Dr. Timothy Tennent: Recovering Biblical Christianity

Commencement is the highlight of our year at Asbury Theological Seminary. I know that as an alumnus of the Seminary, each of you reading these words will recall with fondness that glorious day when you walked across the stage and received your diploma, denoting a certificate, Master’s degree, ThM, DMin or Phd degree from your alma mater. It is worth reminding you that Asbury Seminary does not produce some “product” which we sell. We do not produce degrees, but rather, our mission is to send our men and women to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.” You are the priceless seed we sow into the world.

Each year, as President, I have the privilege of giving a charge to the graduates of the seminary. This year I reminded all of our graduates of the larger mission of which we are all a part; namely, the full recovery of biblical Christianity. You are the vanguard of those who are committed to the restoration of the Christian message which has, in its long sojourn within Christendom, become domesticated and powerless. The founding mission of Asbury Theological Seminary is summarized by the phrase, “the whole Bible for the whole world.”

Therefore, I want to extend to you, our alumni, the same charge I gave to the class of 2019. Namely, to resist all the enormous pressures which are exerted upon you to marginalize the full demands of the gospel and the cost of discipleship. Even the church finds it hard to resist the move toward cultural accommodation to an increasingly non-Christian culture. We have been pushed to the point that we find ourselves at every turn effectively asking the question, “What is the least one has to do to become a Christian?” That impulse must be opposed at every turn. We must resist Christian minimalism. We must resist those who want to boil the entire glorious gospel down to a single phrase, a simple emotive transaction, or some silly slogan. It is time, for you, a new generation of Christians, to envision a more robust apostolic faith and to declare this reductionist Christianity a failed project! It is wrong to try to get as many people as possible to acknowledge as superficially as allowable a gospel which is theologically unsustainable. We need to be reminded of the words Søren Kierkegaard declared in Attack Upon Christendom: “Christianity is the profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon us, calculated on the most dreadful scale to collide with everything.”[1] We have been commanded to count the cost before picking up the cross and following Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel must be embodied in a redeemed community and touch the whole of life. That is why the Wesley brothers set up class meetings, fed the poor, wrote books on physics, gave preachers a series of canonical sermons, catechized the young, preached at the brick yards, promoted prison reform, rode 250,000 miles on horseback, preached 40,000 sermons, superintended orphanages, were avid abolitionists, and wrote theologically laden hymns for the church, among many other acts of holistic service to the people around them. You see, they were capturing every sphere with the gospel. If Wesley teaches us anything, it is that salvation is not something which is merely announced to us; it is something which God works in us. As Patrick Reardon has put it, “the forceful intrusion of his holiness into our history” with implications profoundly personal as well as societal.

Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to capture a fresh vision for this more biblical, robust faith. The gospel is not about allowing God to play a small role in our drama. No, the gospel is becoming swept up into His great drama. It is about our dying to self, taking up the cross, and allowing ourselves to be swept up into this great unfolding story. We are all moving toward and being summed by Christ himself to that great day when the strong man is finally disarmed for good, the lepers are cleansed, all lost sons have come home, the great debt is wiped out, the door of the Father’s house is flung open wide, the lost sheep are all found, the poor and the beggars are seated at the great Banquet, the disenfranchised workers have been paid their full wages, the lost coin has been found, and the church—the bride of Christ—has been made spotless. The acceptable year of God’s favor has finally come! This is the restorative vision to which Christ summons us: nothing less than the full recovery of biblical Christianity. I thank God for each and every one of you as you stand in the gap and re-present the gospel to cultures around the world, which desperately need to hear afresh the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

[1] Walter Lowrie, trans., Kierkeegard’s Attack Upon Christendom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1944), 258.

7 responses to “Dr. Timothy Tennent: Recovering Biblical Christianity”

  1. Keith Brown says:

    Go get ’em, Dr. Tennent. That’s the message we need to bring our country back to our Christian roots, and to our Wesley roots; which is, in reality, simply back to our scriptural roots.

  2. John Crowe says:

    A big part of this is being equipped to crritique the arguments of Liberalism, Post-Modernism, and World Religions.

  3. Scott E. Ireland says:

    I will NEVER forget these powerful words! I was so enthralled and entirely in agreement with Dr. Tennant!! Thank you for this charge – I am so grateful.

  4. Howard A. Snyder says:

    May it be so. It won’t be so unless we begin to take more seriously God’s everlasting covenant with the earth and all that implies.

  5. Wilbur Parker says:

    This address is a profound nugget of wisdom every pastor needs to hear, understand, and accept as a part of his/her calling. We must remember our primary task is to invite and bring men and women into a personal, living relationship with Jesus Christ. Cultural Christianity has not done one thing to bridge the gap in the relationship between a broken world and Almighty God.

  6. Dear Dr. Tennent —

    Thank-you for the opportunity to remember the day of my own graduation (’01)! It was awe-inspiring, grand and terrifying all at once. My teenage daughter stood with the congregation to honor the graduates as we stood before them. Tears streamed down her face for joy and for relief that “we did it together.”

    I am serving the UMC on the west coast of the USA. This is the year I will take retired status, though I will continue to pastor one church, disciple, teach and lead us into mission in the fields around us. I am so grateful to be about the ministry of the Word.

    Your words are so true. The task is daunting. I serve the territory of the “nones.” Tomorrow I will tell the story of the wondrous earthquake that broke the foundation of the Philippian jail, snapped the chains and sprung open the doors.

    Thank-you for believing with me and my sparse evangelical UM brothers and sisters here that the Good News is still the best news in the universe. The love and wooing of the blessed Holy Spirit can do all that God in Christ has willed. Not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit will the foundations of prisons be shattered.

    Rev Margot R Thompson
    Banks Community and Cornelius UMCs
    OR-ID Conference UMC

  7. Jon Tal Murphree says:

    A powerful send-off into the culture of a compromising church!

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