Tommy Tenney & the God Chasers (Part Three)
By Mike Taylor
5. DOWNPLAYING SCRIPTURE?
There are serious problems with Tenney’s attitude to Scripture. He seems to be confused about the role of the Scriptures in the Christian life. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29) It is important to realize that these two, the Scriptures and the power of God, are not in opposition, but are handmaids that work collaboratively. They go hand-in-hand, or should do.
Unfortunately it is possible to know the Scriptures (at least on an intellectual level) and not to experience the power of God. A person can be very knowledgeable about the contents of the Bible, but not have experienced the new birth by the Spirit of God.
Then again it is possible to experience the power of God apart from Scripture. A person can be healed by the Lord and not even become a true believer. But the Scriptures themselves do bear witness to the power of God and this power always bears witness to the Scriptures. It is unlikely that Tenney is deliberately seeking to turn people away from the Bible. He is probably weary of the type of Fundamentalism which encourages memorization of Biblical texts, but goes no further. All of us who hunger for God can sympathize with this frustration.
But, unfortunately, Tenney has allowed his frustration to boil over into intemperate statements, some of which could be read as an actual denunciation of serious attention to Scripture.
- God chasers are not interested in camping out on some dusty truth known to everyone. They are after the fresh presence of the Almighty. [TGCxv]
- A true God chaser is not happy with just past truth; he must have present truth. God chasers don’t want to just study from the moldy pages of what God has done; they’re anxious to see what God is doing.
- There is a vast difference between present truth and past truth. I’m afraid that most of what the Church has studied is past truth, and very little of what we know is present truth.[TGCxvi]
These statements will make only partial sense to anyone who does not fully understand where Tenney is coming from.
The image of camping out on some truth is straight Latter Rain rhetoric and is taken from the use of the Israelite’s wilderness journey as a picture of the Christian life and the history of the Church throughout the church age.
The various campsites along the way are seen as picturing an entry into a new phase of God’s truth. Latter Rain and Endtime Sonship advocates (such as Bill Britton and George Hawtin) used to refer to Fundamentalists as camping around the truth of justification by faith. Then they would say that Pentecostals accepted justification, but had moved into the further revelation of the baptism with the Spirit. Baptism with the Spirit might be pictured as the next campsite after justification.
Endtime Restorationism, as exemplified in the Latter Rain movement (1948-1953), adopted the dispensational teaching of the Scofield Reference Bible, but Pentecostalized it. According to Scofieldism human history can be seen as consisting of a number of dispensations or time-periods, in each of which God dealt with people according to a different set of laws or principles.
Each of these ages required a different ‘Gospel’ message to meet the conditions of its time. Scofield also divided the Church Age, which precedes the Kingdom Age, into seven phases typified by the seven churches in Revelation, taken in their canonical sequence.
Accordingly, the phase of the Church in the endtimes is the Laodicean age in which the Church descends into lukewarmness. Just as there is a need for a fresh message for each dispensation, so a new emphasis is required for each phase of the Church Age. This system suits the notion of Endtime Restorationism very well because it allows people to justify any novel emphasis they wish to present as being the message for the hour.
It also buttresses the Latter Rain idea of Present Truths which are specific to each dispensation of the church age. Endtime Restorationism teaches that the early church went into decline and so lost vitals truths until, in the Middle Ages, almost everything was lost. They go on to teach that these lost truths had to be restored progressively to the Church during the later phases of the church age. This is said to have begun with the restoration of justification by faith through Martin Luther.
Accordingly that was the truth for that time.
Endtime Restorationists accept that people need to by justified, but they say there is more: Christians need to move on to accept the truth of the new birth and sanctification, as restored through John Wesley and the Methodist movement. But that is not good enough: Christians must move on further to accept the baptism with the Holy Spirit, preferably with speaking in tongues.
Each one of these restorations is described as a ‘fresh move of God’ and the accompanying doctrine is tagged present truth. There are many problems with this teaching.
One problem is that it is based entirely on what has happened in Britain and the USA, and even then it does not take into account the whole picture. Another problem is that it makes recovery of truth into a dispensational issue as opposed to a matter of obedience to the Word of God according to which Christians should, as much as they can, be governed by the Bible in their churchlife. If the matter is made into a dispensational issue, it implies that Christians in one era cannot access truths to be revealed at a later time.
Only when God sovereignly opens the door can Christians walk in. This use of the term present truth (in contrast to past truth) is a misuse of that phrase found in the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible: Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know [them], and be established in the present truth. (2 Peter 1:12)
In its true Biblical context, the phrase has a meaning entirely different from that assigned to it by Latter Rain dispensationalists. A clearer rendering is this: For this reason, I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you already have.36
The original phrase is th paroush alhqeia, which means literally the truth alongside. This could be rendered the truth which is accompanying you. In other words, it is the truth which you now have. It has nothing whatever to do with the notion that there is a series of dispensations, each requiring a fresh truth specific to itself.
