Timothy C. Tennent | Why I am an Evangelical and a Methodist
11:59AM Oct 22, 2021
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today is our distinct privilege to have Dr. Timothy Tennant on the line with us. Dr. Tennant took office as president of Asbury Theological Seminary in 2009. He previously served 11 years as Professor of world missions and Indian Studies at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Tennant is the author of several books including his most recent missiology textbook entitled invitation to world missions missiology for the 21st century. Additionally, Dr. Tennant is a contributor to the highly anticipated why we belong ev angelical unity and denominational diversity, a title which is set to release this coming June. Dr. Dennett, thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you. It's great to be here. Now.
First of all, Dr. Dennett, as we begin, would you be willing to tell us about some of your recent research work, I know that your administrative duties must keep you extraordinarily busy, but somehow you still find time to do research?
Well, all my writing research is mostly around the intersection of theology and missions or theology. So most of my books have been either trying to help Evan jellicle Christians to do a better job in, in religious dialogue, or my book on theology in the context of war, Christianity helps to try to listen to voices within the church and how we think about theology and how theology is shaped by the global church. And as I arrived in Asbury, my dad promised a textbook on Trinitarian theology called invitation to world missions, which tries to look at the whole introduction of missions through a trench drain lands. That's been exciting work and glad to see that go out.
In many ways, I'm assuming that might sort of be a summary of much of the material that you developed as Professor Gordon Conwell. Is that, is that correct?
Yes, it was, though, I must admit, it took me many years to my own thinking to actually really come to ask why, in my own theological thinking, Why wasn't more fully from interrogating my thinking, so actually took 2008 took six months off, just to kind of work it all out in my own thinking. So it wasn't till 2009, that I began to really begin to teach this fully Can I have worked out the kind of the whole way it would work, and so is a bit late in my time at Gordon Conwell to finally get this in my own head.
And I see that you continue to teach at least, I believe that's correct. You continue to teach in India every summer? Do those teaching abroad experiences? Did that also inform this work?
Absolutely. I make several references to that all my writings. And I've been teaching there now regularly for over 25 years. So it's been a big formative thought, in my own thinking. My own doctoral work is in Indian Christianity. So it is in mostly the kind of part of the world that I've mostly used to think about how global Christianity is shaping the way we think about the gospel, and how the gospel is spreading around the world in different ways. So in the big part of my life,
Dr. Tennant, would you be willing to tell us a little bit about this project, why we belong angelical unity and denominational diversity, and maybe your part in it?
Yeah, I believe it's an attempt to try to better understand how even damage local movement is being affected by the spread of it, the growth of it, and just some of the particular challenges epistemological, and otherwise, that are particularly facing evangelical thought. And as you well know, even jellicle ism is a movement that we once knew, for example, like under Hello, Doc gay, are they kind of earlier, Carl Henry consensus that is pretty well splintered out today to a whole range of different movements. So this one attempt to kind of rethink this, and what are our roles in it? And of course, my role as a Methodist Christian is to ask, what contributions do we as Westlands have to make as part of the evangelical community back in the 18th century? And then secondly, from a global perspective, what are ways in which the global church is influencing evangelical unity? So those are kind of the things that most concern me but the book as a whole is trying to reframe evangelicalism for current challenges globally and just in the thought, the world of quiet life that we're now facing and people today,
in your book on World Mission you discuss under a chapter titled the flowering of world missions 1910 to the present, you discuss eloquently the way that world Christianity has exploded. How is that affecting evangelicalism?
Well, I think the most profound way it's shaping it is that it's actually Slowly emerging as a vibrant stream of historic Christianity, apart from any, what we would call kind of the struggle, development of it in the West, and so even something as basic as category like Protestant Christianity, which we would see evangelicalism is mostly a subset of that, and in some ways, some portions of Catholicism. But we're now seeing a fourth branch of Christianity emerge, which is quite dramatic, which which is not really connected to any traditional themes that are our parts that we've seen some example, if you go back to the turn of the 20th century, the number of you know, marginal, or Christians that weren't connected as independent Christians was so small, it was very, very tiny, probably 8 million numbers globally, whereas today, that number has ballooned to almost half a billion numbers, which makes it second only is Roman Catholicism. So they're actually more independent Christians today than they are Protestants or Anglicans are or other groups. And so that creates a really emerging new whole branch of Christianity, which we have to reckon with as Christmas today.
