By MIKE R. TAYLOR
This is an abridged version of a much longer investigation, which is in the latter stages of production. We will, of course, inform our readers when the full article is completed.
THE book The God Chasers [TGC] was published in February 1999 by Destiny Image of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.*1 The author is Tommy Tenney, an annual speaker at Dave Markee's church, Folly End, in Croydon, southern England.
Tommy Tenney referred in The God Chasers to his father as "a national leader in a Pentecostal denomination in America", [TGC29] although the identity of this denomination was not disclosed in that book, Tommy Tenney's father, the Rev. Tom F. Tenney, is in fact the district superintendent of the Louisiana district United Pentecostal Church [UPC], a position he has held since 1978. He is based in Tioga, Louisiana, and is regarded by the UPC International [UPCI] as "progressive and visionary".*2 T.F. Tenney is married to Mrs Thetus Tenney, a much-travelled international speaker and co-ordinator of the World Network of Prayer, an international prayer service sponsored by the UPCI.*3
The UPC is the largest denomination of Oneness Pentecostals in the world. Altogether there are an estimated 17,000,000 Oneness Pentecostals worldwide and about 2,100,000 of them in the USA. They are divided into many denominations and splinter groups, the largest being the UPC, which in 1997 had grown to around 700,000 members in the USA. Five years earlier, in 1992, the membership figures for the largest Oneness Pentecostal denominations were as follows*4:
Oneness Pentecostals sometimes call themselves "Apostolic" to distinguish
- United Pentecostal Church International (400 000)
- Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (200 000)
- Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ (100 000)
- United Church of Jesus Christ (100 000)
- Church of Our Lord Jesus
- Christ of the Apostolic Faith (45 000)
- Pentecostal Churches of
- Apostolic Faith (25 000)
themselves from Trinitarian Pente-costals.
Oneness Pentecostals accept the deity of Jesus Christ and the authority of scripture. But they reject the doctrine of the Trinity and insist that people should be immersed in water "in the name of Jesus" and not "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." T.F. Tenney (senior) himself insists that Oneness doctrine does not contradict the bible.*5
Other problems with Oneness Pentecostalism are legalism, elitism, and judgmentalism towards orthodox Christians. Oneness groups tend to regard people who have not been immersed "in Jesus' name" as unsaved and the UPC itself goes as far as to insist that people who have been immersed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit must be re-immersed "in the name of Jesus", because otherwise they will remain unsaved. This encourages UPC members to think that their admittance into heaven is decided by their own performance rather than by simple faith in Christ's atonement.
Oneness Pentecostals, including the UPC, insist that the reception of the Holy Spirit must be accompanied by speaking in tongues. As a result, many of them maintain that Christians who do not speak in tongues are not even saved.
Hardline Oneness adherents believe that they are into higher truth because of their superior doctrine and strict holiness standards. The UPC official holiness code presents to its members a long list of `dos-and-don'ts'. They are urged not to watch television or go to cinemas, or sports events. Women are instructed not to wear makeup, jewellery, trousers, or short hairstyles. Indeed, members of hard-line UPC churches are taught that Christians who are not UPC members are hell bound because they watch television or wear jewellery.
