The “Moon Shot” Calling of the Wesleyan Movement in the 21st Century

I am indebted to J. D. Walt, Jr., our Sower-in-Chief at Asbury who both envisioned and heads up our Seedbed operation who reminded me recently of the need for a “moon shot” initiative. What he was alluding to was that electrifying moment on October 25, 1961 when J. F. Kennedy stood before Congress and said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The technology was not yet there to do it. There were hundreds of naysayers who said it would be impossible. But, we did it. It was done because everyone understood the goal and it lit the flame of determination to overcome every obstacle and to see a dream become a reality.

What is our “moon shot” goal? As Wesleyans we must remember that our goal is nothing less than the renewal and growth of a global Wesleyan movement, resulting in a sustained Great Awakening, stimulating dozens of new Christian movements in the 21st century and beyond. That’s what we are aiming for. That is what Asbury Theological Seminary is committed to. I believe that Asbury is uniquely positioned with the people, the resources, and the national and global footprint to foster such a grand vision. There are many others, of course, who will stand with us and with whom we will stand if this is to become a reality. Many of us saw a glimpse of this at the recent “New Room” Conference, as this article in First Things so beautifully declares.

What we must not do is to forget what we are fighting for. Our goal is not to simply get the church to agree to an historic Christian position on marriage. Even if the church makes a dramatic turn from its present trajectory and re-affirms its historic position or if some new Wesleyan movement emerges, it cannot be about this one issue. If a newly emerged “orthodox Methodist” or “Conservative Methodist” (or whatever name one might call it) does arise and it is only the existing United Methodist church with those few disputed lines in the Discipline re-affirmed, it would avail the world very little. What we need is a completely re-energized, Spirit-filled, gospel preaching, holy living, disciple making, Wesleyan movement which will set the world on fire once again! We represent the movement which has reminded the church that justification is not enough. Indeed, “the rest of the gospel is the best of the gospel.”

Right now we are in such a demoralized state we can barely lift our head and look to the moon and think that we can make it “there and back again.” We settle for tiny advances in our local church or we just try to block out all the clamor so we can remember the historic faith in our own hearts and pray for a day when God will raise up better hearers of his word. But, what if we dared to dream that God just might do something greater than we could possibly imagine? What if God opened our eyes to see that He was going to renew the Wesleyan message in our day? What if we had the courage to ask God for the Wesleyan version of the “moon shot?”

I’m choosing to believe that we are going to live to see the complete renewal of a global Wesleyan movement. Asbury has our first cohort of 20 Wesleyan church planters. We will have trained 400 by 2023. Asbury is training hundreds of Spirit-filled ministers who love God who preach his Word and weep for the lost and broken in this world. Asbury is helping hundreds of churches to get re-missionized and re-discover what it means to be the church. These are just a few seeds for the harvest. Many others in our movement are also sowing for this great awakening. Let’s go to the moon, shall we?

Alice Was Right. Thoughts On Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy and Homodoxy

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’ Alice, of Alice in Wonderland, once asked Humpty Dumpty. He smiled contemptuously and said, “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I mean “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!” “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’ Alice objected. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” However, who can forget Alice’s response: “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

In recent years it has become clear that the contemporary church has a misunderstanding about the word orthodoxy. This has, in turn, led to a profound misunderstanding about the nature of the church’s unity.

In the ancient world there were really only two categories when it came to “agreeing” or “disagreeing” about something. The first category was “homodoxy.” The term homodoxy meant sharing the same view or opinion about something. The second category was “heterodoxy” which meant that we did not share the same view about something. Certainly one of the signs of our times has been the decline in agreement on a wide range of issues in the church. We could easily list several examples of issues which the church has been united on for centuries, but have now become points of sharp division and disagreement. To try to reconcile these opinions makes the assumption that this is about coming to a common agreement on something.

