, it is asking, "Of what can I be certain? To what can I really abandon myself? What can I trust? What can I believe?" Kant's critical assessment also reflects these concerns.

It is in this sense that people today are asking these questions concerning the Christian Church and its message. This is usually done covertly, not overtly, with suspicion of some Christians' tendency to put on an air of religiosity with old creedal formulations, but many people are also suspicious when the church temporizes and accommodates itself to faddish trends. Although some questions to the church seem to be superficial and many charges appear to be unqualified, yet: when I engage in deeper conversation with people, they repeatedly ask these basic questions: Upon what can I truly build my life? What ought to be the norm for my behavior? For what am I to hope, both for myself and for this world?

Christian proclamation and theology thereby are placed under a dual responsibility. It is a responsibility to their charge and to the Giver of that charge, and to Jesus Christ, whose word and mission provide the foundation and content of their message. It is important that the church repeatedly ascertains whether its preaching is still identical with its original charge. This is particularly crucial to those persons who do not expect the church to be mechanically repeating what everyone else is saying. Instead, they are expecting that the church will be faithful in offering an uncompromising message.

However, this responsibility is not fulfilled merely by ascertaining that its witness is aligned with and corroborates what is considered to be right belief and orthodoxy. This responsibility entails a willingness to "be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). It also assumes a willingness to make clear to every person that this message is the answer to the fundamental questions of their lives.

The "identity" and "relevance" of faith are desired objectives, and the decisive responsibility of Christian theology may well be to provide an undergirding for the preaching of the church as it moves toward this goal.

What is theology, and what is its duty with regard to our convictions within the realm of Christian preaching and church activity?

Perhaps at this point it is helpful if we do not try to offer our own definition or to appeal to a standard work of theology. It would be preferable at this point to refer to a general reference work that speaks of the task of theology, such as Meyer's Großes Taschenlexikon, which defines theology as "a systematic, reflective development of religious expressions of faith." In distinction to the science of religion, which "describes all religions as in principal, equally valid articulations of human religiosity, theology proceeds from the truth of its respective tradition: it reflects the phenomenon of religion from a predetermined conviction ('faith')." Christian theology is therefore understood as a "methodical, exact reflection and exposition of faith in God that is founded upon Jesus. Thus, the truth of the Christian substance is expressed in faith (as revealed), and it is also to be accounted for in juxtaposition to the state of knowledge at a given time and in relation to others (apologetics)."

If we accept this description of Christian theology, we are led to the following conclusions:

(a.) Theology is not a science without presuppositions, assuming that anything like that even exists. It does not achieve its scholarly status by taking upon itself alien premises. On the contrary, it clearly sets forth its premises. It proceeds from the fundamental assertions of Christian proclamation and Christian faith and thinks in a methodical, thorough, and reflective manner. For practical reasons, this eventuates in a group of specific disciplines. Biblical theology investigates the biblical witness of God's speaking and acting in the history of Israel, in Jesus of Nazareth, and in the early community of faith, and historical theology traces the course of the gospel within the history of the church. Systematic theology probes the basic expressions of the biblical message and its consequences for faith and action today in conversation with the Christian tradition and with the thought of our time. Practical theology reflects ecclesial praxis, in that it examines and develops the methods for preaching, pastoral discourse, and congregational structure, and it confronts theological reflection with the results of an analysis of humanity and society through the disciplines of psychology and sociology.

Yet this division of labor is not intended to put a mere semblance of reality in the place of the fundamental task of theology, which is to attend thoughtfully to preaching and faith and to examine the inner consequences and the agreement of this task with its fundamental principles.

(b.) Theology has a responsibility to "itself and others." The theologian will seek to enlarge this secular expression by the overarching conviction that he or she discharges his or her work in responsibility to God. Yet it is absolutely vital to emphasize the conviction that this responsibility to God also represents a responsibility "to others," especially to those who are distant from the Christian faith.

A central task for theology is to examine and confirm the agreement of contemporary preaching with the basic expressions of the Bible and the church and their original concerns. Theological reflection is always to remain a living expression of the missionary focus of the church. Hence, it proceeds to interpret that focus on the level of reflective thought. The key word apologetics, which the dictionary uses with reference to this concern, is based upon the Greek word apologia ("defense," or "responsibility") in 1 Peter 3:15b, and it portrays this aspect of theological activity as a special discipline of study. In this regard, Emil Brunner has spoken of the "other duty of theology." It was this that provoked his ensuing disagreement with Karl Barth. By so doing Brunner possibly brought his justified concern into a false light, in that he so emphasized the "other" duty of theology that it seemed as if the missionary task might be seen as something secondary or supplemental, and in method quite different from what is treated in theology itself. Instead, the mission task of the church is to be regarded as an indispensable component of the actual duty of theology. It is fitting to say that "every theological utterance always needs to be a fresh attempt to formulate in a normative and understandable way the Christian understanding of God and humanity that is anchored in the Bible, in a way that is appropriate for a particular time." A theology that is bound to the Methodist heritage will see this as an especially central task.