The overall effect is that UPC members believe that they are saved by their works rather than by grace alone. One pastor, interviewed for Charisma & Christian Life Magazine, who wished to remain anonymous, said:
"I was taught in the UPC that we were the body of Christ -that we had the whole gospel and everyone else just had a part. No one actually came out and said that other Christians aren't going to heaven, but that attitude was implied."*6
Many prominent leaders have broken ranks with the UPC over the years. In 1976 Pastor C.G. "Jabo" Green of Houston, Texas, was elected to lead a network of dissident UPC leaders who wanted more grace and less sectarianism. This organization represents about 430 US ministers.*7 However, most pastors in this network still hold to the Oneness position on the Godhead, although they do not require new members to be re-immersed "in Jesus' name" or expect conformity to a set of holiness standards. Neither do they teach that Trinitarian believers are unsaved.*8
Tommy Tenney and the UPC
Tommy F. Tenney was born in 1956 and began preaching when he was 16. He spent almost 10 years pastoring in the UPC until he became an itinerant UPC evangelist in the early 1980s and continued in that role until he left the UPC in 1992. His departure was made difficult because of his father's prominence in the UPC. With commendable integrity, Tenney (junior) said:
"Many UPC pastors preach against television, but they have their TVs at their homes on the lake. I can't live like that."*9
He added that, when he left the UPC, his eyes were opened to "how big the body of Christ really is."*9
There is no indication that Tenney (junior) has renounced the Oneness error. Indeed, whatever his personal beliefs in regard to the Godhead, it is evident that he does not see Oneness as error as he and his father, who is still a UPC official, have co-authored a book entitled Secret Sources of Power.*10 It would be difficult to co-author a book on a spiritual topic with someone who was deemed to be in serious error. The book is advertised on The God Chasers website, along with other books by Tommy Tenney.*11 Furthermore, T.F. Tenney's support for his son's present ministry and The God Chasers book is printed within the book itself:
"This book points you in the right direction. I commend my son, Tommy, and this book that matches the times."[TGCviii]
Either Tenney himself still holds to the Oneness error or else, unlike orthodox Christians, he considers it an issue of only secondary importance.
Significantly, he also claimed to have received a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit within the UPC:
"I am a fourth generation Spirit-filled Christian, three generations deep into ministry ... "[TGC2]
1. CHASING GOD?
The back cover of The God Chasers says of Tenney, "The magnificent obsession of his life is the pursuit of the manifest presence of God".
What is a "God chaser"? The clearest conception of this is brought out in one of Tenney's illustrations:
"It's like playing chase with my daughter. Often as she arrives home from a day of school, we play this little game that countless fathers and children play around the world. When she comes and tries to catch me, even with my hulking frame, I really don't have to run. I just artfully dodge this way and then that, and she can't even touch me, because a six-year old can't catch an adult. But that's not really the purpose of the game, because a few minutes into it, she laughingly says, "Oh daddy," and it's at that moment that she captures my heart, if not my presence or body. And I turn and she's no longer chasing me, but I'm chasing her, and I catch her and we tumble in the grass with hugs and kisses. The pursuer becomes the pursued." [TGC4-5]
He then tries to compare this to our relationship with God:
"So can we catch Him? Not really, but we can catch His heart. David did. And if we catch His heart, then He turns and chases us. That's the beauty of being a God chaser. You're chasing the impossible, knowing it's possible." [TGC5]
It is as though God is always outside, shadowing us, and then teasing us by running away so that we just catch a glimpse of Him.
Elsewhere he has said that when he plays hide-and-seek with his daughter, he always leaves enough of himself showing so that she can find him more easily. This, too, he compares with God.
There is an emphasis in Tenney's teaching on God's supposed elusiveness, whereas there is a lack of emphasis on God's permanent indwelling presence in the believer. God is not trying to tease us into trailing Him through endless conferences and meetings into encountering His "manifest presence", as defined by Tenney. On the contrary, if a person is a true believer, he or she is already indwelt by the Holy Spirit. One of His works is to manifest the spiritual presence of Jesus to us on a continual basis. He does not plead with us to go this and that way, chasing God. Rather He encourages us to commune with God who indwells our spirits and to cultivate our relationship with Himself. Rather our constant prayer should be that we be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).
