The inaugural William J. Abraham Memorial Lecture took place on October 17 at Perkins Chapel, with Dr. Frederick Aquino delivering the lecture. Bridwell Library (SMU Libraries) and Perkins School of Theology established the annual Memorial Lecture to bring a scholar to the SMU campus each year to engage in a topic related to Abraham’s work of the scholar’s choosing.
At the event, Dean Craig Hill welcomed attendees, and Abraham’s daughter, Siobhan Abraham, offered greetings on behalf of the Abraham family. Bill Millard (B.A. ’78, J.D./MBA ’83) a longtime member of the Sunday school class which Abraham led for years at Highland Park United Methodist Church, also spoke briefly.
Bruce Marshall introduced Aquino, a former student of Dr. Abraham. Aquino is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the Graduate School of Theology, Abilene Christian University (ACU), and the director of the philosophy minor at ACU. He earned his Ph.D. in Religious Studies (with an emphasis in systematic theology) from Southern Methodist University in 2000.
Aquino’s lecture, “William J. Abraham and John Henry Newman on Faith and Reason,” explored parallels in Abraham’s and Newman’s thinking. Newman (1801-1890) was an English theologian, scholar and poet and was an important and controversial figure in the religious history of 19th century England. Newman was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church in 2019.
Aquino argued that, in the debate over the relationship between faith and reason, Abraham and Newman each sought to offer a third alternative. Aquino argued that neither embraced fideism — the assertion that faith is exempt from or impervious to rational analysis – or hard rationalism, which says a “belief is true if and only if it can be convincing to any reasonable person.”
“Both Newman and Abraham sought to carve out a path between fideism and hard rationalism … a third option, which Billy called ‘soft rationalism,’” he said. “The elements of soft rationalism include the willingness to subject faith to rational analysis, the informal and convergent nature of reasoning and the irreducible role that judgment plays in evaluating evidence and informing arguments.”
View a video recording of the lecture, as well as the Q&A that followed, here.
Dr. Abraham, 73, died suddenly in October 2021. He was the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins from 1995 until his retirement in May 2021. He joined the Perkins faculty on Sept. 1, 1985, as the McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism and the Philosophy of Religion under the leadership of then-Dean James Kirby and Provost Hans Hillerbrand. After retirement, he became Professor Emeritus of Wesley Studies.