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.