Thrive
Podcast

Overview

Today on the podcast, I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary. We talked about his new book that releases on November 17 called For the Body: Recovering a Theology of Gender, Sexuality, and the Human Body. We talk about what it means to have a theology of the body, the building blocks that make up our theology of the body, like marriage, family, singleness and things like that, what it means to be made in the image of God, and how we can live lives that represent Christ in the communities in which we live.

Let’s listen!

Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, President, Asbury Theological Seminary

Dr. Timothy C. Tennent (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh, Scotland) has served as President of Asbury Theological Seminary and Professor of World Christianity since 2009. He is a frequent conference speaker around the country and throughout the world.

Prior to his coming to Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. Tennent was the Professor of World Missions and Indian Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he served since 1998. Ordained in the United Methodist Church in 1984, he has pastored churches in Georgia, and in several of the largest churches in New England. Since 1989, he has taught annually as an adjunct professor at the New Theological College in Dehra Dun, India.

He is the author of numerous books and articles. His books include, “Building Christianity on Indian Foundations,” “Christianity at the Religious Roundtable,” “Theology in the Context of World Christianity,” and “Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the 21st Century.”

Dr. Tennent and wife, Julie, reside in Wilmore, Ky. They have two grown children, Jonathan and Bethany.

Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast

Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.



Transcript

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey, everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast. I’m your host, Heidi E. Wilcox, bringing you conversations with authors, thought leaders, and people just like you who are looking to connect where your passion intersects with the world’s deep needs. Today on the podcast, I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary.

Heidi Wilcox:
We talked about his new book that releases on October 27th, called “For the Body: Recovering a Theology of Gender, Sexuality, and the Human Body.” We talked about what it means to have a theology of the body, the building blocks that make up our theology of the body, like marriage, family, singleness, friendships, things like that, what it means to be made in the image of God, and how we can live lives that represent Christ and the communities in which we live. Let’s listen.

Heidi Wilcox:
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Sure, Heidi. I’m looking forward to it.

Heidi Wilcox:
I talked to Donna earlier this week. You’re our second returned guest on the podcast. That’s really exciting, too.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, thank you. I enjoyed our last time and it’ll be good to have this time as well. I know that just on the kind of grassroots level, the student body, you’re like a rock star.

Heidi Wilcox:
I don’t know about that.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, you’re the new face of Asbury Seminary. I’m just kind of in the background, but you’re [crosstalk 00:01:36].

Heidi Wilcox:
No, no. It is funny, though, because I see people in the cafeteria when I used to go to the cafeteria before all this happened. Even then, I didn’t go very much because I brought my lunch. But when I would go sometimes, I would see people and they’re like, “Hey. Hi, Heidi.” I’m like, “I don’t know you at all.”

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
That’s funny. That’s great. That’s wonderful.

Heidi Wilcox:
Dr. Tennent, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to talk to you today. We’re going to be talking a lot about your new book, “For the Body: Recovering a Theology of Gender, Sexuality, and the Human Body,” that comes out on October 27th. If we could just start off and talk a little bit about your book and why did you write For the Body.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, thank you, Heidi. It’s great to be back on the podcast. I wrote this book, really, for two main reasons. First of all, I felt like it was really important to lay out a positive case for the historic Christian view regarding things like human sexuality and embodiment, et cetera. As you well know, and all your viewers will know, that the church has experienced a lot of pressure in recent decades to revise our sexual ethics. We’ve had, particularly, a lot of focus in the last period of time on same sex marriage and gender reassignment. The church, of course, has tried best it could to respond to that.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I think, from my perspective, it seems that we’ve mostly been able to talk about what we’re against and we haven’t really been able to think well about what we’re for. I think, just in terms of my experience with people, if you tell somebody five times you’re against something, you become either, at least, annoying, if not just how do you relate to real people and real experiences and struggles, et cetera. I think there’s a real need to lay out the positive vision. What are Christians for? What is the grand vision? That was a big, kind of undergirding dynamic of the book.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Then, secondly, this is more of a theological concern, but I think the church is trying to re-encounter with a very ancient problem the church had in the first several centuries of Gnosticism, which was a devaluing of the body. I think that part of this is trying respond to that trend. I looked out over all the things that we’ve been looking at in recent years, not just these issues, but things like the rise of pornography use, the explosion of first-person violent video games, injustices and suicide issues, people changing their genders, just how bodies are portrayed in media and on billboards, and in film, et cetera.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I just felt that we, probably, felt like we were fighting 12 problems rather than really one central problem, which is our theology, the body and our view of the body. This was trying to focus the church on what is really an important theological recovery. It’s essential for us to deal with a lot of things that are happening across the cultural landscape.

