We’re Not in Jerusalem Anymore!

I recently read a piece written by the President-elect of Asbury Theological Seminary in which Dr. Timothy C. Tennent reflected on the cultural changes that are impacting seminary education.

Tennent writes (emphasis and paragraph breaks added for readability) …

Jerusalem and Athens are symbolic of one of the key shifts in theological education today. Like Tertullian, many of us would prefer to proclaim the gospel – symbolically speaking – from the security and stability of the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. Many of us yearn for a time to return to when God’s word was more-widely acknowledged and respected. We remember a day when our culture enjoyed far greater stability.

However, most all of us realize that we can no longer prepare ministers with this as our primary paradigm. Instead, we are called to be faithful to the gospel in the midst of the raucous, pluralistic, experimental, skeptical environment of “Mars Hill of Athens.” The Apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel not from the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, but from Mars Hill of Athens.

Traditionally, seminary education prepared men and women to occupy places of cultural and religious stability. Graduates were sent to communities where a large percentage of the people either attended church or gave assent to the broad contours of the Christian world-view. Many of the ethical parameters of the Judeo-Christian world-view were widely embraced.

Today, this kind of Christendom arrangement has collapsed. We are no longer in Jerusalem. We are in Athens. We are no longer on the Temple Mount, but on Mars Hill. This means that we must prepare men and women for a different kind of engagement in the Western World.

Our society represents a more profoundly-missional context than anything we have previously imagined. Seminaries which have specialized in preparing pastors and teachers need to also prepare evangelists and church planters. We need a more robust theological and missional training for our students than ever before.

Tennent is addressing theological education for pastors, but the point is, our (Western) world has changed before our eyes. We must be prepared to communicate the message of Jesus Christ in a culture that is less receptive than ever. We must be prepared to preach in Athens!

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