In 1756, John Wesley delivered an address to a gathering of clergy on how to carry out the pastoral ministry with joy and skill. In it, Wesley catalogued a number of things familiar to most contemporary believers the cultivation of a disposition to glorify God and save souls, a knowledge of Scripture, and similar notions. However, at the first of his list, Wesley focused on something seldom expressly valued by most pastoral search committees: Ought not a Minister to have, First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness?1 Time and again throughout the address, Wesley unpacked this remark by admonishing ministers to know what would sound truly odd and almost pagan to the average congregant of today: logic, metaphysics (including the first principles of being), natural theology, geometry, and the ideas of important figures in the history of philosophy.
Wesley’s remarks were not unusual in his time. A century earlier, the great Reformed pastor Richard Baxter was faced with lukewarmness in the church and unbelief outside the church. In 1667 he wrote a book to meet this need and in it he used philosophy to argue for the existence of the soul and the life to come. The fact that Baxter turned to philosophy instead of small groups or praise hymns is worth pondering. Over a millennium earlier, Augustine summarized the view of many early church fathers when he said that We must show our Scriptures not to be in conflict with whatever [our critics] can demonstrate about the nature of things from reliable sources.2 Philosophy was the main tool Augustine used in this task.
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