I find being a cultural apologist and an engineer both confusing and beneficial. During the times when the two hemispheres of my brain are not fighting for supremacy against each other, I try to take advantage of the opportunity to observe, process, and analyze certain realities from different perspectives. During my recent investigations of higher education and my experience in church ministry around the globe, my current observation is a little concerning.
In many master of divinity degrees (M.Div.) completed today, apologetics and missions are only offered as electives. That is, they are optional! The fact that I work in missions and cultural apologetics may present as a conflict of interest so let me explain why this concerns me.
Most general, non-specific master of divinity degrees focus on core fields such as theology, church history, biblical languages, and church governance. What I struggle to understand is why learning (i) how to defend your faith in the world against unbelievers, and (ii) how to reach those in our world without the gospel, are not considered core in nature. Defending our faith (apologetics) and reaching the world (missions) are direct commands in the Scriptures.
In Titus 1:9, Paul gives instruction to Titus about overseers/elders/pastors, saying, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” This is in addition to 1 Peter 3:8-17 where Paul instructs the reader to give a defense for his hope (in Christ) with gentleness and respect. Matt 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 are both clear commands from Jesus Himself, for us to go into the world and make disciples.
Apologetics and missions are clearly necessary for the life of Christians and in the life of the Church. Why then are we not giving them the required priority they demand when we teach and train the leaders of the Church in seminaries? I have spoken to more than one pastor in my travels who believes that both defending our faith with reason and reaching all nations with the gospel are optional. It should not be surprising given the fact that it was optional in seminary as well.
While theology is necessary in every aspect of life, with isolation and without accountability it can breed an inward focus within churches. When the focus becomes solely to build the Body of Christ from within the four walls, the default for many churches today, the vision for reaching and interacting with the world outside becomes lost.
The reality of imparting seminary graduates with doctrinal knowledge while failing to give them the tools to defend it or the vision to go and use it, is beginning to undermine the church. The Washington Post reported that, “Americans, particularly young ones, are becoming less religiously affiliated, and many see churches as too focused on internal politics and dogma and not enough on bettering the outside world.” The same article also reported that only 41% of master’s of divinity graduates go on to become pastors with a majority of the balance using their degree outside of the institutional church. It is tragic that Christians feel the need to separate themselves from the Body of Christ in order to be effective in taking Christ to the world. Christians want to be active in community, sharing and defending their worldviews while sharing the gospel in practical ways. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what Jesus did?
Without apologetics and missions, Christianity is crippled and dying! The purpose of the Church is to glorify God. We must take our knowledge and experiences of God into the world, defending our faith and making disciples of Christ in all nations. As long as we treat apologetics and missions as electives in seminaries, we are disabling the new leaders of the Church while turning others away from pastoral ministry. Without a Kingdom vision driving application through intentional interaction, doctrine and theology are nothing but intellectual knowledge. The church needs leaders who treat apologetics and missions as essential, but for this to happen seminaries must first do the same.
Cross-posted on “When Worldviews Collide”