"Chasing God" and consumerism
Inasmuch as people are encouraged to "chase God, in the hopes of encountering His "manifest presence", they are being encouraged to go where they think they can find Him:
"That is where we must stand, calling for God to show us where He's going to break open the heavens over our cities. That is what I'm looking for. I just want to find out where He's going so I can position myself at the place where He is going to break open. There is an element of sovereignty in God's choice of places. ... . Our part consists of wandering through the wilderness until we find that spot ..."[TGC55]
He also recommended that people pray what he terms a "prayer of the clay", [TGC101] which includes the following words:
"Come, Holy Spirit. If not now, when? If not us, who? And if not here, where? Just tell us, Lord, and we'll go; we will pursue Your presence because we want You, Lord. Your presence is what we are after and nothing else will do."[TGC102]
Later in the book, Tenney stated:
"God has uncapped abundant standing pools of His presence that have brought life to millions of thirsty believers and unsaved people over the last few years. But they must travel to the well. There is forgotten power in pilgrimage." [TGC108]
This, combined with the Western consumerism, which has now gripped the church in a big way, is tantamount to an exhortation for people to neglect their local churches to attend meetings where they think they might encounter God's "manifest presence".
So although Tenney's talk on one level sounds very spiritual, on another level it is actually very human-centred because it encourages people to seek God in the form which appeals to them: "I want this; I want that". This is reminiscent of Paul's warning to Timothy:
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, [because] they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn [their] ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Self-centred pursuit of spiritual experiences
There is a valid sense in which we should seek the Giver rather than the gifts He is so willing to give us. There is no doubt that when Tenney stresses this, his teaching has the air of great spirituality:
"It is not enough to receive His gifts and walk in His anointing. I don't want more blessings; I want the Blesser. I don't want any more gifts; I want the Giver." [TGC54]
"God chasers want God! Not even the `things of God' will satisfy someone who is a `man after God's own heart'"[TGC54]
"Most of the time when we get a visitation from God, our eyes are on the wrong thing. We want His spiritual `toys.'"[TGC54]
However, pursuit of spiritual experiences can be just another form of self-gratification. Most Christians like dramatic spiritual experiences and this is natural because God made us with a spiritual appetite. The problem is that, like the rest of us, our spirits are fallen. It is, therefore, essential that our spiritual desires be renewed, like anything else in our lives. We need to ensure that what we are pursuing is truly from God and also a part of God's agenda for our lives. The possibility of spiritual derailment is ever present and we often lack discernment where we need it most.
A `pied-piper' mission
Tenney's `pied-piper' call is encapsulated in these words:
"All I can say is, I'm a God chaser. And so are a lot of those who have had God encounters. Why don't you come join the company of God chasers?" [TGCxvii]
Tenney obviously greatly appreciates the writings of A.W. Tozer. It is such a shame that he did not take the following words more to heart before he set out on his `pied-piper' mission:
"We cannot help ourselves by going somewhere else or joining something new. Brother, you don't get help by going out somewhere and "joining" something. God is not looking for tags or titles or names! He is looking for people. He is looking for loving, humble, clean people, and if He can find such people, He is prepared to move in at once with great power."*12
The contrast could hardly be greater!
2. 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 who 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 mouldy 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 in prophets.html rhetoric and is taken from the use of the Israelites' 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 End Time 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".
End time Restorationism teaches that the early church went into decline and so lost vital 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. End time restorationists accept that people need to be 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". 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 Europe 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 church life. 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. The original phrase is të parousë alëceia, 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 End Time 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 it 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 notes"
In 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 they 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 pore 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. 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 the very same "apostles' doctrine" in written form. The church in the days of the foundational apostles did not despise 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.
Furthermore, 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, despite our `modern' culture, some 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 mouldy 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 the 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:
"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]
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:
"God's Word is a road map to something greater cthe 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]
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:
"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 ..."*13
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."*14
What could be a more natural statement from someone who actually discovers God in His word?
God's "Eye" versus
In another place, Tenney seems to imply that it is more important to be guided by God's `eye' as opposed to 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 God's 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 mind game 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 mouldy 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.
One 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 he has invented himself and bears 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 Tenney's approach to the bible will result in people who follow him taking the bible less seriously.
