Why I Chose Asbury – Part 1: Orthodoxy
Asbury Theological Seminary has been my home for the last six months, and will be for the next 3 1/2 years. As a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church, there are a number of seminaries that I could have gone to. Many of them would have offered full tuition scholarships, and some would’ve even paid for my living expenses if I had chosen to study with them. Some are quite well known for their academic scholasticism and offer quite a reputation to add to the resume: Candler School of Theology at Emory, Drew University, Duke Divinity School, Boston University, Perkins School of Theology… so why then would I choose the tiny little evangelical inter-denominational Wesleyan seminary in the middle-of-nowhere Kentucky?
I chose Asbury because this seminary embraces an ecumenical and historical Christian faith rooted in the Wesleyan tradition. By ecumenical and historical, I mean that the seminary emphasizes what the whole church has believed at all times. This is how Thomas Oden defines “orthodoxy” in his systematic theology, Classic Christianity.
This understanding of orthodoxy is not a rigid line of “this is what is true and right and we all agree on everything”; rather, orthodoxy, how I see it, is more of a general range of accepted Christian beliefs of God. That range generally affirms the doctrine of the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, and the Nicene-Chalcedonian christology as expressed in the creeds from the first four ecumenical councils. Within these main parameters, theological differences have room to breathe. For instance an Arminian understanding of responding to preceding grace and a Calvinist understanding of being selected by electing grace, while very different, can both be considered orthodox in that they both have scriptural support and do not cross the boundaries of the ecumenical councils.
While Asbury is Wesleyan in its tradition, it concurs with the greater tradition of evangelical Christianity in a historically orthodox understanding of God, Christ, and the Church. It teaches and practices a rich theology that is rooted in the authority of Scripture, yet also appeals to reason, tradition, and experience with a primary emphasis on Scripture – prima scriptura.
On the other hand, over the past few generations progressive Christian thought has moved away from theology rooted in biblical studies. Instead, progressive Christian thinkers choose a more academic basis for their theological premises. These progressive thinkers build their theological foundations on contemporary philosophy, logic, and science, and then integrate reason, experience, and Scripture into their beliefs. They approach scripture with presuppositions based on their philosophy, then interpret scripture through the lenses of those philosophical premises. They assume that through the advancements of science and thought of the Enlightenment and Modern ages, their philosophy is more adept at studying Scripture than the context the writer gives alone.
These practices seem to be prevalent in many seminaries today. They embrace contemporary thought as superior and use it as a lens to view Scripture and develop new understandings of God and theology. They believe they can gain deeper insight into who (or what) God is through their new philosophical understandings applied to scripture. They begin from a place of scientific rationalism, philosophical naturalism, and an empirical assessment of the Christian faith. This is exactly how process theology, liberation theology, and religious pluralism have all come into existence in the recent past.
I stand with the evangelical and orthodox Christian tradition in that theology must be grounded in an inductive understanding of the Word of God. By inductive, I mean that the reader must approach the text without presuppositions and engage the implied author of the text without bias, extrapolating from the text only that which the inherent evidence permits. An entire movement of inductive biblical studies has emerged from the desire to revert back to an orthodox and holistic approach to studying the Scriptures.
The deconstruction, reconstruction, and reduction of chosen parts of scripture have been used throughout the last 100 years in egregious ways to meet an interpreter’s agenda. Instead, we need to let the text of Scripture holistically speak for itself in the rational and intelligible manner in which it does. This is the place our theology must begin – from inductive bible study, not deductive presuppositions or philosophical postulates.
Theology must be grounded in our biblical understanding of who Christ is, as Son of God, as Son of Man, as the high priest of heaven, as Savior and Redeemer. From these foundations, then can we build our theology using reason, tradition, and experience, including the modern developments in science and philosophy.
Asbury Theological Seminary is one of the few Methodist seminaries that stands proudly alongside the evangelical orthodox Christian tradition in its affirmation of orthodox theology.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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