Chasing What God?: Examining The God Chasers by Tommy Tenney

(This originally appeared in the Summer 2000 edition of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 6)

By Pastor Bill Randles

The God ChasersTommy Tenney is a third-generation United Pentecostal1 minister who bills himself (and any member of his growing following) as a “God Chaser.” He is the author of a bestselling book entitled The God Chasers2. He has served as a pastor for ten years and has spent another 17 years as a “revivalist.” According to the blurb on the back cover of his recent book, he has been used to both “spark and fuel the fires of revival.” It also states that although “He has experienced the miraculous … more importantly he knows the value of intimacy with and humility before God.”

The God Chasers is a call to those who consider themselves to be hungry for the “manifest presence of God.” It begins with a narrative, which should strike a chord with those radicalized by experience-based religion ala Toronto and Pensacola. In the chapter entitled “The Day I Almost Caught Him” (“Him” referring to God), Tenney describes a service he held in Houston, Texas. Upon the reading of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and an exhortation by the host pastor to “seek God’s face rather than just His hand,” a loud thunderclap sounded and split the pulpit into two pieces! From there, the usual “River” manifestations exploded across the sanctuary – slayings in the Spirit, profuse cryings, and even the bodies of businessmen stacked up like cordwood! (p.8)

“Businessmen tore their ties off, and they were literally stacked on top of one another, in the most horribly harmonious sound of repentance you ever heard.” (p.8)

By his own confession, Tenney merely had been a professional revivalist up to that point.

“We’ve talked preached and taught about revival until the church is sick of hearing about it. That’s what I did for a living, I preached revivals, or so I thought. Then God broke out of His box and ruined everything when He showed up.” (p.12)

Tenney echoes an earlier prophecy of the late John Wimber by saying, “God is coming back to repossess His church.” (p.12) But his premise is that the only thing that hinders God from “coming back to repossess His church” is the lack of spiritual hunger. Tenney (and others) seem to interpret this as a hunger for the “manifest presence of God.” Thus, The God Chasers aims at those who are:

“… tired of trying to pass out tracts, knock on doors, and make things happen … we’ve been trying to make things happen for a long time. Now he wants to make it happen!” (p.12)

Part of the problem, according to Tenney, comes down to his predictable assertion that too many of us have been “camped out on some dusty Truth known to everyone.” (p.12)

There’s the problem — “dusty Truth!” So of course, Tenney would teach us and guide us into his alternative to “dusty Truth” — what he calls “revelation.”

“The difference between the Truth of God and revelation is very simple. Truth is where God has been. Revelation is where God is. Truth is God’s tracks. It is His trail, His path, but it leads to what? It leads to Him. Perhaps the masses of people are happy to know where God’s been, but true God Chasers are not content to study God’s trail, His truths, they want to know Him. They want to know where He is and what He is doing right now … There is a vast difference between present Truth and past Truth. I am afraid that most of what the church has studied is past Truth, and very little of what we know is present Truth.” (Introduction)

Tenney’s call for an abandonment of “past Truth” in favor of his more relevant “present Truth” is far from original. This is the same claim made by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (a.k.a. Jehovah’s Witnesses) and other cults and false religious movements. He is only the latest in a long line of teachers who have tapped into the discontentment many have in this entertainment age. By subtly denigrating the sound teaching of the Word of God, they promote the latest expression of experience-based religion and capitalize on false teaching. Just like the children of Israel who tired of manna in their day, the modern children of God “… will not endure sound doctrine …” (2 Tim. 4:3)3 either. Tenney, like many others these days, is adept at ridiculing Bible study and teaching as though they were as irrelevant as a game of Trivial Pursuit.

“It is simply not enough to know about God. We have churches filled with people who can win Bible trivia contests but who don’t know Him.” (p.3)

So much for those Christians who are into “dusty Truth” and are enamored by “God’s tracks.” What about the New Agers and occultists? Tenney is sure they have the purest of motives:

“You can’t tell me they’re not hungry for God when they wear crystals around their necks, lay down hundreds of dollars a day to listen to Guru’s, and call psychics to the tune of billions of dollars a year.” (p.2)

Of course, these pure-hearted seekers are hindered by only one obstacle in their search for God: the church! I was under the impression that it is the fact “… there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). Rather than seeking God, witches, occultists, and those who seek fortune tellers are in rebellion to God (1 Sam. 15:23); but then again, that is “dusty Truth.”