Heidi Wilcox:
For sure. What is some of the things that you mentioned in your book that the church is for? I think that’s important to establish, that groundwork, as we move forward in our conversation.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, what I do in the book, I don’t know if you know the history of the theology body, but back in the ’80s, Pope John Paul II put out a tremendous volume on the theology of the body and the Roman Catholics have been doing some great work in this area for decades. The Protestants have really lagged behind. If you talk to the average Christian, “What’s your theology of the body?” they don’t know what you’re talking about.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, yeah. I’m really glad we’re having this conversation, because I’m curious. We’ll put a pin in that. I’ve read your book, but not everybody listening has, so I’m going to follow that up with a question in just a minute. Please, go ahead.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I just thought, what are the components of it? Looking at the books out there on it, mostly, again, Roman Catholic books, they’re all wonderful. I love the books. Christopher West has done some tremendous work. But I felt like none of those books really laid out systematically what are the building blocks of the theology of the body.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I laid out in the book, as you know, it’s seven key building blocks or components to the theology of the body. It starts out with re-establishing that God’s creation is good. Just the role of our bodies, secondly, and how our bodies are meant to be pointers that when God created us, He was already anticipating that He Himself would come into the world bodily in the Incarnation. Our bodies are meant to point to that. I use the word, “icon.” It’s a mystery that’s pointing to the Incarnation and our own bodily resurrection, et cetera.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I also developed the whole theme of marriage and how marriage is supposed to be a mysterious pointer to Christ in the church. In his text, Paul discusses marriage in Ephesians five. He ends up, not by saying, “This is the mystery of Christian marriage,” but the mystery of Christ in the church. We’re learning that our bodies are actually meant to point to things. I developed that one.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Then, fourthly, I developed a lot of the role of childbearing which, of course, as you know has been really decreasing in Christian circles in the world in general. Why is the gift of childbearing important? Why do the families reflect the trinity and the role of becoming a co-creator with God in the bearing of children, et cetera?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Then, I developed a lot on singleness and friendship. The loss of friendship is a big concern of mine. We talked about the role of same gender friendships. It goes on from there, but I deal with the whole way the body is kind of a mysterious sacrament, then, what’s our mission in the world, and all the ways God uses our bodies as the conveyors of all the means of grace. Essentially, the book lays out these seven components for a proper kind of positive vision for the body. All is drawn on just very basic Christian theology and what we often have either neglected or just failed to see put together because we often don’t realize how much. I say in the book that our bodies are talking to us. We have not listened to our bodies. We scrambled the message of the body. It’s trying to recapture why God put us in bodies.

Heidi Wilcox:
I like that. One of the things that you mentioned in your book, and I’m going to quote you, you said, “We must first embrace people as image-bearers. Only after we do that can we address other issues that distance people from the will of God.” What does it mean that we’re all made in the image of God?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, Heidi, that’s a great question.

Heidi Wilcox:
Thank you.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I think the Bible never actually defines the image of God. It’s so interesting. Then, also, it’s only found in the book of Genesis. Genesis 9:6 is actually the last time that the phrase, “image of God,” is used in the whole Old Testament. Then, you go into a long, obviously, just books and books on false images and idols and all of that. The image of God theology just kind of explodes back into the New Testament with the image of God in Christ. It’s just everywhere. It’s Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3, Romans 8:29, Corinthians 4:4, et cetera. You have this massive.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Looking through the lens of the New Testament back in the Old Testament, we really see that the image of God probably involves multiple components. There’s no one thing that defines it. Certainly, it involves our sharing his dominion, that we’re actually meant to share in God’s rule and reign in the world, that a part of it is connected to our reproducibility, that ability for us to be co-creators with God in the bearing of children. It is connected to our being representatives of God in the world. We’re like His ambassadors in the world bodily as part of our imaging of him.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Also, just fundamentally, that we have the capacity to enter into relationship with God and with one another that is not been given to the animals in the way that have been given to us. It’s actually one of the great mysteries of the Bible, exactly, what is meant by. We know that part of the ministry of Christ is to fully restore the image of God in us. We do know. It’s in the book, and as your quote reflected, it’s part of what we have to recover in order to really interact with one another well, because it’s something shared by all people, not just Christians, but all of us are bearers of God’s image. We have His stamp upon us.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes, for sure. What changes, I guess, would happen if we started viewing each other as made an image of God?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I know. It would just be wonderful. I think, the kind of objectification of people is a huge part. In, of course, today’s political discourse, we treat people as objects and positions rather than as people. It has a lot of degrading influence on culture if you lose that.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I draw upon the work of a number of writers, particularly, Alasdair MacIntyre, who writes that we’ve now come to a place what he calls emotivism, where we no longer actually can talk to one another. We simply shout at each other. We lose the capacity to see one another as image-bearers. Therefore, we aren’t able to really talk together well. Our culture has lost the ability to relate to one another well. I think we all recognize that. Part of that is the loss of the Imago Dei or the image of God that we see in one another and recognize God’s imprint on all of humanity.

Heidi Wilcox:
As you mentioned earlier in the podcast, and you say in your book, the church is sometimes known more for what it is against rather than what it is for. At times, Christians and the church has been argued that they have been, and they, I think, it’s true that they have, maybe, been hateful and unwelcoming to those who are in the LGBTQ community, making them feel less than and not valued as people made in the image of God.

