Brian K. Blount on the UPSem-POJ Evangelism Initiative

Brian_Blount-1Brian K. Blount is President of Union Presbyterian Seminary. In this post he introduces the UPSem-POJ evangelism initiative from the perspective of the seminary.

When I am asked about the strengths of the seminary, I always include in my answer the faculty and the curriculum. Clearly, Union Presbyterian Seminary has many strengths. We have tremendous students, a visionary and supportive Board of Trustees, incredible staff, wonderful alumni/ae, and generously supportive donor friends. We are blessed.

Energized by these blessings, our faculty goes about its work shaping a curricular vision that allows individual faculty members to maximize their teaching gifts and research interests. Aware of the shifting context in which our students now study and will one day minister, our faculty continually adjusts and shapes the curriculum in order that our students are appropriately prepared. Our mission statement makes the point: “Union Presbyterian Seminary equips Christian leaders for ministry in the world—a sacred vocation that requires deep learning, commitment to service, and an ability to read culture and circumstance in the light of the rich resources of Scripture and theological tradition.”

Recently, responding to significant shifts in the religious and cultural landscape of our country and world, the faculty recognized that a significant curricular adjustment was necessary. While continuing to focus on the key preparatory subjects of Bible, Theology, Church History, Worship, Homiletics, Christian Education, and Practical Theology, two significant shifts were made. First, in an effort to create a more interdisciplinary approach to our Edmonton Oilers elite jersey teaching and learning, the faculty emphasized three curricular roles: Practicing Theologian,  Congregational Leader, and Community Witness. Course planning now requires that faculty teach with the goal of investing students with the knowledge and skills that will begin to help them fulfill these roles. That requirement can only be met if faculty teach across disciplinary boundaries, drawing on insights from different disciplines and faculty colleagues as they teach their individual courses.

Second, and more to the point of this blog, the faculty added a crucial component that requires each student to complete elective in curricular areas that respond directly to some of the key shifts in our cultural and religious landscape. This curricular addition is entitled “Church in the World.” In order to meet Church in the World expectations, every student will now take courses or undertake supervised ministry in the areas of Interfaith Study, Community Engagement, and Evangelism.

Evangelism. It is a key component of our biblical mandate: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt 28:19a, NRSV). It is now a key component of our seminary curriculum. Because we now expect every student to study or work in the area of new church planting or church revitalization, we have called John Vest as Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism. John’s mandate is to teach courses, mentor students in evangelism endeavors in church and society, and to spark conversations across the larger church on how individual churches and larger church bodies might do evangelism better in the world in which we live.

As we transform Union’s curriculum, it is my hope that we might also help spark the church’s work in this vital mission of sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have realized that while it is critical that we teach this gospel, it is also important that we learn how better to share this gospel story. That begins in our classrooms with John teaching evangelism in as interdisciplinary a way as possible. That continues with John and our students learning together with congregations and other witnessing communities about how to do evangelism in the context of a rapidly secularizing and increasingly interfaith culture. That progresses with John sparking conversations between a broad range of Presbyterians and other denominational representatives meeting on our campus to discuss how we might become better at the ministry of sharing God’s good news.


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