February 17, 2009

Asbury Announces New President

The Board of Trustees announced today that Dr. Timothy Tennent would be the next president of Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Tennent has been a professor of world missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I found myself quite encouraged and hopeful after the initial announcement. Gordon-Conwell is known for both its evangelical commitments and its academic excellence. The election of Dr. Tennent by the Trustees certainly indicates that they intend to keep Asbury on a theologically conservative evangelical trajectory. I've copied the press release from the seminary below.

ASBURY SEMINARY ELECTS NEW PRESIDENT
WILMORE, Ky. (Feb. 17, 2009) – Timothy Craig Tennent, Ph.D., of Ipswich, Mass., has been elected the eighth president of Asbury Theological Seminary by the Board of Trustees. Asbury Theological Seminary, a private graduate school in the Wesleyan tradition with an enrollment of more than 1600 students, offers master’s and doctorate degrees in theology, biblical studies, missions and ministry studies.

Tennent, 49, comes to Asbury Seminary from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., where he has served as professor of world missions and Indian studies since 1998.

Dr. Dan Johnson, chairman of the Board of Trustees stated, “The board is very excited about the unanimous election of Dr. Tennent. Dr. Tennent is a scholar’s scholar, a professor’s professor. He is a world Christian with world vision who will take Asbury Seminary into wonderful new arenas.”

“I am honored to have been selected to be president of Asbury Theological Seminary,” Tennent says. “We are delighted to be moving to the historic and beautiful garden area of central Kentucky. My wife, Julie, and I have always said that wherever God sends us, we will go. God has taken us to China, India, Nigeria and many beautiful churches in the southern United States and in New England. Now we have the great opportunity to help Asbury work with a global constituency and play a stronger role in preparing ministers from around the world for God’s work around the world.”

Tennent received his M.Div. in 1984 from Gordon-Conwell; the Th.M. in ecumenics, with a focus on Islam from Princeton Theological Seminary; and did graduate work in linguistics (TESL) at the University of Georgia. He completed his Ph.D. in non-western Christianity with a focus on Hinduism and Indian Christianity in 1998 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
He is also one of the first four graduates from a new leadership development program funded by the Lilly Foundation and developed by the Lexington Seminar.

The leadership training program “covered innovation in everything from theological practice, shared governance, fundraising, negotiating personal dynamics in education to working with boards,” Tennent says. “During the three-year program, I met with dozens of deans and many presidents from schools across the theological spectrum, and learned a great deal about many of the unique challenges that we are facing today.”

Tennent is passionate about classical, orthodox theological education. “I am alarmed by the growing trend away from serious theological reflection and do not believe that the church will be adequately prepared to face the challenges of pluralism and post-modernism without a more robust theological preparation,” he says. “I am also passionate about the emergence of the Majority World Church. I believe that the Western church continues to have an important role in global missions, in partnership with the increasingly vibrant Majority World Church.”

About Asbury Theological Seminary:Asbury Seminary is a Christ-centered graduate school in the Wesleyan holiness tradition. Our faculty, staff, and students come from a variety of denominations and cultures and we offer a number of degree options in three campus locations — Kentucky, Florida and Virtual. We believe each person has a purpose. We are a community called… For more information, please visit asburyseminary.edu.

February 14, 2009

Falling Away in Galatians Five

"You have been cut off from Christ, you who would be justified by the law, you have fallen from grace." Galatians 5:4

Some of Paul's most severe language is found in his letter to the Galatians. This letter is also the place where some of his clearest language on perseverance and falling away can be found. This verse from chapter 5 is one of those places. To say that one has been cut off from Christ implies that one is joined to Christ in the first place. The Galatian Christians, having been justified by grace, joined to Christ, and received the Spirit, are now trying to maintain their standing with God on the basis of Torah observance. Instead of moving forward in salvation history as God has designed, they are seeking to move back to a previous covenantal administration which is a denial of the gospel of Christ. The point is that Paul is dealing with those who have the Spirit (Gal 3:3) and have been joined to Christ, and yet he sees it as a real possibility that they could be cut off from Christ and lose their justification. Paul does not see them as being without hope; that's why he wrote the letter. He is quite clear, though, that despite being joined to Christ, their final perseverance is in jeopardy.

Church Based Theological Training

Here is a link to an article by Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, AL and my father-in-law. The article is called "Look, It's the Church's Job" and makes a case for seminary education housed in the local church. Church based seminary provides ministerial students with both academic and practical education. This is really the way it ought to be done!

Arminian Theology and Open Theism

Open Theism is a school of thought which believes that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. Their view comes about after attempts to reconcile human freedom and divine foreknowledge. Open Theists reject that these two concepts are reconcilable and ultimately reject the idea that God does indeed have exhaustive foreknowledge. If the future has truly undetermined and uncaused decisions and actions, they say, then God cannot fully know the future because much of it is not available to be known. They claim that God has decided to limit his knowledge of the future in order to maintain human freedom as a necessary quality of a meaningful relationship. Some have argued that this view is a necessary implication and a logical development of Arminian theology, and those who have made a move towards openness theology are usually from the Arminian tradition. This is unfortunate, though, because Classical Arminian theology has historically affirmed God's exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. This post will look at two weighty historical sources to show that Open Theism constitutes not a development but a denial of Classical Arminian thought.

Our first source is James Arminius himself. While expounding his understanding of the divine decrees in his "Declaration of Sentiments" , Arminius said, "To these succeeds the FOURTH decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing [prevenient] grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere...and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise know those who would not believe and persevere" (quoted in R. Olson, Arminian Theology, 184).

It should be clear here that Arminius, far from rejecting the foreknowledge of God, grounded his understanding of predestination and election in the fact of God's foreknowledge. Arminius understood God to be able to look into the future to see who would respond to his grace both in justification and perseverance. God then determined to save those whom he foreknew would respond to his grace by faith. Those who would be faithful to Arminius' thinking must affirm God's foreknowledge as the ground of God's predetermination.

Our second historical source is, perhaps, the most famous and well-known Arminian second only to Arminius himself - John Wesley. In his sermon "On Predestination," Wesley argued that the foreknowledge of God is the first point to be addressed in considering God's whole work in salvation." Wesley said that, "God foreknew those in every nation who would believe," and that, "In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation" (Works, VI.226-7). Wesley saw no conflict between human moral freedom and divine foreknowledge. He affirmed that though God knew the future, he did not determine it. Wesley believed that we must not think that things are because God knows them; rather, God knows them because they are (Works, VI.227). Like Arminius, Wesley saw God's divine foreknowledge as the ground of his predetermination to save those who believe and damn those who do not believe.

Both Arminius and Wesley held this view of God's foreknowledge as the basis of his predetermination because they found it in Scripture. In Romans 8:29, it is precisely those who God foreknows that he determines to justify and finally glorify. Arminius and Wesley faithfully affirmed the foreknowledge of God and its place in salvation because of their faithfulness to Scripture.

It should be clear then that Open Theism cannot be a development of Arminian theology. Classical Arminians cannot reject God's foreknowledge because it is a central aspect of Arminius' own thinking not to mention that of Wesley. Further, Classical Arminians cannot reject God's foreknowledge because divine foreknowledge is the scripturally taught foundation of God's predetermination. Rather than say they are developing Arminian theology, Open Theists should have the integrity to say they are making a departure from the founding teachings of Arminianism. Open Theism is a denial not a development of historic Arminian theology.