Tag Archive: Theology


Tennent’s work could be summed up in this way: Talk to one another…Listen to each other…Learn from others.  In his systematic study of world Christianity Tennent examines Christianity’s major theological claims in light of non-Western thinking.  For example, he explores Christology in Africa, pneumatology in Latin America, and eschatology in China.            Tennent does this in order to demonstrate how these “growing edges” of Christianity may inform our Western religious thought.

Tennent’s Theology is a wonderful study on Christianity in non-Christian places.  It serves as a primer for Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other world religions.  The work sufficiently highlights many important questions for our time.  What do other religions believe about sacred texts?  How do they understand God?  Do all Christians share in the same mission?

The answers to such questions break through in Tennent’s systematic and accessible writing style.  His philosophical, historical, theological work is articulated carefully and faithfully.  The book requires the reader to take time to digest and appreciate its scope and thought.  Yet a careful reading of Tennent’s work, even if one may not agree with all of his conclusions, will yield a better understanding of the world’s cultural systems, and help us enter into conversations with those whom we may have been hesitant to engage.

How does Tennent help us Western Christians seeking a better understanding of mission and evangelism?  He calls into question our assumption that we in the West have all the answers.  He invites us to open our hearts and minds to God’s work around the globe.  We can’t study Christianity in isolation from the new contexts in which God is moving.  We must allow others teach, renew, and revitalize our theological thinking and faith.

For all the helpfulness of Tennent’s work, I question one of his driving assumptions.  He writes repeatedly of a dying Western Protestantism or fading glory days of Christianity.  Tennent seems to think the West is lost, spiraling to an irreversible end.  In contrast, the global South now possesses the only form of true, authentic faith.  He writes, “Southern Christianity is an evangelistic and reproducible faith.  While Western churches are looking increasingly like entertainment centers or politically correct corporations” (105).  While there is some truth to these claims, Tennent’s depiction of the trajectory of Western and Southern Christianity appears overly stated and hyperbolic.

In the end, however, Tennent opens the readers’ eyes to a wide array of faithful Christian expressions and theologies around the world.  Our ability to engage these thoughts and ideas will determine our fruitfulness and effective in Christians mission and evangelism.  As Tennent puts it, a “truly vibrant theology cannot exist in some hermetically sealed vacuum, blissfully ignorant of the real and different cultural and contextual challenges of our world” (193).

This is the final review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

Tennent concludes his book with a forward-looking prescription for theological discourse today.  Throughout his work he has maintained that there is much the West can learn from global Christianity.  In chapter 10 he outlines four significant ways in which the rise of the Majority World Church might help promote a renaissance in Western theological scholarship.

First, he argues for a reintegration of the theological disciplines.  He wishes for theological inquiry to hold together biblical, historical, exegetical, systematic, practical scholarship.  As he puts it, the emergence of culturally diverse, global church requires a comprehensive integration of all fields.  We must allow for a broad understanding of how theological and spiritual formation occurs in lives of believers.

Second, Tennent hopes for a renaissance in systematic theology.  He suggests that our systematic theologies be less concerned with producing a tidy, organized book, and more concerned with presenting a holistic praxis approach to theology.  Even more, our systematic theologies must include the experience of the Majority World Church, and have an eye towards mission.

Third, Tennent believes in the particularization of theological discourse.  We must recognize the local nature of all theology (265).  However, local theologians should talk with others around the world to produce a glocal theology (265).  A glocal theology is one that sufficiently holds in tension the local and global contexts and experiences of believers.

Fourth, Tennent posits that there must be theological engagement with ideologies of unbelief and with the Non-Christian religions.  As he argues, the church’s earliest theological formulations were forged during the rising tide of Christianity (Constantinianism).  Much internal Christian dialogue shared favor with the Empire.  The times have changed, however.  Now the “growing edge” of Christianity faces a different challenge.  Christianity exists in a world of rival ideologies and religions and we must be ready to talk, listen, and learn from others.

Tennent concludes his book in much the same way he presents the rest of it.  He offers systematic guidelines for how Westerners can participate in the global Christian dialogue in the years ahead.  At times Tennent falls short on the practical components of his thought.  Perhaps he trusts that the reader will undertake the task of contextualizing his thought for the reader’s own time and place.

