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Escaping The Fog

Published Date: January 26, 2016

Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary

By God’s grace I have enjoyed decades of involvement with the church on four different continents.  It has been a means of grace for me, because I gradually gained a deeper understanding of why some church movements are in decline and are dying and others are vibrant and full of life.   I could give many examples of churches all along the spectrum.

This past summer I traveled over 60,000 miles on five different continents (N. America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania) seeing the amazing work of our Asbury graduates.  Some of our graduates serve in vibrant movements which are growing.  Others, just as faithfully, are serving the Lord in denominations which seem to be in a self-inflicted death spiral.  What have I learned?  Are there common features which contribute to a vibrant church?  These vibrant churches are sometimes found in the midst of a denomination in rapid decline, or sometimes in the midst of a country which is hostile to Christian identity.  Are there lessons we can learn?   The answer is, YES!

When you walk into a vibrant church you can immediately sense the difference.  At every point you meet gospel clarity.  The church exudes confidence in the unique work of Jesus Christ.  They understand the power and authority of God’s Word.  They feel the lostness of the world and the urgency to bring the good news to everyone.   At every point you observe gospel clarity.  When the pastor preaches, you know exactly what he or she is saying.  When you chat with people during the fellowship time they are telling you about things they have read in Scripture, or what they learned in their small group that week.  The clarity is palpable.  It is infectious.  You can actually sense the presence of Christ in your midst.

In contrast, when you walk into the churches in decline you are immediately brought into “the Fog.”  What is the fog?  It is the inability to be clear about anything.  There is no clarity about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done.  There is no clarity about the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God.  There is no clarity about the urgency to reach the lost.   When you listen to a sermon, you go away shaking your head, saying, “What exactly did he or she actually say?”   It almost seems like sermons or church pronouncements are carefully crafted to say as little as possible, or to be as vague as possible, so that the fewest number of people will be offended.  In the “fog,” Jesus Christ is just one of many noble teachers in the world.  In the “fog” the Bible is filled with contradictions and outdated commands.  In the “fog” the pastor has learned through years of experience to spend 20 to 30 minutes talking, and say absolutely nothing of consequence about anything (think of all the “three-stories-and-a-joke sermons you have heard).  In the fog, the talk in the hallways and fellowship halls is about the latest sports teams, or the weather, or problems in the school system, etc.  In other words, the “chat” is no different from anything you would hear at the local Starbucks, or in the break room at work.

There is a famous line in the film Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini about his repeated use of the word “inconceivable”, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  In the same way, we must have the courage to say in reference to what goes on today under the word “church.”  “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  The church is the home of gospel clarity.  My prayer for every Asburian is that you would consciously blow back the fog with a healthy dose of gospel clarity.   Your denomination may be in trouble, but you must focus on preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Seize any fresh opportunity you have to demonstrate your deep love for the Scriptures, your passion for the gospel and your burden for the lost.    Remember John Wesley’s eleventh rule to his preachers:  “you have nothing to do but to save souls.  Therefore spend and be spent in this work.”

4 responses to “Escaping The Fog”

  1. Stephen Bittick says:

    Excellent commentary on the importance of gospel clarity, Dr. Tennent. Thank you for the reminder that our responsibility as called shepherds of a flock is to be image bearers of the Great Shepherd and truth tellers of His message. Grace and peace.
    Stephen Bittick, Byhalia MS

  2. Thank you, Dr Tennent (I’m an Alumni from mid-80’s); there is indeed much FOG in the Pacific Northwest. We seem to get it much here in the present “climate”. : )

  3. Thank you so much Dr. Tennent… Working down here in Paraguay, leading the Methodist Church, I want be the church out of the fog. What a blessed days those at Asbury in my MA in the ESJ School and in the Beeson Program! Our vision and desire is to change Paraguay bringing as many as possible to Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord!
    Pedro P. de Magalhaes – Bishop

    • Totok S. Wiryasaputra says:

      Excellent interpretation on vibrant and dying church characteristics. I wish Dr. Tennet will be able to visit Indonesia some time in the furure. Greetings from the City of Salatiga, the Island of Java.

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