It can easily be seen that the Latter Rain teaching of present truths is very useful to those trying to introduce novel emphases into the Church. If anyone raises an objection, it can be fended off deftly by such rejoinders as: It’s what the Spirit is saying to the Church in this day, or: It’s the way God is working today.
In practice the combination of these ideas means that Latter Rain and Endtime Sonship adherents can advocate any bizarre happening or doctrine and then defend it by insisting that it is present truth. If the question is asked, Why has there been nothing like in church history?, an answer like this will be given: Well, it is present truth, a new move of God. It is what God is doing today. If it is asked, Why was there nothing like this in the early church?, the answer can always be given: Well, it is present truth, a new move of God.
The early church never properly moved into what God had for it and God is doing a new thing today. If it is asked, Why is there nothing like this in the New Testament?, the answer can always be given: This is present truth, a new move of God.
The Scriptures merely describe what God did in the early days of the Church. But God is doing a new thing today and taking today’s Church way beyond what the early church entered into. In this way, the present is cut off from the past.
Divorcing the present from the past is particular easy to do in the context of youth culture, in which young people do not know the past and care even less about it. In this way people can easily be manipulated to follow any new fad. It is also a particular matter of concern when the Bible is relegated to the realm of past truth instead of being seen as eternally relevant.
The problem is not with the Scriptures, but with the inability of people to see the past in the present. Things that are happening today are not as new as people think they are.
For people to imagine that the past is so different makes it hard for them to learn lessons from the past. And if people fail to learn lessons from the past, they are almost inevitably doomed to repeat past mistakes.
God’s love notesIn one paragraph, Tenney expresses an amazing lack of regard for the written Word of God: We make a great deal out of reading the Word and that is important. But we need to remember that the early Church didn’t have access to what we call the New Testament for many years. They didn’t even have the Old Testament Scriptures because those expensive scrolls were locked up in synagogues. The only Scriptures that had were the verses from the law, the Psalms, and the prophets that had been passed down orally from grandfathers and grandmothers – and that only if they were Jewish believers. So what did they have? They walked and talked with Him in such a rich level of intimacy that it wasn’t necessary for them to pour over dusty love letters that were written long ago. They had God’s love notes freshly written on their hearts. [TGC74]
It is true that the New Testament was not available as an entire written document to the early Church as a written document. However, the New Testament is the doctrine of the apostles in written form. The Book of Acts makes it clear that the early Church put into operation the apostles’ doctrine: And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Then fear came upon every soul, and many signs and wonders were done through the apostles. (Acts 2:42-43) While the foundational apostles (the Twelve and Paul) were alive, there was not the same need for their teachings to be written down.
However, in preparation for their departure from this life, it was necessary for their teaching to be enshrined in written form for posterity. So the treasure of God’s Word was taken from one treasure-chest (the foundational apostles) and put in another (the Bible). The New Testament Scriptures are nothing but the very same apostles’ doctrine in written form.
The Church in the days of the foundational apostles did not despise the God’s verbal communication and, in fact, had a far more accurate grasp of the verbal content of their faith than most professing Christians of today.
Secondly, Tenney’s comments entirely overlook the reality of oral tradition among societies which value such tradition. Just a little contact with people from those cultures today reveals how easily they memorize vast chunks of written material. Many Muslims know the entire Qur’án by heart and, even in the USA despite our ‘modern’ culture, people have memorized the entire New Testament. Two examples of this are Bob Jones, Jr, (of Bob Jones University) and Dale Rhoton (of OM). Converted Gypsy men who are illiterate retain large tracts of the Bible in their memories from listening to exposition and from hearing their wives read the Bible aloud.Unfortunately, Tenney’s desire to make a point drives him to exaggerate the difference between living the Christian life under the teachings of the foundational apostles and living the Christian life under their teaching as found in the Bible.
What did Tenney mean by the moldy pages of what God has done?[TGCxvi] Could he actually be speaking of the Scriptures? This is a strange way to speak of the Bible, which is after all the very written Word of God, and not just any old book.
Elsewhere, Tenney uses expressions such as God’s … old love letters to the churches [TGC1] and dusty love letters written long ago [TGC74] Again, he wrote of the Bible as God’s tracks in contrast to His presence. [TGCxv]
Phrases like this would perhaps be acceptable if Tenney was intending to refer only to purely human accounts of God’s past or of human attempts to explain God and His works. But in his attempt to talk up the pursuit of his concept of God’s manifest presence, he simply goes too far in implying that Bible is merely a detached signpost to God. God is seen as ‘somewhere out there’ and ‘this old book’ is nothing more than a book of clues as to how to find Him out there.
