Robust Christianity

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

In reflecting on the responses to my blog the last four days, I thought it might be helpful for me to share a few of my own reactions.  My overwhelming response is gratefulness to God, to our students, various other responders and yes, indeed, to Rob Bell as well for stimulating such a healthy conversation.  Part of what made the Reformation such an amazing time in the history of the church is that it brought so many more people to the actual text of Scripture.  Today the collapse of Christendom coupled with the rise of the Majority World church is having the same effect.  New questions are being posed to the text in fresh ways.  If Rob Bell’s Love Wins forces us to become better readers of the Bible in order to articulate a cogent response, then the whole church benefits.

I am also reminded of the ongoing importance of theology in the church today.  Serious theological reflection has fallen on hard times in the world of twitter where everything must be reduced to 140 characters, simple slogans, sound bites, etc…  In a recent, very helpful  article in Christianity Today entitled The Leavers, Drew Dyck explored why young adults in their twenties are leaving the faith at “five to six times the historic rate.”  One of the themes Dyck discovered in his interviews with the children of evangelicals who had left the faith is how many young people who had serious questions about Christianity were met with youth leaders, pastors and parents who either did not know the answer or gave them some trite, shallow reply which sounded ridiculously forced and mechanical rather than thoughtful and persuasive.  Some parents and pastors even tried to hush up the questions or doubts completely.  Young people found that it was wrong to question, they were exhorted to “simply believe.”  Is it any wonder that many of those who left the faith departed because Christianity seemed to lack the kind of robust vitality they were searching for?  All of this genuine searching coincided with a massive movement across the country to invite kids to youth groups and give them pizza and movies, but was fairly light weight when it came to exploring the great truths of the Christian faith.

These are the days when Christians in the West have to recognize that we have largely propagated a domesticated caricature of Christianity rather than the real thing.  We need serious theological reflection, a keen knowledge of the Scripture, a profound engagement with the world, a willingness to really listen to the doubts and questions of those around us, and sacrificial acts of service and witness in every arena of life.   The day of entertainment driven, attractional models of Christian witness must give room to deeply missional discipleship models.   My favorite blog response was a lay person who wrote in and declared “don’t underestimate the laity.”   Brothers and sisters, one of the most profound mistakes we have made is the assumption that we must dumb down to this culture because all they are interested in is simplistic solutions and easy answers.  What an insult to this generation!  What I have found is a generation crying out for a deeper call to a genuine, robust, Apostolic Christianity.   The believing mind and heart must find an expression that is appropriate to the nature of revelation.   Think about it.


  • Teddy Ray says:

    Dr. Tennent,

    I’m glad you posted this summary and way forward. You mention the need to move to deeper discipleship and robust theology and away from entertainment-driven, attractional models of witness. Amen! It seems that these models have assumed that our real problems have to do with community, not faith. In a collapsing Christendom, have we emphasized the “community” in “community of faith” to the detriment of faith? What do you think about a return to catechism as a big step in the direction you’re suggesting?

  • I couldn’t resist adding a little postscript to my blog. Shortly after posting this blog I received an email from one our graduates who was teaching in a rural Appalachian parish in Tennessee. He taught on the Trinity and it, as he said, “caught this little church on fire.” As one lady in the church put it, “Nobody has ever taught us about the Trinity, those are shoutin’ words!” Good work, Asbury!! You’re making a difference! Don’t settle for anything less than the full, robust, Apostolic gospel – those are “shoutin’ words!”

  • Heidi Lynn says:

    I apperciate this follow up response to your thoughts on Rob Bell’s book. The reason I went to Asbury is because I knew I was missing a strong theological understanding of my faith and if I was to share my faith with others I need this understanding. However, my time at Asbury made me grieve the fact that I had to come to seminary to gain this understanding; that the church failed in teaching the basics. Keep up the great training that Asbury provides for it students.

  • Clay Knick says:

    That last sentence is a keeper. Thanks for this post and all of the others about Bell’s book.

  • Megan S. says:

    Thankful for you and our time with you at GCTS. Megan S. (for Justin, Henry 3, and Evie 9 months!)

  • Ron Krumpos says:

    In his new book “Love Wins” Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from “the greatest achievement in life,” my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote “In God we all meet.”

  • Mom2katandem says:

    I echo Heidi’s thoughts. In my very first class at Asbury, I recall thinking … Why did I have to come to seminary to learn this?

  • Steve Auld says:

    Thanks for your contributions Dr Tennent. I was trying to find a way to contact you for some research information. I was at the recent Farm conference where you mentioned that in todays world, Europe is the most unresponsive continent to the gospel. I wanted to know where you gathered your information in order to make this statement? I’m hoping to do a study on Ireland to gather information as to where it is in relation to responsiveness to the gospel etc. The Irish reached out to Europe once in history sending missionaries far and wide and if we could ignite a fire for that to happen again then may it happen by grace! I feel that Ireland could play an important role in the re reaching of Europe and I just wanted to see if I could get some help as I begin a little bit of a survey. Thanks.

  • Steve – The research about Europe and relative responsiveness and receptivity was done by Dr. Todd Johnson and his team from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell. It has been published in The Atlas of Global Christianity published by the University of Edinburgh in 2010.
    For a more popular overview, you should consult Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent

  • Bill Peddie says:

    Good to see a thoughtful and sensible reaction to Rob Bell. Given the typical knee-jerk reaction when questions are raised (eg I have been told in my blog that my questions will cause people to burn in hell!) I wonder therefore if a majority are ever going to be comfortable with people like Rob Bell. I cannot believe the number who insist that every word in the Bible is the word of God despite the obvious contradictions, examples of bad science, and downright outdated racist, bigotted, monocultural and homophobic sentiments, particularly in parts of the Old Testament.
    It must then raise serious questions as to what concepts of God are still valid given the state of knowledge today.

  • Kari Romero says:

    Dr. Tennent,
    Thank you for acknowledging the disconnect in modern children’s and youth ministry! After 11 years serving full-time in those areas I finally realized that the methods that are popular were not creating disciples. We have changed our entire approach to for young people by engaging them in thoughtful conversation about faith and allowing them to worshipnfor part of every service with the adults before going to kids church. We have 4 year olds now whose parents are amazed at how they are connecting scripture to life and processing questions of faith! We also match our curriculum to the sanctuary sermon each week from preschool to adults so families can all discuss the same passage and ideas.

    After taking your mission to Muslims course last fall, my husband and I took our sons to meet our new Muslim friends and visit the mosque. Our 9 year old had lots of questions for us but that experience has made his understanding of faith stronger because he already knows there are other religions and we can love our Muslim friends without conceding our Christian faith. You have made a huge impact in my life! Thank you.