of Timothy Tennent: Theology in Context of World Christianity

Timothy C. Tennent. Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology (2007)

I read this book on my husband’s suggestion, and it was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the growth of the church around the world. I had the privilege of attending some of Tennent’s classes on Islam at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2008 (he is now President of Asbury Theological Seminary) and so I knew him to be a careful scholar and a fascinating teacher. In this work I found him to be a cautious exegete and clear reasoner. He is the most informed and experienced individual in the realm of world religions that I have ever met or heard of. His extensive research and handling of theological issues confronting the church on different continents had the side effect of challenging many of my assumptions about what the church looks like today.

In each chapter of this book Tennent takes one of the major fields of Western systematic theology (theology, bibliology, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, eschatology) and highlights a current issue related to each that is facing the church in a region of the Majority World. He emphasizes how the questions raised in missiology can test the “theological translatability” of many of our cherished ideas and doctrines. He argues that missiology, sometimes the neglected step-child in the world of Western theological scholarship, can enrich, inform, and reinvigorate theological study. He points out the fact that the West, although it is the center of theological education, is no longer the center of the global church. Finally, he does it all in a way that is accessible to non-scholars (like me) and that is respectful of viewpoints differing from his own. Not only did this book begin to educate me about the global church, but it caused me to rejoice as I learned of the tremendous growth the church is experiencing world-wide.

Here are some of the sentences I found most provocative and profound in Tennent’s book:

“The typical Christian is no longer an affluent, white, British, Anglican male about forty-five years old, but a poor, black, African, Pentecostal woman about twenty-five years old…this reality will inevitably shape and form the development of theology…” (17).

“A few years ago, Christianity Today reported that eighty-five percent of the members of Yale University’s Campus Crusade for Christ chapter are Asian, whereas ‘the university’s Buddhist meditation meetings are almost exclusively attended by whites'” (53).

“Christ does not arrive in any culture as a stranger” (69).

“It is still not unusual even for seminary students in the West to graduate without a single course in non-Christian religions…you are still more likely to graduate from a typical seminary having read Bultmann than having read the Qur’an” (153).

“Years ago, I learned that a critical analysis of the truth claims of another religion does not require that I prove the insincerity of the leading proponents of these religions…It is, unfortunately, quite possible to be simultaneously sincere and wrong” (157).

“One of the great ironies of history is that only with the death of Christendom can there be a proper birth of evangelism” (181).

“From a Western perspective not informed by global realities, it is easy to become discouraged and pessimistic about the advance of the gospel because of the rapid decline of Christianity in the West. However, from the Chinese perspective, it seems that everywhere one turns…people are coming to Christ and new churches are emerging” (241).

“For the first time since the Reformation, the center of the global Christian movement lies outside the West” (251).

“In fact, the church of Jesus Christ is now, without any serious rivals, the largest and most culturally and ethnically diverse movement anywhere in the world” (262).

“The need for a more explicit response to the challenges of world religions and the assertions of rival sacred books of revelation is now central, not peripheral, to the church’s theological task” (267).

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