United Methodist Doctrine


we will explore all the dimensions of how that is true - as expressed in our doctrine

Instructor Rev. Dr. Cathie Kelsey  (she/her/hers)

E-mail: ckelsey@iliff.edu or text 303-968-9812   [I observe that don't respond as quickly to messages sent within Canvas, sorry]

Course Description

An exploration of the doctrinal heritage of United Methodism: its sources, distinctive marks, development in the United States, and relation to contemporary doctrinal standards and practices of the UMC. This course meets the disciplinary requirements for ordination to elder or permanent deacon or diaconal ministry in the UMC.

"Doctrine" is "what the church teaches about Christian faith." This is the course for building the knowledge and skills needed
1) to engage in United Methodist theological debates about what to teach, and
2) to help lay persons make sense of Methodist ways of talking about and living Christian faith.

Course Overview

At the beginning of the course, please take the time to read through all of the pages listed below - these will save you from major headaches later on!

If you have not had UM History yet,  you will find these chapters help you get a bit oriented to the changes in Methodist practice:

Read chapters 3 and 9 in  Russell Richey, Doctrine in Experience: A Methodist Theology of Church and Ministry (Kingswood Abingdon, 2009). Here are links to the chapters: 
Chapter 3
Chapter 9

and/or Cambridge Companion to Wesley, "The Long Eighteenth Century."

Here are the graded assignments in this course:

Weekly primary reading and posting twice  10 pts/week

        hybrid students  post in 9 weeks (1-4 and 6-10) = 90

        online only students post in all 10 weeks = 100

Weekly interpretative reading and posting twice  10 pts/week

       hybrid students post in 7 weeks (1-4,   8-10) = 70

      online only students post in 7 weeks (1-4, 8-10) = 70

Paper: first set of answers  = 30   (3 questions)

Paper: second set of answers = 60 (6 questions)

Final paper: third set of answers and revisions = 45 (4 questions + revisions)

Total points in the course:

     hybrid students = 295

    online only students = 305

I cannot predict whether or not the break between A, A-, B+, B, and B- will fall in accordance with percentages. I look at the complete distribution of points at the end of the term in order to see clear differentiations. I do not grade on a curve with an equal number of people at the top and the bottom. Typically, students work hard, learn a lot, and do well in this course.

There is usually a grading rubric specified in the first week's posting that will be used for the entire term.

Course Expectations

Collegial Discourse:  You are becoming a colleague in a denominational culture that is very divided right now. It is essential for every leader (including you!) to cultivate skills for talking about matters that raise strong feelings in ways that allow one to keep listening and speaking with respect and with accuracy. Each of us will practice those skills in every interaction we have in this course. The online environment makes this commitment to skilled engagement even more important because misunderstandings are easier.

Incompletes:  See the Master's Student Handbook for Policies and Procedures.

Pass/Fail:  Masters students wishing to take the class pass/fail should discuss this with the instructor by the end of the day on the second Friday of the term. Before selecting this option, please be in conversation with your conference District Committee on Ordained Ministry and/or your Board of Ordained Ministry - some will accept pass/fail and others will not. 

Participation: Active participation in the online discussions is required. Two or more weeks of non-participation will usually result in the student being dropped from the class. 

Academic Integrity and Community Covenant:  All students are expected to abide by Iliff’s statement on Academic Integrity, as published in the Masters Student Handbook.  

Accommodations:  Iliff engages in a collaborative effort with students with disabilities to reasonably accommodate student needs.   Students are encouraged to contact their assigned adviser to initiate the process of requesting accommodations.  The advising center can be contacted at advising@iliff.edu or by phone at 303-765-1146. 

Writing Lab:  Grammar and organization are important for all written assignments; this is particularly true for assignments at the graduate school level.  Additional help is available from the Iliff Writing Lab, which is available for students of any level who need help beginning an assignment, organizing thoughts, or reviewing a final draft. The writing lab can provide support both on-campus and online. 

Inclusive Language:  It is expected that all course participants will use inclusive language in speaking and writing, and will use terms that do not create barriers to classroom community. 


The content of this course is organized by doctrinal loci that are particularly important in United Methodism, and, in some cases, constitute the theological distinctives of Wesleyan/Arminian theology. Through the term, we will address 13 of these loci. Beginning in week 2 each module addresses one or two of these doctrinal loci. (As it happens, these same doctrines are the topics for the questions that persons being ordained in the UMC have to answer in writing when they are being considered for commissioning.) 