Heidi Wilcox:
The church is made up of persons. I guess it’s not just the body. Sometimes, I feel like when we say the church, then, at least for me, I feel like, oh, it gives me a pass because I’m part of the church. But it’s other people that need to do something. How can we better engage those who are in the LGBTQ community?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, the church, of course, has always struggled with how to present the gospel. We didn’t know the gospel is good news for everyone in the church. It’s reflected in its highest calling. The church has always embraced two twin truths, simultaneously. We have to always remember both of these. The first is what I call the universal call. The gospel is good news for everyone. Everyone’s an object of God’s love. We embrace everyone.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
You have, for example, that great text in Isaiah, “Come, all who are thirsty, come without money, buy and eat.” Of course, Jesus picks up on that in John seven with He’s the living water, the universal call to all people to come to Him. On the one hand, I think we do have to remember the universal call, but also, we have to remember the call to radical transformation. The gospel does call us to repent, come under his lordship, and come under what it means to be members of the kingdom of God.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
The challenge has been, for the church, I think, that we haven’t always held both those things together well. Sometimes, the universal call ends up being kind of like a flattening out, and we just think we’re called to embrace everyone right where they are without any call to transformation, or we insist on the transformation before they can engage us.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Therefore, we don’t properly engage them. Part of it is capturing both sides. I think, probably, the best example that brings them all together is Jesus’ parable of the lost sons, where the son comes home, the younger son comes home, and he receives this amazing embrace when the father literally runs to meet him and embrace him. It’s one of the most emotional moments in the Bible.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
In the ancient world, Jewish men were told not to ever run. It was considered disgraceful to run. Here’s this father, entering to his own shame by running out. He’s just so lost in his love for his son and embraces his son. Then, he clothed him. He transforms him. You have the image of the clothing, the sandals, the signet ring, all of that is example of the transformation.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Jesus really embodies the best of this. I think the Wesleyan worldview, which does believe in prevenient grace, that God’s grace extends to everyone as part of what needs to be recaptured and remembered as we connect with any community. Not just people in the LGBTQ, but throughout the whole culture, we need to embody both of those truths.

Heidi Wilcox:
Definitely. This question was not on the list of ones that I sent you. You can totally tell me if you don’t want to answer it. I was listening to a podcast over the weekend. It was from a different viewpoint. I was trying to learn more about other viewpoints to prepare for this podcast. The person on the podcast was saying that when we say we hate the sin but love the sinner, it still sounds very standoffish and not welcoming to those who hear that, kind of like saying if they were talking about me like, “Heidi, I love you, but I hate the fact that you’re a woman.” That’s not okay. I was curious to learn more about that saying and kind of the heart of what was meant by that.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, that saying is, of course, not a saying found in Scripture. Probably, it goes back to something that Augustine said. It kind of has morphed over the years in how it’s been stated. I think it probably got its current form, actually, in the lips of Mahatma Gandhi, who actually said something very, very close to that. I guess the question is whether that is the kind of phrase that best captures this.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I think one of the challenges that we particularly face, if you have someone that has struggles with alcoholism, for example, they don’t identify themselves ontologically in their being with their alcoholism. They see it as something they’re struggling with. You have this also with people that are godly wonderful people who love the Lord but are experiencing same-sex attraction, et cetera. They’re the first ones to say that this is not who they are.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
One of the things that’s happened in the current climate is that we have actually created a climate where someone’s sexual identity is their highest identity. Sexualization has become a huge challenge in our culture, where that becomes the thing that defines who you are. Therefore, it feels like, I don’t know what they would say, but I think from my experience, that it feels like it’s an attack upon someone’s personhood rather than their sinfulness.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I’m not sure it’s a helpful phrase. I’m not sure it actually captures really perfectly the biblical word on it, because we don’t actually see ourselves where our body, who we are ontologically is separated from our actions. We actually sees all holistically. We love people. Paul says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We love people as they are in their full embodiment, but we also call them to experience the full liberation of the kingdom.

Heidi Wilcox:
Definitely. I love it. One of the things I really enjoyed about your book is that it talked about a wide variety of things related to the body, not just one issue. You talked about belief in a new way, at least for me, saying that it meant more than facts that you knew in your head, but to be a true belief, it had to be lived out in the body in worship, service, and morality. Since we’re recording remotely now because of the pandemic, and it’s still going on, how do you see what’s happening with the global pandemic intersecting with the theology of the body and how we care for others, especially, right now?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Yes, it’s a great question, Heidi. I think the pandemic has really reminded us, really, of two things. On one hand, I think it has shown us the power of technology. We all have been connected to Zoom immensely. We joke about now we say we’re Zoomed out.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. Some of my co-workers the other day, we were on Zoom talking about this, how the catch phrase of 2020 is, “You’re on mute. I can’t hear you.”