(c.) Theology recognizes its responsibility to bring a critical perspective upon the church and its preaching. Its purpose is not—as is often insinuated—to offer a critique of the basic principles of the Christian faith. Those principles certainly belong to the presuppositions and to the axioms from which the work of theology is to proceed. However, the examination of church proclamation, in relation to its conformity with the substance of the gospel, requires critical reflection on what is the proper development of its message. The question needs to be asked how those traditions that have been handed down to us, as well as the present praxis of preaching and the forms of church activity, are to be viewed in their relevance and proximity to the gospel. Of course, this also includes the willingness for self-criticism and the openness to allow one's views to be subjected to critical examination from the perspective of the theologian. There can be a vital ferment leading to the development of mutual holiness in the community of faith wherever critical theological thinking is guided by the question of how God's will for persons in our day is to be discerned. Anyone undertaking to write the theology of a particular church must give special attention to this moment of self-criticism!

Thus, theology and preaching belong inextricably together. As in its origin, so also in its purpose, every theological work is finally to be seen as the proclamation in which God himself addresses persons. Yet, theology itself is not proclamation, for whenever it can awaken and foster faith, it can also raise questions and promote uncertainty. It should be seeking much more to facilitate proclamation in sermons and instruction as well as in confession and in Christian action. Preaching, for which theology offers preparation, should serve precisely that purpose—to set aside false "vexations" and to lead to the most unambiguous encounter possible with the gospel. The gospel needs to be protected against misinterpretations and misunderstandings, and theology should contribute to a clear and understandable transmission of the gospel. Theology is not a proclamation of the gospel (although it can on occasion become that), but through its help we take responsibility for preaching, so that the gospel can be given a hearing in our day. It remains a theologia viatorum— that is, a theology for the pilgrim, who is directed from beginning to end by the fact that God himself allows what he has commissioned to be brought to fruition.

Thus, theology is to be understood as one possible way to respond to God's address. Alongside other responses to God's gift, such as confession and prayer, it is called to offer praise to God and discipleship to Jesus. It intends to serve as guide and thereby to make possible an awareness of the fundamental principles of our existence as Christians and a clarification of the central content of the Christian faith. Christians are thereby made conscious of living as Christians and of becoming alert to answer the inquiries of others.

Within the framework of this description of reality, a theology of The United Methodist Church has a double responsibility:

It shares the basic theological task of every Christian theology in ascertaining that which lies at the basis of our faith as well as determining what is to constitute the preaching and activity of the church.

At the same time, it is obligated to ascertain and set forth how the preaching and praxis of the gospel are accentuated through the doctrinal heritage and order of The United Methodist Church. The points of departure for our presentation are the convictions that are advocated by The United Methodist Church, beginning in Central Europe and extending to the Anglo-American world. These are treated within the framework of the fundamental theological principles that have been formulated by the entire constituency of The United Methodist Church, which also takes into consideration the ongoing theological discussion that is occuring in Methodism and also the background and history of the Methodist movement.

The United Methodist Church is a child of the Great Awakening, which began in eighteenth-century England and was developed most extensively in North America. Among the great evangelists of that age, it was John Wesley who aroused people through his preaching to a decisive encounter with the message of the gospel. In addition, through indefatigable efforts and great organizational skills, he also succeeded in gathering the awakened into societies and thereby prevented the rapid disintegration of the movement. As a consequence, the Methodist Episcopal Church sprang up after 1784. Its work also provoked the rise of other church bodies, such as the Evangelical Association and the United Brethren in Christ, who began laboring among the German population in the Middle States. In 1968 these churches came together to form The United Methodist Church.

Early in their history, these church bodies became extensively involved in overseas mission activity. Special attention should be given to the mission that emerged in continental Europe, since the authors of this study represent that part of United Methodism. The European mission resulted from returning German immigrants who had encountered the message and the new forms of Christian community in England or in America. House meetings were instituted in the German homeland among these persons. The mission work in the German-language areas of Europe, as in America, received significant influence from the heritage of the Protestant Reformation and especially from German Pietism, although that influence had also been operative upon the originators of the movement, Charles and John Wesley.

