Editor’s note: The following feature story originally appeared in the summer 2021 issue of Southwestern News.
Recognizing the necessity of equipping believers in evangelism and discipleship-based apologetics, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary established a concentration in Great Commission Apologetics in 2019. The program, housed in the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, educates Master of Divinity students about differing world religions so if they meet someone from one of the religions, they “have enough information about their particular worldview [so they] know which aspects of the Gospel to stress so that those aspects of the Gospel can meet the needs of that person’s worldview,” said Travis S. Kerns, associate professor of apologetics and world religions.
The concentration combines evangelism, missions, and world religions “so our graduates have the best opportunity to be effective evangelists and disciplers,” said Kerns. The program seeks to equip students to be “the most effective evangelists and/or disciplers for any person, of any faith tradition, anywhere in the world at any time.”
Southwestern Seminary’s approach to apologetics is different than any other apologetics program because other programs focus “more on apologetic issues like the resurrection of Christ, the historicity of the Bible, reliability of the text, the existence of God, the problem of evil, these big questions that Christians have to deal with,” Kerns says. “What we’re doing here is saying, those aren’t unimportant issues, but the most important issues are how can you meet somebody where he or she is.”
While Kerns believes the concentration is useful for pastors and church staff members, he thinks it is “probably ... most effective for a missionary or somebody in youth ministry or collegiate ministry” as each shares the Gospel with people with various worldviews.
Kerns, a former Send City missionary with the North American Mission Board, saw firsthand the necessity of approaching those from other religions by emphasizing Christ rather than attacking the religion as he worked with Mormons for six years in Salt Lake City, Utah. As he sought to share the Gospel with Mormons, he realized talking about all the problems with Mormonism drove the person “further into hell.” He desired for those he encountered to walk away thinking, “My goodness, all he talked about was Jesus.” This same desire is the heart of the program.
“The only thing that saves a person from death to life are the words of Scripture,” Kerns said. “This is why we have tried to change the emphasis here.” The program’s curriculum focuses on how to more effectively share the Gospel with individuals from various religions rather than addressing the problems of the religion.
Kerns summed up Southwestern Seminary’s Great Commissions Apologetics concentration by emphasizing that “our apologetics program is meant to make you an evangelist and discipler … it is building up Christ and the Gospel.”
Ashley Allen is the managing editor of Southwestern News.