Theological Renewal, The AFTE Effect

Theological Renewal, The AFTE Effect

By Elizabeth Glass-Turner and Steve Beard

Richard B. Hays, Dean of Duke Divinity School and George Washington Ivey professor of New Testament. Scott Jones, United Methodist Bishop of the Kansas Area. Wade Paschal, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Tulsa with 9000 members. Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room Chapel. Rebekah Miles, associate professor of ethics at Perkins School of Theology. L. Gregory Jones, vice president and vice provost for global strategy at Duke University and professor of theology at Duke Divinity School. Ben Witherington, Amos professor of New Testament for doctoral studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of over 40 books. Steve Rankin, chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Ted Campbell, past president of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary and present associate professor of Church History at Perkins School of Theology. Wendy J. Deichmann, president of United Theological Seminary.

What do they all have in common? They have all been instrumental in the renewal of the United Methodist Church. They all possess a Ph.D. And all of their doctoral studies were made possible by annual grants from A Foundation for Theological Education (AFTE).

Founded in 1977, AFTE is the creation of two regal figures within United Methodism who could hardly have been more different—Dr. Albert Outler, the erudite seminary professor who at the time was the world’s foremost authority on all things Wesleyan, and Dr. Ed Robb Jr., traveling evangelist and the day’s best known critic and reformer of the UM Church.

Ironically, this oddest of couples discovered that they had much in common. They both loved the church, treasured our Wesleyan heritage, and were greatly concerned about the state of theological education within the denomination. And they both felt that true renewal would never be possible or lasting if UM pastors were not trained in the great tradition of classical Wesleyan theology.

In the late 1970s, theological education within the United Methodist Church promoted old-school liberalism, process theology, and liberation theology in all its forms. About the only flavor missing from this Baskin-Robbins approach to theological education was orthodoxy—the classical teachings of the church proclaimed by the apostles and the early church fathers and accepted by believers all around the world for the past 2000 years.

Many UM seminaries at the time had few if any true champions of classic Wesleyanism. And students often left the ivory towers of religious education confused about what to proclaim, ill-prepared for the pastorate, and out of touch with the needs and the beliefs of the church members they were to shepherd.

Albert Outler and Ed Robb were vexed over the theological trends in the seminaries preparing United Methodist preachers and professors. They wanted something substantial and transformative that would provide long-term change. What they agreed upon was AFTE, a program designed to raise up a new generation of leaders.

The basic motivation came from John Wesley. “The Wesleyan tradition affirms both sound learning and vital piety,” explains Dr. Steve G.W. Moore, the senior program scholar of AFTE. “The idea behind AFTE, which Albert Outler and Ed Robb had together, was that those two things had to be held together; one of the key contributing factors was preparing faculty members and leaders for the United Methodist Church who would hold those two together, who wouldn’t let theological education or higher learning be separated from the vital life of the church.

“The circuit riders were given the Wesley library and were expected to read it. There was the belief that when you love the Lord God, the mind is a part of spiritual vitality and spiritual renewal,” Moore continues. “In the Wesleyan context, renewal is not just a matter of either intellectual development or sophisticated theological development—it’s really shaping the whole person and understanding that mind, spirit, body, worship, community, and theological education are not separate from the church, but are an integral part of the church. The vitality of one is directly tied to the vitality of the other.”

The mainstay of the organization is the John Wesley Fellows program, dedicated to aiding United Methodists pursuing doctorates by annually awarding up to five fellowships worth $10,000 each.

“When I first expressed interest in pursuing a Ph.D., a fellow student told me about AFTE and its mission,” explains Christine Johnson, a doctoral student at the University of Manchester. “She knew several professors who were Wesley Fellows and suggested that I look into the application process. What attracted me to AFTE was their obvious commitment to support evangelical theological education within the United Methodist Church. The more I learned about AFTE’s mission and theological commitments, the more excited I became about the potential of being a part of their work. I resounded with their desire to revitalize theological education with a greater emphasis on the classical Wesleyan tradition and was eager to network with other scholars who share similar faith commitments and interests.”