Whereas American Methodism became increasingly influenced by Protestant liberalism from the beginning of the twentieth century, continental European Methodism has displayed a moderate Reformed and Pietistic imprint. These influences are exemplified in the work of Adolf Schlatter and Karl Heim. Since 1950, the European churches have reflected the influence of the kerygmatic theology of the disciples of Barth and Bultmann, and the historical-critical school of Gerhard von Rad. Since church union in 1968, there has been a marked interest in reappropriating the distinctives of the Wesleyan theological heritage, and this effort continues to the present day.

This brief overview points to the twofold task that lies before us in the preparation of a theology of The United Methodist Church. The theology and preaching of the Methodist movement is deeply grounded in the native soil of the Bible and the apostolic creeds. Wesley had appropriated those norms with his Anglican heritage, and they are most closely joined to the new discovery of the gospel that is implicit in the witness of the Protestant Reformation and its successors. Like other Reformers, John Wesley was convinced that he was not advocating a "new religion." Instead, "Methodism so-called," said Wesley at the laying of the cornerstone for the New Chapel in London in 1777, is "the old religion, the religion of the Bible, the religion of the primitive church, the religion of the Church of England." And this "old religion," Wesley continued, "is no other than love: the love of God and of all mankind."

However, even this description indicates the new emphasis and shows why the Methodist movement led to the first great post-Reformation ecclesial structure.

Hence, if we are to probe the fundamental principles for a theology of The United Methodist Church, this effort cannot be viewed as anything other than an effort to identify the fundamental principles of all Christian theology. At the same time, we have already indicated that we are defining and shaping this theology through the medium of the history, doctrine, and praxis of The United Methodist Church.

1.1 God's Self-Revelation as an Expression of God's Love

Theology speaks of God and of God's actions toward the world and toward humanity. Anyone wishing to gain an overview of the decisive doctrinal affirmations of The United Methodist Church and its understanding of the gospel could find them summed up in the following confession:

We believe that God loves humanity and the creation entrusted to it, and that God has opened for them the way for salvation, so that they might find and go use it. This salvation is for all humanity. Each and every one should grasp this by faith and become wholly renewed by it, so that God might lead his creation, which is alienated from God and damaged through the sin of humanity, to its full renewal.


