Why I am an Evangelical and a Methodist

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Today marks the beginning of an ongoing series on why I am an evangelical and a Methodist.  I think it is important to be well situated in a particular tradition, but I feel uncomfortable talking about a particular tradition apart from the larger context of what it means to be a Christian.  Indeed, I have always appreciated the wonderful way in which historic Christianity is able to simultaneously embrace universality and particularity. On the one hand, the great truths of the faith are embraced and proclaimed by all major Christian bodies. The kerygma can be heard and recognized in movements as varied as house-church movements in China, African Independent Churches, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal churches. This is known as the great semper ubique ab omnibus – the faith which is confessed and proclaimed “always, everywhere by everyone.” On the other hand, the Christian church is marked by amazing particularity. There are beliefs, practices and emphases which are peculiar to Quakers or Presbyterians or Roman Catholics, and so forth. We tend to emphasize our differences more than our catholicity. There are quite a few unresolved tensions in the faith which tend to be reflected in various ways by Christian movements, but this should not obscure the great unanimity of Christian proclamation. The fact that all branches of the church have embraced the Nicene Creed, for example, reflects a deep and abiding sensus communis of the church which must be acknowledged before we discuss the particularities of being a Methodist, Lutheran or a Baptist. It is this deep unity which is reflected in my use of the word evangelical. Today, the word evangelical has been adorned with a wide array of associations, caricatures and political overtones. However, in my use of the word, it primarily refers to a deep commitment to historic orthodoxy. It is that desire to re-discover that great common resonance throughout the history of the church which has always affirmed the centrality of Christ, the authority of Scripture and the great saving power of the Christian gospel.

These blog entries will NOT be focused on what makes me a Christian, or even an historic, evangelical Christian, since that is the common ground upon which most of the readers of this blog will stand.  Rather, these blogs are intended to set forth the distinctive reasons why I am a Methodist Christian. On a personal note, although I am a direct descendent of William Tennent who is famous in Presbyterian circles for his founding of the Log College, I was born and raised in a United Methodist church in Atlanta, Georgia known for its biblical preaching and solid evangelical message.  I have studied at many of the great institutions which, broadly speaking, stand in the Reformed tradition, including Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I later taught missions at Gordon-Conwell for eleven years. Throughout my entire spiritual journey I grew to appreciate many of the great emphases in Reformed theology. However, I was always drawn to the deep roots of my Methodist upbringing. Today, I serve as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary, the largest seminary in the world within the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition. My sojourn for so many years with brothers and sisters from different traditions helped me simultaneously to appreciate the deep richness and texture of the Christian faith, but also what it is that is distinctive in the Methodist tradition. For me, Methodism did not lose any of the great themes of Reformed theology, but it seemed to bring to the table so much that has often been neglected in the church.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series coming soon…

Comments

  • John Adams says:

    Looking forward to this, Dr. Tennent!

  • Brandon Vogt says:

    Dr. Tennent,

    As a recent convert from Methodism/Evangelicalism to Catholicism–and someone who just penned an article on the subject “Why I am a Catholic”–I have a couple questions after reading your post:

    You mentioned “However, in my use of the word (evangelical), it primarily refers to a deep commitment to historic orthodoxy.” How are you defining “historic orthodoxy”? Assuming you agree that Evangelicalism is a branch of Protestantism, I don’t see how you can trace it back before the 16th century at the earliest. And in that case it wouldn’t be historic.

    The accepted Christian belief and orthodoxy of the first 1,500 years has much more in common with Catholicism than Evangelicalism (in fact, I would argue, it is completely Catholic.)

    Also, you seem to associate the “authority of Scripture” with historic orthodoxy. But what does that mean for the first 300 years of Christianity when there was no universal canon of Scripture? How, then, was orthodoxy defined?

    I’m really looking forward to the rest of your posts. I find so much richness in the Wesley brothers, Methodism, and its call to perfection and holiness.

    Grace and peace!

    Your brother,
    Brandon Vogt

    2.

  • Adam Roe says:

    Brandon,

    I believe Dr. Tennent is referring specifically to Nicene Orthodoxy which can certainly entertain an evangelical zeal. Indeed, the zeal you display for the faith in general, and Catholicism specifically, would seem to imply something of an evangelical spirit.

    As to the mention of Scripture, perhaps you might offer a bit of clarification. It has often seemed to me that the Catholic approach to Protestant dialog is to call into question things that don’t really require questioning. Does it matter that the canon, textual availability, and illiteracy were issues in the early church if most Christians can read the Scriptures today?

    I hope that doesn’t seem condescending. I realize that Catholics want all Christians to experience the fullness they believe they’ve received, and I appreciate the heart of your evangelism.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Adam

  • Are we Methodist because we come up with methods to connect Christian hearts?
    Another thought. Somebody told me once: “if you want something done, hire a Methodist.”
    You got my attention Dr. Tennent, especially now that I am a full member of the Wilmore UMC.

  • Timothy Tennent says:

    I want to clarify my use of the word evangelical. I do not believe “evangelical” is a subset of Protestantism. There are many wonderful, godly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox who are evangelical in my use of the word, i.e. deep apostolicity. The word evangelical has at least three different connotations, based on who you are speaking with. I am using it in a broad, historic sense. If you prefer, exchange the word “orthodoxy” for “historic apostolic faith” and I think the blog will work well for those who may not be in Protestant tradition.

  • Fred says:

    Dr. Tennent,

    I am so looking forward to this series. I have recently joined the United Methodist Church. I love John and Charles Wesley. I have read many of John’s sermons. I wish pastors preached sermons like those today.

    However, even though I just joined the United Methodist Church, I am deeply concerned about the church’s commitment to biblical authority. The recent push towards ordaining homosexual pastors confuses me. The Bible seems to clearly define homosexuality as a sin, and it seems arrogant to allow unrepentant people to be ordained. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  • This sounds like a GREAT Blog, Dr. Tennet! As an Evangelical (in both the Wesleyan and political sense of the word) Methodist and a proud student at Asbury, I’m looking forward to hearing more!

  • […] Tennent starts a series on why he’s a Methodist. Should be fun to […]

  • Dave Sheehan says:

    Wasn’t one of the American rebels er patriots who said “Let us all hang together or most certainly we will all hang seperately”? So whatever branch of Christ’s Holy Church you prefer to perch on, let us follow Fr. Wesley who says “Except in the Fundamentals of the Christian religion, I say think and let think.
    ” Rehashing the cause and effects of past fire fights won’t help in the Gospel Common Cause of saving a lost world through the Gospel!

    A Son of Whitfield by choice, a son of God by new birth I am yours truly!

  • JR says:

    I grew up going to the UMC, but haven’t been attending one since college. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Methodists and am open to joining one in the future.

    However, I’m not sure how open I would be if the UMC ever accepts gay clergy and blesses gay marriage.

    I would love for you to write about this issue some time b/c it’s such a pressing issue now in our society and churches.

    Thanks for this blog and all that you do, sir.

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