Asbury Theological Seminary
7th Convocation Address
Estes Chapel, September 08, 2015
Florida-Dunnam Campus, September 11, 2015
This academic year will mark the half way point between 2009 and 2023, which has been the goal of our strategic plan and why we called it the 2023 Strategic Plan. For our new students, you should know that in 2009, we embarked on a bold plan between 2009 and 2023 to position Asbury Seminary to face the peculiar challenges in our time and to help make Asbury the very best seminary it can be. Our aim is to be globally connected, missionally vibrant and biblically faithful. The year 2023 was chosen because that is the year we will celebrate our 100th anniversary as a school. We look back on our history and find countless examples of God’s faithfulness, which has led us to this point in our history.
When our founder H. C. Morrison boldly announced that he was going to start a seminary in 1923 to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world,” I can only stand in awe of his faith and his vision. From the outset, he set us on a path which was founded in the Wesleyan tradition, unequivocally rooted in historic, biblical orthodoxy, yet boldly yoked to a global vision. Although in 1923 the student body of Asbury only had three students, H. C. Morrison had the vision to establish the summarizing motto which still appears on our seminary seal: The whole Bible for the whole world. The two phrases of our motto summarized from the start what is the fundamental DNA of the seminary to the present day. I want to dedicate this address to exploring the meaning behind the phrase “the whole Bible for the whole world” which is reflected in the phrase of our mission statement, “to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.”
“The Whole Bible”
The phrase “the whole Bible” is a kind of summarizing short-hand phrase of the Wesleyan message. It is this part of the motto which roots us squarely in the Wesleyan tradition. The great swath of Christianity then, as well as now, particularly contemporary evangelicalism, tends to equate salvation with justification, thereby emphasizing only the first half of the gospel; namely, how a condemned sinner becomes declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we are clothed in an alien righteousness and we experience the forgiveness of sins. However, that message, as wonderful as it is, is only half of the gospel. There are huge implications if we reduce the gospel to that and peddle it as if that is the beginning and end of the Christian message.
Certainly the tepid respond to the gospel in the Western world can, in part, be attributed to the fact that our culture has not actually been given or shown the gospel, but only a small bit of it. It can appear extraordinarily thin and rote and not robust enough for the actual world we live in. It is justification without sanctification; it is individual conversion without ecclesiology; it is forgiveness without holiness; it is personal redemption from guilt without societal transformation of justice. In short, it is only half the gospel. The second half of the gospel is focused on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the glorious doctrine of sanctification and a global, missional vision. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are not just declared holy, but we actually become holy. The second half of the gospel unites us as one holy, catholic, apostolic church, all four of which are strangely absent from much of the populistic presentations of the “gospel.” The first half of the gospel without the second descends into cheap grace; the second half of the gospel without the first easily becomes mere humanitarianism.
So, in that short phrase, “the whole Bible” H. C. Morrison wanted to remind us of our commitment to embrace a fully Trinitarian doctrine of salvation which includes the Father’s work in prevenient grace, calling and wooing us to himself and revealing himself in General Revelation and universal grace. It includes the Son’s work in justifying us through His incarnation, His death on the cross, the harrowing of hell, His bodily resurrection and His ascension back to the right hand of the Father. It includes the Spirit’s work in transforming us into His likeness, making us holy and building the church of Jesus Christ, the community which embodies the new creation in the present age. Because much of evangelicalism is stuck in the first half of the gospel, discipleship has been turned, quite oddly, into “sin management” rather than “holy living.” We are so comfortable with the declaration of forgiveness and the grace which covers our sin. But, we have become quite thin when it comes to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to make us holy to be on joyful mission in the world.
Wesley called us to something more, toward which the phrase, “whole Bible,” pulls us. Wesley knew that Christians who have been justified but have not yet been filled with the Spirit—Christians who have been forgiven but have not experienced a second work of grace—will always live under the pull of the gravity of sin. Wesley calls us to live under the gravity of holy-love.
He called it entire sanctification, not meaning that we cease from sin, but that our heart has been re-oriented toward love. This means that we become missional. We are not focused on ourselves and our own sin management. We are focused on the redemption of the world though word and deed. We get caught up in a global vision: the missional life and witness of the church of Jesus Christ around the world.
“The Whole World”
This is where the second part of the phrase becomes the natural outgrowth of the sanctified life: “the whole world.” The whole Bible FOR the whole world. We are not saved for ourselves, but for the world. It thrusts us into the world. It ignites us to evangelism, wholeness, missional living and church planting.
You see the two phrases express both the particularity and the universality of the gospel. The first phrase is the gift of the Wesleyan movement to the church as a whole. This is our song. We are not the only ones who sing it. But we were the first in the post-Reformation period to sing it well. The phrase, “the whole world,” reflects the universality of the gospel. Any gospel which does not compel us to go to the ends of the earth is not good news. This was always the original trajectory: “In your seed, all nations shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).