United Seminary Academic Dean David Watson addressed the Renewal and Reform Coalition breakfast at United Methodist General Conference on the morning of May 16. In his remarks transcribed below, the Associate Professor of New Testament spoke about his relationship with the Holy Spirit, the Christian call to stand for Biblical truth and the importance of witnessing to opponents within the United Methodist Church.
Watson was elected later in the day to a second four-year term on the University Senate, the United Methodist accrediting body which determines the relationship of academic and theological institutions to the denomination.
“I have to admit, starting out that I am a bit of a ‘methocostal’ and I want to talk about a couple of different times when I received prophetic words that I think are relevant for us in our context of General Conference here. By prophetic words I don’t mean end times prophecy or anything like that, but the times when God is giving us guidance – direct guidance – about important issues in our lives. Years ago, when I went to United [Seminary], it was a very different place than today. I started almost 11 years ago now. I was worried that my witness as an orthodox and evangelical Christian was going to hurt me politically. In fact, I know a lot of untenured professors who have felt that way in the United Methodist context over the years.
Every night I would take a walk — I remember it was a really cold night — I was walking and praying, and saying: ‘God, I don’t know if I am in the right place, I don’t know if I am going to gen tenure, I don’t know if I should speak up, if I should use my voice, I don’t know what to do God’. It was as clear as it could possibly come to me – not an audible voice but words in my head – I heard ‘I didn’t call you to get tenure, I called you to be a witness’ [clapping].
Now, in retrospect, I am glad I got tenure [laughter] but you know, I think what God was telling me was not to worry about that stuff. You’ll be a witness for the Gospel. 2 Timothy 1:7 tell us God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of what? Power, love, and self-discipline. I, for one, am grateful for that because being a witness for the Gospel can be tough. I mean, some of the things I’ve written on my blog for example, which I thought were pretty benign things, have resulted in some pretty vicious attacks. You know, it’s getting harder and harder to be an orthodox Christian in the United States. As cultural Christianity collapses, we should expect more resistance when we witness to the truth of the Gospel. That’s just going to happen. It’s difficult to be a witness for the Gospel. Christ never told us it was going to be easy, but it is difficult.
Sometimes when we get unto the heat of battle and all of this through the last few years, writing about General Conference, about the United Methodist Church, I’ll confess to you: sometimes I’ve gotten really mad. And you might think ‘how can you say that’? ‘how can you do that?’ ‘Why would you say that about someone as nice as I am!’ [laughter].
So this brings me to the second prophetic word that I am going to talk about this morning: I have a friend who really has a gift of prophecy, and before she prayed for me, because she knows I am coming to General Conference, so we had lunch before I came, and she said ‘I think the Lord wants me to tell you not to make winning an idol, that this can’t be about winning. It has to be about witnessing. It’s not about winning, it’s about witnessing.’ Because when it’s about winning we are setting ourselves up against other people, against other brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s not what we want to do. If that happens then that is an unfortunate consequence of the time in which we find ourselves. But what we really want to do is witness. Because God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, God gave us a spirit of power, and love and self-discipline. You know, I’ve been I’ve been in subcommittees and legislative committees since I’ve been here and I hear people say ‘how can you say that? That’s crazy. Who would think a thing like that?’ and it becomes, for me at least, proving that person wrong. But that’s not what I’m called to do, and I think that’s why the Lord gave my friend that word. It’s not about winning, it’s about witnessing. The people who are most vocal in opposition to the positions of Good News, the Confessing Movement and other renewal groups, sometimes I just really don’t like the things that they do. Sometimes they probably don’t like the things that I do, and I’m certain about that. But you know, folks like [Love Prevails Director] Amy Delong and [Methodists in New Directions Director] Dorothee Benz are right about one thing: and that is that they matter to God and God does love them [Clapping]. We can’t just look at them as opponents. These are people for whom Christ died on the cross, and they matter. We disagree with them, but they still matter.
If this becomes about winning, and not about witnessing, then we’re not even in the game. God has called us to something better than politics. God’s called us to be witnesses of the incarnate one who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, and there is no higher calling than that.
So I want to be a witness, but I want to witness in two ways: first, by standing up for the truth, but we can be right about the Christian life, and secondly, the way in which I conduct myself. I hope that in all of this I can conduct myself in a spirit of gentleness and dignity and love. Even when people treat me with contempt, I hope that I can meet them with a spirit of love.
Let me pray for you: ‘God, I thank you for this gathering, I thank you for our church. And God, I thank you for the plans for the United Methodist Church that you are making, that we don’t even know about. God, we know that you are faithful, we know that you are in this. We know that you are present, so keep us faithful to you, God. Keep us faithful in standing up for what we believe to be biblical truth. Keep us faithful also to those parts of the Bible that tell us to love our enemies, to show kindness to the stranger, and to pray for people who persecute us, remind us God that when we are slandered, we are blessed. God, we love you. Give us loving hearts. Keep us faithful, God. We thank you here for the leadership of Good News. We thank you, God, for the way that your hand has been upon this conference. We pray God, just pour out your Holy Spirit on this United Methodist Church, and we pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.’”