Final Paper

The final paper for this course involves answering these 13 questions as if you were John Wesley (when you update this for submission as part of your ordination process, you will need to build upon Wesley's thought with your own). You will submit portions of this final paper TWICE during the term and get feedback, (see the overall course schedule on the Home page for the dates). The entire final paper is due at the end of the term (but read the next section - you can make this much easier on yourself). See the instructions for exactly what these papers involve: Final Paper Submission


Engagement each week builds toward the final paper.You can see the question number(s) we are addressing each week by looking at the module version of the course.  You could actually draft your answer to the questions week by week and avoid being overwhelmed when they have to be submitted.

Every week has an assignment called "primary reading" that will include a link to my comments about the topic for the week and the reading that everyone is required to do. When you have completed that reading, join the class discussion named for the topic. Note that you post at least twice to this discussion each week, adding a significant additional interpretive contribution to our collaborative thinking about the topic. This means that you are expected to read the posts that have occurred before yours and to further the conversation. Simply repeating what has been said before or positing rhetorical questions without beginning to explore their answers are insufficient postings. Your group's cumulative discussion will be a rich resource for you to use in writing the related question that appears in the final paper, so this discussion helps you, week by week with that assignment. Beginning the second week, when we are looking at specific doctrinal questions, the initial post should be around 300-450 words

There will be a second reading for you to do and summarize for your Interpretive Debate group. You will find a link to it in the Interpretive Debate discussion each week. You are asked to post twice to this discussion each week: the first time please summarize in 300 words or less the distinctive interpretation that your reading makes. The second posting should be made after at least three of the five different summaries have been posted. In the second posting your group is invited to discern together which interpretation(s) you find most consistent with your own reading of the doctrinal sources and/or most useful for United Methodists in your contexts.

To summarize, this means you have FOUR postings due every week:

1. Due Thursday night: post your contribution in the Primary Reading Group to furthering interpretation of the doctrine(s) for the week using our primary texts.

2. Due Thursday night: in your Interpretive Debate Group, post your summary for your group members of the argument made in the reading that you are assigned. Each group member will read a different interpretation. These secondary readings are all available as pdf files in the discussion.

3. Due Sunday night: post a second time in your Interpretive Debate Group, discussing the various summaries and figuring out which one(s) are more accurate or more useful in your context(s). This posting can be shorter, as long as it is useful and demonstrates engagement with the postings of others - around 100 words is ok, a little longer is fine if that is helpful.

4. Due Sunday night (unless otherwise indicated for a given week): post an update or a response to the posting(s) of others in the Primary Reading Group.  This posting can also be shorter, whether you are posting an amendment to your initial work, or responding to the post of a colleague. Again, 100 words is sufficient, somewhat longer is fine too, if that allows you to engage the concept more fully.

Keep in mind that, in the online environment, your engagement online is critical, both for yourself and for your online colleagues. Two or more weeks of missed online participation may result in removal from the course! If you encounter unexpected personal circumstances which make it impossible to keep up, contact the instructor right away. 


The final paper has 13 sections, each one a doctrinal question. Please label each one. To get passing credit, your answer to each question has three parts, see below. The 13 Doctrinal Questions are:

  1. Describe Wesley’s understanding of what occurs at each step in the way of salvation (via salutis). Include conviction, repentance, justification, regeneration/new birth, assurance, sanctification/holiness of heart and life.
  2. Describe the understanding of God Wesley derives from biblical, theological, and historical sources.
  3. What is Wesley’s understanding of evil as it exists in the world?
  4. What is Wesley’s understanding of humanity, and the human need for divine grace?
  5. How did Wesley interpret the statement Jesus Christ is Lord?
  6. What is Wesley’s conception of the activity of the Holy Spirit in personal faith, in the community of believers, and in responsible living in the world?
  7. What is Wesley’s understanding of the kingdom of God?
  8. What is Wesley’s understanding of the Resurrection; of eternal life?
  9. The United Methodist Church holds that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Explain this theological position.
  10. Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What are its primary tasks according to the 2016 Discipline?
  11. Describe how you think the 2016 Discipline understands diakonia and the servant ministry of those who lead?
  12. Describe the 2016 Discipline’s understanding of an inclusive church and ministry.
  13. Explain the role and significance of the sacraments according to our doctrinal documents This Holy Mystery  and By Water and the Spirit.