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
That’s right. I think, on the one hand, we all appreciate the technology to connect us in ways that we didn’t think were possible, and churches goes online and our academic programs online, et cetera. I think all of us realized that the pandemic has also highlighted how deeply social we are and how much we longed for personal embodiment. The very fact that we have this huge challenge to maintain six-feet social distance is itself very amazing.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Here’s a virus that was unleashed in the world. In a matter of weeks, it’s spread around the entire world, which meant that the whole world was very close to each other and talking to each other and interacting and the whole thing happens through personal interactions. It actually underscores how social we are. I think, in some ways, it reinforced the biblical point that we are embodied creatures. We’re meant to be embodied.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
One of the things I’m saying in the book is that the means of grace, which if your listeners don’t know what that means, but for Wesley, and actually, it’s the larger Christian tradition, embraces the ideas that God uses certain things to convey His grace to us. We call them the means of grace. Things like the Eucharist and baptism and preaching the gospel and serving the poor, all these things are ways in which God reveals His grace to us.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
When we think about it, every one of those things happens in and through the body. You take Eucharist with your body. You’re baptized in your body. You hear the gospel of your ears. You preach it with your mouth. You serve the poor with your hands and feet, et cetera. Everything happens to the body. God actually uses the body to convey His grace. If you take the body out of the picture, out of the equation, it becomes much more challenging for the church.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Think about the challenges we’ve had, especially, Eucharist in our community and around the world the church has taught, how do we give Eucharist? The church has had to reflect on this. I think, maybe, it’ll help us to see the importance of embodiment in terms of churches manifesting and embodying and conveying the grace of God in the world.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes, I definitely see that, because even just the people I’ve been talking to for the podcast, because a lot of them are pastors and leaders of some kind, talking about how they’re reimagining doing church when it’s really hard right now to all be in the same building.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I know. I know. Singing behind mask and all of that, it’s quite a challenge.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, but it’s really important, I guess, right now to care for ourselves and our neighbors in different ways. Sometimes, because we’re theological and biological beings, it’s just kind of hard right now to figure out how all of that is going to work.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, I love them. Not to overly plug Wesley, but I think Wesley was prophetic when he, at one point, said there were times when you couldn’t engage in the Eucharist or baptism. There are times you may not be able to experience means of grace, which we’re expecting now. He believed that, when that happened, the church would actually go and discover new places that we have neglected. For example, times of prayer and meditation.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Pascal famously said that all the world’s problems can be reduced to the inability of a man to sit alone in a room. I think that can summarize. I think that’s true. We get ourselves alone in a room and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. We’ve been so distracted and we have our devices, and we have all these things.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
In some ways, the idea of being in your homes for extended period of time, maybe, people spend more time in prayer and meditation and discover new ways of receiving God’s grace that we’ve neglected in the kind of traditional ways that we see God interacting with his creation.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, because if your excuse was, “I didn’t have time to pray,” before, that excuse kind of got taken away with the pandemic and all of us having to stay at home.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). No.

Heidi Wilcox:
Definitely. Going back to your book more for a little bit, it talks about sexual brokenness and the variety of issues that come from that brokenness. You’ve mentioned some of these as we’ve talked, too. Objectification of our bodies, pornography, adultery, and divorce.

Heidi Wilcox:
These are some of the symptoms and behaviors from our sexual brokenness. Often, at least, in my experience from the church, we treated the behaviors and hide the problem. If we could, let’s define the problem of sexual brokenness and what’s at its root.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Good question, Heidi. I don’t use this phrase in the book, but the scholastics had a great phrase that I think kind of captures this. It’s hard to know how to put your finger on it, but the phrase is “incurvatus in se.” It means the heart curved in upon itself. I think it’s a really nice phrase to describe the root of sin.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
The phrase I use in the book is what I call the inward gaze, where we find various forces in our culture which cause us to look inward upon ourselves. People that are single, they complain about marriage because they’re not married, or whatever, not realizing they themselves are the children of a marriage, or whatever. We tend to think about things in relation to ourselves.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Part of the sexual brokenness is rooted in that inward gaze. Sometimes, I’ve defined sin is the absence of God in our lives. Sin is all those places where we exchange the presence of God for his absence. The place of sin is where we actually insist on God’s absence in that place.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
In that sense, I think sexual brokenness, and you’re right, it’s a huge spectrum. We often focus on one or two points along the way because people are wanting to take them off the sin list. The sexual brokenness is really vast. It’s all related ultimately to sin and at being curved inward upon yourself and that inward gaze and the inability to allow God to bring this out from ourselves to embrace all that He has for us.

Heidi Wilcox:
There’s a lot of, I think, shame that goes along when we talk about our bodies. As I was preparing for the interview, I was thinking about the purity culture and some of the literature that went along with that, like, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, and some other things. It seemed like sex was definitely wrong until you got married. Then, the switch flipped and it was all okay.

