LOUISVILLE, KY. (SBTS) — Academic institutions have long paired apologetics with classical disciplines like philosophy and ethics, but the defense of the Christian faith requires the apologist to prove not only why Christianity is true, but also why it should be believed. The goal of Christian apologetics should not merely be the assent of the mind, but the confession of the heart, said Adam W. Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Put simply, apologetics is ultimately about evangelism and discipleship.
“We want leaders and teachers in our churches to be able to tell people not just how to become a Christian, but why they should become a Christian,” Greenway said.
Toward that end, seminary leadership has consolidated two distinct apologetics programs into a single Master of Divinity degree in apologetics for the 2016-2017 academic year. While Southern used to have separate apologetics concentrations — one each in the School of Theology and the Billy Graham School — the institution now offers a single apologetics program under the Billy Graham School.
The move positions Southern Seminary to offer a unique blend of the academic preparation that marks most apologetics programs with a robust evangelistic emphasis that marks Southern Baptists. The program sits in the new Department of Apologetics and World Religions in the Billy Graham School, with Douglas K. Blount serving as its chair. Blount has been professor of Christian apologetics at SBTS since 2015.
“Apologetics has always been a central task of the Christian church, but our contemporary context presents an unavoidable apologetic challenge,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary. “This generation will never know a moment where it’s not called to defend the truth and the truthfulness of the Christian faith. Southern Seminary has been on the front lines of preparing the church for this challenge for many years, but this new concentration of faculty assets and emphasis in one department will make history. I’m very thankful for this faculty and for what this will mean for the church. Together, they will help our students and this entire generation be able to give an answer for the hope that is in them.”
Blount said that in a culture that is hostile to Christianity, missional and evangelistic skills are more essential than ever in Christian witness, and Southern Seminary is equipped to couple top-shelf intellectual preparation with evangelistic zeal in its apologetics programming.
“We are interested in developing a program that is first-rate in intellectual rigor, and we certainly want our students to be mentally prepared for the challenges they are going to face in a culture that is hostile to the faith,” Blount said. “But we want to turn out students who not only have the head for apologetic ministry, but also the heart for evangelism and missions.”
The size and breadth of the Southern Seminary faculty ensure the school is prepared to offer a unique approach to the defense of the faith chiefly concerned with heart-change rather than head knowledge. The program will also offer an M.Div. concentration in Islamic Studies, led by Ayman Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Seminary.
The program will include a master of arts in apologetics, which is Southern Seminary’s second academic M.A. degree. An academic M.A. in Islamic Studies is also available.
“The strength of our institution from top to bottom enables us to do things that many other seminaries might wish they could do, but simply can’t,” Greenway said. He called the new apologetics department one of the “most exciting developments” at SBTS since he has been there, and said that it will become one of Southern’s premier programs. The ultimate goal of the apologetics department is to train students not just to win intellectual arguments, but to have a concern for building the church, he said.
Timothy Paul Jones will teach extensively in the new department, and said the consolidation of the apologetics programs with an emphasis on evangelism sets Southern Seminary apart. Jones, associate vice president for the Global Campus and C. Edward Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry, is also the author of several books defending the Christian faith, including Misquoting Truth: A Guide to Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus.”
"As Western culture grows increasingly secular, apologetics will become more and more essential for the practice of evangelism,” Jones said. “I'm excited to be part of this new apologetics program that equips students for effective evangelism by equipping them to be wise and winsome apologists. The breadth of knowledge and disciplines represented in this department in the Billy Graham School is truly outstanding, bringing together individuals with deep expertise in philosophy, history, human development, and practical ministry."
Greenway called apologetics and evangelism “two sides of the same coin,” and said the department will seek to equip pastors to be on the front line of engagement — not just with atheists or non-believers, but also people of other faiths. The program will prepare pastors and teachers to interact with an increasingly pluralistic culture.