The total output of church resources from John Wesley Fellows is astonishing: in addition to teaching, preaching, and leading in a variety of capacities, an ever-expanding library of resources reflects the fruits of the investment AFTE makes in up-and-coming church leaders. For example, 21 scholarly contributors to the recent Wesley Study Bible were John Wesley Fellows—including the co-editor, Dr. Joel Green, Associate Dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies and Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Liberal seminary deans and presidents were skeptical at best when AFTE began its work. In fact, many were belligerent. One dean was quoted as saying that a John Wesley Fellow would become a member of his faculty only over his dead body. He has since passed on. Three of the Fellows are now professors at the seminary he once headed.

Over time, the credentials and the work of the AFTE students simply could not be dismissed. With degrees from schools like Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, their academic pedigrees were beyond question.

Presently, John Wesley Fellows hold positions at eight UM seminaries: Candler School of Theology, Claremont School of Theology, The Theological School at Drew University, The Divinity School at Duke University, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Perkins School of Theology, United Theological Seminary, and Wesley Theological Seminary. Outside official UM seminaries, they also serve as professors at Asbury Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary,  the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University, Luther Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, Seminario Evangelical Unido de Teologia, as well as numerous colleges and universities.

These scholars can be found teaching Christian Education, Christian Ethics, Evangelism, Higher Education/Administration, History, New Testament, Old Testament, Philosophy of Religion, Sociology of Religion, Spiritual Formation, Theology, Wesley Studies, and Worship/Liturgics.

“There is nothing harder to accomplish than systemic change,” reports Dr. David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. “I work in a seminary because I believe it is the best place to affect the future of the church and to profess the distinctive syntheses of the Wesleyan movement: personal and social holiness; knowledge and vital piety. But we depend upon a stream of new faculty to accomplish this kind of steady, sustained renewal. The John Wesley Fellows program has made an extraordinary difference by providing an ever-freshening pool of candidates I look to first for almost every open faculty position. This is change on a generational scale which is respectful of the processes and standards of graduate education but determined in its Wesleyan identity.”

Although John Wesley Senior Fellows—the alumni of the program—find classic Wesleyan theology in common, they represent culturally diverse viewpoints ranging from United Methodist renewal group partners to Sojourners leadership.

While AFTE has been instrumental in supporting emerging leaders in the United Methodist Church for several decades, its appeal continues to broaden as the pathways to ministry are reshaped. Moore notes the changes to traditional ministry preparation: “We’re in the midst of the development of multiple paths through which people can pursue a calling to serve the church in pastoral or an extension ministry of the church. I think the church has not completely adapted to the multiple ways that people may need to take to get there. One of our currently funded fellows started the process to seek ordination and it has taken him seven years, from the moment he started the candidacy process to the moment last summer he was ordained as an elder. So much of it was bureaucratic paperwork. The church has not yet adapted—it’s built on kind of an old, professional, corporate model, rather than on a leadership development model. So I think that the truth is the church is always going to be in need of people who are called to leadership.”

Behind the scenes influence. The long-lasting impact that AFTE brings to the United Methodist Church isn’t limited to academic resources or seminary contexts. Surprisingly, the organization that quietly provides scholarships to so many noted pastors, scholars, and leaders has a relatively low profile. Rather, it is content to let its voice be heard through the endeavors of men and women such as Dr. Amy Laura Hall, Dr. Khiok-Khng Yeo, Dr. Priscilla Pope-Levison, Dr. Jerry Walls, Dr. Joy Moore, and Dr. Lester Ruth, to name just a few.

Executive Director Paul Ervin notes that he became familiar with the organization through the late Bishop Earl Hunt, a founding trustee of AFTE. “The thing that most surprised me was how effective it is and how little known it is,” says Ervin. “We’ve just always been very quiet, and have seen that as an asset—that John Wesley Fellows were focused on their mission, not attention. But it did surprise me, how effective AFTE is and how many places these scholars are at work.”

Ervin shares that one of the most gratifying things to watch is the John Wesley Fellows’ quiet but deep involvement in the local church. “As a layperson, I’m interested in a theological education that will primarily look to train people who will be pastors in our local churches and teachers in seminaries. Because of that, I think that it’s important that the training they get gives them roots so they can lead their flock to the Lord. The thing that really impressed me about AFTE is that I’ve seen where they’re all involved in their local church, which is not always the case with professors in seminaries.”

The quiet effects of AFTE’s mission constantly emerge in unexpected places. Moore relates the story of visiting in his office with the head of a seminary in Africa. As they talked, Moore learned that two John Wesley Fellows had recently been to the seminary to teach, as guest professors, without pay. “I continue to be amazed at the creativity of our young, emerging fellows,” said Moore. “They’re creative, thoughtful, very deeply committed, and I marvel at it.”

