Dr. Timothy Tennent: Global Christianity is Here!
Asbury Theological Seminary hosted a wonderful alumnus gathering in Bangalore this week. I was privileged to meet graduates from across India who are faithfully serving the Lord. We also launched our first DMin in Leadership degree offered in India with a 20-student cohort from India and Nepal. This is but the first-fruits of our Asbury Global initiative which we launched on July 1, 2022. This new model is neither “in-person” nor “online” but a creative blend of both. Although this is a new initiative for Asbury it is also as old as our founding motto: “the whole Bible for the whole world.” What a wonderful way to celebrate our 100th anniversary at Asbury – launching a whole series of new global initiatives. The purpose of this is so that Asbury students (from around the world) will all grow in their understanding that they are part of not merely a particular movement (as wonderful as that can be) but also that they belong to the universal church of Jesus Christ which spans the world and is rooted in the apostolic proclamation. One cannot go to India without catching a glimpse of the growing vibrancy of the Christian movement there.
The dramatic growth of Christianity, not just in India, but around the world (especially among the youth), coupled with the crisis of faith among many millennials in the west, has dramatically changed the calculus of how we understand what it means to be a “Christian.” It also has huge implications for what it means for us to occupy particular movements with names such as “United Methodist” or “Free Methodist” or “Wesleyan” and so forth. It generally amazes western audiences when they learn that there are more members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Prophet Simon Kimbangu than there are Presbyterians. There are now more evangelicals in Nepal than in Spain. One hundred years ago few would have believed you if you said that on a typical Sunday at the threshold of the 21st century only around one million Anglicans would attend church in Great Britain compared to over seventeen million Anglicans who are in Sunday worship in Nigeria. This is why we must help future pastors be students not merely of church history (with its own denominational and cultural discourse), but of Christian history, with its glorious vision of the larger global embodiment of the people of God.
The increasingly global and diverse nature of the church has many benefits, not the least of which is the rebuke of the seemingly endless stream of heretical Christianity which bubbles up from so-called “mainline Christianity.” Don’t get me wrong, global Christian movements have their own heresies, as does popular evangelicalism in North America, and so forth. That, actually, is my point. The very diversity of the church actually helps to clarify the “grand tradition” which is, in fact, the great apostolic faith to which we adhere and proclaim. Every church seems to have their own unique heresies which need to be excised, but the great apostolic tradition, over time, continues to re-emerge. A lot of the doctrinal conflagrations which create such upheaval and division in the west are, from the perspective of global Christianity, nothing more than “passing effluvia.” The four atheists which have made such an impact on millennials have been dubbed the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. They have sold millions of books and have shipwrecked the faith of tens of thousands, especially among the young. They can appear, temporarily, to sway the future. Christians sometimes fear the very thing we should never fear; namely that “we are on the wrong side of history.” But, as tragic as these writers are, I promise you that they are known by only a tiny percentage of Christians around the world. There are none in heaven, who stand in the joyful assembly of the redeemed, forever singing praises to the living God, who are worried in the least about people like Sam Harris, or the writings of people like Richard Dawkins. These names will be relegated to the dust bin of history like so many other challenges to the faith. But Christians all around the world continue to embrace the grand tradition of biblical, apostolic faith. It is irrepressible because it reverberates from the empty tomb, the Risen Lord, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. That is a force which cannot be stopped, will not be forgotten, and will continue to reproduce all across the world. Because, in the end, the gospel is not just a body of teaching or transformative ideas (though it is never less than that). It is, in the end, the proclamation of a Person, Jesus Christ, and the Trinitarian message which flows through him to the whole world. So, if you are feeling the cultural winds, take heart, Jesus Christ has overcome the world and there is no one I would rather align myself with than Him. Because He is not just on the right side of history; He is the Lord of history itself. Thanks be to God.