My First Year at New Room, and Some Thoughts on Christian Perfection

This year I attended the New Room conference for this first time. I’d always heard great things about it, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a diverse group of insightful speakers. The worship, led by Mark Swayze, was powerful. There were plenty of great books for sale, along with opportunities to meet and converse with many of the authors. It was great to reconnect with old friends, and I made some new ones as well. If there was one highlight of the conference for me, it was listening to my friends Scott Kisker and Kevin Watson talk about the importance of the band meeting. They’ve just written a new book on this topic, available here in print and here as an e-book. They were funny and informative and challenging.

Kisker and Kevn Watson

Scott Kisker and Kevin Watson presenting on the band meeting

The conference is sponsored by Seedbed, a relatively new publishing house associated with Asbury Theological Seminary. Seedbed has put out some very helpful new Christian resources, particularly related to Wesleyan expressions of the faith. Much of their work is written for Christian laity. My latest book, Scripture and the Life of God (available here in e-book), was recently published through Seedbed. They’ve been great partners in the process.

I don’t know if this is the case every year, or if it is because of the release of the new book by Watson and Kisker, but there was a strong emphasis on band meetings. These are gatherings of men or women who have come together to confess their sins, hold one another accountable, and pray for each other. John Wesley believed that the Methodist movement had been called into being to spread scriptural holiness, and particularly “entire sanctification,” or “Christian perfection.” While these terms may seem old fashioned to many, they simply mean that the Holy Spirit may create such abundant love in the heart of a believer that he or she no longer willingly transgresses God’s will. Wesley believed that the band meeting was key to receiving this gift of perfect love.

Today, the term “perfection” has many negative connotations. People strive for the perfect body, the perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect job… and they are inevitably disappointed. This kind of perfectionism is unhealthy and incapable of producing happiness. When Wesley talks about “perfection,” however, he doesn’t mean that we can no longer mess up, that we won’t make mistakes, or that we will be the “perfect” person other people would like us to be. He means that, through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, we can become who God made us to be–loving and kind people, devoted to God and serving our neighbors. In this sense, “perfect” means something more like “complete” than “flawless.” In fact, “perfection” in the Christian sense will save us from the worldly “perfectionism” that will inevitably leave us dissatisfied.

I’m grateful for groups like Seedbed (and, if I may brag a bit, United Theological Seminary) that are propagating these Wesleyan concepts around God’s work in our lives.

New Room was a great conference. I highly recommend it. If you’re able to go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. To the contrary, I think you’ll find it refreshing, and you may receive a fresh touch from God.


24 thoughts on “My First Year at New Room, and Some Thoughts on Christian Perfection

  1. This was my first new room conference, also. Part of it’s specialness was meeting you, buying your book, and having your autograph it. I read a large portion before I returned home. Especially helpful was your critique of Adam Hamilton‘s methodology of the three buckets in his book, Making Sense of the Bible. Many thanks for your ability to communicate concisely clearly and poignantly.

  2. I wrote to David Watson last week and suggested that he read some of the books by Dr. John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop.
    David did not think that these books were “helpful” to the church. I, on the other hand, do. One of John. S. Spong’s first books, which I read in 1998, was “Why Christianity Must Change or Die,” was spot on. Even if Dr. Watson did not like that book or any of the others, such as “Jesus for the Non-Religious,” or “Liberating the Gospels,” maybe some of you who are reading these posts, may wish to peruse them. For those of us who are “non theologians,” Spong’s first book is the easiest to read. All are well written and can be fathomed by those of us who are laity.

      • Spong feels that we should not have to be steeped in constant guilt. He says that we are not a “fallen” people, but an evolving people. I agrees. We were not “born in Sin.” We were born because our parents came together, I hope, in love and love and sex were created by God.
        There were no “Adam and Eve,” no snake or apple. If there were an “Adam and Eve” how did the population increase? Incest?
        Spong sees the discrimination of our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers as the civil rights issue of today, in the church, just as slavery and segregation were in churches in past years.
        I found Spong enlightening but it you have read his works and disagree, that certainly is your right. You must admit that the pews are not nearly as full as in years past. The Methodist Church of the 1960s was progressive. We marched to end segregation, and to end the Vietnam War. LBGTQAI clergy were in pulpits, but they did not advertise the fact, just as they are today, but quiet, except in churches that are in Non Conformity.
        Spong is freeing, intelligent and even at 85 is cogent and still giving talks to large audiences.

    • Carla, I would appreciate it if you would restrict your comments to topics related to the post. Were I writing about, say, modern liberalism or contrasting views of the authority of Scripture, I can see how your comment would be relevant. I do not, however, want my blog to become an advertisement for books by a writer whose ideas I believe do harm to the church.

      • David, I did not say that you had to be an “advertisement,” for any book/s that you do not like. I just wanted others to know that Spong’s books are there to be read. People can make up their own minds whether his words are “bad” for the church or could improve the church so that we would not see so many empty pews. Sadly, more and more people are becoming members of the “Christian Alumnae.” I am sorry but, yes, that is a quote from John Spong.
        I am sorry that I have offended you or that you felt that I wrote “off topic.” However, your talk seemed to be about a book that you had written, thus I mentioned the books by John Shelby Spong.

      • This is not meant to hijack your thread. I only want to say that I would be interested in reading why and how you think that Bishop Spong’s ideas “do harm to the church.” I my case, I’ve seen reading his books in small groups return vitality to the Christian hearts and minds of persons in the church. I will watch for your future posting.

      • Hi, Kevin. To sum up, I think his view of Scripture is too low, and he rejects or revises basically every major Christian doctrine based upon the accepted canons of modernity. I don’t think these ideas help the church or lead people to Christ.

  3. Thank you, Kevin, as we, too, would like to hear why David Watson feels that John Shelby Spong’s books are harmful to the Christian Church. Our church felt that his books were up lifting, and frankly, a breath of fresh air. My husband presented Spong’s earlier book, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die,” during a Lenten Series three years ago and it was very well received, by the minister and the laity.

  4. I think many recognize when a distraction is being set forth by the Distractor. The Apostle Paul is not flattering us when he says we cheerfully put up with fools. “For you put up with it when someone…preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face.” Let’s give no place to it.

    • Why is presenting ideas, or reading material by a known theologian a “distraction?” Must we all agree on every issue? Isn’t discussion, or other ideas part of learning new information?

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