For Such a Time as This

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The following is the my Inauguration Address from Monday, November 9, 2009.  You can listen to the address on iTunes by clicking here.

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The ancient Greeks had two different words for time, chronos and kairos.  The first word, chronos, is where we get our word chronology from.  It refers to ordinary “clock time” which is measured in history and is marked when someone says, for example, that Asbury Theological Seminary was founded in 1923.  The other word for time is kairos which has a more qualitative, not merely quantitative, dimension to it.  It refers to a specially appointed time, an opportune moment, or the right “timing.”  Jesus, for example, calls us to recognize the “signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3).  When He announces the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, he says, “the time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand.”   In both of these examples, Jesus uses the word kairos, indicating that he is not merely referring to a point of chronology, but a decisive moment in the history of God’s purposes in the world.

The word kairos is an important word for formulating a Christian view of history and where we stand tonight in this great stream as members and friends of this wonderful community called Asbury Theological Seminary.  Kairos moments have “occurred again and again in the history of the church.”[1] Remember that day, that kairos moment, recorded in Acts 11, when some unnamed disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene preached the gospel to Gentiles for the first time?  Without that obedience we would not be here tonight.  What of that kairos moment when young 22 year old woman named Perpetua, still nursing a child, stood in the coliseum and was martyred by lions and the power of Rome?  God used her death to awaken the whole empire to the fact that the light of the gospel would not be so easy to put out.   I don’t know about you, but I would give almost anything to be there in the garden that day watching as Augustine saw in that chair in the garden, full of unbelief and immorality, and he heard the chant like voice of a child, “tolle, lege; tolle lege” – take up and read, take up and read.  Augustine took up the Word of God and opened it and Romans 13:14, 15 and in that moment we witness one of the great kairos moments in the history of the church.  That day when Gregory the Great walked through the marketplace and saw those blue-eyed, blond hair, Anglo-Saxon boys being sold as slaves and he declared, “non angli, sed angeli” – they are not Angles, but Angels – launching the Augustine of Canterbury mission to Britain – that was kairos moment apart from which we would not be sitting here tonight.  The church has known many such kairos moments:  The day that Alopen arrived in the Imperial courts of China and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time or the day Martin Luther nailed 95 thesis to the door of the Wittenburg church, or the day that William Carey boarded a ship for India or Gladys Alyward boarded a train for China.

There are, however, many competing moments in church history which falsely claim to be kairos moments.  This is why every kairos moment must be tested against the great kairos” of all time, namely, the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  All of history is a struggle between pseudo claims of kairos which lead to destruction, and the great kairos of Christ which, through the incarnation, has inaugurated the New Creation. 

Brothers and sisters, April of 1923 was a kairos moment for us.  The previous May, in 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick had preached a sermon in NY which raised questions about the authority of Scripture and cast doubt upon the veracity of the Apostolic proclamation about the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The country was plunged into what became known as the modernist controversy when John D. Rockefeller used his resources to publish Fosdick’s sermon in a pamphlet form and mailed to every Protestant minister in the country.  On October 6,1930 Fosdick’s picture made the front cover of Time magazine.  The whole church – indeed, the whole nation -was caught up in this controversy.  According to the modernists, the gospel must be reconciled with the new insight that Christ was merely an ethical teacher, but not the Son of God.  The Bible was a collection of human wisdom, but certainly not the Word of God.  Christianity may be “a” way, but had to accept its place as just one of many paths to God.

However, whenever the church encounters these storms, whether it be Gnosticism, or Arianism, or Constantian triumphalism, or Protestant liberalism, or evangelical latitudinarianism, or post-modern relativism God raises up better readers of the Scriptures and new kairos moments emerge once more.  This is precisely what happened in our own history.  As seminaries across America were being influenced by this new modernist teaching Henry Clay Morrison, the President of Asbury College at the time, decided to cross the street and found Asbury Theological Seminary to stand against this tide.  One of the kairos moments in the history of the church was that day in April of 1923 when Henry Clay Morrison crossed the street to start Asbury Theological Seminary.

If you had been here on Lexington Ave. and watched Henry Clay Morrison cross the street from the college to start this seminary and you had stopped him and said, “wait a minute, brother Morrison, don’t you know that the whole tide of the church is going the other direction…”  Brother Morrison, didn’t you get the modernist memo?  Haven’t you read Fosdick’s sermon?   Morrison still would have crossed the street. It was a kairos moment.  If you had stopped him and said, but the country is on the brink of the worst economic depression in its history – this is not the time to start a new institution and build buildings and commit to having every student on a scholarship… go back…. He still would have crossed the street, because it was a kairos moment.  If you had stopped Morrison that day and reminded him that he was 66 years old, one of the best known preachers in America, the editor of the Pentecostal Herald… He didn’t need this.  It was time to retire and relax and play a round of golf.   He would have crossed the street… because it was a kairos moment. Morrison went on, by the way, to serve as President of Asbury Seminary for nearly twenty years after that day and died in office, preaching a revival service in Tennessee…. Died with his boots on.  Henry Clay Morrison, under the providence of God, crossed the street because it was a kairos moment.  It was time when the church had to rise and take its stand with the great kairos of God in Jesus Christ.

