Psalm 87: Anomalous or Apostolic

Psalm 87 (see below) may strike a first time reader as an odd psalm. Why would an entire psalm be dedicated to people from various forgotten nations like Rhab (a name for Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush? Furthermore, why would they be found boasting that they were “born in Zion” as declared in verses 4, 5 and 6 of the Psalm?

We must understand that these nations represent the enemies of Israel. It is an early declaration that God’s global purposes will someday include “every tribe, language and nation” (Rev. 7:9). In one stroke the seven verses of this single Psalm demolish the widely held notion that the Old Testament is only about Israel or that the people of God in those days had a very narrow, parochial view of God’s wider redemptive purposes and that we must patiently wait for the New Testament to show us God’s deeper plan. God’s global purpose is revealed from the beginning of the covenant in Genesis 12:3 when he promises to “bless all nations.”

Zion here is symbolic of what it means to be counted among those embraced by the covenantal, redemptive love of God! He is the fountain of life for all nations and all people. This is why, we sing, even now, with the nations of the world that “all my fountains are in You!” (vs. 7). What would happen if next Sunday your church were to praise God for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan and Chechnya – because God has redemptive plans for all the peoples of the world!

1 He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
2 The Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.
3 Glorious things are said of you,
city of God:
4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon
among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High himself will establish her.”
6 The Lord will write in the register of the peoples:
“This one was born in Zion.”
7 As they make music they will sing,
“All my fountains are in you.”

The Latino and Hispanic Voice in Global Christianity

This past weekend was the dedication of the Justo Gonzalez Center at Asbury Theological Seminary (Orlando). For those who may not know, Justo Gonzalez is the author of the multi-volume, A Story of Christianity, the premier survey of church history from a Latin American author. I read his church history volumes first in 1981, thirty years ago, as a young student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I studied church history under Dr. Nigel Kerr who was not only a wonderful scholar, but a missionary from Latin America who first opened my eyes to the amazing vibrancy of the Latin American church. These were the days when Gestavo Gutierrez published his landmark book, A Theology of Liberation (still in print today!). The mainstream evangelical world in N. America didn’t like it, mostly because it exposed how much we had domesticated the gospel in North America. Of course, looking back, liberation theologians had to learn the lesson that liberation and justice themes are better built on Biblical than Marxist grounds. Nevertheless, I learned to see the Bible differently – and church history differently because of Gonzalez and Gutierrez.

Nigel Kerr at Gordon-Conwell told us not to write the Latin Americans off, but to listen carefully to them. He said, “Just wait, because in thirty years they are going to be the leaders of the next generation of the church.” I never forgot that. It is now thirty years later, and the Latin American voice is rising – 50 million in the USA alone, not to mention the explosion of Pentecostal Christianity in Latin America, finally breaking the shackles of Christendom. It was in Nigel Kerr’s class that I first read Gonzalez’ church history volumes. Gonzalez, born in Cuba, was the youngest graduate to earn a PhD from Yale University and has over the decades been one of the most potent voices encouraging the development of Latino scholarship and helping Latinos to find their theological and ecclesiological voices. This would include Asbury’s own church historian, Zaida Perez, who serves on the Orlando campus and is the dean of our School of Urban Ministries.

Asbury worked hard to bring Justo Gonzalez into a relationship with Asbury, provide a research center and, in general, create a bridge between Asbury and the Hispanic world. This past week Dr. Gonzalez came to Asbury and hosted over a hundred Christian leaders from all over the world. At the ribbon cutting and conference we celebrated this new partnership. Major figures in the Western academy were there such as Dan Aleshire, President of the Association of Theological Schools and Michael Gilligan, President of the Luce Foundation, as well as major Hispanic leaders such as Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Jesse Miranda, Stan Perea, Alvin Padilla, as well as, of course, Justo Gonzalez himself. Delegates from our sister seminaries arrived as well as leaders with decades of experience serving in Latin America such as Chuck Van Engen from Fuller Seminary and Leeland Eliason from Bethel. I could go on, but it was a major step forward for Asbury Seminary. From across the nation many eyes turned to Asbury Seminary and they are seeing that we are stepping up to the plate saying, yes, we know that there are 50 million Hispanics in the United States. Yes, we know that they are the fastest growing demographic in N. America. Yes, we know that they are leading some of the most rapidly growing congregations and communities in America. Yes, we are here to serve, to partner and to explore together how we can best equip, train and learn from this dynamic sector of the Church.