Heidi Wilcox:
As I’ve talked to some of my friends, as we’ve grown up, gotten married and gotten older, just talking about the shame that they felt even after they got married and sex was permissible and normal and beautiful expression of their relationship with their husbands. I want to talk about that for a little bit, and I guess, start off with asking why there’s so much shame associated with our bodies and with sex.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
It’s a good question. I didn’t have that experience. I think, in many ways, I guess my experience is more unusual today because the statistics really show that a lot of, even Christian couples, engage in sexual activity prior to marriage. It’s very normal. It creates these challenges. In my case, my wife and I both were sexually pure on the night of our wedding. We felt a sense of liberation and joy. We didn’t have that shame. I recognize that people do.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
This is my hunch. I really don’t know. This, of course, is a good question. I think, probably, it’s because of the way that the body is portrayed mostly in media and videos and so forth. I think there’s been statistics done on how many thousands of images are portrayed to people as they grow up. Even if you personally were sexually pure, you’ve probably been exposed to a lot of sexual activity in films and videos, et cetera, and of course, billboards, advertisements, and so forth, which degrade, and what I call in the book, the dis-incarnation of the body.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Especially, for women, there’s no question that those images create shame. When a young girl was in the line in the grocery store and she sees a Glamour magazine and a particular portrayal of a body on the front cover, she thinks to herself, “I should look like that.” It starts very, very early. We know that. It creates a sense of shame.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Part of the recognition, then, I’m not sure about the culture about “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” that whole dynamic, but I do think that, maybe, we haven’t taken into consideration the depth of people’s exposure to shameful images prior to marriage.

Heidi Wilcox:
I see.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Even if they themselves denied engaging in sexual activity, they’ve been exposed to so many images which have just incarnated the human body and ripped people from the image of God in their inner life. They just portray it as a body. You have women being portrayed to sell hamburgers or sell cars, or whatever, in ways that are very destructive. I spent a whole chapter in the book just looking at that problem of how our media.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
At least, in my experience, the church has not really addressed adequately, at least, the exposure of these images to our children as we grow up and how that affects us. That made it part of it. It’s a mystery, actually, how all these shameful and other things happen in our lives. It’s certainly a deep concern we have, is to restore the proper view of sexuality in the church and in the world.

Heidi Wilcox:
That makes sense. As we think about our children growing up in the church and wanting to recover a holistic and healthy view of sexuality in all arenas, how would you recommend talking to children and leading families when it comes to this topic?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, it’s one thing to our millennial generation and the X all down the line. I think, one of the differences between your generation, and if you go back to Boomers or before that, the Builder generation, we weren’t told explicitly, but I think we learned, don’t talk about these things, don’t ever bring it up. Hopefully, people will just catch the right idea through just growing up in the home and all that. Those days are long gone, right?

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I like the fact and I love just being exposed to experience. One of the privileges of being in my role in all my life in academia is that, basically, my whole life has been spent with people mostly in their mid-20s to early 30s. I get older every year, but they keep coming in at the same age. You can observe cultures and how they’re different.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I think the younger culture, younger generations, are much more open about discussing things, talking about things. I think there’ll be probably much more willing to have these frank conversations with their children about the challenges of sexuality and what it means to go through puberty. Those kind of talks that sometimes were neglected, I think, today, will be more public and more open, and they’re in the home.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I’m encouraged by that. I think that part of the book lays out, obviously, what the church should do. The church is only part of it. We have to have a dual strategy that, on the one hand, the church has to take on a much better catechesis approach to training people, but also the home. A lot of this has to happen in the home.

Heidi Wilcox:
I’m glad you mentioned that because I was going to ask you about the catechesis. You can tell me if this is not a fair definition. I think of catechesis is training and discipleship of those who are in the church or in the home. What role does the church have in training up a new generation?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
It’s a really important question, Heidi. In the Wesleyan vision, of course, that’s part of what distinguishes our movement, is the strong emphasis on discipleship. Of course, it’s what’s supposed to be true for all churches. I think, in the past, when you had what was, at least, perceived to be a more Christianized culture, people let allow the cultural milieu to kind of shape or form people, but that’s not possible today. We have to be much more intentional about our culture of self-worship and training.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Some of the models of the church which, basically, just people brought in the church and they’re never trained, they’re never given a Christian worldview, never. They don’t know really what Christians actually believe. This has been proven. It will not pass down to the next generation. It’s not an effective way to propagate the faith. What I call for in the book is the rediscovery or recovery of catechesis. The church, traditionally, had certain pathways they used to catechize people. It was mostly around using the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed. I show how we can weave into even that format.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
All the seven components of my theology of the body can be woven into a church’s normal discipleship, or you could do it as a separate kind of training. I think it’d be a big mistake today for the church to neglect this and not help young people as they come into the church and they get baptized to understand the Christian view of the body.