And I just want to make sure that I'm understanding your terminology rightly when you speak of independent Christians as missiologist. Is this also way you're identifying evangelicals that that is the group that is the Evan jellicle movement, these independent Christians here discussing Is that correct?
Not necessarily, I think they actually go expand across a wide variety of groups. But they, you know, evangelicalism would normally be viewed as a subset, perhaps of Protestantism. This, these new groups would share a lot of evangelical concerns, for example, about the authority of Scripture, or the, you know, the sensuality of Christ, and so forth. But these are also many groups that are emerging that have no connection historically, with any Western group whatsoever. So they're not really easy to define in that way. These are new Christian movements and emerging around the world. So for example, I mean, to give you one example, just to put some on the table, you may not have heard of example, the The Church of Jesus Christ, the prophet, seven kabongo. This is a very, very large move in West Africa that currently has more members than the United Methodist Church, preparatory in church, school church in North America combined. So you're talking about these are large movements that even the West are not familiar with. The aldora churches, the D provide level churches, there are quite a few of these churches that are emerging that are massive churches. And we just have to keep watching on these and see how they're going to be shaping the future of Christianity. But I mean, thankfully, this group is as much more vibrantly oriented toward orthodoxy than many of the groups that we've seen in the Western world. So this is mostly good news for the future of Christian thought, hmm. Dr. Tennant,
you've spoken of this independent form of, or this independent Christianity as the fourth form of of Christianity, so we're not speaking of Roman Catholics or Protestants or Eastern Orthodox, if Roman Catholics are centered in Rome, and Protestantism is largely a European development and Eastern Orthodoxy, of course, once claimed Moscow was the third Rome and so on. Where is this fourth? Christianity located? And and what does it look like? How is it represented?
Yeah, it's a great question. I think that what we're seeing is, is actually, for the first time in history, something unique happening. If you look at Christian history, throughout the ages, we generally see that church, a branch of the church has a single cultural locus, and you just named them exactly right. I mean, if you look at the office for the role of Rome, and the history of Catholicism, etc. and Protestantism, of course, it's shifted over the years to one place or another. But in the case of this new emerging Christianity, we're actually experiencing what the African scholar done and at once called multiple centers of universality. So we're seeing the simultaneous emergence of Christianity that would be presented quite vibrant in Sub Saharan Africa, both in East Africa and West Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, you see a lot of new movements merging. In, you know, in Latin America, especially in Brazil. You see, obviously, Chinese health church movements, purging China, and then it goes down from there like in India and other places. So these are churches that might be everything from an African issue to church of the Apostolic variety to the fourth watts churches in the Philippines, the you know, fill the gap healing centers in South Africa, the You agree I attend a Brazil Han churches in China etc. This is a very, very vibrant, multifaceted group and no one group can claim that they are the single like center of this really eclectic, wide, wide group of Christians who
we recently had the privilege of having Philip Jenkins speak to us. And of course, Philip Jenkins, maybe especially among Western authors has given awareness to the fact that this this world Christianity outside of the West is growing very rapidly numerically. What does this demographic shift mean for the for the future of theology? How will these demographic changes eventually begin to change the way we do theology?
I think it's going to create a situation where we will begin to hear some new themes that will emerge that we have not yet heard of, for really, really thought about well, because theology really is nothing more than questions that we answer to the Bible. We know we ask the Bible and get answers back. So we, we have questions we posed historically to the Bible, and then we get those answers. We systematize them in various ways. And we present a systematic theology that no one believes I don't think that we've, you know, we've asked every question that could be asked to the Bible. But what happens is new questions get asked by the church. And so we began to look at the Bible differently. So for example, give you one example, I did an extensive study of how Christians were looking at the atonement around the world, and found that in the Western world, the Talmud was mostly looked at, along the axis of guilt and innocence. And so the Christ's death on the cross brought us from being guilty for God and for God, which, of course, is true. But what I found in reading Asian writers on the same text, they also identified, the gospel is not simply about guilt and innocence, but also about shame and honor, that he was taking away our shame, and having a sharing God's honor. And as you go back and look at the text, you'll see, for example, that it was very important, Jesus was not crucified for example, you know, in a, you know, in some inner courts of the Roman, you know, inner sanctum of where they, they punish people, but it was actually done publicly, the whole passion is played out publicly, it's all about shaming The, the garment on Jesus body, the the crown of thorns, the bow, bowing down the mocking, coronation, all of these things are going were acts of shame. And he was bearing shame. And if you go back to the fall in the Garden of Eden, you see that the fall represented shame, guilt, and fear. And most cultures are often oriented toward either shame or guilt or fear. And the Western world is particularly focused on the guilt part, but in fact, as you read global theology, you begin to see that they are exploring how Christ delivers us from fear as well as from shame and other major themes and, and human psyche before God. So this is one example of how the global church is really helping us to see things in fresh lights, who,
Dr. Tennant if you were to be, let's say, the chief editor of a new series of books coming out on global theology, and let's say you you were responsible for the methodology that would stand behind the whole series, maybe 10 books on global theology? How would you structure the the research project? How is it that we can do a global theology today?