Thirty years ago Nigel Kerr told me to keep my eyes open and my ears attentive to what God was doing among Hispanic believers. Now, we all see what he saw. Thanks be to God!

Timothy C. Tennent 2011

A Lesson in Leadership: The Passing of David Barrett

For decades we have all read in books, magazines, and websites all of the amazing statistics about the growth of global Christianity. We hear about the millions of new Chinese Christians, or the explosive growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, or the remarkable church planting movements taking place in Latin America. Have you ever wondered where they get all of these amazing statistics? Who has time to count the Christians in China?  Are the Christians in China even countable? Well, the man behind all of these statistics is Dr. David Barrett, who passed away yesterday (Aug. 4). I can say that I had the privilege of knowing David Barrett. He was truly a genius and a master of statistical analysis. He understood demographics and the significance of growth trends for the church. Twenty years before Philip Jenkins made the global shift in Christianity popular through his book, The Next Christendom, David Barrett was quietly documenting the shift through painstaking research.

However, I am writing this blog to do more than mourn the passing of David Barrett. He was a wonderful, congenial, brilliant man. But, he was more;  he was a leader. He possessed a specialized knowledge in an area where he had no real peer. No one brought together his level of statistical expertise, with his profound knowledge of global Christian demographics. No one had the research materials he had collected over decades. But, he understood that a great leader does not try to consolidate his or her power, but raises up others to carry on the work. In other words, the mission is greater than the founder of the mission. It is quite rare – very rare – to discover leaders who deeply understand this principle of leadership. David Barrett understood it. During all of the years he developed his research and methodology, he was training up a younger successor, Dr. Todd Johnson. Today, even with the passing of David Barrett, the work of statistics and global demographics of the World Christian movement continues under the leadership of Todd Johnson. I also know Todd well. Todd is just like David. Todd has a small circle of young demographers who he is mentoring and training. For twenty years I have opened up the International Journal of Missionary Research, or the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia or World Christian Trends and read statistics about global Christianity. I do not have any doubt that I will be able to do that twenty years from now. The reason is leadership. David, we will miss you greatly. I feel the loss of your passing. But, I see you in Todd Johnson. I see Todd Johnson in the faces of younger leaders. Thank you for your leadership. Well done, thou good and faithful servant. The mission continues.

Global Vision: Why I am a Methodist and an Evangelical

The eighth reason I am a Methodist is because of Wesley’s early appreciation for the possibility of what we know today as “global Christianity.” Few have given proper recognition that Wesley is one of the leading forerunners of conceptualizing the church in its full global, rather than sectarian, dimensions. In the post-Aldersgate period, Wesley’s preaching became so controversial that he was barred from preaching in the pulpits of the Church of England. Since he continued to preach in the open fields, he was charged with “trespassing” on the parishes of other ministers. He replied to this charge in a letter written in March of 1739 with what has become the most famous quote of Wesley, “the world is my parish.” In the letter he says, “I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right and my bounden duty to declare, unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.”1

It is difficult for modern-day Christians to fully comprehend the radical nature of this statement. However, the territorial conceptions, as noted earlier, were so strong that it was considered heresy to preach the gospel to those outside your parish. These territorial conceptions were one of the biggest barriers to the emergence of the Protestant missionary movement. In contrast, Wesley was ahead of his time in first conceptualizing the church in its full global dimensions and only secondarily in its particularity as, for example, Methodist Christians. Wesley asked why he should not preach the gospel in “Europe, Asia, Africa or America” for, with the Apostle Paul, he declared, “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16-19). Wesley declared that he was prepared “to go to Abyssinia or China, or whithersoever it shall please God by this conviction to call me.”2  In today’s “post-parish” world we sometimes have a difficult time recognizing what a radical ecclesiology is embedded in this vision. Wesley seemed to understand that the church of Jesus Christ is indestructible, since Christ is the Lord of the Church and has promised to build his church. However, the indestructibility of the church is not tied to any particular institutional or geographic manifestation of it. With the dramatic rise of Christians from the Majority World, many of whom do not trace their history to the Reformation, there is a need to discover a deeper ecumenism which can unite all true Christians. Wesley anticipated the future multi-cultural diversity of the church and the common experience of rebirth from above, which unites all Christians of every age.

1  Frank Baker, ed., The Works of John Wesley, vol. 25, Letters I, 1721-1739 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 616.

