Committed to the Book

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

In 1755, John Wesley wrote, “I want to know one thing–the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God. I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.”

The spirit of Asbury Seminary’s commitment to the Bible is captured in these words of John Wesley. We too are a people of the Book, and we make no apologies for holding to a high view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Our commitment predates Wesley, however, and goes deeper than the Bible itself. It rests squarely on the conviction that we have a God who speaks and shows–a God of revelation. Like Wesley, we affirm the apex of that revelation to be in the coming of Christ. He is the living Word of God. But we also recognize that the life and ministry of Christ (including what preceded and followed his coming) has been written down in a Book–the book of God–the written Word of God. And with Wesley and a host of others we exclaim, “O, give us that book!”

We believe that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation, and that a serious and sustained study of it will produce both knowledge and vital piety. In the seminary proper, we are committed to a curriculum where the Bible is central for the total formation of persons for ministry. Tradition, reason and experience each come along in their own ways, but always as interpretive lights that help us understand and apply Scripture more faithfully. Furthermore, we want to educate students to not only know the Bible, but to be effective communicators of its message. All of this culminates in our desire that our understanding and use of the Bible will enable us to fulfill the two great commandments: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength–and our neighbors as ourselves.

With these foundational commitments in place for more than eighty years, we declare in our Statement of Faith: “We believe in the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both the Old and New Testaments, the only written Word of God, without error in all it affirms. The Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Holy Spirit preserves God’s Word in the church today and by it speaks God’s truth to peoples of every age.”

Returning to Wesley’s statement above, the thing that’s clear is that above everything else he was a lover of Scripture, and through Scripture, a lover of God in Christ. We desire nothing more than that.

Tennent Response:
There are over 250 seminaries and university based divinity schools which belong to the Association of Theological Schools. This is the major accrediting commission which oversees graduate theological education in North America. If you were to take the time to study the history of each of these schools and the historical details which surrounded the founding of these schools, you would go away humbled by the amazing sacrifice which led to the founding of these institutions. They were founded by godly persons who were committed to seeing men and women trained to serve the church as pastors, teachers, evangelists and missionaries. You would read inspiring stories of their commitment to the Bible as the Word of God and their deep love for the church of Jesus Christ. However, if you were to visit each of these schools today, you would find that many of these schools no longer believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Most of their graduates would not cry out in the words of Wesley, “Let me be a man of one book!” Many of these same schools no longer view their central mission as serving the church of Jesus Christ. How does this happen? It happens when a school ceases to affirm the absolute authority of God’s Word. Left unchecked, there is inevitable entropy which is present in any institution. Earlier commitments are forgotten. Memories of previous sacrifices diminish. Founding principles are no longer invoked. Having spent several decades in theological education, I can testify that it takes considerable energy and intentionality by the Trustees, Administration, Faculty, Staff and Students of a seminary to prevent an institution from straying from its founding principles.

I have long believed that the church will never rise to a level above its own leadership. If we train men and women who are not firmly and fully committed to the authority of Scripture and the supremacy of Christ, then we cannot expect that the church will affirm either. A church which forgets these truths will not reproduce the faith to the next generation. This is precisely why theological education is so important. This is also why Asbury Theological Seminary is so strategic in the training of ministers for the Church. Asbury has stayed true to its founding commitments. Asbury still produces graduates who love God’s Word and still sense God’s call to “spread Scriptural holiness throughout the world!”

The world has changed dramatically since 1923 when Asbury Theological Seminary was founded. We, too, have inspiring stories of men and women who loved the church and who were committed to the Word of God. Our founder and first President, Henry Clay Morrison, was unequivocally committed to the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Now, eighty-six years later, I have been asked to serve as the eighth President of Asbury Theological Seminary. I affirm with the same vigor and earnestness of our founders that the Bible is the inspired Word of God! This is what makes Asbury Theological Seminary such a remarkable place. By the grace of God, we have not forgotten our founding principles. By the grace of God, may we never forget.

Comments

  • James-Michael Smith says:

    Dr. Tennent,
    Greetings from a former student and fellow Georgian! I wanted to let you know about my work as the Charlotte Methodist Examiner, as I frequently point people to Asbury’s scholars in my articles.
    My desire is to be a link between the academy and the pew. Asbury is one of the few places (especially within our Denomination) that is doing this. I would be absolutely thrilled if you would look over an article or two of mine and share any thoughts or help spread the word to others about them.
    Thank you for blessing me through your teaching, and blessings to you and your family at Asbury!
    James-Michael Smith (GCTS M.Div ‘06)
    Charlotte Methodist Examiner
    http://www.examiner.com/x-8276-Charlotte-Methodist-Examiner