Despite its low profile, AFTE has awarded over $2.5 million in grants since its inception in 1977. The organization does have a small endowment, but most of its resources dedicated to funding scholarships come from individual donors, many of whom have benefited from AFTE over the years. And it is this very camaraderie that draws students to AFTE in the first place.

Theological fellowship. Every winter, current and former John Wesley Fellows gather for their popular Christmas Conference. Part alumni reunion, part theological colloquium, part networking opportunities, the Christmas Conference provides fellowship, training, and brainstorming. This year’s Christmas Conference included plenary addresses on subjects like “The Future of Theological Education” as well as papers presented by, and responded to by, current and Senior Fellows.

Moore, himself a John Wesley Senior Fellow, describes the passionate exchanges that occur at the Christmas Conference and other gatherings. “To see our senior fellows mentoring and advising the funded fellows is really exciting to watch. It is the best of what the ‘community of scholars’ is about. It is also fun to see ideas that are launched at a Christmas Conference later become articles, books, presentations at national conferences, and especially completed dissertations!”

Moore continues, “it amazes me that when we ask the fellows, ‘what’s the most valuable thing that you’ve gained from being a John Wesley fellow?’ they all are appreciative of the scholarship—it helps them get through and complete their work. But they all talk about the fellowship—they’re part of a community of learners who are committed to real, vital, spiritual life, very thoughtful, historical, biblical commitments, and to community.”

In your mailbox. While AFTE may keep a relatively low profile, it should be familiar to seminary students: every United Methodist seminary student, regardless of the school they attend, receives a free subscription to Catalyst, AFTE’s quarterly publication dedicated to encouraging the academic and intellectual development of United Methodist students.

Ervin explains that Catalyst is “really to help encourage and push creative thinking, to think, ‘hey, I enjoy this deeper reading, I’d like to know more, maybe I’d like to consider getting a Ph.D.’ So it’s not just layperson reading, though a number of laypeople read it; it’s to support seminarians who are going through their education; it’s helpful for them to know that there are people out there who also are thinking creatively in the areas of Wesleyan theology.” Each issue of the Catalyst includes articles such as “Jesus in the Apocryphal Gospels” and “A Profile: Phoebe Palmer.”

Perhaps no other organization has influenced United Methodist theological training more than AFTE has in recent decades. The expected trickle-down of influence envisioned by Albert Outler and Ed Robb is now emerging all the clearer as students who were trained by the first John Wesley Fellows are now preparing mentees of their own. The AFTE family tree continues to grow new branches—and its fruit can be found in your own backyard.

“My father always believed it was better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” says Edmund Robb III, chairman of the AFTE Board of Directors and senior pastor of The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. “Looking at his life, he lit many candles that have reformed and renewed the United Methodist Church, but I think he might be proudest of AFTE. Its present influence and its potential to impact theological education for decades to come is hard to overestimate.”

To inquire about becoming a John Wesley Fellow or to make a donation to AFTE, contact Mr. Paul Ervin, Executive Director, P.O. Box 238, Lake Junaluska, NC 28745 ( Phone: 828-456-9901. Catalyst subscriptions are available to the public for $5 annually. For more information, visit or

Elizabeth Glass Turner is a freelance writer who has contributed to multiple online and print publications. She has an essay in the forthcoming “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy.” Elizabeth currently resides in a multigenerational household with her husband and 11-month-old son.
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.

Theological Renewal, The AFTE Effect

Editorial: In Pursuit of Truth

By Rob Renfroe

On December 16, the General Board of Church and Society hosted a luncheon and conversation at The United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. with Dr. Jerry Campbell, president of Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary in southern California. Dr. Campbell has become well known for his leadership of The University Project which he describes as “a new model for theological education.”

The Project is a joint effort of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California; Claremont School of Theology; and the Islamic Center of Southern California. The new model creates a consortium that will train Christian clergy, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams. In the future, the Project anticipates educating clerics of other world religions, as well.

In making a case for the Project, Dr. Campbell stated: “The University Project represents the conviction that religion is not a competitive sport, that religion is not the tool of empire, and that religion is not a game of winner take all.” All well and good, but the more important question to answer is: What is religion?

Stating what something is not is usually easy to do and often makes for good rhetoric, but rarely is it sufficient to explain what something is. I could tell you that religion is not a man in striped pajamas or a little teapot— short and stout—but in so doing, what have I told you that religion is? Absolutely nothing.