2 Ibid., 615.

Global Partnerships at Asbury Theological Seminary by Timothy C. Tennent

May 12th was an amazing day at Asbury Theological Seminary.  We had the privilege of hosting Vice Chancellor Douglas Carew and Provost William Udotong on our Wilmore campus.  Dr. Carew is the senior leader of Africa International University in Kenya and Dr. Udotong is the senior leader of the West Africa Theological Seminary in Nigeria.  This is the beginning of some vital partnerships for Asbury as we truly engage in the globalization of theological education.  I thought I would share with you the remarks I delivered at the formal signing ceremony.

REMARKS AT THE SIGNING OF THE MOU WITH NEGST/AIU and WATS

May 12, 2011

The Lausanne movement has popularized the phrase, “the whole church, bringing the whole gospel, to the whole world.”  It is a way of capturing a movement of mission from a “West Reaches the Rest” paradigm to a paradigm which is truly rooted in the missio dei, namely, God orchestrating his work through his church in his world.  Mission has never really been about tasks which the church does, but about God’s redemptive work in the world.  None of us possess the resources or ingenuity or strategic insight sufficient for the unfolding of God’s great meta-narrative.  Indeed, God’s work is often filled with surprises which come from unexpected quarters.

Today, we are honored to join in partnership under the great banner of the missio dei with two exemplary institutions, the West Africa Theological Seminary (WATS) in Lagos, Nigeria and African International University, formerly known as NEGST, Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology.  We do not regard this signing today as the end of anything.  Rather, it is the beginning of a relationship founded on a shared vision and a desire to serve Christ in the world.  Partnerships are never simply organizations or schools doing tasks for the other or cooperating on this or that initiative.  Partnerships imply a deeper re-ordering of relationships based on mutual trust, respect for the identity of the other, and shared mission.  It is an expression of genuine Christian hospitality which will flourish as we grow to know, love and trust one another.       We began our first formal global partnerships with our brothers and sisters in Africa for three reasons.  First, it is a way of our demonstrating our profound respect and appreciation for God’s work on the continent in the last century.  Africa was once known in popular literature as the “dark continent” and the “white man’s graveyard.”  Today, Africa is the continent of light and the home of the fastest growing church in the world.  There is no greater need in Africa today than the faithful equipping of a whole new generation of African leaders.  These two institutions stand at the forefront of this great challenge and we are honored to stand with them.

Second, these institutions do not come to us today as strangers, but as friends.  We already have long and abiding ties with these two institutions.  Dr. Mark Royster, our Presidential Envoy for Global Partnerships taught at NEGST for a decade and Dr. Jim Miller, our Associate Professor of Inductive Bible Study and New Testament taught at NEGST for four years and served as their Dean of Doctoral Programs.  Dr. William Udotong, the newly installed Provost of WATS, graduated in May of 2010 with a PhD in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary.  Julie and I had the privilege of spending a day with Vice Chancellor Douglas Carew on the campus of AIU in Nairobi and I have a long standing relationship with Nigeria.  Thus, we already have a deep and growing relationship.  Third, we in the West desperately need the biblical vision, the vigorous commitment to church planting, and the deep connection between personal and social holiness which is so evident in the African church.  We truly believe that God is using Africa to enable the West to re-discover Apostolic Christianity as a faith beyond the Western forms of it.

I want to conclude with the same hopeful prayer that Vice Chancellor Carew uttered on the day that NEGST formally received the status to become Africa International University.  He used the words of Charles Wesley, as I will,

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill,

In all my works, Thy presence find, And prove Thy good and perfect will.

The Suffering and Advancing Church: A Look at Matthew 11:12

NASB: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.”

NIV: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”

Is the Kingdom of heaven suffering violence under the hands of those who wish to destroy it, or is it forcefully advancing, extending the claims of Christ’s Lordship into a lost world?

The word translated by NASB as “suffers violence” and by NIV as “has been forcefully advancing” is the word BIAZOMAI – it can be equally translated as passive voice, i.e. what is being done to the church or middle voice, what the church is doing.   There is no way to decide, thus two translations come down differently.

Is the church of Jesus Christ gloriously advancing into the world, or are we defensively just holding on until Jesus returns against the onslaught of the world, the flesh and the devil.  Are we “suffering violence” or are we “forcefully advancing”?  Or, perhaps, is the duplicity actually the whole point, that the church is experiencing both at the same time.

