Asbury Theological Seminary President Emeritus Maxie Dunnam is one of the most widely respected and recognized leaders in the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church (UMC). Dunnam addressed the Renewal and Reform Coalition breakfast at United Methodist General Conference on the morning of May 18. In his remarks, the prominent evangelical renewal leader spoke on holy conferencing, the dangers of ignoring the Holy Spirit, and expectant revival in the UMC.
Dunnam opened his address with a reading from what he called “one of the strangest verses in the whole Bible,” Isaiah 7:20:
“In that day, the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the river. The King of Assyria to shave your head and the hair of your legs and take off your beard.”
“Isaiah was saying to the Israelites that God was going to use this pagan king to exact his judgment upon them. Not a friend, but an enemy,” said Dunnam. God was going to use to accomplish his will.”
“I believe that not just at this General Conference, but throughout our church God is shaving with a borrowed razor,” he continued. “What if all that which appears to be Satan’s work, what if all that, God is going to use in order to bring revival and renewal to the Methodist movement in the United Methodist Church? What if?
If God really is shaving the UMC with a borrowed razor, then what are faithful, orthodox Methodists to do in the meantime?
Dunnam offered an answer along with great encouragement to a room filled with delegates overwhelmed by long days of plenary sessions and nights short on sleep.
“First of all, we’re not going to be intimidated or manipulated by the hypocritical notion of holy conferencing. We’re going to stay at the table, but it’s going to be the table of the truth of the Gospel and the historic Christian witness,” he said. “Staying at the table not to try some experience that we can all share. In fact, we’re going to call out the sentimental totally idolatrous kind of way that concept is being used. We’re not going to substitute feelings and experience for the truth of the Christian teaching.”
“We’re going to demonstrate that our loyalty and commitment to unity is not through structure and institutions, it’s through doctrine, discipline, and mission, rendering then through support of structures and apportionments,” Dunnam continued. “We will pay attention to the Holy Spirit.”
The President Emeritus of Asbury Theological Seminary called on Methodists to return to their charismatic roots, listening and acting upon the Holy Spirit. “We’ve just almost completely ignored the Holy Spirit, which was so present in the movement at its beginning and it continued throughout Wesley’s life,” he said.
Dunnam then read a note from John Wesley’s journal dated January 1, 1739. “About 3 o’clock in the morning when we were continuing instant in prayer the power of God came mightily among us in so much that we cried out in joy and many fell to the ground.”
“The Church must live and thrive and do its work not by getting organized,” said Dunnam. “But through responsiveness to the Holy Spirit. The power of ministry and mission is the Holy Spirit. Revival and renewal will not come by our own will, certainly not by our own efforts, but by our responsiveness and our surrender to the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Shortly before closing, Dunnam recalled a warning from Wesley to Methodists:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
As delegates and renewalists face the remaining battles of General Conference, Dunnam encouraged them to go forward “believing that God is shaving with a borrowed razor and maybe giving birth to something completely new that we’ve not yet imagined.”