In these ways, Tenney fails to distinguish between uninspired reports of what God has done in the past and Scripture itself. It is true that Tenney has sought to cover himself in one place by this disclaimer:
This would be fine if it were Tenney’s major emphasis, but it is only one single endnote buried in the entire book. As the sole disclaimer, it is hopelessly inadequate to moderate the other expressions which he has used. And even this disclaimer ends up with a statement that:
Let me hasten to add that my statements here are not meant to imply that I feel the Bible is unnecessary or irrelevant, or anything less than the anointed, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. My purpose here is to caution Christians against the practice of reading the Bible in a permanent state of past tense perspective. Look what God did back then with those people. Too bad He doesn’t do that today with us. [TGC81]
The most important problem with Tenney’s emphasis, however, is what he does not say. He has never once attempted to communicate the simple fact that God’s Word is actually a channel for the communication of His very essence. It is the primary vehicle through which God makes himself known to His disciples. There is a powerful blessing for those who actually seek God in His Word. It is instructive to contrast the words of Tenney with the words of Tozer, whom Tenney evidently rightly admires and, indeed, recommends to his own readers:
God’s Word is a road map to something greater - the God of the Word. Sometimes I think we almost fall into idolatry when we tend to worship the Word of our God more than the God of the Word. [TGC81]
Again for the kind of fellowship we are talking about, seek to know Him in His Word.
Remember that the Spirit of God inspired the Word and He will be revealed in the Word. I really have no place in my sympathies for those Christians who neglect the Word or ignore the Word or get revelations apart from the Word. This is the Book of God after all …37
How different this is from Tenney’s statement: We make a great deal out of reading the word and that is important [TGC74]
It is more than just important. It is essential for spiritual survival, not to mention spiritual growth. Again, as Tozer wrote: I want to preach the Word, love the Word and make the Word the most important element in my Christian life. 38 What could be a more natural statement from someone who actually discovers God in His word?
God’s Eye versus God’s Word?
In another place, he seems to imply that it is more important to be guided by God’s ‘eye’ than by Scripture: Too often God’s people can be guided only by the written Word or the prophetic word. The Bible says He wants us to move beyond that to a place marked by a greater degree of tenderness of heart toward Him and by a deeper maturity that allows Him to guide us with His eye (see Ps. 32:8-9). … . Do you still need to hear a thundering voice from behind the pulpit? A biting prophetic utterance to correct your ways? Or are you able to read the emotion of God on His face? Are you tenderhearted enough that His eye can guide you and convict your heart of sin? When He glances your way, are you quick to say, Oh, I can’t do that. I can’t go there, and I can’t say that because it would displease my Father? [TGC37-38]
God is tired of screaming instructions at the Church; He wants to guide us with His eye. That means we have to be close enough to Him to see His face. He’s tired of correcting us through public censure. We have sought His hands for too long. We want what He can do for us; we want His blessings, we want the chills and the thrills, we want the fishes and the loaves. Yet we shirk at the high commitment it takes to pursue His face. [TGC47]
It seems significant that Tenney seems here to place the written Word on the same level as the prophetic word. But in the first of these extracts, he refers to the word as preached. Presumably when he speaks of the written Word here, he actually means the Word as preached and not as found in the pages of the Bible. However, the question still arises as to why these things should be placed in opposition?
On some issues, we are indeed very sensitive because God has dealt with us in the past, but on other issues we may be still relatively hardened. Only God truly knows our hearts. We will never attain a higher spiritual level where God’s Word finally gives way to some more direct form of guidance or relationship with God, unless it be in the new heavens and the new earth after the general resurrection and the last Judgment. It is through the Word, rightly received, that we do become tender.
And we then need our daily meal of the Word to keep us where we should be before God. For anyone to testify that they have gone beyond the Word of God would be a fruit of spiritual pride and a sign that he or she has wandered from the Path.
Revelation versus truth?
In yet another place, Tenney seems to place revelation and truth in opposition: The difference between the truth of God and revelation is very simple. Truth is where God’s been. Revelation is where God is. Truth is Gods tracks. It’s His trail, His path, but it leads to what? It leads to Him. [TGCxvi]
This contrast is virtually meaningless. Why?
The term revelation is used in a range of senses in the New Testament, but basically it means something which has been revealed. The technical use of the term in Evangelical circles to refer only to the inspiration of Scripture has served to confuse the issue here.