Well, I think it depends on the audience. In the work that I did, I actually kept the structure of conditional Western theology looking at, you know, theology, ecclesiology, anthropology, soteriology, etc, the major themes, because that's what the western Church has mostly characterized, how we frame theology and and within those sub themes, I brought in can global voices, and it was able to make sense within the western kind of world, I think I was publishing a book in another part of the world, we might approach it differently. You might do it through case studies, you might do it through other kinds of ways in which theology is done. Typically, this is a broad statement of a Western theology tends to be top down, we tend to start with start with, you know, General, conceptual categories, and then move down to particulars. It goes back to Aristotelian thinking. Whereas the eastern world tends to be more ascending theology, as we call it, where they actually start from more application points, and then move up or build from that up to a general concept. So it's approached differently. And I think that if one was going to do a general series, you'd have to really, really try to figure out what the audience is I don't think there's such a thing are the words of a single kind of book that would actually work well globally all over the world.
Dr. Tennant if I could just take one moment to tell you about an exciting project that we're doing at Moody Bible Institute which is where I teach. I teach a series of classes on church history called Christianity and Western culture. And we've recently discovered that thanks to Google Hangouts on air, these lectures can be put broadcasted straight onto YouTube for very little cost. It's a free service that Google offers. And so we're streaming these lectures straight on to YouTube. And viewers from wherever they are, can chat in questions that we'll deal with in class, and so on. It's, it's a very interesting experiment that Google has enabled. It's a geography free classroom. And soon we're going to be getting in not just students from everywhere else, but actually, it's occurred to us, you could get professors from everywhere else, too. We can beam in a professor from Los Angeles or from Timbuktu or anywhere. Tell us if you would, as President of Asbury Theological Seminary, what is it that you might be at liberty to share about the ways that you're trying to encourage the study of global theology as an administrator,
we've done a slight different approach, I've heard of things similar what you're doing that's that has a lot of value to it, we're actually putting a bit differently, we've decided to enter into some particular institutional partnerships around the world. So what we've done is we have set so far six, and eventually we're gonna have 12. But we have six current partnerships with institutions around the world, we will we have signed memorandums of understanding, which allow us to exchange professors exchange students and exchange resources. So this will allow us For example, to bring, we've now identified certain faculty and each of these schools that we think would work well, in our context, a marvelous faculty here that we think would work well there. And so we actually, last year, we had four of our classes taught overseas, with our students in right next door to, you know, Costa Rican students, or Nigerian, etc. And we have two faculty right now in India teaching. So the idea is that we were actually putting students in that context, I think that really is crucial for our, our kind of vision for this. I think if you're in India, with Indian students, or professor teaching in Costa Rica, or Korea, it really does change their approach, and their appreciation for global Christianity and really fresh ways. Because it's so much more than just the information of the data. It's actually the whole context, people in the church. And so we're trying to really develop that it takes a lot more energy of a full time person who's just in charge of these global partnerships, and helps to facilitate it because as you can imagine, this kind of thing is intensive, but we do think it's, for us, at least, for graduate education, it seems to be the best way for us to help our students come here and be exposed to the global church. And we have facilities that we've dedicated here on campus just for visiting professors from around the world who will come here and lecture our classes and then placed this day and we give them a meal plan. And so it's a nice reciprocal relationship where we are really hoping to both give and receive and try to make it into a two way street as much as
possible. How marvelous. Dr. Tennant Would you be willing for a moment or two to speak about the current state of the Ecumenical Movement as as you see it? You've done a th m at Princeton University on ecumenical? Would you just be willing to speak to where we stand in the ecumenical process and where evangelicalism may stand in that?
