Academic Excellence at Asbury Theological Seminary

Friday, June 26th, 2009

“What does academic excellence mean at Asbury Theological Seminary?” If I were giving simply a technical definition, I would remind us that “academic” is usually seen as something primarily hypothetical or theoretical, and that “excellence” has from the time of the Greek poets been associated with hard work and with that which is eminently good.

But as worthy as those concepts are in a secular setting, when we seek a definition at Asbury, we mean something far more central to life itself. We recognize that we are persons created in the image of the triune God, and our first call is to him; his glory is paramount to everything we are and do. As persons created in God’s image, we are body, mind, and spirit. These are not separate parts glued together in some mysterious way; rather they are ways of describing the totality of our being as created by God.

John Wesley spoke of “sound learning and vital piety,” forever conjoining mind and heart. The cultivation of “academic excellence” requires that the “head descends into the heart.” Then “head and heart go hand in hand.” In other words, academic excellence occurs when the whole person is developed as fully as possible to the glory of God. The kind and magnitude of our gifts and graces may vary according to the Spirit’s endowment. But excellence requires devoting time, energy, and discipline to cultivating those gifts, always in the interest of the Giver for the sake of those he created.

At Asbury Theological Seminary we seek to engage the finest faculty-scholars possible within the Wesleyan tradition to research, write, and teach future leaders of the Church. Faculty members are devoted to the search for truth, in particular orthodoxy grounded in scripture and the tradition of the Church. But our faculty-scholars also offer their hearts, which are committed to bearing witness to the truth they serve by the lives they lead. In so doing we anticipate being “a community called to prepare theologically educated, sanctified, Spirit-filled men and women” who when they have completed their education at Asbury, go forth “to evangelize and to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world through the love of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God the Father.”

Tennent Response:
The pressing need to address both academic excellence and spiritual formation has become almost axiomatic in the academic circles of evangelical Christianity. However, what makes Asbury unique is not an attempt to “balance” the head and the heart, but rather, as Provost Andrews has pointed out, to see how the two are holistically related one to another. Rather than an attempt to balance two separate, discreet, values the article reminds us that it is more like a holy matrimony where two become one, rather than two separate elements which must be kept in some kind of balanced tension with the other. The famous “Asbury experience” which I have heard so many alumni speak of, captures this holy union quite well. As the next President of Asbury, I am committed to making certain that a whole new generation of Asbury graduates are sent forth with “sound learning and vital piety,” conjoining mind and heart in a way which will form and shape them for a lifetime of ministry.

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