Dying to see God
Nowhere in The God Chasers does Tenney make clear the real basis on which we can approach God in safety. It may be that he thinks that all his readers will be Christians and that he is simply taking them deeper into God. Even so, the Lord's people need constant reminders of the basis of their relationship with God.
However, it can never be assumed that unbelievers will not read a book of this kind. Genuine believers may become enthused and think of this as a means of bringing people to Christ. Furthermore, who is to say what proportion of people in the professing church in the USA are actually born again? The standards of conversion are so low, both in Fundamentalist and Pentecostal circles, that many of their adherents may in fact be only nominal `Christians'.
Our approach to God is based on the legal transaction, which took place when Jesus died on the cross at Golgotha. God wants a relationship with human beings. But all human beings (apart from Jesus) have sinned and so must be punished for their sin. Their sin cuts them off from God. So in order to enter into a relationship with them, God must find a way of forgiving sin without compromising His own essential holiness. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ meets all the necessary conditions.
Instead of presenting this in his book, Tenney talks about a process of transformation, which confuses justification with sanctification, which is also a problem in Roman Catholic teaching.
Tenney teaches that "the only way you are going to go through that veil is through the death of your flesh." [TGC62] This death of flesh he equates with "genuine repentance" plus "brokenness before God":
"The death of genuine repentance and brokenness before God will allow Him to draw near to you". [TGC62]
"It is "death" through repentance and brokenness that ushers in the presence of God and causes you to draw near to the Lord and yet live." [TGC64]
"If we allow God to take us through the complete process of repentance and brokenness without hindering or quenching His Spirit, then when the kabod, the weighty presence of God, comes among us and upon us, then we will be able to carry it without fear because we will be walking in the purity of Jesus and our flesh will be dead, covered by the blood of the Lamb." [TGC98]
He also wrote:
"He can only come close to you to the degree you are willing to die." [TGC64]
"The more of you that dies, the closer He can get." [TGC63]
"So all you need to do is die if you really want to get into His presence." [TGC80]
Here he really has things all the wrong way around. Those who come close to God on the basis of Jesus' finished work on the cross are led to put to death their remaining sin by the Spirit.
The building of our relationship with God actually has two main parts: a foundation and a superstructure. Being justified by faith is actually the foundation of our relationship. Without that, no progress in the Christian life can be made. However, we have to grow daily more like Christ. This process is not the foundation, but is the superstructure, which has to be built upon the foundation. The bible calls this sanctification. Sanctification is the superstructure, whereas justification is the foundation. The superstructure cannot bear the full weight of the building, whereas the foundation has to take the entire weight of everything built upon it. This is why we cannot start on the road to Christ likeness unless we have first been justified.
Once a person knows he has been justified, then he can start pursuing righteousness and putting to death the sin that remains in him. And as we pursue God's righteousness, we will often find Him drawing close to us in a special way. Nevertheless, there are dry times when we are being tested as to whether we are sincere in our pursuit of God. But as long as we keep responding positively to God's dealings with us and obeying His instruction, we will make constant spiritual progress. As we do this, we will often experience intense intimacy with God.
But God's coming close bears little or no relationship to our own efforts to die. Rather God draws especially near to us to encourage us before we enter the next phase of God's dealing with us. Indeed, repentance is a response to God, not a work, which we can undertake in order to attract Him to us.
Flesh versus spirit
Tenney emphasizes a contrast between "flesh" and "spirit":
It is true that all flesh must die in the presence of His glory, but it is also true that all that is of the Spirit lives forever in His glory. The eternal part of your being that really wants to live can live forever, but first there is something about your flesh that has to die. [TGC63]
And he speaks of the "unending wrestling match between the flesh and the spirit" which he thinks the reader is likely to be experiencing as a result of reading his book. [TGC63]
There seems to be some confusion in his mind between the use of the term "flesh" to denote humanity in its dependence upon God its creator and the use of the term, as used particularly by the apostle Paul, to denote remaining sin. Warfare between "the flesh" and "the Spirit" is referred to in this verse:
"For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17).