Heidi Wilcox:
Definitely. One of the things that I also enjoyed about your book was at the beginning where you talked about the famous fresco, “The Creation of Adam” that was painted by Michelangelo. I wanted just to give you a chance to talk about that image and why you love it, and what it kind of shows us today as we’re talking about and developing a theology of the body.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Thank you for bringing that up. It’s one of my favorite images. I think it’s the most reproduced image in Christian art. It’s a very well-known image. People, if they don’t know the whole Sistine Chapel, which, of course, has hundreds of paintings on it, that’s the one they know the most. Michelangelo painted it from 1508, 1512. He was a sculptor, not a painter. This was a new challenge for him. That particular painting of the creation of Adam is iconic because it captures the very moment when God creates Adam and bestows His image upon him.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
The way the whole thing is arranged to have the angels looking on to the holy mystery and this wonderful kind of moment in the history of the world, it’s just, to me, a very powerful capturing of the image of God being conveyed and what it meant. Adam is there in his full embodiment. His whole body is just laid out there. Again, it reinforces that creation is good. This is a beautiful thing.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
It’s very, very powerful. I’ve always been very interested in Christian art. If you go to the British Museum, probably two thirds of the paintings are of a biblical theme. There’s a long tradition of Christians and art. I love the art. I was actually preaching once some years ago on the radio. I mentioned just the role of Christians in art. Part of the book try to bring out the need to recover Christian art.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Anyway, [crosstalk 00:36:09] that I had seen, just almost every scene of Jesus life portrayed in art. I said, there’s one scene in the ministry of Jesus I’ve never seen in any piece of artwork anywhere. I’ve been to dozens of museums. It was that moment where Jesus in Mark seven where Jesus sticks his fingers into the man’s ears. Remember that?

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
He tells, “Be opened.” The church had used that to symbolize being open to hear the gospel. It’s a great moment in the ministry of Christ. I just mentioned that come and passing a sermon that I had never seen that in an art. A number of months later, I received a package in the mail. I couldn’t believe it. I opened it up and it was a beautiful charcoal painting, a rendition of that moment in the ministry of Christ. It was sent to me by a man that was incarcerated in prison in Connecticut. Amazing, he had heard the sermon on the radio and he decided to do that depiction. He sent it to me.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I’ve just treasured it because it’s such a great moment, again, of embodiment of Jesus reaching out and touching somebody. He didn’t just speak the word and say, “Be healed.” He grabbed him and touched him. That’s so much a part of the ministry of Christ, how God touches us.

Heidi Wilcox:
Sure.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
That’s captured in the Sistine Chapel right there where God reaches, as you know, the moment, the focal point. I’ve been in the Sistine Chapel and seen it in person. This is the place where the Popes were elected, et cetera. It’s a very sacred place. When you go into that chapel, the Vatican Museums are enormous. They’re just enormous. You can just spend a lifetime in there.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
The Sistine Chapel is actually quite small. When you get to that point in the museums, it’s actually quite full of people, usually, when you get there. That’s the only museum in the Vatican where you’re not allowed to speak. You have to enter into it in silence.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
If [crosstalk 00:38:12] room of, probably, it’s filled with 100 people easily, or more. Everyone is in silence and they’re all looking up at that moment when God touches Adam. It’s really, really powerful. I think it symbolizes the book. If you haven’t ever been to Rome, put it on your bucket list because the Sistine Chapel is well worth seeing.

Heidi Wilcox:
I’m writing it down right now because we definitely want to do some traveling when it’s safer to do so. Definitely want to go there. My husband, he’s an artist, so he would really appreciate that, too.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
That’s great.

Heidi Wilcox:
I want to go back to talking. I’ve said this many times just while you talked, but I really appreciated how your book talked about the various places and ways that our theology of the body gets played out. It’s really everywhere. In rolls, in areas that I hadn’t even thought about that our bodies were a part of that. I thought that was really cool. You talked about singleness. I want to spend some moments talking about singleness and what it means.

Heidi Wilcox:
I think, sometimes, at least from my experience, I’m not speaking for everybody, that we’ve kind of, maybe, made an idol out of being in a relationship, or at least, tell that in a higher esteem than being single. I really appreciated what your book said about putting them on more equal playing field. Then, also, from what I got, that you were assuming the life of celibacy and a life of singleness maybe a little bit more than the life of marriage. I don’t know. Is that a fair take?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, back to the original question, I think the first thing to say is the word, “singleness,” is, of course, never found in Scripture. That itself is part of the problem. One of the things that I try to do is to capture new language, because in the New Testament and building on the Old, singleness is actually what I would call the single-focused life. I try to recover, again, this whole book is about recovery, but recovering, really the two meanings of the body.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
The first meaning is what the earlier chapters deal with, which will be called the spousal meaning of the body, what it means to be a spouse, the whole recovery of marriage, et cetera, and childbearing. All that’s wonderful, but there’s the second meaning of the body. That’s the one that you’re raising, which I think is so crucial, which is the celibate meaning of the body, and that God has called certain people to embody the future eschaton. Of course, as you know, in heaven, in the new creation, there is no marriage in heaven.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
What I argue is that the marriage supper of the Lamb, we’re married to Christ. In the traditional vision, and I bring out Augustine’s writings where he has a book on marriage as well as on the single life, he talks a lot about the power of the single life where you’re celibate, you’re portraying the future mystery of being married to Christ already in the present. It’s very powerful thing.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I argue in the book, of course, that, and this goes to your question, which one is more important, that, of course, a married person is supposed to be celibate prior to marriage. Then, Paul talks about being celibate in the midst of marriage where husband and wife would agree for periods of reflection and prayer to not engage in normal spousal life together. Then, if your spouse dies, you’re back into a point of…