In his 2009 Fall Convocation address, Dr. Campbell described his vision for The University Project. In that same address he bemoaned the fact that religion has so often divided people. In fact, he even condemned the early church for becoming “competitive” with “contemporary Judaism and with the other religions vying for position in the Roman Empire.”

Which religions were vying for influence during the Roman Empire? To name just a few, there was the Emperor Cult which proclaimed Caesar as a deity and demanded loyalty to him as a god. Another popular religion of the day was the worship of the mother-goddess of fertility Artemis. You may remember that Paul was attacked in Ephesus because his preaching turned people away from the fertility rituals involved in worshipping the goddess and the selling of her idols. And during the life of the early church, the Gnostic cults vied for position and influence, promoting their dualistic understanding of reality, teaching that many gods existed, and proclaiming that only certain human beings were capable of salvation and that not through grace, but through the acquisition of hidden knowledge.

Would Dr. Campbell really have preferred that the early church not preach the Gospel and “compete” with Emperor cults, fertility religions, and belief systems that left many without hope of ever finding God? Those early Christians who often proclaimed the Lordship of Christ at great risk to themselves and whom many of us consider heroes, according to Dr. Campbell, they were guilty of turning religion into a winner-take-all, competitive sport.

What about today? Should the church “compete” for the hearts and minds of persons who don’t know Christ as Savior? According to an article in The United Methodist Reporter, Dr. Campbell has stated that present-day Christians who believe they should evangelize persons of other faiths possess “an incorrect perception of what it means to follow Jesus.”

Stating what a religion is not is easy. Set up a straw man and knock it down. Draw some conclusions, and those who aren’t looking closely will believe that you have done something worthwhile.

But the real task is to ask and answer the question: What is a religion?  And how we answer that question makes all the difference.

If religion is man’s attempt to find God, then fine, each one should plot his own course. If religion is the human search for meaning, then there may be as many paths as there are people. If religion is a set of moral values (instructions for how to live the good life and nothing more), what reason does any person have to believe that his or her ideas are better than anyone else’s? Maybe good folks should keep their views to themselves and certainly not evangelize others.

But, of course, religion is something different altogether. A religion is a belief system that claims to provide valid information about spiritual reality. Every religion claims to give real and accurate information about what matters most: the nature and character of God and the human predicament and how it can be solved.

And the Christian faith has always been clear in its proclamation (until recently when it became politically incorrect for some to do so): there is one God who created the universe and who made us in his image; who is holy and therefore cannot ignore our sin; who sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins so that we might be saved; and who says we may receive this gift by faith in Christ but we cannot earn it by performing good works or religious rituals.

Dr. Campbell has stated that religion should be a force for compassion, not competition. But what is compassionate about knowing the way of salvation, revealed by God and bought with the blood of Christ, and not sharing that truth with those who are without it? If the Christian faith is the truth about what matters most—who God is, who we are and how we can live eternally with him forever—and in the name of tolerance or mutual respect we fail to do all we can to bring unbelievers to faith in the truth that can save them, how can we possibly claim to be compassionate?

Truth always competes with falsehood. Science competed with alchemy. The germ theory and what became modern medicine competed with the idea that disease was the result of evil spirits. The fight for civil rights competed with the wrong and sinful notion that some persons were less worthy members of the human family than others and could be treated as such.

And we are glad for the competition of truth against falsehood in each of those cases. And though it was disruptive for the moment, in each instance it was compassionate to defend and spread the truth.

What the world’s religions teach about spiritual reality is so different from what Jesus revealed to be true about God and his plan of salvation that compassion compels us to proclaim the Gospel in hopes that all persons will come to know it. For it is the truth that sets us free—not religion; not wrong beliefs about God even if they are sincerely held; and certainly not the condemnation of faithful witnesses and martyrs in the past who spoke the truth when it would have been much easier to deny the uniqueness of Christ and his claim to be Lord—just as it is today.

Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.

Theological Renewal, The AFTE Effect

Small Church, Big Mission

By Bob Ladd

No task is too big for God! Or so it seems to the members of a relatively small congregation in rural south-central Pennsylvania. Almost 10 years ago the lives of Lucas and Limi Ndaro intersected with the people of Cornwall United Methodist Church. Lucas came to nearby Evangelical Theological Seminary on a scholarship to seek his Master of Divinity degree. Soon after he arrived, he was invited to attend Cornwall church, and the congregation welcomed him as family. They soon agreed to help bring Lucas’ wife Limi and their two sons to the U.S. and adopted the family as missionaries to Tanzania.

