A Foundation for Theological Education meets the challenge of helping the next generation.

“United Methodism is a sick denomination,” said Methodist evangelist and pastor Ed Robb in 1975. “If we have a sick church, it is largely because we have sick seminaries.” In a speech to Good News, the evangelical renewal movement within United Methodism, Robb, then its president, went on to decry the liberalism and lack of spirituality in the denomination’s theological schools.

Not surprisingly, his criticism did not go unnoticed or unchallenged. In a letter to the editor of the United Methodist Reporter, the late Albert Outler, emeritus professor of theology at Southern Methodist University (SMU), fired back at Robb.

“Dr. Robb’s salvo is so reckless that its total splatter cannot be mopped up or disposed of rationally in a letter to the editor,” he wrote. “Clearly, something much more is needed and I hope that a suitable occasion for responsible discussion of these problems may be forthcoming.”

But what might have passed as another liberal versus evangelical volley turned into an unlikely alliance. Outler admittedly was surprised when Robb and several friends approached him with “an openhearted challenge to help them do something more constructive than cry havoc,” he wrote later in the Christian Century. They soon found unexpected agreement on several points. And the result, two years later, was the establishment of A Foundation for Theological Education (AFTE).

While the overall health of the United Methodist Church may still be debated, the result of Robb’s call for renewal in Wesleyan theological education has injected some powerful evangelical antibodies into the denomination’s bloodstream. In slightly more than five years, AFTE has ...

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