“They’re hungry to hear from something that’s beyond themselves, something they are not hearing in the church of today. The bottom line is that people are sick of the church because the church has been somewhat less than the book has advertised.” (p.3)

“Naomi and her family have something in common with the people who leave or totally avoid churches today-they left ‘that’ place and went somewhere else to find bread. I can tell you why people are flocking to the bars, the clubs, and the Psychics by the millions. They are just trying to get by, they are just trying to survive because the church has failed them. They looked, or their parents and friends looked and reported, and the spiritual cupboard was bare.” (pp.19-20)

The church is the one forcing those who are earnestly searching for God out into the bars and clubs? What ever happened to “…they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; …” (Rom. 1:20-21)? Not so according to Tenney. These good-hearted witches and occultists actually went to church but found nothing they wanted; therefore, they had no choice but to delve into the occult! This kind of accusation will always find a ready audience in our modern “seeker sensitive” world. Discontented and casting about for any scapegoat for their sense of restlessness, they claim the church is at fault!

Between the various personal experiences recounted by Tenney and his attempts at whetting the spiritual appetites for which his book calls, glimpses of the author’s theology can be seen. As we have already pointed out, Tenney holds to a curious view of the Word of God as being “God’s Tracks,” “where God’s been,” and “past Truth.” This may be interesting, but it’s not enough for The God Chasers. Tenney further denigrates the Word of God (and those who would insist on measuring all things by it) in a very unusual and creative way. He calls the Scriptures “old love letters” — paying some homage to them; yet at the same time, he renders a present application of Scripture as being irrelevant.

“I’m afraid we have satiated our hunger for Him by reading old love letters from him to the churches in the epistles of the New Testament. These are good, holy and necessary, but we never have intimacy with Him …” (p.15)

Tenney generously concedes the Scriptures are “good, holy and necessary, but …” (and there is a world of meaning in that “but”). By assigning Scripture the status of “old love letters,” he renders them inadequate for present intimacy with God! Picture the Apostle Paul relegating Scripture to the status of “old love letters!” Jesus never contrasted “intimacy and power” with God as opposed to Scripture; He equated them! “…ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). Knowing and loving Scripture is the only way to begin to have intimacy with God, not the obstacle to it! Of course, there could be a problem with people being “… hearers only …” and not “… doers of the word,”(James 1:22). But, the answer is not to compare Scripture to “old love letters” or, worse yet, to relegate knowledge of Scripture to being able to “win Bible trivia contests.”

What is Tenney promoting? Perhaps, the answer to this can be found in the oft-cited nugget of Charismatic wisdom:

“… A man with experience is never at the mercy of a man with only an argument … If we can lead people into the manifest presence of God, all false theological houses of cards will tumble down.” (p.20)

This saying (or some variation of it) is the underlying assumption of the entire “River” revival — experience supersedes “doctrine” and the Word alone is insufficient for a relationship with God!

Did the Apostles believe this way? Did they ever “split pulpits?” Did they constantly contrast truth and intimacy? The Apostle Peter had the ultimate sensual religious encounter — He saw the transfigured Jesus! Rather than contrast his experience on the Holy Mountain with those who were still “stuck in some dusty Truth,” Peter commended the “… more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, …” (2 Pet. 1:19). Peter never held a laughing revival, nor did the Apostle Paul ever refer to Himself as God’s bartender. The Apostle James never wrote about the need to put loaves of bread on the altar so that they could soak up the anointing.

Nor did the Apostles ever conduct the kind of “spiritual warfare” Tenney and others proclaim in the name of “taking their cities for God.”