In 2001, a group of 12 people from the church, including Lucas, spent a total of 10 weeks in Buramba, Tanzania, building a new church in this village where Lucas had grown up. When Lucas and Limi returned to Tanzania in 2007 to teach and serve as administrators at Nassa Theological College, they had accumulated four masters degrees. Limi’s degree was in Marriage and Family Therapy. The congregation has been anxious to have an impact on the Ndaro’s ministry in their homeland and the need for a counseling center was soon identified.

A two-year plan was adopted by the mission committee in 2008 and fundraising for the Family Life Counseling Center began almost immediately. An exploratory trip to Africa by the project chairman and his wife in March 2009 led to site analysis, architectural plans, a basic ministry plan, and cost estimates for construction of a building on the shore of Lake Victoria, just off the college campus. The building would be a two-story structure with three separate counseling centers on the first floor—marriage and family, AIDS, and financial. The second floor would be an apartment.

The enormity of the project for this small congregation in a terrible economy became even more evident. The goal was to raise all the money needed to get the building under roof and take a group of 10 or 12 people to the site to help with construction in August 2010. It was estimated the building would cost a total of $120,000 to complete, but for $70,000 we could get it under roof.

In a classic example of underestimating God’s power, the mission committee decided the project should be approached in stages. Fundraising went well and several substantial matching gifts hastened the process.

Late in 2009, the church got a wonderful offer. Jim Gallop, a member of the church, offered a challenge gift in memory of his late brother, Howard. If the church could raise the first $70,000 by May 2010, he would give the other $50,000 to complete the project. Howard had been very involved in the finance ministry of the church and so it was decided that one counseling area would be called the Howard Gallop Memorial Financial Counseling Center.

In May, a Tanzanian gala and dinner was held and the proceeds put the fund for the Family Life Counseling Center over the $70,000 mark.
While all this was taking place, there was a growing group that wanted to travel to the site in August to work on the center. Everyone who wanted to go on the trip had to raise or contribute $2,500 to cover their travel costs. In the end, there were 17 people who went, ranging in age from 15 to 71. The logistics of moving that many people around in Tanzania was challenging, but the project was an amazing example of ingenuity and teamwork.

An advance team arrived three days ahead of the balance of the workers and purchased steel, tools, material, and a generator/welder. In the end, without heavy equipment like cranes, 13 steel roof rafters were fabricated, welded, erected, and covered with roofing material. The heavy rafters were erected with teams using ropes and pulleys and then welded in place. This was a wonderful example of God’s tangible blessing of great teamwork.

While the building project is ongoing, local workers and contractors are doing a great job and the hope is to begin doing counseling there early next year. The real task has just begun, however. Now there is an effort underway to form strategic alliances with Christian groups working in that area of Eastern Africa with which FLCC can partner to do more effective counseling in the targeted areas. There is already a desire among many who experienced this opportunity to serve our friends in Tanzania. It is no mistake that the name developed for the center is plural—Family Life Counseling Centers.

Cornwall United Methodist Church will never underestimate God’s power again.

Bob Ladd is a member of the Cornwall United Methodist Church and served as the mission coordinator for the Tanzania project. He is a member of the Good News Board of Directors and is Director of Special Gifts for Evangelical Theological Seminary in Myerstown, Pennsylvania.

Theological Renewal, The AFTE Effect

Carolyn Elias receives Ed Robb Award

The Good News board of directors presented its eighth annual Edmund W. Robb, Jr. United Methodist Renewal Award to Mrs. Carolyn Elias at its fall meeting in early November. The award, named after long-time Good News board member and renewal leader, Dr. Ed Robb, is given to a United Methodist who has made a significant and lasting contribution to renewal within the United Methodist Church.

Elias was a leader in the evangelical renewal movement in the Central Illinois Conference before she and her husband, Barney, moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1991. She became active in the First United Methodist Church. She worked with the Good News General Conference team in 1988 in St. Louis, 1992 in Louisville, and 1996 in Denver.

