In 1923 the Lord used Henry Clay Morrison to establish a school committed to spreading scriptural holiness throughout the world. From the outset it was clear that Asbury was not birthed to become merely another institution of higher learning that would grace the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Nor was Asbury established to be only a graduate theological institution, as noble of an endeavor as that may be. It was clear from the beginning that Asbury Theological Seminary was the birthing of a great Wesleyan vision. From our humble beginnings we were always enlivened by a mission that could not be completely captured by the word “education” alone. We were committed to sending forth Spirit-filled and sanctified men and women to the ends of the earth. We were both academy and church… we were both steeple and scroll… we were sound learning and vital piety… we were head and heart… we were mind and will… we were reflective scholarship and active mission… Never as two separate things…but as one grand integrated vision.
This is why H. C. Morrison, with only three students and a great vision, set the founding motto of the seminary as “The whole Bible for the whole world.” Yes, Asbury is a grand Wesleyan vision. Asbury is a God-sized, globally focused, biblically based, Wesleyan inspired vision of academic training and formation in holiness which 90 years later has not lost its sense of purpose and vitality.
Praise the Lord!
If you know anything about the history of graduate theological education in North America this is, in itself, one of the greatest miracles of all. This is not to say that we have not had our share of dark moments and difficult trials. But, even our greatest trials were shaping our vision in and through the cross of Jesus Christ and showing us anew the power of redemptive suffering, the urgency of prayerful dependence, the vitality of godly scholarship, and doing all of this by growing more and more into the grace of a joyful, generous community of faith and learning.
Tonight we stand one decade from 2023 and the 100th anniversary of Asbury Theological Seminary. We have a great and decisive decade ahead of us. In the decade ahead we will discover new ways to declare that “the world is our parish” as we train men and women from the ends of the earth and as professors from across the world stand in these hallowed halls to teach our students. In the decade ahead, we will grapple more fully with the reality that we live in a world where information flows horizontally, not vertically. The internet has fundamentally changed the way information flows throughout the world, and seminaries are not exempt from these forces of change. Every denomination that requires the MDiv is in decline and the profile of the pool of potential students is in a rapid state of change. In the decade ahead we must grapple with the growing reality that North America is one of the fastest growing mission fields in the world, even as we are simultaneously experiencing an exponential growth in Hispanic and Chinese and Korean and a host of other new church movements right here in N. America.
All of this requires fresh initiatives in evangelism, church planting and leadership development not seen since the days of Francis Asbury. But, as President of Asbury Theological Seminary, I want to say to every person here tonight: Asbury Theological Seminary is up to the challenge. I ask you, can Asbury advance its founding mission even when the church is global and the world is flat? I ask you, can Asbury advance its founding mission in the world of Google, Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, iPads and YouTube? I ask you, can Asbury advance its founding mission even when the church in N. America has mostly lost its courage and the Devil is roaring? The answer is yes, because God is still on the throne! The answer is yes because God has not lifted His divine anointing from this institution. The answer is yes because the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes! The answer is yes because never before has the world been in greater need of scriptural holiness than the broken world we live in. The answer is yes because we have always believed that the even the greatest No of the world is swallowed up in the greater Yes of Jesus Christ. The answer is yes because, as John Wesley said in his dying words, “The best of all, God is with us! Amen.
[This address was delivered on May 20, 2013, by Timothy C. Tennent on the Kentucky campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of Asbury Theological Seminary.]