A similar tension is found in Matthew 16:17-19 at Caesarea Phillipi –  in Jesus’ response to Peter’s famous declaration:  You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus calls Peter blessed and in verse 18 says, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” – We have spent so much time as a church analyzing the first part of the phrase “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” – often neglect the latter part – which is quite fascinating.  Jesus says to Peter about the church, “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” – it can equally be translated “the gates of Hades will not prove stronger than it” – and there are again.  Is the expression “gates of Hades” a metaphor for the powers of Hell which are attacking the church and the church prevails even against the onslaught of the hell itself.  Or, is it the Church of Jesus Christ which is forcefully advancing against the gates of hell, and the gates of Hell cannot withstand the onslaught of the church as it forcefully advances Christ’s claims into the world.

Suffering violence or forcefully advancing?

Advancing powers of Hell not overcoming the church  or  Powerful advance of the church which prevails against the very gates of Hell itself?

Once again Jesus leaves it somewhat ambiguous.

It happens again in the 24th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is questioned by his disciples about the end of time.  They ask him “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  Jesus begins in verse 4 with a long litany of terrible things that will happen to the church.  The church in Matthew 24:4:13 is a picture of a church “suffering violence” – The onslaught of the enemy is vividly portrayed and graphically described.  There will be wars and rumors of wars, nation rising up against nation, kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  Many will turn away from the faith,  and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  There will be an increase in wickedness and the love of most will grow cold.  This is the picture of a church “suffering violence” against the onslaught of the enemy, it is a church which is holding on against the advancing powers of Hades – verse 13 seems to be the concluding comment by Jesus which confirms this defensive posture when he says, “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” – it sounds like we’re just going to hold on.

Then Jesus utters what is the most remarkable verse in the whole passage, especially if it is read in the context of this litany of the world’s advances against the church – persecutions, people being put to death, others turning away from the faith and so forth… suddenly, like a light bursting forth into a dark room Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Jesus, in effect is saying, that even while the world and all the host of Satanic darkness is making their most forceful advance against the church – even while it seems as if the church is on the defensive.. even though to the un-spiritual eye the church can, at best, just hold on and wait out the storm of ever increasing darkness – even then, at that moment, like leaven working in the loaf, like seed silently growing under the surface of the soil, like a woman in darkness searching for a lost coin, or an impoverished man plowing in the hard, unyielding soil only to discover his greatest treasure – so we see that God’s triumphant, victorious advance into the world happens right when things seem to be at their worst.  At the moment the host of darkness makes its most powerful assault…. At the moment the kingdom seems to be suffering the worst violence the world has to offer. It is then that the Lord makes His move, overturning his foes and demonstrating the prevailing power of the gospel.  This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations!

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.  After all, isn’t this what God did at Calvary?  As the beautiful Easter hymn declares, “The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed”.  As Jesus hung upon the cross of Calvary, the powers of death had done their worst.  Darkness, it seemed, had prevailed.  The Son of God, God’s gracious gift to the world had been cruelly nailed to a rugged cross.  Who would believe that at that very moment when it seemed as if darkness had triumphed – at that very moment when the powers of hell had so surely secured their victory – at that very hour of darkness – a great light was bursting forth onto the world.  In the very act of our greatest rejection of God, it turns out, in fact, to be God’s greatest embrace of us.  Nailing Jesus to the cross was our great “No” to God -shaking our closed fist in the very face of God.   It is our way of saying “God, we don’t want you in our lives or in our world” – Yet, our great “NO” and closed fist in the face of God, becomes in the mystery of the cross, His great “Yes” to us and His open hand extended to you and to me.  Our greatest act of rejecting God, becomes at that very moment simultaneously His greatest embrace of us.  In the cross, our greatest act of alienation, becomes His great act of reconciliation.  As the Scripture says of that hour, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting against us our trespasses, but nailing them to the cross.”   Man’s worst hour, nailing God to a cross; becomes God’s greatest hour, nailing our sins there.  The ugliest, darkest, most revolting symbol of humanity – a cross used for crucifying men – symbol of hate and torture,- becomes the greatest symbol of love and light.  You see, this is the way God is. Death itself is swallowed up in His victory, how much more so all the other lesser trials of life.  The last seven words the world ever spoke to Jesus were spoken in a mockery of smug triumphalism – those last seven words the world ever spoke to Jesus:  He Saved Others, He Cannot Save Himself.  But never forget that it is God who has the last word – and three days later, it was He who announced the first seven words of resurrection morning:  HE IS NOT HERE, HE IS RISEN!  God will not be outflanked. He didn’t just work up to that at Calvary, this is the way God is.

