My Charge to the Asbury Theological Seminary Graduating Class of 2018: Three Gospel PhrasesMay 23rd, 2018
Leslie Newbigin, in his classic book, Foolishness to the Greeks, speculated as to what would it mean if seminary students like you graduated and actually conceptualized the Western world as a mission field. He speculated what it would be like if the West was no longer the Christian center, but a culture in spiritual decline. How prepared are we, he mused, to send students out to people who believe matter is self-originating and self-organizing? What would it be like to send students out into a world where there is no assumption of a creator God, and an increasingly dim Christian memory? How prepared are we to send students into a world where morality is nothing more than shared societal conventions, and where truth is socially determined—or, as Newbigin put it, truth has been degraded from public facts, to private preferences?
Well, we no longer need to muse about what it might be like, because you are facing precisely that world. You enter a world not framed by the truths of revelation, but by the perceptions of social media. Graduates of 2018, welcome to the mission field. In this, we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters, many of whom are also here poised to graduate and who come from parts of the world long considered the mission field, but are now the new center of gravity of world Christianity. As a whole, Christianity is growing more dramatically around the world than at any time in our history. However, as Andrew Walls has long pointed out, it has always been true that the advance of the gospel in one part of the world often happens at the very time when the gospel is receding in another. This is part of the story of Christian history. The need for all our graduates is to learn how to do cultural exegesis and understand profoundly the world you are called to engage with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are three phrases which I want to briefly share with you which have long guided the church in the midst of troubled times. These three phrases reflect three great truths for every generation of Christians. These phrases represent foundation stones which can be used to, once again, re-present the gospel in an hour of crisis. The three phrases are, “He spoke,” “He breathed,” and “He entered.”
“He spoke” reminds us that God is the creator who spoke this world into existence. We know that God also speaks in His word, which is the great doctrine of revelation. We affirm the authority and power of the Word of God for a lost and fractured world. We believe in “He spoke.”
Second, “He breathed.” We believe that God has breathed his life into all of humanity. Every person on the planet is created in the image of God. We live in a world that is divided and conflicted, and the lines of hostility are drawn. But, the image of God is stamped on all of us. All people are objects of His love, His grace, and His redemptive actions. We are called to announce to the world the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Third, “He entered.” At the heart of the Christian gospel is that God so loved the world that He entered into it. In the incarnation He has stepped into this world. God’s entrance into the world is the great singularity which frames the whole of human history. We are the ambassadors of that good news.
He spoke, He breathed, He entered. There is enough good news in those three phrases to fuel your entire ministry. “He spoke” reminds us that the world is not without purpose and meaning, but is the result of divine design. “He breathed” brings dignity to the whole human race and reminds us that every person, if I can quote those timeless words of Augustine, “is restless until they find their rest in Him.” “He entered” brings us the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as the entrance of the Holy Spirit, and our anticipation of his coming again. These three foundational truths remind us why we came to seminary in the first place, and why we must leave this place, and get to work. God, through His grace, invites us—even us—to participate with Him in His redemption of the world. We go forth with joy, knowing that this is His work, and that there are no challenges or barriers, or bastions of unbelief, which can put this light out. Because the light shines in the darkness and has not put it out, for it is God himself who has spoken, has breathed, and has entered. Thanks be God. Amen.
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