Excerpted from Living Grace by Walter Klaiber, Manfred Marquardt, J. Steven O'Malley, Ulrike R. M. Guthrie. Copyright © 2001 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1.Responsible Proclamation, or Fundamentals for a Theology of the United Methodist Church17
1.1God's Self-Revelation as an Expression of God's Love23
1.1.1God's Revelation in Jesus Christ27
1.1.2God's Revelation in the Word30
1.1.3God's Revelation in God's Creation36 Knowledge of God in Different Religions40 Knowledge of God from the Standpoint of Thought44 Content of Truth and Its Meaning for the Natural Knowledge of God48
1.1.4The Triune God and the Missionary Dimension of Revelation55
1.2The Holy Scripture as the Foundation for Theology57
1.2.1The Origin of the Bible58 Formation of the Old Testament58 Development of the New Testament60
1.2.2The Significance of the Biblical Canon62 Created the Canon of the Bible?62 Standards Concerning the Definition of the Canon63 Adherence to the Old Testament64
1.2.3The Meaning of the Bible in the History of the Church64 the Time of the Reformation65 Reformation Understanding of Scripture65 Development of the Post-Reformation Era66 Bible in the Hands of Wesley and the Early Methodists67 Challenge of the Historical-Critical Exegesis of the Bible69 of the Contemporary Understanding of the Bible71
1.2.4The Bible--God's Word in Human Words76 Transparency of the Biblical Message76's Voice in the Words of the Bible77 Human Side of the Biblical Message79
1.3Methodist Doctrine as a Theology for Praxis80
1.3.1Principles of the United Methodist Exposition of the Bible81
1.3.2The Steps to a Vital Development of Doctrine83
1.3.3The Landmark Documents85
1.3.4The Basic Contours of a United Methodist Theology88
2.Universal Salvation, or God's Love for God's World93
2.1God's Loving Care in God's Creative Activity94
2.1.1God's Loving Care in the Creation of the World95
2.1.2God's Loving Care in the Creation of God's Image103 Human Being as Question103 Human Being as the Image of God106 Human Being as a Person111
2.1.3God's Loving Care in the Providential Oversight of Creation115's Creative Power115's Providence117's Goodness and the Experience of Suffering120
2.2God's Loving Care in God's Reconciling Acts126
2.2.1Sin and Its Consequences126 Universality of Sin from the Beginning127 as a Deed134 and the Law138 and Suffering143 and Death147 and the Power of Evil149 and Grace153
2.2.2God's Covenant Faithfulness154's Faithfulness to Creation and to Humanity154's Faithfulness to Israel156 Covenant of Law and the Covenant of Grace158 and Covenant Ratification in the United Methodist Tradition163
2.2.3The Reconciliation of the World in Christ168 Out of God's Will169 for One's Enemies175, That God's Peace Might Lead to Victory181
2.2.4The Messenger of Reconciliation185
2.3God's Loving Care in God's Renewing Actions189
2.3.1The Work of the Spirit in the World190
2.3.2The Renewal of Human Beings Through the Spirit of God194
Excursus: Receiving and Being Baptized in the Spirit196 Fundamental Renewal Through God199 Renewal of the Relationship with God200 Renewal of the Manner and the Mode of Living202 for True Fellowship203 for Mission and the Competency for Witnessing205 Renewal of Insight and Reflection208 for Hope209
2.3.3The Consummation of the World210 Hope210 Hope of the Congregation of Jesus Christ212 Hope for a New Heaven and a New Earth215 and Consummation215
3.Personal Faith, or the Personal Experience of Salvation221
3.1Liberation for Hearing and Conversion223
3.1.1The Abiding Love of God--Prevenient Grace223
3.1.2The Awareness of Human Distance from God--Awakening228
3.1.3Turning to God--Conversion232 Biblical Witness Concerning Conversion233 as a Step on the Way to Salvation235 Concrete Form of Conversion Today239
3.1.4Coming Home to God--Faith241 Biblical Understanding of Faith242 Reformation Rediscovery of "By Faith Alone"245 in the Thought of John Wesley246 Guidelines for Proclaiming the Faith in Our Day250 for Response--An Attempt to Summarize255
3.2The Renewal to Life in God256
3.2.1The New Relationship to God--Justification258 Biblical Foundations259 Understanding of Justification Among the Protestant Reformers263 in the Thought of Wesley268 Message of Justification Today272
3.2.2The New Life from God--Regeneration275 in the New Testament275's Doctrine of Regeneration276, the New Birth, and Conversion279 by God, Assurance of Faith, and Prayer281 and Change284
3.2.3Liberation for Love--Sanctification285 and Sanctification in the Bible287 in Wesley290 in the Contemporary World294
3.2.4Excursus: The Perfection of Love--Christian Reflection302
4.Christian Existence in its Wholeness, or the Reality of Love311
4.1God's Renewing Presence in the World312
4.1.1Love as the Operation and Sign of God's Presence313
4.1.2Love as the Fruit of the Spirit314
4.1.3Love as the Basic Norm for the Conduct of Life315
4.2The Community as the Creation of the Love of God319
4.2.1The Community as the Body of Christ320 Fellowship of Seekers and Believers322 Obligatory Life of a Christian325 and Acceptance into Church Membership328
4.2.2The Congregation as a Fellowship of Life and Service334 Gathering of the Congregation: Worship336 Significance of the Means of Grace337 Congregation and Ministry Groups340 The United Methodist Church as a "Connectional" Church343
4.3The Church as the Mission of God348
4.3.1The Witness of Individual Christians351 and Lifestyle352 Personal Witness of Faith355 Call to the Ministry of Proclamation356
4.3.2The Congregation as the Social Form of the Gospel359 Congregation as the Realm of the Love of God361 Congregation as a Witness to God's Love363
4.3.3The Mission of the Church364 Outer Mission367
4.4The Church in the World369
4.4.1The World as the Place of God's Reign372
4.4.2The Diaconal Task of the Church376 Diaconal Existence of Christians378 Ministry to the Weak380 in Society382
4.4.3The Ethical Task of the Church385 United Methodist Church as a "Free Church"389 and State393 Church for the People399 Global Community and the Whole of Creation400
4.4.4Penultimate Actions and the Hope of Fulfillment409 Acts of Significance410 Overcoming of Evil413 Consummation of Creation413
In Lieu of a Summary415
Foundations for the Doctrine and the Theological Task of The United Methodist Church419
Selected Literature for Further Reading509
Index of Biblical Citations529
Subject Index533
Index of Names537

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