In 2000, Carolyn was elected a lay delegate to the General Conference—in fact, she was the first lay person elected in her delegation. “Carolyn’s election as the fist lay delegate in the North Little Rock Conference after a decade of serving as a member of the Good News board and being actively involved with the Renew Network was really remarkable! It spoke clearly about her ability to be a firm and gracious witness to her evangelical faith while also working effectively with others who might not necessarily agree with her theological commitments,” said the Rev. James V. Heidinger II, Good News President and Publisher emeritus, who made the presentation to Elias at the board meeting banquet.

Carolyn served as Chair of the Conference Episcopacy Committee for Bishop Janet Riggle Huey and also was on the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy, the group charged with the important quadrennial task of assigning bishops for the entire jurisdiction. She was again elected a General Conference delegate in 2004.

Ever since moving to Hot Springs, Elias has been an important part of the leadership of the Evangelical Fellowship in the conference, which now is referred to as the Arkansas Confessing Movement. She has had the responsibility of arranging the morning breakfast meeting of the fellowship at annual conference.

In addition to her United Methodist involvement, Carolyn was, for 13 years, a leader in Bible Study Fellowship in North Little Rock. She also started a spin-off of BSF, called Explorers Bible Study, with as many as 300 women involved at one time. That Bible study continues.

“In Carolyn, we see a mature, gracious, theologically-grounded, and discerning United Methodist laywoman. She is highly respected by all who have worked with her. She has a warm, kind spirit but Carolyn can also be firm when firmness is needed,” Heidinger said to board members, family, and guests attending the banquet on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Good News Media Service.

Theological Renewal, The AFTE Effect

Wesley and Apologetics

By Brooks St. Clair Morton

United Methodists working for renewal have a new ally in the fight against doctrinal amnesia and the ever present pull of the post-Christian cultural tide. Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, recently launched their new Master of Arts concentration in Apologetics. Classes began in the fall of 2010.

The Methodist movement, not unlike the early church, was forged in the context of controversy and heresy. It was vigilantly defended by John Wesley and many others, such as early Methodism’s greatest theologian, John Fletcher. John Wesley was always an “apologetic Wesley.” His Standard Sermons challenged the established religious institution of the day, the Church of England. They challenge us still. His articulation of plain Christianity for common folk continues to give hope to millions of people around the world. Wesley used logic to tear down the positions of his opponents while building up his own arguments for foundational Christianity and theological distinctives, such as “Christian Perfection.” No one can seriously read the works of John Wesley without encountering John Wesley the apologist.

Dr. Steve Tsoukalas is Assistant Professor of Apologetics and Christian Thought at Wesley Biblical Seminary, and co-director of the new concentration in the M.A. program. I recently asked Tsoukalas how this program could benefit potential United Methodist seminarians, and the rest of the denomination.

Good News: Several years ago, a Doctor of Ministry student boldly proclaimed to me outside of church one Sunday that “The age of apologetics is over.” Do people even care anymore about “evidence that demands a verdict?” Is apologetics practical for helping future pastors “make disciples for the transformation of the world?”

Dr. Steve Tsoukalas: Apologetics is a two-way street. It equips Christians to engage in “pre-evangelism” and strengthens Christians personally, allowing them by the ministry of the Holy Spirit to walk in confidence concerning their faith.

Some people are not comfortable “arguing” with other people, even about their faith. What kind of students are you hoping and praying will enroll in this M.A. concentration in Apologetics?

All kinds, really, because no matter who you are in Christ, the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15 applies to all Christians: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We are looking for students who want to go into some kind of “formal” ministry setting, and those who work “9-5” in the secular workplace.

How does this apologetics concentration strategically position Wesley Biblical Seminary to impact the United Methodist Church for renewal and doctrinal faithfulness?

Quite simply, it will equip UM leaders to give a reasoned response and presentation for the importance of orthodoxy and the importance of orthopraxy. The two go hand in hand.

All around us there are those who are lost and who will die in their sins unless they come to know Jesus. From the atheist to the agnostic, from the Jehovah’s Witness to the Hindu, there is a mission field literally on our doorsteps, in our neighborhoods and in our work places. By the grace of the Triune God, from whom all truth comes, we can study together and pray for each other and the world so that we may be prepared, “composed fanatics” for the glory of His name. We at Wesley Biblical Seminary prayerfully hope to be part of the Lord sending Christians into the world to make disciples of all nations.

Brooks St. Clair Morton is pastor of Idalou United Methodist Church in Idalou, Texas.