Yeah, that's a great question. I think that the, the most remarkable archaeological movement of the 20th century, is mostly doesn't appear in books about document x, which which is itself interesting. And I've actually seen quite a few textbooks on ecumenical that never mentioned the Luzon movement. And so I think that the walkouts of churches and some of the ecumenical type official gatherings like that often overshadow the deeper kind of ecumenism that's going on. And some of the collaborative work like it goes on. And I'm very, very impressed with what the Luzon movement has done. I was in South Africa in 2010, for the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh conference, and the whole, that was, I think, the most diverse, the largest, most diverse gathering of Christian leaders in the history of the church. And yet, it wasn't something that would normally be hailed as as part of the Ecumenical Movement, but in fact, that's what it was. It's a huge medical movement. So I think that we're seeing different kinds of ways now only through these kind of meetings and, of course, was on has quite a few these around the world. We have one in Bangalore this summer, but also through social networking through other kinds of ways in which the churches Connecting around the world in new ways that we were involved right now, for example, I'm publishing efforts with Indian Christians where we are working jointly to help Indians publish and do things. Well, they aren't part of our movement. And our method is not part of Asbury. But we see this collaborative work well that's, that's a form of ecumenism. So, I do think that there are a lot of things happening today that will not go under the banner of ecumenism, but actually are great ways of actually I call the deeper ecumenism that's more focused on our connection to historic Christianity than, for example, structural unity or any kinds of, you know, organizational type, ecumenical changes.
If I can try to summarize what I think I'm hearing is that the type of humanism that the World Council of Churches, for example, represented was mostly denominational, denominationally based people bringing sort of institutions and institutional priorities to the to the dialogue table. And and we're seeing much more of a grassroots style of mixing among Christians. Still, what is it that Christians need to be bringing to that Roundtable, whether it's a formal dialogue table at a conference, or whether it's just a community event, which different Christians are participating in? How is it that that Christians content can continue to foster unity among one another?
I think the church has unity faster and we really affirm What is it the United States together, you know what the church called, you know, the same pair of UCLA bound bus, you know, what is always everywhere by everyone. And of course, that's been found in great credo confessions like the apostles creed, Nicene, creed, and ultimately course in Christ Himself. So I think the key document ism in my mind has never been to a race distinctions, but is to actually celebrate how we're different they had how we share a common core, and the gospel and historic confessions of the faith. So in my our background, we find the credo confessions to be great unifying documents that bring us together in very powerful ways. And so I get together with Indian Christians who affirm the same Nicene Creed that the we affirm, that's a very powerful ecumenical point, even though they may be very different for us in a lot of other particulars. And so, that distinction between the, you know, the correct mode, or the core of the gospel versus the idea for the non essentials is very crucial for ecumenism, what Wesley used to call the Catholic spirits, what he called it, then the learning to, to find that unity, even though we don't let that go into doctrinal laxity or not caring about core doctrines, but just appreciating the diversity of the church.
If I can ask just one last question, which certainly relates to this past question, despite the tremendous variety of the expressions of Christianity around the world, what is it that gives the church is unity?
Well, the Unity comes historically, through first, Jesus Christ common transformation and to Jesus Christ to redemption. I think it has to be Christ, Christ centered cross center must be Trinitarian. I think we're we are united on both the person and work of Christ. And so the creed celebrate the work of Christ. And so to me, that we're really focused on how Christ unifies the church. And that's the basis for that unity, I don't think we can find a unity merrily and social activities or kind of generic concerns for people, I think we have to really see it rooted in the Gospel. Because ultimately, it's the gospel to ninth us in the church historically, had said that, you know, the church exists where the gospel is preached, and sacraments are given, which did imply that it was focused on a core message and the fact that we weren't going to forsake the fact that we belong to the church, there was a unity of the church itself, that was crucial. And the courses you know, the Nicene Creed puzzles group, we believe in the church of the church is part of our profession. And that's crucial for our identity that subway, individuals who believe or just barely do good things in society. Dr. Tennant
we are really grateful for your time this morning. Thank you.
Thank you for the time, Jonathan, and the Lord bless you