This is the tenth review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

Islamic and Hindu Sacred Texts in Pre-Christian Past

In chapter three Tennent surveys the role of non-Christian sacred texts in relation to the Christian canon.  Specifically he asks, how do Christians with a Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu background regard the sacred texts in their pre-Christian past?  Tennent offers four ways the New Testament canon interacts with other sacred and/or authoritative texts:

1. OT and NT: For the Christian (or Jew) the interaction of the OT and NT is quite obvious.  Throughout the NT there are quotations and applications of the Hebrew Bible Law, Prophets, and Writings.  Tennent notes the Christocentric (NT) focus of OT passages such as: Ps. 2, 16.10, 110, and Isa. 53.

2. Noncanonical “Jesus Material” used in the canonical texts: Tennent also notes passages such as John 8, a story that is included in John’s gospel but not found in many of the earliest manuscripts of the gospel.

3. Noncanonical, Non-Christian texts in the NT: Tennent ponders the role of texts that contain no “Jesus material,” but are connected somehow with the NT.  For example, the letter of Jude contains a quote from 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses.  Also, Paul quotes Greek poets in Acts 17.16-34.  The use of these non-Christian texts in the Christian sacred texts raises the question: Should we quote the Quran or Upanishads when preaching to Muslims or Hindus?  To what extent do we adopt the “language ofthe audience” we seek to evangelize?

4. Biblical texts appearing in the canon of another religion: Finally, Tennent highlights that the Quran contains hundreds of biblical references (mostly OT) including: Noah, David and Bathsheba, Moses and Pharaoh, and Jesus being born without sin to the Virgin Mary.

How are we to navigate the non-Christian sacred/Christian sacred textual relationship?  Tennent suggests that Western Christians have gotten the relationship wrong for some time.  Liberal Christians, he claims, have drunk deeply at the well of relativism, while conservative Christians react defensively to the suggestion of any spiritual light outside of the Bible (68).  Instead, he argues that any non-Christian texts be checked for their Christological claims.  The result of such measuring means that any Jewish or Christian texts in the Quran are not to be spoken of as either inspired or revealed since they are devoid of Christological and ecclesial contexts (67).

Not satisfied witha mere suggestion, Tennent offers prescriptive guidelines for using nonbiblical sacred texts.  First, he suggests that the use of nonbiblical texts be limited to evangelistic outreach.  Second, the texts should only be used as a corroborative witness to a biblical message (not as independent testimony to biblical witness).  Finally, if we lift a nonbiblical text out of its original setting it should be clearly reoriented within a new Christocentric setting.  All inspired texts must ultimately bear witness to Christ (73).  Also, we should not use the texts liturgically.

While I find Tennent’s “guidelines” to be helpful, they seem somewhat artificial.  Are we to “score” a nonbiblical text and see if it carries enough points to be useful for our Christian mission?  Nevertheless, if we adhere to Tennent’s methodology I might add another guideline.  If we are to use a nonbiblical text (in a sermon, study, conversation, etc.) our usage may be most fruitful is our audience has some familiarity with cited nonbiblical text.  Can you imagine how confusing (and down right strange!) quoting the Upanishads would be to someone foreign to that text?  It seems the use of nonbiblical texts, even if Christocentric should be limited to interactions with those familiar with the nonbiblical tradition.

This is the third review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?

Tennent begins chapter two with the question: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?  He argues that 20 years ago this question may never have been asked outside of universities or seminaries.  However, September 11th changed the world and many began asking, “Do Christians and Muslims follow the same God?”  Tennent interprets this large question in two ways: Are the terms “God” and “Allah” interchangeable?  Are God and Allah ontologically equal?

While never fully putting his finger on the answer to the terminology question, Tennent explores the etymology of “Allah.”  He concludes that the term “Allah” was in use before the time of Muhammad, and was likely used by monotheistic Arabs, Jews, and Christians.

Tennent deals with the ontologically question more fully.  He argues that no monotheist can hold that more than one Supreme Being exists.  So, how can we say we serve different gods?  We must examine how we respond to the array of predicates attached to the single God/Allah.  Here represents the differences between God, the Father of Jesus, and Allah, the God of Muhammad.

First, Tennent asks if both Muslims and Christians can say, “Allah/God is one.”  He concludes that Christians and Muslims cannot apply the predicate of “one” to God/Allah in the same way.  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons) is incompatible with the Islamic belief in the indivisible nature of God (40).