The context of this is the work of the Holy Spirit in producing the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer. The works of the flesh described are clearly sinful activities, not the activities of human beings as created. Sin is an intruder in human life; sinfulness is an abnormal state and only temporary for true believers.
In the light of this it is obvious that there will be conflict between the indwelling Holy Spirit, who restores the presence of God to our spirits, and the sin which remains in us until we leave our bodies at death or have them renewed at Christ's return, whichever is first. The term "flesh" is frequently used by Paul to refer specifically to remaining sin.
Special understanding of the work of the Spirit in dealing with remaining sin within us was given to Paul so that he could explain these things to the new Christians. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he was guided to use this particular term "flesh" for remaining sin. If we fail to understand this when we read the scriptures, we can end up in the most appalling confusion.
To assume that the term "flesh" refers in these passages to humanity as such or to "the old man" is highly confusing and leads ultimately to the idea that the human body is inherently evil, as was taught by the gnostics and certain Greek philosophers. One day our "flesh", in the sense of remaining sin, will be removed from us altogether, and, after the resurrection, we who are true believers will exist in bodies of redeemed, spiritualised "flesh" (in the sense of dependent human nature) able to stand in the presence of God.
If we are trusting in the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sin, then we can live in God's presence now and enter in freely. To suggest that "something about" our flesh "has to die" before the "eternal part" of our being can live-forever detracts from the plain biblical teaching and introduces an alien philosophy.
Tenney's references to the blood of Christ seem strange and contradictory:
"It's time to lay everything aside and cover yourself in the blood." [TGC80]
Are we covered or do we cover ourselves? Elsewhere he wrote:
"...our flesh will be dead, covered by the blood of the Lamb." [TGC98]
The root of Tenney's thinking seems to be some idea that the "flesh" constitutes a "veil", almost physical barrier, which hides the presence or glory of God from our sight. If only we can tear aside the flesh, it is supposed, we can penetrate the realm of spirit and see into the spirit-world. He tries to parallel our flesh with the veil, which was designed to keep people out of the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple. After speaking about the high priest entering the temple veil on the Day of Atonement, he wrote to God seekers:
"The only way you are going to go through that veil is through the death of your flesh." [TGC62]
Accordingly, Tenney wrote:
"I don't know about you, my friend, but there's a driving passion in my heart that whispers to me that there's more than what I already know, more than what I already have. It makes me jealous of John, who wrote Revelation. It makes me envious of people who get glimpses out of this world in to that world and see things I only dream about. I know there's more. One reason I know there's more is because of those who have encountered the "more" and were never the same. God chasers! My prayer is, I want to see You like John saw You!" [TGC35]
Of course there is more than we currently know, than we currently see and than we currently experience. We all know that and this is nothing new. But the barrier in our relationship with God is essentially sin. Many authentic unusual encounters with God given to God's people are related to their particular calling and ministry. No one saint has experiences equivalent to all those related in the bible. It is right that we get to know God more intimately, and there are appropriate prayers for this in Ephesians and Colossians. But it is very dangerous to insist that we should covet one particular type of encounter with God. In that way, we are almost telling the devil how he can con us. If the devil knows the precise specifications of a coveted experience, he can counterfeit it as easily as anything. So our intense desire for intimacy needs to be combined with a contentment for the perfect will of God to be done in our lives.
Tenney is right to say that it is good for us to experience God more intimately, but he is wrong to channel our desires along particular lines, as he does. He is wrong to imply that we are not hungry for God unless we "chase after God" in the way set out in his challenges and exhortations.
Based on the anointings, which Esther has to endure before spending time with the king, Tenney teaches that the anointing is to enable God to like us:
"The purpose of the anointing is not to make man like you, but to make the King like you." [TGC41]
This does not relate to anything in the bible at all. The true purpose of an anointing from God is to enable us to represent God accurately. God does not want us to convey a wrong idea about His character and purposes. It is quite misleading to suggest that the anointing is to enable God to like us.
