Tim Tennent is an experienced missionary and seminary professor. He is also the newly appointed President of Asbury seminary. This book demonstrates just what an extraordinary thinker and churchman Asbury has selected to lead its school into the Twenty-first century. In addition to being a compelling read, Theology in the Context of World Christianity is one of the exceptionally rare books that has actually changed the way I think about doing Theology.
The idea for this book was planted during Professor Tennent's doctoral studies when Andrew Walls suggested: "Theological scholarship needs a renaissance of mission studies." The truth behind this assertion rests on the fact that theological reflection grows out of the Church applying Scripture to specific current issues as it proclaims the gospel in changing circumstances. Nevertheless, Systematic Theology (which Tennent holds in very high esteem) has tended to be done in response to the questions that Western culture asks. Indeed, Systematic Theology is often done in response to the questions that Western culture was asking in the past. For example, while many Systematic Theologies interact with categories of Greek philosophy, few interact seriously with the Quran or Hinduism. Furthermore, much of Systematic Theology ignores that the majority of Christians no longer live in Europe and North America. Theology in the Context of World Christianity offers as step toward addressing this imbalance in a way that renews Systematic Theology for the entire Church.
Professor Tennant wisely provides us with concrete case studies to show how the diverse questions asked by Majority World Christians, cause us to re-evaluate and further develop our understanding of God's revelation. For example, there is a chapter on Bibliology in cultures which are dominated by Hindu Sacred Texts; a chapter on Christology against the backdrop of ancestor worship in Africa; and a chapter on Ecclesiology in Islamic regions where Christianity and Church are often seen as intrinsically "Western" and "decadent". The complex questions raised are probed with cultural sensitivity and insight while always being evaluated in light of Scripture (from a solidly evangelical point of view).
In addition to the important message this work is introducing, it is also simply a shear joy to read. The prose is remarkably clear and each chapter is chock full of insights. I can't remember any other book which stimulated as much creative thought on my part as this relatively slender volume has.
Does the book have any weaknesses? Such a creative and thought provoking work must entail some weaknesses; yet the only one that was noticeable to me was in Professor Tennent's treatment of Pentecostalism. I was somewhat surprised by the relatively harsh manner in which this chapter dealt with those who believe that the "sign gifts" of the Holy Spirit ceased during the Apostolic era. Furthermore, Tennent asserts: "Doctrines of cessationism or partial cessationism, are in the final analysis, detrimental concessions to an Enlightenment worldview that has unduly influenced the church with its naturalistic presuppostions (p. 179)." While I am as happy to attack the Enlightenment worldview and its naturalist presuppositions as the next guy - this assertion faces two serious objections: (1) Cessationism exited in the Church long before the Enlightenment; and (2) Cessationism has been held (and is still held) by people who doggedly oppose naturalistic presuppositions. Nevertheless, Professor Tennant's chapter on Pneumatology and Pentacostalism is loaded with insights about how this movement is transforming Christianity around the world.
In sum: Every seminary student and every pastor needs to read this book. It is that important a work. The promise of doing Theology in the context of World Christianity will not be accomplished by a few uniquely gifted scholars, it is a call that all of us must answer.