Next, Tennent explores whether or not Muslims and Christians can agree, “Allah/God is powerful.”  Again, he concludes that Muslims and Christians understand the predicates of power and strength differently.  For the Christian, God’s power is most revealed in God’s weakness, a belief Tennent posits is unique to the Christian understanding of God.

Tennent ends his chapter with a definitive answer to his opening question: Those who follow the “God of Muhammad” and those who follow the “Father of Jesus” are in a state of profound discontinuity (48).  “It would fragment our very identity as Christians to accept the statement that the Father of Jesus is the God of Muhammad” (48).  He puts it bluntly, Muslims still need to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ (44).  Despite the uncompromising claims, Tennent praises Muhammad as one who prophetically pointed the Arab people to their rejection of idolatry and acceptance of monotheism.

While chapter two tackles a difficult question (and leaves many loose ends) it brings to light issues we cannot ignore.  Increasingly we (Western Christians) face questions about Islamic beliefs.  Tennent provides a foundational basis to begin thinking through such difficult questions.  As he argues, we spend years studying deceased German theologians whose followers are few, but no time engaging the more than one billion living, breathing Muslims.

This is the second review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

The Emergence of a Global Theological Discourse

The opening chapter of Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity issues a challenging call to Western Christians: Think, listen, and learn from Christians around the world.  The result of such dialogue, Tennent hopes, is theological renewal and vitality in the Western church.  Through a complex study of history, theology, and missions Tennent aims to reveal how the universal truths of the gospel are being retold anew in different contexts.

To start, Tennent highlights a centuries-long phenomenon that indicates Christianity grows and recesses all around the world at the same time.  Christianity expands in some parts of the global, taking on different forms, languages, and cultures while simultaneously contracting in other locales.  He shows how the center of gravity of Christianity (the central point of the population of world Christians) is now located in Africa.  The growth in Africa represents a move from the West to the global South and East. In accordance with the theory, Tennent claims that a dying liberal Protestantism in the West accompanies this growth in the South.  Tennent calls the growing church in the global South the “Majority World Church.”

Tennent highlights five trends in MWC theology:

1) Accepts the authority of Scripture, and interprets scripture in a conservative, orthodox, and traditional manner

2) Morally and ethically conservative

3) Sensitive to issues of poverty and social justice

4) Experience articulating the gospel in pluralist setting

5) Emphasizes the corporate over and against the individualistic teachings of the NT

The MWC, as Tennent presents it, stands ready to reinvigorate Western Christians, churches, and seminaries.  This theological translatability (as Tennent calls it) is vital to the future of the faith.  Tennent argues that the lifeblood of Christianity is its ability to translate and transmit truth across cultures.  In fact, the Christian faith exists to be discovered and restated within an infinite number of new global contexts.  The challenge for Western Christians then is to acknowledge and incorporate the Global Christian revolution into our thinking, practice, and life.

Tennent’s description of the shift in the geographic and cultural center of Christianity raises an interesting predicament: Despite the ‘center’ of Christianity being located in the South, the center of theological discourse is still located in the West.  As Western Christians how do we understand this phenomenon? How do we view our theological and philosophical stances?  Are our Western views normative for all Christianity?  Are we guilty of solely exporting our views?  Are we open to the import of views into our own settings?  It seems Tennent is setting the stage for his work to argue that we (Westerners) must openly engage other cultures if we are to “save” the Western Church.

This is the first review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

Now that the spring semester is complete I have a little more time to keep things going on the blog!

However, I have a summer project and I’d love to hear your feedback.  I’m working on a directed study course in mission and evangelism.  Basically, I’m reading several books on the subject and writing chapter/book reviews.  My plan is to post my chapter reviews as I write them.

My aims for the blog posts are two-fold:

1) Hopefully the books and reviews will be helpful in your personal/the Church’s on-going discussion of how we “do” mission and evangelism.

2) I’d love to hear feedback on the books and my thoughts.  Have you read these books?  Liked them?  Loathed them?  Found some of it helpful?  Worst piece of evangelistic theory/literature you ever read?

Here are the books I’ll be reviewing (in order):

Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe by Walter Brueggemann

Announcing the Reign of God by Mortimer Arias

Theology in the Context of World Christianity by Timothy C. Tennent

The Evangelistic Love of God and Neighbor: A Theology of Witness and Discipleship by Scott Jones

Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age by Brad Kallenberg

Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Lois Barrett

Worship Evangelism by Sally Morgenthaler

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation by Andrew Root

Last night Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright made an appearance on Comedy Central’s, The Colbert Report.  For many, Colbert and his “news” show are entertaining and wildly popular.  For me, I’m still undecided on Colbert’s witty, (dis)respectful, (semi)funny interviews and commentary.