He also teaches that there is a contrast between "anointing" and "glory":
"Anointing empowers the flesh -you preach or sing better. "Glory" flattens flesh!" [TGC88]
A true anointing from God enables us to accomplish things supernaturally and also brings out gifts, which we would have used if we had never been involved in Adam's fall. On the other hand, a true anointing from God actually inhibits the expression of behaviour patterns, which we have acquired as a result of our fallen condition. Another way of stating this is that if we try to operate in terms of such corrupt behaviour patterns, God will either hide His anointing or remove it from us until we repent.
Any true anointing from God is a vehicle for the communication of His glory. If a claimed anointing is different, then it cannot be from God. Therefore, the idea of a two-stage doctrine involving a transition from an anointing to a manifestation of glory makes no sense in terms of true spiritual reality.
Outer court or inner court?
Tenney's approach to scripture seems to reduce it to a mere signpost pointing to God's presence somewhere distant, it being our job to follow the clues as in a treasure hunt. In reality the bible is itself actually a conduit or conductor of the presence and power of God.
Another image would be that of the outer court of the Jerusalem temple. The bible, in Tenney's teaching, would be seen as simply the outer court, which we have to leave behind in order to enter the Holy of Holies where God really dwells. However, the scripture itself is the Holy of Holies in which God lives and is the place where the truly born-again believer constantly renews his encounter with God. Our need constantly to re-experience the joy of knowing God drives us back again and again to His written Word.
3. A hidden agenda?
Inevitably the sceptical reader of Tenney's writings is concerned as to the long-term outcomes of the "God Chasers" movement. Perhaps a clue to this is provided by the following observations.
Tenney seems to have links with many of the people and centres associated with the "River Revival", as it has come to be known.
- Ché Ahn, Senior Pastor, Harvest Rock Church, Pasadena, California; [TGCix]
- Frank Damazio, Pastor of City Bible Church, Portland, Oregon. He is linked with Bible Temple, Portland, where Dick Iverson is based; [TGC102-06, 110]
- Francis Frangipane, River of Life Ministries, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is joint-editor of Rick Joyner's The Morning Star Journal and advocate of the `city-church' principle. [TGC103] Tenney has co-authored The Days of His Presence (6/2000) with Francis Frangipane.
- Claudio Freidzon, Pastor, King of Kings Church, Buenos Aires, Argentina, who's church, was a major centre for `Toronto' phenomena in Argentina; [TGCvi]
- Bishop Joseph L. Garlington, Sr, pastor of Covenant Church of Pittsburgh (CCOP), Pennsylvania, in addition to being worship leader and recording artist, who has visited John Arnott's Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) and been `Toronto'd' there. [TGCix] As can be seen on the CCOP website, both Violet Kiteley and her son Pastor David Kiteley, both Latter Rain End time Restorationists, have given `prophetic words' concerning CCOP and the "worship centre" there. Inter stingly, CCOP has a Trinitarian statement of faith.*15
- Ken Gott, Revival Now! Sunderland, whose church has been a major centre for `Toronto' phenomena in the UK;[TGCv]
- Cindy Jacobs, Co-founder of Generals of Intercession, who has strong links with C. Peter Wagner; [TGCv]
- Robert (Bob) Weiner, Founder of Weiner Ministries Int. and Maranatha Publications. [TGCvi-vii]
He is also a popular speaker at Brownsville Assemblies of God Church, Pensacola, as can be seen on his video From the Anointing To the Glory.*16 Then there is his obvious endorsement of John Wimber [TGC114] and Dr R. Edward Miller, as has been seen.
People who are seriously following God have deep longings to experience the closest possible intimacy with Him and to see His power at work. I certainly do. Those who feel similarly will understand the meaning and purpose of Tommy Tenney's quest. However, the intensity of our desire for God must not render us mindless. This is one reason why God, who understands us perfectly, has ordained that intense spiritual experience be mediated by His written Word. This pursuit keeps our minds and our spirits active.
