An Open Letter to My Friend Walt

Regarding a blog post that I made a couple weeks ago, my friend Walt wrote this in the comments section:

Well Dana, I must admit that I'm confused. You stereotyped some of your brothers and sisters in the church as noisy insidious Neo-reformed fundamentalists. You even quoted McLaren who is one of the most liberal Christian authors to support your stereotype. Let me ask you a question: Am I a noisy insidious Neo-reformed fundamentalist who's causing tension because I support the doctrines of the historical orthodox church, or because I believe that homosexuality is a sin like any other sin and some of your colleagues disagree with me, or because I believe that the Word of God is actually the inspired Word of God? Am I one of those noisy fundamentalists because I disagree with Dr. Oords teachings that contradict the doctrines and teachings of the historical orthodox church? For example things like: There was a time when God did not exist, there are things that God does not know and is still learning, there is no hell, no Satan, and everyone goes to heaven no matter what, and that the only hell anyone will ever face is the bad things that happen in this life. Not to mention all the books I've read with very liberal authors with a liberal slant. You see what bothers me about your blog is that the only thing you are doing is keeping the tension going by stereotyping some of your brothers and sister in Christ, as a leader at NNU. And I know that you and your colleagues are being stereotyped as well, and it needs to stop! I think people like myself who are concerned about the future of the church, and are concerned that the church will conform to the patterns of the world, like other mainline Protestant churches are doing, just want to understand why the material that is being used is so liberal. I would like to talk with you to try and understand. Thank you.


As I tried to write a short response, I realized that this response might be an important conversation so I am offering it up on my blog for others to reflect and possibly respond to as well:

Hey Walt,

Sorry for the slow response.  Things are busy here.  When you were in my class, I always appreciated your thoughtful responses in class discussion.  You were a good student.  I can tell you are passionate about this subject.  You said a lot in about 300 words but let me try and address some of your questions.  (BTW – I would love to talk also.  Perhaps a phone conversation would be a much more productive way of discussing this?) 

First, the categories of “liberal” and “conservative” in regards to Christian theology are a holdover from the early 20th century.  (An excellent work on this is Nancy Murphy’s, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda).  So, to call Brian McLaren, “liberal” is not really accurate.  Emergent/Emerging? Yes.  Liberal?  That presupposes a philosophical notion that I don’t think McLaren subscribes to.  There is a lot more to say about this but space and time are not going to let me. : )

You asked a lot of questions about very specific issues like: homosexuality, the nature of the inspiration of scripture, Hell, Satan, universalism, and implied that the School of Theology and Christian Ministries in general and Tom Oord in particular subscribe to a particular set of beliefs.  Without addressing the particulars of all those issues (many of which could be a book), let me speak more generally regarding your concerns:

As you might imagine, like any organization, of the 13 or so full time faculty in the STCM, there is a very wide range of opinions and beliefs about all kinds of theological issues.  That being said, to my knowledge, there is nobody in the school (including Tom Oord) who deviates from either traditional orthodox Christianity in general or Wesleyan Theology in particular.  As you know, the Church of the Nazarene is a “big tent” and the boundaries of what is acceptable belief is broader than most denominations (who come from a more confessing tradition).  I believe that is a good thing.  However, as we are observing in this situation at NNU, the big tent has a shadow side when people disagree on a variety of theological issues. 

I’m not sure where you got your list of things that you believe that Dr. Oord believes.  I don’t want to speak for him or say what I *know* he believes (even though we have been close friends for 30 years).  But what I can state as a matter of fact is this: During the Fall of 2013, Dr. David Alexander and Dr. Stephen Borger (District Superintendent for the Intermountain District of the Church of the Nazarene) met with Dr. Oord to express concern about Dr. Oord’s theology.  The university and the district were receiving feedback from concerned parties outside of the university about Dr. Oord’s theology on a variety of issues. 

As a condition to Dr. Oord’s continued good standing with the university and with the Intermountain District, Dr. Oord was asked to answer, in writing, 70 specific questions about his theology.  At the completion of this written inquiry, Dr. Oord was to meet with a panel of respected Nazarene theologians: Dr. H. Ray Dunning and Dr. Jesse Middendorf (General Superintendent Emeritus) to review his responses.

Dr. Oord wrote an 80-page response to the questions and met with the committee in Kansas City in early 2014.  In their written response to their inquiry of Dr. Oord, the committee acknowledged some concern about some aspects of Dr. Oord’s theology. But they conceded that his theology fell within the bounds of Christian theology in general and Wesleyan theology in particular. 

So, to address your particular concerns I would say this: you may not agree with Dr. Oord.  You may think he is a heretic and deserves to be terminated for his beliefs.  But I have chosen to stand with two very respected theologians in saying that he is within the bounds of orthodox Christian theology in general and Wesleyan theology in particular.  As such, he is part of the big tent we call The Church of the Nazarene.  You may not like who is in the tent.  You may disagree with the beliefs of some people in the tent.  But I think it is unfair for anyone who has not had the benefit of training, experience, education, and time to interrogate Dr. Oord that Drs. Dunning and Middendorf had to say that Dr. Oord doesn’t belong in the tent. 

Finally, you write, “…what bothers me about your blog is that the only thing you are doing is keeping the tension going by stereotyping some of your brothers and sister in Christ…” I guess I see this different than you.  I’m not trying to stereotype anyone; rather, my hope is to address a very specific behavior.  What I was trying to say was, “Make room in the tent! We are a denomination that allows for a variety of theological beliefs.  This has been part of our ethos from the very beginning.  Please don’t try and change that ethos because I think it is part of what makes us great.” 

I’m sure you have thoughts you would like to add to this conversation and I am looking forward to hearing them.  Blessings on you, my friend!

Dana Hicks