To sum up last night: First, Colbert, a Roman Catholic, quipped about not debating “the whole Henry thing,” a reference to King Henry VIII.  The two then discussed Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope.  In the book Wright argues for Christians to revisit their idea of heaven.  Specifically, Wright argues that heaven is just the first phase of life after death.  Later, he states, a new heaven follows the first heaven.  Wright claims that Christians are able to build/participate/prepare/contribute to the new heaven by doing things such as feeding the hungry and serving the poor.  Furthermore, this ‘building’ activity is made possible because of God’s desire to re-create the heavens and earth, a mission God initiated and enacted through Jesus.  Obviously, Wright’s argument has more dimensions and nuances than this, but that is why he wrote the book after all!

One of Colbert’s most interesting lines came in his response to Wright’s urging to revisit our idea of heaven.  Colbert joked, “My idea of heaven is getting a harp, drinking a mint julep and asking Ronald Reagan questions.”  Furthermore, the interview included references to Hilary Clinton, golf, Plato, obesity, and population crowding.

While I enjoy Wright and his work, I’m still unsure of Colbert.  What do you think of Colbert and his treatment of Wright and other things religious?  What about Wright’s claims and beliefs?

As the Church’s ecclesiastical needs have changed, the foundational concept of ordination has also adapted.  Early in the third century church leaders generally viewed ordination in light of the Old Testament priests.  Many years later, primarily during the 13th century, views of ordination shifted and ordination gained Sacramental legitimacy.  Later, as the Church adjusted during the Reformation the concept of ordination expanded to hold that all who are baptized are considered priests.    Therefore, priestly lifestyle, attitude, and character were not limited to the ordained. Moreover, ministers were those who were called out from among the whole of believers to preach to the congregation in the name of Christ.   As history indicates, diverse roles for the ordained have created diverse definitions of ordination.

Despite the transformational nature, perception, and expectations of ordained persons, several theological and ecclesiastical components remain constant.  Ordination is a gift of God to the Church and for the Church.  Ordination, therefore, descends from God to the Church, but also arises from God’s earthly congregations in accordance with God’s purpose.  Additionally, ordination is one way in which individuals live out their baptismal call.  More specifically, ordained persons fulfill his or her ordained call by serving as the link between God’s will and the Church’s needs.  Through service, leadership, and character ordained persons fulfill God’s and the Church’s will, needs, and desires.

At its most foundational level, ordination is a gift from God to the Church.  Since the Church’s conception God has foreseen the unique and abounding challenges the Church faces and God has creatively given the gift of ordination.    Specifically, God has gifted the Church by calling out individuals from the greater Christian body and equipping them for ordination.  In the same way God gave humanity the good news of the gospel and the Church body in which to celebrate the good news, God also provides ordination and leaders to facilitate the glorification of God.  It is God’s grace, love, will, and hope for humanity that establish the foundation for one of God’s most glorious gifts, ordination.

In addition to the theological and generally universal concepts that form the basis of ordination, individual Christian denominations also establish ideas about the meaning of ordination. For United Methodists, the Book of Worship utilizes the Methodist discipline and liturgy to define the Church’s view of ordination (as it pertains to Elders).  In the opening section prior to the liturgy the discipline states that ordination is grounded in the Church’s ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order.   Later in the liturgy the Bishop tells that ordination is for those individuals who possess certain gifts that enable them to perform acts of Word, Sacrament, and Order.    Clearly, ordination within the United Methodist Church entails that an ordained individual accepts the tasks of proclaiming the Word and Sacraments and takes his or her role seriously.   Like the various Christian movements throughout history, today the general Church and various denominations have attempted to establish a theologically grounded concept of what exactly ordination means for individuals as well as the Church.

Not only is the foundational concept of ordination important, the idea of where ordination originates is equally important. Ordination, as a gift from God, comes from God’s love and desires for the Church.  God strives for the Church to imitate his image and it is ordained persons’ responsibility to personally strive towards that goal while at the same time helping the Church do the same.  In Pastor, Willimon presents the view that “the pastor is sent from God to fill the pulpit.”    While not all Christians subscribe to this view of ordination it does stress that ordination is a gracious, special gift from God.   The United Methodist traditions echoes this sentiment when the Bishop prays during the ordination service thanking God for abundantly pouring forth gifts to make some people pastors and teachers.

