Every year I give a brief charge to our graduates as a part of the graduation ceremony. Here is the charge I gave this year.
The core mission of Asbury Theological Seminary is to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world” and we do that primarily through training men and women such as yourself. You are the priceless seed we sow into the world. All of you are moving into some form of Christian leadership. It is, therefore, vital for you to remember the larger mission of which you are part; namely, the full recovery of biblical Christianity. You are the vanguard of those who are committed to the restoration of the Christian message which has, in its long sojourn within Christendom, become domesticated and powerless. That is the founding mission of Asbury Theological Seminary summarized by that phrase, “the whole Bible for the whole world.” Therefore, I charge you, class of 2019, to resist all the enormous pressures which will be exerted upon you to minimalize the full demands of the gospel and the cost of discipleship by the contemporary church which seems to have an endless appetite for cultural accommodation to an increasingly non-Christian culture. We have been pushed to the point that we find ourselves at every turn effectively asking the question, “What is the least one has to do to become a Christian.” That impulse must be opposed at every turn. We must resist Christian minimalism. We must resist those who want to boil the entire glorious gospel down to a single phrase, a simple emotive transaction, or some silly slogan. It is time for, you, a new generation of Christians, to envision a more robust apostolic faith, and to declare this minimalistic, reductionistic Christianity a failed project! It is wrong to try to get as many people as possible, to acknowledge as superficially as allowable, a gospel which is theologically unsustainable. We need to be reminded of the words of Søren Kierkegaard, in his Attack Upon Christendom, where he declared, “Christianity is the profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon us, calculated on the most dreadful scale to collide with everything.”
Class of 2019, my dear brothers and sisters, I charge you to insert God’s rule and reign into the whole of life. The gospel must be embodied in a redeemed community and touch the whole of life. That is why the Wesley brothers set up class meetings, fed the poor, wrote books on physics, gave preachers a series of canonical sermons, catechized the young, preached at the brick yards, promoted prison reform, rode 250,000 miles on horseback, preached 40,000 sermons, superintended orphanages, were avid abolitionists, and wrote theologically laden hymns for the church, etc. You see, they were capturing every sphere with the gospel. If Wesley teaches us anything, it is that salvation is not something which is merely announced to us, it is something which God works in us. As Patrick Reardon has put it, “the forceful intrusion of his holiness into our history” – with implications profoundly personal, as well as societal.
Brothers and sisters, my charge for you is to capture a fresh vision for this more biblical, robust faith. The gospel is not about allowing God to play a small role in our drama. No, the gospel is becoming swept up into His great drama. It is about our dying to self, taking up the cross, and being swept up into this great unfolding story. We are all moving towards and being summed by Christ himself to that great day when the strong man is finally disarmed for good, the lepers are cleansed, all lost sons have come home, the great debt is wiped out, the door of the Father’s house is flung open wide, the lost sheep are all found, the poor and the beggars are seated at the great Banquet, the disenfranchised workers have been paid their full wages, the lost coin has been found, the pearl of grace price has been unearthed, the church, the bride of Christ has been made spotless. The acceptable year of God’s favor has finally come! This is the restorative vision to which Christ summons us – nothing less than the full recovery of biblical Christianity. Amen.