Your answer to each question should be about two pages long (no less than 1, no more than three)– double spaced. Total page limit is 25 pages. 

Each of your 13 answers must have three distinct parts, and I must be able to clearly identify them. Additional credit is given for exceptional clarity, distinctions made, insightful observation of strengths or weaknesses, and/or clarity in your own position.

A) one or two paragraphs which answer the question as John Wesley or the 2016 Discipline would have answered it (the question specifies which one of those two). You may freely use the answers we have created together during the course, but they must be improved by putting them in your own words.  See the numbers in the week by week course description – all 13 questions will be covered in our common work. If you agree with a particular secondary author’s interpretation of Wesley, you may indicate that agreement, but you still need to articulate the content of the actual interpretation in your own words.

B) A paragraph with your 3 sentence “commentary” on that answer in A. Indicate one strength of Wesley’s/Discipline’s answer AND one weakness of Wesley’s/Discipline’s answer.  Get clear and be succinct – 3 sentences total! 

C) A 4 sentence paragraph that indicates the direction of your own preferred answer to the question.

You are deliberately being asked to be BOTH NUANCED AND SUCCINCT.  Brevity alone is not good enough; your answer must strive for distinctions that are important to the doctrine. When you have a doctrine clear in your mind, it IS possible to do this.   In addition to the sermons, you may assume that Wesley agreed completely with the Articles of Religion and the General Rules and therefore use them as primary sources. Please note your sources so that if we disagree in our interpretation of Wesley I can look at your source (and potentially revise my own judgment of the point). To note something you may put the sermon title and section (eg. II.5) or Disciplinary paragraph in parentheses in the text, this will save you space.  The sermons and the Discipline are your primary sources for this paper. You are being asked to join the company of secondary interpreters of Wesley – which means referring to Wesley rather than quoting what others have said about him.

Further clarity about awarding of points:

Each question will be awarded up to 10 points the first time it is handed in. For three questions (3, 4 and 9) this will be in the assignment due early in the term, for six questions (5, 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13) this will be in the assignment due later in the term, and for four questions (1, 2, 7, and 8) this will be in the final submission due following the end of the term.

In the final submission, you are required to submit all 13 questions. You are invited to revise your answers to  3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 in light of comments you received on them. Please show these revisions either with track changes or by putting revisions in bold print. You may be awarded up to a total of 5 additional points for these revisions as a group. (Thus, you get the most points in the course by submitting strong answers the first time and then improving them in the final paper.)

( the thirteen questions we will be discussing are listed here)

Learning in the Online Environment

How can you be successful in taking an online class? It can be more than a little challenging - after all, in a face-to-face class, you meet once or twice a week, and, in that time, the instructor can make sure you are on-track in terms of course progress and your understanding of the material. Online, though, is different in some key ways, and your success in the course hinges on understanding those differences.


You can't participate if you don't know what's going on! In your Canvas Profile (which you can access using the Profile link at the top right of every page), you can specify how you should be contacted. Make sure that your preferred email address is properly set on that page.

From that page, you also have the ability to change your notifications (that is an option on the left menu on that page). Make sure that your notification settings are set so that you are kept reasonably informed of events related to the class. 

As each week progresses, you need to pay attention to class-related activities! Keep an eye on whatever notifications you have chosen to receive. If you choose to ignore them, you can quickly find yourself way behind (and, remember, after two weeks of non-involvement, you may be removed from the class).

Finally, if you have a personal emergency (i.e. family crisis, illness, or even the burdens of life just getting in the way of completing the assignments) please (please please please) contact your instructor immediately. The final week of the class is not the right time to initiate a conversation with your instructor about incomplete assignments from earlier in the course! 


Online classes are, by their very nature, highly collaborative in terms of learning. That means that the majority of your learning will take place as you engage other students regarding the material that everyone is reading. 

Collaborative learning is a common approach at Iliff, both in online and face-to-face classes. The discussions and other activities that you participate in here are similar to in-class discussions in the face-to-face session. It is a little harder to "hide" in the online classes than it is in the face-to-face, but, otherwise, the approach is the same. 


As with any class, your commitment to learning will greatly impact your success (both in terms of grades and in terms of actually mastering new information). In this class, we don't all meet online at the same time, so it is up to you to set up a schedule that allows you to engage other students about the material. 

