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FROM THE SEMINARIES: SWBTS hosts Christian/atheist dialogue; MBTS college adds 6 new degrees

Today’s From the Seminaries includes:
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

SWBTS apologetics conf. hosts Christian/atheist dialogue

By Katie Coleman

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Is faith reasonable? Is it good? These questions were at the center of a Christian/atheist dialogue hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during its annual Stand Firm Apologetics Conference.

The dialogue featured Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine, and John Mark Reynolds, president of the Saint Constantine School in Houston, a classical education school affiliated with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

Shermer and Reynolds each opened with prepared speeches prior to a Q&A time with each other and then with the audience. Although holding divergent views on the topic of faith, both agreed that the evening resulted in a fruitful dialogue that allowed them to better understand each other.

Shermer, in his opening statement, stated that faith is neither good nor reasonable. Where the problem often arises in the topic of faith, he said, is its treatment as a legitimate and reliable method of knowing.

“Faith is not a reliable knowledge claim,” Shermer said. “You cannot hang onto that and convince me it is true. To convince me, you have to do something more than that — provide something measurable and empirical.”

It would seemingly be enough, he said, to simply accept one’s unwavering beliefs and move on. The problem that arises, he asserted, is that people act on their personal beliefs and have great effect, at times harmful, on the rest of the culture.

“Of course it’s not the end of the conversation for most believers,” Shermer noted. “They want other people to believe it. Or if they are asked why they believe, they rarely say they have a good reason, just that it makes them feel good.”

Reynolds followed, saying he agreed with some of Shermer’s concerns, including the importance of reason and the importance of free thought and free speech to education. But, he stated, Shermer had a bad epistemology (method of acquiring knowledge) and that he had not really addressed the topic of what faith is.

“Now let’s just both agree right away that believing something despite the evidence is a pretty good definition of being crazy,” Reynolds said. “You shouldn’t believe things despite the evidence.”

Reynolds went on to address a common comment he receives from atheists, that his experience of God is just in his mind, to which he answers, “What experience do I have that is not in my mind, fundamentally?”

Then responding to the topic of whether faith is good, Reynolds referenced what he described as many historical examples of the good results of people acting in faith, including such things as art, medical systems, university systems and republican forms of government. Faith prompts action, he said.

Reynolds further argued that without the existence of God, there would be no reason to make choices. “Faith isn’t believing what is unreasonable,” he said. “Faith is an experience that is self-authenticating at first, but then must be measured by reason and must act in the real world to be measured against standards of morality, standards of art and beauty, and other standards. So is faith good for society? Of course it is.”

In the remainder of the dialogue, Reynolds and Shermer posed questions to each other about the points they raised in their opening arguments and answered audience questions. In conclusion, both agreed that their conversation was productive and they urged others to continue engaging in constructive and civil conversations.

“My point is, let’s all just talk. Stop calling each other names,” Reynolds said. “I think philosophy is important. I think I should be guided by evidence. I think Christians should love science and practice it. I think we should follow the rules. I don’t think we should pretend we have evidence when we don’t have evidence. It’s time for us to lay down our arms and unite in the cause of reason.”

The March 3-4 Stand Firm conference also featured Timothy McGrew, professor of philosophy at W. Michigan University, as a plenary speaker. In addition, breakout sessions offered conference attendees workshops in more focused tracks in evangelism, cultural apologetics and advanced apologetics.


Midwestern College adds 6 degrees

T. Patrick Hudson

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — Midwestern College has announced an expansion of its undergraduate curriculum to further equip students for service in the church, in nonprofit organizations, and beyond.

In addition to its current bachelor of arts degrees in biblical studies, Christian ministry and intercultural studies, the college has expanded its curriculum to include bachelor of arts degrees in student ministry, worship ministry, theology, philosophy, counseling psychology and business leadership.

Midwestern President Jason Allen said the new degrees “will benefit the next generation of pastors, ministry leaders and missionaries for Christ’s Kingdom. These programs add significantly to our existing curriculum — opening opportunities in fields of study that will be vital for those serving within the local church and conducting ministry in the workplace.”

John Mark Yeats, the college’s dean, added, “At Midwestern College, we live out the reality of ‘For the Church’ in our curriculum. Each of these new programs connects students to high-quality, affordable academic training that creates a foundation for serving congregations and engaging our community with the Gospel.

“Each degree shares Midwestern’s 30-hour biblical studies core, so in addition to earning a very practical degree, it assists students in integrating their faith with what they are learning for the purposes of expanding the Kingdom of God.”

Additionally, Yeats indicated the new degrees will help students be more effective as they work in international contexts or in the bivocational realities of church service in the 21st century.

The new tracks of study will begin in the fall semester and students can apply immediately.

In other curricular changes at the college, the faculty approved an update to Midwestern’s adult degree completion program, which aids adults seeking to finish their undergraduate program.

“The new structure of our adult degree completion program allows us to serve more students as they continue to serve their in local churches,” Yeats noted. “The degree, the bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary studies, will help people who are ready to finish the degree they started in the past, but never finished. It also enables Midwestern to maximize these students’ college-level learning earned in the military or in government service.”

Yeats noted that many of the degree tracks are available fully online or at Midwestern College’s Kansas City campus.

The college, established in 2004, is Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate arm, located in Kansas City, Mo. Students interested in applying can visit www.midwesterncollege.com or www.MBTS.edu/college.

    About the Author

  • SBC Seminary & BP Staff

    Cassity Potter writes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, the SBC’s news service; Alex Sibley writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and S. Craig Sanders writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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