Tim Tennent on the need for “gospel clarity”

April 1, 2014

Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, doesn’t blog often enough, but when he does he usually makes it worth our while. In this post, he points out the potentially dangerous fact that most of our fellow Methodists possess at least a vague understanding of John Wesley’s “heart-warming” experience at Aldersgate on May 24, 1738.

I say “potentially dangerous” because if that’s all they possess then they risk divorcing Wesley’s experience from its scriptural foundation:

I don’t know of too many Methodists who have actually read Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans. The fact that the heart-felt experience of Wesley is far more known than the textual source of that experience is significant. We can all too easily forget that our experience of God’s work does not come untethered from the truth of God’s word. When Christian “experience” becomes disconnected from God’s Word it drifts into mere emotionalism.

It’s easy to imagine that we’ve succumbed to “mere emotionalism” when our marketing tagline is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

The phrase “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” says absolutely nothing about Jesus Christ or the glorious gospel. It only speaks of our hearts, our minds and our buildings. Is that really the best we can do? As I have said before, if there were public relations consultants in the 19th century, the phrase “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” could have just as easily emerged as a great tagline for a 19th century brothel.

This reminds of something a professor at UMC-affiliated (and theologically orthodox) United Theological Seminary said about the UMC’s website. If it’s true, as we say, that the UMC’s mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” then doesn’t it follow that our church’s official website ought to reflect that priority?

Perhaps the public website should take a more evangelistic approach. How about, right up front, a link to the testimonies of people who have accepted Christ and known his transforming power? How about a link to a video called something like, “Why Should I Choose Jesus?” Or perhaps a video, or at least a page, called something like, “Why Does Christ Make A Difference?” Perhaps one could have the option to chat or have a video call with a pastor. Maybe it would be helpful to have something on the basics of Christian belief.

Nevertheless, Tennent’s words in this next-to-last paragraph seem exactly right:

Brothers and sisters, we must find new ways to let the clarity of the gospel ring forth from our lives and from the ministries of the church. Wesley’s “heart-warming experience” must be wedded anew with the steadfast powerful message of the gospel as found exposited by Luther in his preface to the Romans. This is certainly how Wesley himself interpreted his heart warming experience. After May 24th he became crystal clear about the nature of the gospel, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Word of God. He became razor sharp in his passion to preach the gospel, evangelize the world, disciple believers and spread scriptural holiness throughout the world. We should remind ourselves every day that being a Methodist or a Presbyterian or “non-denominational” means nothing if it is not first and foremost an outgrowth of our more basic identity as Christians who have been transformed by and through Jesus Christ.

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