There is a significant difference in terms of commitment in an online class, though, and it is this: Since the learning process is highly collaborative (and since different students will be reading material in different ways), your failure to participate will reduce the effectiveness of the class for other students as well. Taking an online class really does require commitment, and a special kind of discipline, in order for everyone to be successful.

  1. Students will be able to articulate (in writing) the central theological emphases that shaped the United Methodist doctrinal sources identified in the Constitution.

  2. Students will reflect on the ways in which these theological emphases may shape a response to needs in our cultural contexts today.

  3. Students will be able to articulate (in writing) John Wesley’s responses to the theological questions required of persons applying to be commissioned toward either deacon’s or elders orders in The United Methodist Church.

  4. Students will be equipped to preside or assist at baptism and at the Lord’s Table in a way appropriate to United Methodist understanding of the sacraments.

  5. Students will articulate how they see the relationship between practices in United Methodist traditions and United Methodist doctrine.

  6. Students will articulate a nuanced critique of the secondary literature that interprets UM doctrine in current denominational discourses.

  7. Students will articulate - in the language of at least one contemporary sub-culture - an understanding of the process of human transformation historically articulated in the Methodist via salutis and specify the implications it has for the transformation of organizational structures in ecclesial and civic realms.


Degree Learning Goals

This course helps fulfill the following learning goals for the MDiv degree at Iliff:

1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the development of Christian texts, doctrines, and institutions.

1.3  analyze the strengths and liabilities of these various expressions of Christianity as they continue to impact the tradition(s) in which the student has been formed and/or is currently engaged.

3. Think theologically in a contemporary context and articulate a constructive theological position.

4.2  critically engage historical theological expressions of Christianity in relation to contemporary events and/or situations

Jan 07, 2020TueIntroduce Yourself!due by 06:59AM
Jan 10, 2020FriWeek 1: Primary Readings in Sources & Standardsdue by 06:59AM
Jan 10, 2020FriWeek 1: Interpretive Debatedue by 06:59AM
Jan 17, 2020FriWeek 2: Primary Readings on the Quadrilateral and the Authority of Scripturedue by 06:59AM
Jan 17, 2020FriWeek 2 Interpretive Debate: The Kind of Authority Scripture Hasdue by 06:59AM
Jan 24, 2020FriWeek 3 Primary Readings: Sin, Evil, and the Need for Gracedue by 06:59AM
Jan 24, 2020FriWeek 3 Interpretive Debate: Sin, Evil, and the Need for Gracedue by 06:59AM
Jan 25, 2020SatFirst Set of Answers - Questions 3, 4 and 9due by 06:59AM
Jan 31, 2020FriWeek 4 Primary Readings: The Role of Jesusdue by 06:59AM
Jan 31, 2020FriWeek 4 Interpretive Debate: The Role of Jesusdue by 06:59AM
Feb 03, 2020MonSunday, February 2: Observe Communion at a UM churchdue by 06:59AM
Feb 04, 2020TueHybrid Week 5 Primary Readings: Leadership for Mission and Ministry and the Sacramentsdue by 08:00PM
Feb 07, 2020FriONLINE only Week 5 Primary Readings: Leadership for Mission and Ministry and the Sacramentsdue by 06:59AM
Feb 14, 2020FriWk 6 Going deeper into the Jesus Questiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 21, 2020FriWeek 7 Interpretive Debate: The Holy Spirit and the Churchdue by 06:59AM
Feb 21, 2020FriWeek 7 Primary Readings: The Holy Spirit and the Churchdue by 06:59AM
Feb 22, 2020SatSecond Set of Answers - Questions 5, 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13due by 06:59AM
Feb 28, 2020FriWeek 8: Primary Readings on the Kingdom of God & Social Justicedue by 06:59AM
Feb 28, 2020FriWeek 8: Interpretive Debate on the Kingdom of God & Social Justicedue by 06:59AM
Mar 06, 2020FriWeek 9 Primary Readings: The Nature of Goddue by 06:59AM
Mar 06, 2020FriWeek 9 Interpretive Debate: The Nature of Goddue by 06:59AM
Mar 13, 2020FriWeek 10: Primary Readings on the Via/Ordo Salutisdue by 05:59AM
Mar 13, 2020FriWeek 10: Interpretive Debate on the Via/Ordo Salutisdue by 05:59AM
Mar 14, 2020SatFinal Paper Submissiondue by 05:59AM