However, it is at times like this that we need to remember that we are called to transcend the simple categories of “homodoxy” and “heterodoxy.” We are called to “orthodoxy.” This term refers to what is “true” or “straight” or “right.” This is a standard which transcends the changing, shifting vagaries of human opinions. It is a category probably invented by Christians. It reminded the world of a very important thing which has been largely forgotten. It was this: God has revealed himself in Holy Scripture. God’s revelation transcends all of our opinions whether they be “of Paul” or “of Cephas” or “of Apollos.” We must humble ourselves before God and listen afresh to His Word. Groups will always disagree, but in God’s divine economy He calls us all to a deep agreement and resonance which transcends our various “perspectives” and “cultural lenses” and our “particularities.” It remembers our common heritage in Adam (In Adam all die) and it rejoices in our common heritage in the Second Adam (In Christ we have all been made alive”).

Alice was right. Words can’t just mean what we want them to mean. The church can’t just be re-cast into our modern vision of it. There is a great narrative to which we have all been summoned. It is not centered on this faction or that faction. It is centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the basis for unity in the church. It is centered on the unfolding redemptive plan of the Triune God.

Unity cannot be achieved organizationally or institutionally: “All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again” Unity is not really about that. Unity is not uniformity (that’s homodoxy). Unity is not a single institutional structure which manages to survive our heterodoxy. It is easy for a simplistic call for “unity” to really be about finding unity through dilution, which is made possible by relativistic views of truth.

It was Richard Baxter, the great Puritan pastor who made famous the real heart of unity: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” This is why true unity throughout history has always come through a rebirth of orthodoxy which is the recognition that our unity is in Jesus Christ.

Moving from Tepid Devotional Reading to a People of One Book.

Brothers and sisters, we have a big problem. A rather large portion of the western so-called “mainline” churches do not seem to be offering any substantial defense against the relativistic forces of post modernity. How quickly the “mainline” churches have become “sideline churches” while other, more robust Christian movements have emerged. I rejoice in the fact that whenever the church is in crisis, God always raises up better hearers of His Word. I rejoice that God always has “7,000 who have not bowed to Baal” who will remember the Apostolic faith and pass it faithfully along. But, I long to see the “people called Methodist” not become just another dead religious sect, as Wesley himself so wisely warned us. The solution to this problem is multifaceted and will take many decades to reverse

One of the many needed solutions is a revolution in our approach to “daily devotion.” To put it bluntly, the devotional reading guides which are widely used in the church will not get us to where we need to be as a church. The central problem with most (not all) daily devotionals is that they inadvertently teach us the wrong way to approach scripture. Devotionals generally cherry pick some verse from Scripture and use that as a jumping off place to say something vague and moralistic which we already knew to be true before we started the devotional. What they do not do is to teach us to follow a biblical argument in a particular passage and really understand what the passage is seeking to teach. The purpose of the devotional is often to “inspire” rather than to “teach.” The inadvertent result is that the Christian gospel which is presented in these devotionals is often so domesticated and small that it is no wonder that we are left empty. They also do not really help us to confront the serious intellectual challenges the church is facing.

Today the world is searching desperately for a world-view which is coherent, expansive and which makes sense of the world we live in. We need a faith which pushes us out into the world. We do not need one which pushes us further and further into an interior, privatized faith. Most moralistic devotionals (and sermons, too) actually obscure the gospel because they do not preach Christ as the center of Christian holiness. Rather, we are often given only tiny admonitions to rely upon our own meager efforts to live holy lives through our own strength. These devotionals do not help us to think theologically about the big challenges we are facing. The result is that most genuine seekers do not take Christianity as a serious option. It is difficult to do so when we are given such a light fare which is theologically tepid, intellectually weak and morally reductionistic.

In its place we need to read through entire books of the Bible. I recommend a good study Bible and a daily regime of Scripture reading, prayer and reflection on a full passage of Scripture. Read the whole Bible, and read it as the Word of God. The inspiration of God’s word is not to be confused with a pastor’s sermon or someone’s insight, however clever or inspirational. Many of the better devotional guides are accompanied by a plan which encourages the reader to not only read the “inspirational devotional thought” but also to read through the entire Bible each year. Start using those guides and never forget the power of reading Scripture and encountering it directly in our lives.