Alternatively, and in addition to ordination as being from “above,” ordination also arises from the earthly Church’s needs and expectations.  Since the Church’s growth in the first century Christian communities have sensed the need to “call out” from among them leaders who are capable of facilitating and equipping Christians on their journeys.  For United Methodists the Church’s role in initiated and originating ordination is especially important.  In fact, the Book of Worship repeatedly alludes to ordination as an act sprung from the Church which is necessary to continue the building up of the Church’s ministry.   Regardless of the dualistic perspective that ordination comes from both “above” and “below” one concept remains theologically necessary: both God and the Church play a role in recognizing an individual’s gifts and calling them out for ordained ministry.

Still, ordination encompasses more than just God and the Church’s role in defining and creating ordination.  Also central to the concept of ordination are those individuals that respond to God and the Church’s call.  For, without individuals who respond to God and the Church’s call there would be no Church.
For many individuals a call to ordination comes in light of his or her baptismal experience and vows.  That is, through baptism Christians are reclaimed by God as one of God’s children, made part of a community, and invited to share in God’s mission for the world.  Therefore, Christians’ identities and purposes precede a call to ordination.  Consequently, a Christian can fulfill his or her baptismal call in a variety of ways and ordination is only one way to live out one’s baptismal call.

In addition to the baptismal influence on ordination, several God and Church-ordered characteristics lie at the heart of the theological implications of what God expects from the ordained.  As gifted by God and called by the Church, ordained persons are called to be servants within the Church. That is, ordination theologically requires that individuals live lives of servant hood to both God and the Church’s wills and needs.  For the United Methodist Church the servant nature of ordination is particularly important.  During the Elder ordination liturgy the Bishop speaks about the Church’s role in examining and inquiring about ordination candidates in order to determine if they are called to be in service to God in particular ministries.   Similarly, Willimon views ordained persons as privileged waiters or waitresses in the Lord’s house and at the Lord’s Table.   Servant hood is a vital component of theologically based ordination.

In addition to the servant nature of ordained ministry, ordination also theologically requires leadership in many capacities.  Administrative, educational, and spiritual leadership are all forms of leadership ordination necessitates.  In many capacities ordained individuals serve as the authoritative theologian and teacher within his or her own ministerial community.  Leadership through administrative order is another responsibility of the ordained.  So important is the leadership component of ordination that the United Methodist Church explicitly states that the ordained are ordained to Order within their own community and the larger Church body.

However, perhaps the greatest act of leadership an ordained person is called to carry out relates to worship.  For Barbara Brown Taylor this is particularly true since she believes strongly that worship is what Christians were made to do.  Likewise, the Book of Worship calls for ordained Elders to preach and teach the Word of God, administer the Sacraments, and lead God’s people in prayer and worship.   Ultimately, worship is the way in which ordained individuals serve most effectively in linking God with the non-ordained whom the Creator longs to share with in fellowship.

Finally, an individual’s character is theologically important to God and the Church’s ordination framework.  It is vital that ordained persons act in a way that befits their public, communal, and church obligations.   Today, ordained Christians are called to imitate God, setting the example for the whole Church.  Such character integrity is not lost on most Methodists. In fact, the discipline permits ordination only for those who have been examined and “found to be of sound Christian character.”

Interestingly, most early Christians refused to ignore this personal aspect of ordination.  In fact, Gregory the Great repeatedly wrote about the personal characteristics required of those who are ordained to serve as leaders of Christian communities.  In several letters and books Gregory wrote about ordained persons as pure in thought and exemplary in conduct.   For without these personal qualities, Gregory believed, a person was unfit for the title and role of ordination.

Ordination, as a gift from God, is necessary to fulfill both God’s will and the Church’s needs and expectations. Therefore, out of an individual’s baptismal call, he or she senses and embraces their purpose as ordained Christians.  Ultimately they serve as the link between God and God’s people through their service, leadership, and persona.  Preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments, and providing order for God’s earthly community all define the theological requirements of the ordained.  In all, ordained individuals should do all things in order to enable the church to act as the Church that God intended.

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