“I am after cities … Once while preaching at a conference … in Portland, Oregon, I heard him {Frank Dimazio} mention something that caught my attention. He said that a number of pastors in the Portland area had united together to drive some stakes in the ground at strategic places around the parameter {sic} of their region and the city and at every major intersection. The process took them hours because they also prayed over those stakes, as they were physical symbols marking a spiritual declaration and demarcation line. I felt the stirring of the Holy Spirit so I said, ‘Frank, if you’ll provide the stakes, then I’ll go to the cities I feel called to and help the pastors stake out that territory for God.” (pp.102-103)

Is this another Toronto or Pensacola? I think Tenney and I would probably disagree. I would say this “intimacy” being sought is of the same nature as the “presence” that pilgrims to Toronto and Pensacola have sought — supernatural encounters with something, but not based upon the revealed Word of God in the “dusty Truth.” Tenney seems to allude to these earlier revivals as being somewhat less than what he is promoting:

“People don’t sense God’s presence at our gatherings because it is just not there sufficiently to register on our gauges … when people get just a little touch of God mixed with a lot of something that is not God, it inoculates them against the real thing. Once they’ve been inoculated by a crumb of God’s presence then when they say, ‘God is really here ,’ they say, ‘No, I’ve been there, done that. I bought the T-shirt, and I didn’t find Him, it really didn’t work for me.’ The problem was that God was there alright {sic}, but not enough of Him. There was no experience of meeting Him at the Damascus road. There was no undeniable, over-whelming sense of His manifested presence.” (p.21)

Tenney may well have made a point without realizing it. He acknowledges that the experience-based revivals of our day (sensuous encounters with the “presence”) eventually tend toward a “been-there, done-that” attitude as repeated mystical experiences lead to a kind of spiritual “Law of Diminishing Returns.” The answer, according to Tenney, is more of “IT.” Toronto and Pensacola were only crumbs. There’s more of “it” in a purer form. To those who were weary of “dead religion,” Rodney Howard Browne4 held forth a fresh touch of God — a drink of the “new wine.” Toronto came along and offered an opportunity to “soak in” the manifested anointing of God. Pensacola (in spite of denials to the contrary) is directly descended from the Toronto Blessing. (Steve Hill, brought “IT” back with him from Holy Trinity Brompton Church, the Toronto Church of England.) Pensacola offered a purer touch revival than Toronto (giving more emphasis on repentance).

To Tenney, those were just crumbs. What does he offer? More of God — using all the same claims, the same clichés, the same criticisms of doctrine, and in many cases, the same denigrations of the Word. I predict that, as in the other “waves,” this also will leave many people even more empty than they were before they started. Unfortunately, this will only open them up to the next excursion into mystical, experience-based religion.

Orthodox Christianity has held that a true hunger for God is valid and can be satisfied by seeking Him through His Word, fasting, praying, renewing our obedience to Him, and going back to wherever it was that we left Him. Signs and wonders are not God, nor do they satisfy. Even fantastic signs such as splitting pulpits, slaying whole crowds in the spirit, businessmen laying around like cordwood — none of these necessarily has anything to do with a true hunger for God.

Finally, is The God Chasers really about the kind of hunger for God written of by David?

“I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you … teach me your decrees. .. I recount the laws … I rejoice in following your statutes … I meditate on your precepts …. I delight in your decrees, I will not neglect your word.” (Psalm 119:10-16, NIV)

What about the hunger for God written about by Tozer, Spurgeon, Wesley and the other giants of the faith of days gone by? You be the judge. But, lest there be any doubt that some other kind of hunger is at work here, consider the content of the last page of this book published by Destiny Image — an advertising page featuring the full line of The God Chasers products!

The God Chasers hat is available for a mere $17.99, and The God Chasers shirt is available in four sizes for a mere $16.99 and, for those who truly want to attest to this new hunger, The God Chasers license plate is available for a mere $6.99!Ω

The staff would like to thank Pastor Bill Randles for his contribution to this issue of the Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. Journal This article is actually a chapter out of one of Pastor Randle’s books, Beware the New Prophets” A Caution Concerning the Modern Prophetic Movement. Bill is the pastor of Believers in Grace Fellowship Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He has a wife, Kris, and four children Bill is the author of two other books: Weighed and Found Wanting Too Light: Putting the Toranto Blessing in Context, and Making War In The Heavenlies: A Different Look.

© 2015, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

 

  1. United Pentecostals are anti-Trinitarian, see “United Pentecostal Church International
  2. Tommy Tenney, The God Chasers (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1998
  3. All Bible quotes are from the Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV) unless otherwise noted
  4. See MCOI Journal, vol. 4, no.2, for more on Rodney Howard Browne

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