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Actually, the single life or the single-focused life, actually punctuates all of our lives. That’s the future state we’re all headed to. Of course, marriage frames the whole Bible. The Bible starts out with a marriage in the Garden of Eden and it ends with the marriage supper of the Lamb. We’re married to Christ.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I really tried to bring out the power of the celibate life and what it’s meant to embody, especially, in a sexualized world that we’re in, where we really need to recover the power of the single-focused life. I think most protestants, at least, have associated that with the Roman Catholics and the Gnostic communities, et cetera. In fact, it’s a much broader embodiment.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Now, of course, there’s all these new protestant monasteries emerging around the world. There’s also just the reality of living the single-focused life where you’re in community. A lot of churches really haven’t developed properly the kind of capacities to bring it all together. They have all kinds of programming for married family, married couples, et cetera, but not as much for singles, except for a single group so that you might meet someone to get married.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
[crosstalk 00:43:12] the real valuing of that single-focused life. The church, traditionally, actually, held both of these in very high esteem and, if anything, regarded the person that lives in celibate life as person who had already had this eschatological experience of realizing that the future state to which we’re all headed.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I tried to bring that out. I think it’s connected a lot to the loss of friendships. I did a lot of study on what’s happened with friendships, especially, after puberty. There’s a huge drop off in same gender friendships across our country. It’s a real concern. I interviewed young people. They’re saying, if they maintain friendships of the same gender, then people assume that they’re homosexual. Again, the sexualization of friendships has actually served to help destroy friendships.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Whenever we’ve had students at the seminary that have had same-sex attraction, one of things that they have taught us that we’ve highlighted from time to time in chapel is the rediscovery of the power of same gender friendships that they were longing for. That’s been something I think has been very helpful to bring out into, hopefully, part of the recovery that this book is trying to point to.

Heidi Wilcox:
Definitely. How do you think the church can make space for single individuals?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, they just have to, first, value it and see the role of it and not assume that everyone is called into the married state, and therefore, to create avenues for same-gender friendships and new kinds of community gatherings and embodiments that are very meaningful to people. I think it’s just a way of church looking at their programming and looking at the way they do it.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
In the past, I think, churches were much smaller. Therefore, it was more natural to have those kind of friendship connections. A lot of people who go to large churches, they go there, there’ll be 1,000 people there, but they feel alone. They feel lonely there. Part of the whole social media dynamic [crosstalk 00:45:24] has been the rise of loneliness in our culture. It’s actually not connected to this issue alone. It’s a larger issue of how people feel a sense of belonging in any culture and how we create spaces that convey belonging.

Heidi Wilcox:
I liked how you unpacked the saying, blood is thicker than water. I never heard the actual meaning where the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. I just think that’s beautiful and it kind of speaks to the fact and the importance of intimate friendships to our health and wholeness.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I know. [crosstalk 00:46:05] that phrase has been originally intended to underscore the power of friendships which were very powerful in the Roman world. Then, they become a way of defending that your family connections override everything else. The phrase is completely flipped in the modern world.

Heidi Wilcox:
Why are these intimate friendships and deep friendships so important to maintain?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, because it’s part of the nexus of what it means to be in relationship. We discussed at the beginning of the podcast was part of the image of God is that we’re relational beings. We’re called to be related one to another. Part of, I think, the satanic kind of strategy is to separate people and to create as part of this your heart curved in on itself is to create people that are in isolation and feeling lonely. Part of the gospel is to reestablish all of the avenues of relationships.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
It’s not just you and God. That’s part of the whole individualization of the faith which is swept across the Western world. It’s not actually local vision. It’s actually multi-faceted that we are connected to God, to one another. We have to recover all these pathways of intimate relationships in order to really recover the full meaning of what it means to be in the body of Christ, because the body is related one to another, not simply to the head.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. As you say, our bodies are mobile temples that sacramentally represent God in the world. How do we live sacramentally in real life, on our social media pages, and especially in an election here?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, election here, who knows? All bets are off.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right, who knows?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I do bring out one of the chapters on the sacramental meaning of the body. I devoted actually two chapters to various themes of that. One of them is the idea that I think we view the sacrament, if we’ll say you take the Eucharist, we have viewed it too much as, simply, the place where God conveys His grace to you personally, where you receive forgiveness, et cetera, rather than you being transformed into the broken bread to the world. I really bring out the fact that the sacrament is two sides, too.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
One is what happens between you and God, but also, what happens between you and your neighbor, and even into the world. I bring out that aspect of the sacraments. Then, I also have a whole chapter just on what it means to live daily life.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I jokingly say at one point in the book, I say that the book begins with this stunning creation of us in the image of God and the Sistine Chapel, this loft image of this sublime truth. It ends with changing diapers, or whatever, daily life, washing dishes, mowing the grass. I have a whole chapter looking at what’s called the quotidian mysteries, the daily mysteries of life where we all get up and there’s certain things we do every day. We make the bed. We wash the dishes. We wash clothes. We cut the lawn, or whatever.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
There’s things that we do regularly in our lives, that we don’t really realize the sacramental side of that, that that’s part of our embodiment, is doing these daily tasks. So we view them is meaningless, or if we have the money, we’ll pay somebody else to do them