God faces that which is worst in us and in this world and transforms it into a testimony of His grace.  The Apostle Paul calls himself the Worst of Sinners, but by God’s grace He, of all people, becomes the Greatest of God’s Apostles.   Paul’s greatest act of defiance and rebellion was when he set out down the road to Damascus to vent the venom of his hatred against the Church of Jesus Christ.  Yet, it was on that road, that road which would gone down in infamy as the road of death and destruction for God’s people, but instead became the place where God met him and said I will show you how  much you must suffer for my sake, as you forcefully advance the gospel.  You see, this is the way God is.

It was when Patrick finally escaped from years of Irish slavery and finally made it back to his home in England that God spoke to him and said, Patrick I’m sending you back to Ireland, back to where you were enslaved  – but this time, not as a slave, but as my Apostle.  This land which you have cursed will be land that you will love for the sake of the gospel…. If time permitted, I would love to take you on a trip down through the chapters of this great story called the Church of Jesus Christ!

My brothers and sisters, I want you to know that God is in the midst of what seems like an ever encroaching spiritual darkness, secular humanism, post-modern cynicism,  all of which shrouds our lives and like a deep fog seems to encroach upon us and seep into every open crack.   At times when the church is suffering violence… and it seems as if the church can no longer prevail against the onslaught of evil..  You should be aware that even as we speak this morning, God is moving in the world today in ways which are absolutely unprecedented in the history of Christianity.

Prior to the morning of June 6, 1944 – the famous D-Day – It appeared that Hitler would be triumphant  – He seemed invincible as he swept through Europe, drinking champagne in Paris as German bombs continued to rain upon London, but underneath the early morning fog of June 6th something else was underway – while Hitler was off celebrating his birthday, the Allies were quietly launching the decisive attack.

Likewise, underneath the fog of this world, many are unaware of God’s work in the world.  This gospel of the kingdom is being preached and sent forth to all nations in a way unprecedented in the history of the church.

In China, in 1949 there were only 1.5 million Christians in China.  Despite remarkable persecution – which continues to the present day – darkness has set its face against Chinese Christianity… but, once again, the blood of the martyrs has become the seed of the church.  Today, there are well over 35 million Chinese Christians.  I was teaching in China the summer of 1993.  I had the privilege not only to lead several new Chinese to Christ and to baptize one in the Yangtzee river, but to meet many Christians who are determined to give their lives to extend the message of Christ into China – and to do it, even in the midst of growing darkness and government hostility.  The powers of hell hath done their worst, but Christ their legions still doth disperse.

In India, beginning in 1973 the Indian government refused to grant any new visas to Western missionaries.  The number of foreign workers dropped from over 12,000 down to less than 200 today.  But for every missionary that was forced to leave India, God has raised up not one, but two Indians who have given themselves to full time Christian expansion to bring the gospel to the unreached peoples of India.  For ten years I have gone to India regularly to teach in a college which is dedicated to training young men to take the gospel and plant churches in unreached people groups of India.  I was just there last month, and how thrilled I was to hear the latest report.  The men trained at this school have now planted 103 churches in villages and cities of N. India – all 103 cities/towns and villages – all of which have never had a church in the history of the world.  God is moving.

Hebrews 11, the chapter of faith,  continues – If I only had time to tell you about Matthew Vargheese, and I.D. Suna and Lamuel Pattanick and Kuriokos and so many other Indian church planters that I know who have faced the worst darkness that Hinduism and the darkness of the world can throw their way, and they have planted the flag of the church in Indian soil.   Men of whom the world is nor worthy.  Praise be to God for His unspeakable gifts, most of which, like Jesus Himself on that dark night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, only silently emerge in the world.

In Africa on this day as well as every day this week 16,000 people will come to Christ every single day.  That is how quickly the church of Jesus Christ is growing in Africa.  South American, for centuries so solidly Catholic, has experienced in this century a growth of evangelism from 69 million to over a half a billion evangelicals.

Time does not permit to tell you of the remarkable things God is doing in the former Soviet Union – Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan – unbelievable, in E. Europe.  I know of one university that had a department of Atheism that is now the Department of Christian Studies.  I could go on and on.  But the point is – the church is forcefully advancing, even while many fall away, lose the faith, and their love grows cold.  The question becomes where are we in this great move of God in the world.  Are we going to participate in this great advance which is silently slipping across the world beneath the fog of so much else that catches the world’s attention.  Are you as a church going to continue to fulfill your God given mandate.  I trust as you prepare for your missions conference that the soil of your hearts will be prepared and you will be not spectators, but participants in what God is doing.

Is the kingdom forcefully advancing or suffering violence?  It is experiencing both, one to purge and to cleanse, one to equip and send forth.  May you be a part God’s great forceful advance into the world.