Three weeks ago I met Pat Ward, the preacher presiding over The Orchard, a Christian Methodist church in Oxford, for coffee.
During our conversation we spoke of his church, the doctrine of Christian Exclusivism and the value of faith. Ward was a good sport, letting me play Nietzsche with him and granting me permission to print the results.
When I speak of “Christian Exclusivism” and “playing Nietzsche,” I’m referring to our presuppositions. For Christian Exclusivists, it’s a fact that no path to God exists without faith in Jesus Christ; for those playing Nietzsche, “It is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations.”
(What follows is a reflection of our conversation.)
Andrew Dickson: What does The Orchard offer to people in Oxford — especially students?
Pat Ward: The Orchard is a contemporary expression of the gospel. Services are simple and approachable, even on the first visit, but remain true to the core of Christian faith.
We’re committed to community outreach and offer students the chance to be a part of our family of faith.
AD: Would outreach be more effective if we only had one Christian church in Oxford?
PW: Perhaps, but diversity allows the gospel to reach different groups of people. I don’t think our expression of the gospel is the only expression.
Rather than see another church as the “other,” we can view Christians as representatives of one body, each church being a different part with its own unique function.
AD: You spoke earlier of a “family of faith.” What is the value of faith?
PW: As faith grows we can use it to help our neighbors. Imagine a man who commits a crime, serves his time, is released and subsequently joins a church.
Then, to his surprise, he discovers the two victims of his crime are also members of the church.
But through faith this couple understands the grace of God and is capable of offering grace to the former offender. A family of faith is more interested in God’s plan for the future than the dealings of the past. Faith is less of an end and more of a means to living a life that matters.
AD: Nietzsche writes: “Love of one is a piece of barbarism, for it is practiced at the expense of all others — love of God likewise.” Is it possible to have faith to a fault? — Westboro and 9/11 come to mind.
PW: The Orchard expression of faith is a combination of our love for God and our love for our neighbors. To take Westboro as an example: There is a gap between their reverence for God and their reverence for a mourning father of a Marine.
This is one reason we put such an emphasis on outreach: Love is not intended to be a blanket feeling, but something expressed through actions.
AD: Now for the more difficult questions: Is belief in Christianity necessary for salvation?
PW: If we take Christ at his word when he said that no one comes to the Father except through him, the implication is that Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation.
AD: Is Jesus’ claim not egoism?
PW: Not in the context of Jesus’ life. Instead of a rise to power, his life is characterized by the ultimate sacrifice — surrendering his life for others. In the context of Christ’s divinity, this is not egoism but rather God’s way of saying, “This is what my love looks like.”
This brings us to the end of my transcription and back to the fundamental presuppositions of our conversation: The Christian Exclusivist presupposes that the ultimate truth has either been revealed or is being revealed; those playing Nietzsche presuppose that exclusivists simply wish to express their will to power.
Pat Ward is an energetic seeker who cares for the Oxford community. I encourage readers to visit The Orchard and hear him speak.
The Orchard is located at 1606 Molly Barr Road and holds worship at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sundays. Visit TheOrchardOxford.net/fall2012 for more.
Andrew Dickson is a religious studies senior from Terry. Follow him on Twitter @addoxfordms.
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