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Part of the book is to re-establish the power of the daily living and what it means to be embodied creatures in all the daily things that we do. Part of that is repetition is, of course, sacramental. We associate repetition with sacraments. This is one of those repetitious things we do, is all of our daily tasks.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I really try to re-enliven that aspect and to not divide our life between sacred and secular, so that you think, well, I’m doing something spiritual when I go to church or when I get up in the morning in my quiet time and read the Bible. Then, you go out into the world into the second world. That’s a modern bifurcated dichotomized world. It’s not part of the biblical vision.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Instead, seeing God’s presence in the whole of life is a big crucial part of the book’s vision, to see what it means for us to be the embodied creatures, not simply when we take the sacrament, but when we make the bed in the morning, when we do the normal things of life. I don’t know if you get up every morning, you make your bed up in the morning, Heidi.

Heidi Wilcox:
My husband does that. Yes, one of us does that.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
People never do it at all, but we can do that. Things have to be done. You have to wash dishes. You have to cut grass. You have to do these things. Part of it is men and women both are involved in all of these daily tasks. There have been some great books written in recent years on this Christian view of normal life.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
If you know the church year, you’ll know that the church year is divided from Lent all the way through to Pentecost, all these wonderful seasons, but it only goes from the four weeks for Christmas until around June when Pentecost happens. Then, the rest of the year is called ordinary time.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
What I argue is that the church actually divided the church year between a half of the year where we remember the grand themes of redemption, and the other half of the year where we remember what it’s like to live as Christians in ordinary life. That’s something that I think we’ve lost.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s beautiful. I never really thought about it that way before. That’s lovely.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Thanks.

Heidi Wilcox:
Dr. Tennent, we’ve covered a great many things in our conversation today. I’ve really enjoyed them. We have one question that we ask everybody who comes on the show. Before we do, is there anything else that you want to talk about that we haven’t already talked about?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
No, it’s been a joy to talk with you, Heidi. I hope that we do recapture some more of the mystery of what it means to be embodied. If that comes across this podcast, just to think better with the body, then, we’ll achieve our goal.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes, for sure. Now, for the last question. The show is called the Thrive With Asbury Seminary podcast, what is one practice, it can be spiritual or otherwise, that is helping you thrive in your life right now?

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Well, besides doing the dishes every day, I don’t know if you know this, Heidi, but in 2012, my wife, Julie, who is just a wonderful delight… By the way, this book that I’ve written I have, I’ve dedicated to Julie with the phrase, “To Julie, how wonderful it is to be married to you.” I’m so thankful for her partnership in the gospel. I came to Asbury in 2009. I realized I was facing many new spiritual challenges in my life. I realized I needed to go deeper and find new reservoirs to better serve Asbury as its leader because I was given responsibilities and challenges that were new in my life.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
I was so happy because, in some ways, when I was an early young Christian, like a lot of Christians, you grow by leaps and bounds in the first 10 years of your Christian life. But then, there’s times where you feel like you’re just kind of maintaining or just kind of holding ground. I didn’t feel like I had really could take, can you really continue to grow and deepen in more dramatic ways when you have been a Christian for 30, 40 years.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
In 2012, we decided to get up every morning and spend time in the morning singing songs together before we had our normal Bible study and prayer time. We did that. We started that in 2012. We have done that every morning since 2012 to the present.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow. That’s beautiful.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
It’s amazing. Even if I’m on the road or traveling, we’d call on the phone and we do it over the phone. We just never miss and it’s been a real great thing for us. You may know that we’ve eventually put out our own metrical psalter. We’ve found that singing metrical psalms has been a wonderful way for us to thrive and to grow. It’s been a great gift to us and it’s, hopefully, helped me be better servant of the ministry of Asbury.

Heidi Wilcox:
I love that, Dr. Tennent. Thank you again so much. I really appreciate you and this conversation.

Dr. Timothy Tennent:
Thank you, Heidi. It’s been a pleasure.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey, friends. Thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Dr. Tennent. There is so much that we can learn from today’s conversation. I know, I learned some things. I hope you did as well.

Heidi Wilcox:
Make sure, if you haven’t already, Dr. Tennent’s book is available for pre-order. It releases on October 27th. If you haven’t already, make sure you grab a copy of that.

Heidi Wilcox:
As always, you can follow us in all the places, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @AsburySeminary. Thanks for listening and go do something that helps you thrive.