The fact is that, generally speaking, the content of revelation is God’s truth. Or it could be said that God’s truth is the content of revelation.
Revelation refers simply to the mode which God uses to put His truth into our hands, our brains, and our spirits. The truth is the substance or content of that revelation.
A comparison might be made with fruit. I might have a juicy orange in my hand and that orange contains a lot of juice. If I eat the orange, I get the juice. Similarly if I receive a revelation, I get the truth that it contains.
To oppose the orange and the juice would be an unhelpful mindgame having no bearing on physical reality and serving only to confuse thirsty people. Likewise, to oppose revelation to truth has no bearing on spiritual reality and serves only to deflect hungry people from the true and permanent source of spiritual food.
The Word of God: signpost or transmitter?
Is the written Word of God just a signpost to God or an actual transmitter of God?
Tenney’s emphasis seems to imply that God does not actually communicate Himself through His Word. For him, the Word of God seems to be nothing more than an indication of how we are to find God outside of the Word. According to Tenney’s writings, it is no more than a book of instructions or clues telling us how we can find God. If this is so, once we find God, there is little further use for the Word. It is certainly not daily bread. How can it be if indeed it is nothing more than past truth? But Jesus told us to live by the word of God:
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. (Luke 4:4)
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4);
By contrast, Tenney states: Perhaps the masses of people are happy to know where God’s been, but true God chasers are not content just to study God’s trail, His truths; they want to know Him. They want to know what He is and what He’s doing right now. [TGCxvi]
God chasers don’t want to just study from the moldy pages of what God has done; they’re anxious to see what God is doing. [TGCxvi]
What does Tenney think God is doing right now? Is he speaking about seeking God in present places, in present movements, or in special Christian conventions and conferences? Or does he mean present prophecy? Or could it mean phenomena, dramatic signs and wonders, conversions or what? And if so, is this really knowing God?
The final questions we are left with are these:
How do we compare Tenney’s writings with Scripture? Will we prefer what Tenney says about God and Scripture to what Scripture itself says? Does Tenney really think that what he is saying is present truth and that Scripture is only past truth? As for me, I’ll throw in my lot with Scripture which I know to be God’s Word. I know God reveals Himself to me powerfully through His Word.
Although Tenney makes some good points in places, much of his writing conveys an emphasis quite different from God’s written Word. We need to be watchful. Jesus says: I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:9) and: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27). It is, therefore, imperative that we listen to Him and not to people who claim to speak for Him, yet take us down some by-path and ultimately away from our Creator.
It is obvious that if He is the author of His Word and He is found in it, other voices claiming to speak for Him must agree with what He has written. If He is the Truth, as He says He is, there can be no contradiction. Not surprisingly, Tenney’s slipshod attitude to Scripture opens the door to some strange emphases.
Interpolation into Scripture
Tenney’s attitude to Scripture results in a fast-and-loose approach to Biblical interpretation and application. He has a tendency to read into Scripture what is actually not there at all. The example of the so-called glory dust on Moses’ face has already been noted. [TGC20]
Another example of this is his interpretation of the activities of the High Priest in visiting the Holy of holies in the Temple. Most of this is material which has invented himself and bearing little relationship to what we read in the Bible. An example of interpolation is the tying of a rope around the ankle of the High Priest before he enters the Holy of Holies in the Temple, [TGC57,58] when no such rope is mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
Other examples are the idea that the High Priest has to poke the censer under the veil before actually entering the Holy of Holies, [TGC58] and the idea that the smoke from the censer is to hide live flesh from God’s view in the Holy of Holies. [TGC58-59] I believe …, says Tenney.[TGC58] I say, So what?
He gives a strange reason why the apostle John was given the revelation which we now have as the Book of Revelation. He wrote: It was only after John was a walking dead man abandoned on a desert island to die that he heard a voice ….[TGC62] I’m convinced …, says Tenney. [TGC62] I say, So what?
He thinks Jesus was delayed by Mary Magdalene as He was about to ascend from earth into heaven. [TGC134-36] He thinks that the angels Michael and Gabriel were both archangels, when the Bible nowhere accords the status of archangel to Gabriel. [TGC146] These ideas are stated not merely as possible interpretation; rather they are interposed into Scripture in such a way as to give them the feel of revealed interpretation, almost like the way the apostles used the Old Testament. Yet the result is that the teaching of Scripture is actually distorted or contradicted.
The outcome of Tenneys’ approach to the Bible will result in people who follow him taking the Bible less seriously.
CONTINUE TO PART FOUR
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© 1995-2013 Tricia Tillin of Banner Ministries. All rights reserved. Cross+Word Website: http://www.banner.org.uk/ This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.