The story of Asbury Theological Seminary makes no sense apart from the even greater story we call the gospel and the unfolding drama which follows that great arc of God’s mighty acts of creation, redemption and  new creation.  It is a divine, unfolding drama which is rooted in the missio dei, the mission of God, who acts, who speaks, who has entrances and exoduses , finding its center in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  These are the great kairos moments of the world, to which our own history must conform.

I am honored tonight by the amazing providence of God and the gracious invitation of the Board of Trustees to serve as the eighth President of Asbury Theological Seminary.  I stand before you tonight fully committed to the mission of Asbury Theological Seminary.  My vision is to explore what that mission means for us today at this juncture in history.  I believe that, like Esther of long ago, for “such a time as this” God has brought us together to this place and this time and summoned us to new vistas of faithfulness to God’s Word, to the Apostolic faith and to the mission of Asbury Theological Seminary “to prepare theologically educated, sanctified, spirit-filled men and women to evangelize and to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.”  That is the mission of Asbury and God has granted us a vision for what that means for us in our time.  Tonight, I have chosen four themes which I believe capture how the founding mission of Asbury Theological Seminary can best be expressed and extended in our day.

1. REFLECTING THE GLORY OF THE TRINUE GOD THROUGH WORSHIP

Asbury Theological Seminary is first and foremost a worshipping community.  We have never been a mere religious studies program.  We are a seminary.  Maxie Dunnam has reminded us over the years that a seminary means a “seed-bed” to prepare men and women for effective Christian ministry.  We are those who have been summoned by God into his Risen presence.  At it is expressed in our mission statement, we are a “called community.”  The subject is unstated because God is the great nominative of the universe – the great subject to which all must give an account.

If you open up the earliest annual of the seminary, you find these words written, just shortly after the death of H. C. Morrison, “Asbury Theological Seminary believes in and carries out a strong program based on the idea that deep and proper piety and the highest intellectual standard are not only capable of being harmonized but must be made inseparable in order to produce” an effective minister of the gospel.   As Wesley once declared in that hymn,

“unite the pair so long disjoined;

knowledge and vital piety;

learning and holiness combined;

and truth and love, let all men see!

Our mission has always been to theologically educate yes, but to also recognize that we must produce men and women who are “sanctified and Spirit filled.”   The church is the visual embodiment of the Triune God in the world – we reflect the incarnation in our sacrificial service to the world and as bearers of the love of God.

Every major building on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary has a chapel.  I don’t know of  seminary in America that can make that statement.  We have a chapel in every building… the Luce Prayer chapel, the J. Ellsworth Kalas Preaching Chapel, the Richard Allan Chapel, the Stanger Prayer Room in the Student Center, the Sacred Prayer Closet across from Royal Auditorium, AHOP in Larabee-Morris; McKenna Chapel, Fletcher Chapel and where we are now in Estes Chapel.  For us, it is a theological statement.  Knowledge and vital piety must be united in a nuptial embrace.  All of our learning must takes place in the presence of the Triune God, the Risen Christ and the empowering, sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit.

2.  RENEWING OUR VISION BY ENGAGING THE GLOBAL CHURCH

The most important development in the 20th century church has been the dramatic rise of the church outside the Western world.  As Protestants we have never known a church which was not predominantly white and western.  When William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement when to India, only 1% of the entire world’s Christians lived outside the Western world.  Even by 1900 only 10% of the world’s Christians were not white and western.  However, today, in the early days of the 21st century, 67% of all Christians are non-white and live outside the western world.  The emergence of new centers of Christian vibrancy from Latin America to Africa to parts of Asia, including China, India and Korea is the most important kairos of our time.

Asbury must engage the world, remembering the words of Wesley when he said that the “world is our parish.”  Our mission statement calls us to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.”  We have a great task ahead of us to live in to that commitment.

Henry Clay Morrison went to China because of his long term support and encouragement of the missions organization, OMS.  He returned to New York harbor on the same ship as Teddy Roosevelt.  When they arrived in the harbor, there was big band playing to greet Roosevelt, some firecrackers were set off.  Morrison looked around and felt lonely because there was no one to meet him.  He thought to himself, why wasn’t there anyone here to meet me?  And the Lord spoke to his heart and said, “because you’re not home yet.”  That’s why Morrison never retired.  He knew that there was work to be done… a vision to be cast… a mission to be fulfilled… and it was global.  He brought back two ginko trees from China and planted here just outside what is today the H.C. Morrison administration building.  Today they have grown, as has the Seminary he planted, to be very large and very beautiful.  Those trees were to remind every student in the history of Asbury that the world is our parish and that we’ve been called “to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the world…” until the day he calls us home.