Asbury’s resourcing platform, known as Seedbed, will be releasing a host of biblical studies resources for the local church under the name, OneBook. The Epic of Eden Study is the first release and available now. From a comprehensive, seven year study of the Bible to Quarterly curricular studies to studies designed to introduce new Christians to the Bible, OneBook holds great promise to be part of the solution the church needs.

I would also recommend the Seedbed Daily Text as a daily exercise in engaging the Scriptures. It’s a free online resource written by J.D. Walt many people (including myself) are finding helpful on a daily basis.

Wesley, you may recall, famously said that he wanted to be a “man of One Book.” May we deeply delve into God’s Word, because “God will be found true, though every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives (Part III)

This is the last of a 3 part series. Read Part I, “Remembering our Heritage: The Grand Wesleyan Vision” and Part II Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives.”

Together, they formed Timothy Tennent’s 6th Convocation Address
Asbury Theological Seminary
Estes Chapel, September 02, 2014
Florida-Dunnam Campus, September 04, 2014

Third, the Wesleyan view of the holy Christian life.

A doctrine of justification separated from a robust doctrine of sanctification has left the church in a weakened state which compromises our witness to the world, dishonors Christ and denies the very power of the gospel which we proclaim. Wesley was first and last passionate about holiness. Today much of the church is not holy and there is no more important legacy we can leave the contemporary church than to fully embody holiness. The great ramparts, gates and walls of holiness which have long set the church apart today lie in ruins and the world is now freely importing wickedness into the church. This is our hour to rise up and re-assert one of the four marks of the church: holiness.

Wesley taught the doctrine of entire sanctification. For Wesley, salvation could never be simply God looking at us through a different set of glasses where he sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but we are still bound in sin. Wesley envisioned a holy church. He understood that God’s purpose is not complete until alien righteousness becomes native righteousness; imputed righteousness becomes actualized righteousness, declared righteousness becomes embodied righteousness. We do not put grace in a dialectic tension with the Law, but, rather see Christ as a new Lawgiver, deepening the moral call of God on our lives through the Spirit of God working in us. This is not justification by faith and sanctification by works. No, Wesley saw both justification and sanctification as gifts from God, wrought in us not by our own strength, but through His saving power.

Entire sanctification never meant that we never sin. Wesley actually rejected the phrase, “sinless perfection.” This is because for Wesley sanctification is not primarily a judicial, forensic term. Rather, it is a relational term. Entire sanctification means that your whole life, your body and your spirit have been re-oriented towards the joyful company of the Triune God. You are now oriented towards the eternal community of God himself. Entire sanctification was, for Wesley, not the end of some long drudge out of the life of sin, but joining the joyful assembly of those who have truly found joy. For Wesley, holiness is the crown of true happiness. Sin is still encamped around us on every side, but it is no longer our ally. We burn the secret agreements we have with sin in the night while we confess Christ in the day. We leave behind the agonizingly torn hearts, where we always live under condemnation because sin is always creeping back into our lives. To be sanctified is to receive a second blessing, a Spirit-baptism, a great gift from God. It is a gift which changes your heart, re-orients your relationships with the Triune God and gives you the capacity to love God and your neighbor in new and profound ways. It transforms your perspective – because your heart is re-oriented towards him in perfect love. In the life of a sanctified person sin becomes your permanent enemy, not your secret lover!

The language of “entire sanctification” uses the word “entire” in reference to Greek, not Latin. In Greek “entire” or “complete” can still be improved upon. Our founder H. C. Morrison once said, “there is no state of grace that cannot be improved on.” It is a new orientation which no longer looks back on the old life, but is always looking forward to the New Creation. It is a life which has been engulfed by new realities, eschatological realities, not the passing shadows of that which is passing away.