The deceiver constantly seeks to exploit believers' longings after God by perverting them for his own purposes. It is certain that he has active agendas to this end in this generation. *17
1. The God Chasers: `My soul follows hard after Thee' (Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA, 1998).
2. http://www.ladistupc.org/admin.htm, p1_accessed 28/12/2000. He has also authored at least three books: Secret Power Sources (Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA, 20/7/2000), co-authored with his son, Tommy Tenney; The Main Thing ... Is To Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing (Pentecostal Publishing House, Hazelwood, MO, 10/1993); Pentecost -What's That?
3. Ibid., pp.1-2. Thetus Tenney is a regular contributor to the magazine SpiritLed Woman and a member of its advisory board. She has recently authored a book Prayer Takes Wings (Regal Books, Gospel Light Publications, Ventura, CA, 2/2000). SpiritLed Woman is published by Strang Communications, a multi-media communications company which claims to be focused on spreading the name and fame of Jesus throughout the world through the mass media. The company was founded in 1975 by Stephen Strang, is based in Lake Mary, Florida, and publishes the following magazines: Charisma & Christian Life, Ministries Today, New Man, SpiritLed Woman, Christian Retailing, Inspirational Giftware and Vida Cristiana (in Spanish). Interestingly, the Strang Communications Statement of Faith includes this sentence: "We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit". (http://www.strang.com/wwa/mission/index.htmaccessed 2/1/2001).
4. Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity: Gregory A. Boyd (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1992), p.228.
5. The Other Pentecostals: J. Lee Grady (from Charisma & Christian Life Magazine, 6/1997), see: http://www.rickross.com/reference/upci2.html, p3 -accessed 28/12/2000.
6. Quot. in ibid., p.5.
7. Ibid., p.4.
8. Ibid., pp.4-5.
9. Quot. in ibid., p.4.
10. Secret Power Sources (Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA, 20/7/2000). Perhaps it is not surprising that this book is commended by Gerald Coates.
11. http://www.godchasers.net/Bookstore/Books.html, p.4 -accessed 28/12/2000.
12. The Tozer Pulpit, Volume 2: Ten Sermons on the ministry of the Holy Spirit: A.W. Tozer. (op. cit.), p.105; When He is Come: A.W. Tozer (op. cit.), p.123.
13 The Tozer Pulpit, Volume 2: A.W. Tozer. (op. cit.), p.116 - my italics; When He is Come: A.W. Tozer (op. cit.), p.137 - my italics.
14. The Tozer Pulpit, Volume 2: A.W. Tozer. (op. cit.), p.116; When He is Come: A.W. Tozer (op. cit.), p.137-38.
15. http://www.ccop.org/beliefs.html - accessed 10/1/2001.
16. From the Anointing to the Glory (videogram), (http://media.godchasers.net/anointing.ram -accessed 28/12/2000).
17. After reading The God Chasers, I asked the Lord to show me what was going on. It is important that sincere believers test everything, including, of course, the conclusions which I now share. My understanding as a result is that a concerted attack on the Evangelical church is under way by the kind of spirits that are behind some forms of Roman Catholic mysticism. This may facilitate the absorption of the most seemingly radical forms of Evangelicalism into Roman Catholicism. For example, people who are used to the presence of these spirits in their worship meetings will be taken by surprise when the atmosphere of certain Roman Catholic meetings seems strangely congenial and familiar. Their response will be amazement that they had been afraid of Roman Catholicism for so long. "If we are allowed to worship God in the same way," they will think, "why should we not throw our lot in with Roman Catholicism?" Capitulation to this `authority' of the Pope may be made to appear a natural progression rather than a radical break with orthodox Christianity.
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Appeared in Issue 13 March 2001
"...contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" -- Jude v3