If you’re a student here at Asbury, don’t you waste five minutes of your ministry complaining about your parsonage, your salary, or your pension plan.  Don’t waste time trying to climb the denominational ladder.  All that will be sorted out later when you get home.  Don’t forget the words of that other famous Francis.. Francis Xavier who said, “give up your small ambitions and preach the gospel of Christ.”

2.  RESTORING HOPE THROUGH SPIRIT-FILLED EVANGELISM AND CHURCH PLANTING

My former colleague and dear friend and guest tonight Dr. Peter Kuzmic once commented that the most defining word of our time is the word “post”.  We live in a post-communist, post-Christendom, post-denominational, post-western, post-Enlightenment and post-modern world. The prominence of the word ‘post’ is yet another signal that we are living in this seam between two epochs of history.   We know we are beyond certain things so we use the word “post” because we don’t really know for sure what is ahead.  However, it is clear that the Western world is emerging as the fastest growing mission field in the world.  The mega-church movement with its attractive model is facing a mega-collapse, because any church planting model in history which separates generations – separating the old from the young – and does not emphasize discipleship has always collapsed in one generation.  But, we are also moving into one of the most dynamic phases of fresh church planting in our history.  Asbury must move to a post-Christendom, missionary model of training which emphasizes evangelism, discipleship and church planting in new and fresh ways.  We must train a whole new generation of Christians how to occupy the prophetic margins of culture.  We must train a whole new generation of students how to draw from the vibrancy of the emerging new ethnic communities in North America which represent, by the way, the fastest growing churches in America.  They do not occupy campuses in the suburbs, but they are in the storefronts of our inner cities and they are alive and well.   We also have to reclaim the ministry of Francis Asbury, i.e. life on the road as an evangelist and church planter, as well as pastors and teachers.  (Order of Asbury)

4.  REVITALIZING THE CHURCH THROUGH FAITHFULNESS TO GOD’S WORD!

Asbury has always been known as a place which produces great preachers of God’s word.   If you don’t have confidence in the word of God, then you will never preach it with power and unction and anointing and clarity.  William Jennings Bryan said of H. C. Morrison, “he was the greatest pulpit orator on the entire American continent.” Wow – what a commendation.  What a great treasure for us here at Asbury.   If you are in a United Methodist or Free Methodist or Wesleyan or Salvation Army or Nazarene, or C and MA or Pentecostal church and you receive an Asbury graduate, you better not get a pastor who gets behind a pulpit and dishes out bland moralizing, three stories and a joke.  You will get God’s Word faithfully proclaimed and applied to the issues of the day.  If you get the other, send them back for a refit.

H. C. Morrison had invitations from all across the country to preach. But frequently when presiding elders (now we call a DS) got wind that he was coming they would shut it down and not allow Morrison to preach.  Remember that it was John Wesley was, after having every pulpit in England closed to him declares, since I have no parish of my own, I have concluded that the world is my parish.”  Morrison had the same experience, but instead, though I don’t know that he ever said this, his life witness said, in effect, “since I’m closed out of the churches, I have concluded that the campmeeting is my parish.”  He preached in campmeetings all across America, never losing his confidence in the power of the gospel.  Often when the presiding elders shut him down, he would just go to campmeeting and keep on preaching.  On night, H. C. Morrison was in Baltimore, Maryland.  He was around 41 years old at the time.  He had a confirmed invitation to preach in some of the largest churches in Baltimore and only after he arrived did he find out that it had been shut down.  He was too enthusiastic for this modernistic wave which was sweeping the country.  Too much talk on holiness and sanctification.  But there were no campmeetings at that time of year in Maryland, so Morrison had no place to preach.  Until a young minister approached him and said, brother Morrison, I have just a small little church, but we would love to have you come and preach. The presiding elder can’t do anything to me because I’m already on the bottom rung.  So Morrison agreed and he preach to a handful of people in Baltimore that night.  When he had the altar call a young 14 year old boy came down to the altar.  Morrison went down and knelt down next to him and said, “young man, what’s your name?”  He said, E. Stanley Jones.  God always honors His Word!  Asbury still believes that greatest hope for the revitalization of the church of Jesus Christ is through faithfulness to God’s Word whether your preaching to 5 or 5000.

So, as the eighth President of Asbury Theological Seminary, I see myself not as the source of some new mission, or some odd new tangent.  Rather, I see myself as the recipient of a great mission and heritage to which I have been called to serve.  Brothers and sisters, don’t you just feel in every fiber of your being that Asbury’s greatest days are still before us?  We know that because, in the words of Adoniram Judson, that great American missionary, “the future is as bright as the promises of God.”  Amen.


[1] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1963), 394.   For a fuller treatment of this theme, see Paul Tillich, Kairos:  Zur Geisteslage und Geisteswendung (Darmstadt:  Otto Reichl Verlag, 926).

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