Wesley also understood that holiness is not merely a negative term. It is not just about sins which we avoid. If you were to eradicate every sin in your life, you would only be halfway there. Because, for Wesley, holiness is never just about sins we avoid, it’s about fruit which we produce! In Wesley, faith and fruit meet and are joyfully wed! We no longer have a view of holiness which is legalistic, private, negative and static. Rather it is relational, communal, and captivated by a vision of the in-breaking of God’s rule and reign!! The witness of the Spirit which confirms faith becomes in Wesley the power of the Spirit to produce fruit and to transform the world – to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world!

Fourth, the Wesleyan view of the world.

Our movement has never been committed to a precise theological system which becomes an overlay through which we view Scripture and the world. The reason we do not have our version of TULIP is not because we are not clever enough to come up with five points, the first letter of which spells a word. Many of us have actually worked out the “five points of Wesleyanism.” But, upon reflection, Wesleyans have rejected that kind of systematic overlay which creates a lens between you and the Scriptures. Those systems tend to domesticate the text, sand down all the mysteries, and rob us of all the necessary tensions. The Wesleyan vision of Christianity is not at root a theological system trying to solve theoretical theological problems and make everything fit into a single coherent system which is put forth over against other systems like dispensationalism or covenant theology, and so forth. Rather, our movement is fundamentally missional. Our theology is soteriologically framed and driven, not epistemologically framed and driven. Thus, our theology thrusts us out to a lost world. It is acknowledging that the Scriptures are, at root, a missional document which brings good news of salvation to the ends of the earth, or, as Wesley would put it, helping people to “flee from the wrath to come.”

Our vision for the world might be called mobile holiness because it is never static, but always moving us to the ends of the earth, since “the world is our parish.” We declare the year of Jubilee for those who are enslaved by human trafficking in Bangkok. Mobile holiness announces the good news to the Alagwa people of north-central Tanzania who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Mobile holiness shines the light of justice on child labor in China! Mobile holiness establishes peace in broken homes in America. Mobile holiness sets the drug addicts free right here in Highbridge / on OBT. Mobile holiness acts on behalf of the 40,000 Iraqis left to die on Sinjar mountain. You see mobile holiness is viral and there is no part of creation which it does not declare under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! We claim the “whole field” – no privatized religion for us! Remember how Jeremiah had the courage to purchase a field even as the Babylonians invaded and were taking everyone into exile. That’s the kind of global vision we need. We look at the most dismal situation on the planet and we declare, in faith, that we will buy that field. We will buy the field of Anathoth even as the Babylonians are moving in! We’ll buy the field of hope even when the drugs still hold on. We’ll buy the field of faith, even while the Alagwa are still resistant! We’ll buy the field of reconciliation, even when the divorce papers are on the table. Because we hear the strains of the New Creation! We have been caught up in a greater narrative!
A Wesleyan, neo-holiness vision does not fall into the trap of an over-realized eschatology which fails to take seriously the full force of human – personal and systemic – rebellion against God. However, it also avoids the trap of an under-realized eschatology which can only rehearse the bad news and does not see the New Creation already breaking in – in the faith, life, experience and witness of the church of Jesus Christ. We have a vision for the power of transforming righteousness in the world.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it takes courage to occupy and hold the high ground of Wesleyan faith. It will empower us to announce the gospel, even as it is being decried as outrageous and offensive. It will send us into a world enmeshed in deep spiritual and moral chaos. It will enable us to descend into the gutter of despair to bring someone up to the high road of holiness. This vision will help us to boldly confess Christ when even big swaths of the church have lost the patience to listen to Him. It will enable us to stand firm on the Word of God, even when the prevailing winds of culture are blowing hard in your face. But, like the Taj Mahal, this great treasure has been passed on to us that we, in turn, might give it to the world. May we joyfully take up this mantle and be found faithful in our time. May Asbury embody that which we teach and so remain a beacon of hope and grace to this generation. Amen.