Onward Christian Soldiers: The Church’s Mission and the Evangelical Theological Society

If you listen closely enough this Easter weekend, you might hear the tap-tapping of keyboards emerging from behind closed doors on Bible College and seminary campuses. Why? This Sunday is the deadline for paper proposals for this year’s Evangelical Theological Society meeting (or as one friend calls it, the “revenge of the theological nerds”).

I just submitted my paper proposal for ETS, entitled “Onward Christian Soldiers: Understanding the Kingdom-Oriented Nature of the Church’s Mission.” I will argue that evangelical discussions of the church’s mission can be helped by integrating reflections on the church’s identity, mission, and ethics with the kingdom of God.

This annual submission process has caused me to reflect on why I enjoy ETS and like being a part of it. As a professor at Southern Seminary, here are some of the key benefits of the Evangelical Theological Society:

  • Scholarship – The main benefit of ETS is the quality of scholarship. It provides an annual opportunity for scholars to test-drive new ideas and propose advances in contemporary theological discussion. It also forces scholars (a notoriously procrastinating bunch) into a form of external academic accountability. The paper that seemed easy to write when proposed in March is a lot harder than expected to complete in October (or November, depending on the level of procrastination). But the process makes all of us sharper in scholarship as we present and receive feedback.
  • Fellowship – Though the primary benefit of ETS is the scholarship, the benefit I enjoy the most is the fellowship. It provides an annual opportunity for scholars to connect with old friends and forge relationships with new ones. That’s especially true for folks with ties to Southern Seminary because, in recent years, people with SBTS ties have presented more papers than those from any other school. The benefit of fellowship is also why Southern hosts an alumni and friends fellowship at ETS every year.
  • Mentorship – Another benefit of ETS is the great opportunity it creates for mentorship. Because students and scholars gather together for the week, there are many chances for professors to intentionally invest in their pupils. The first several years I attended ETS, I had the unique opportunity to shadow my mentor Russell Moore during the event. My experience at ETS and my scholarly development benefited from his intentional investment in me during those days. The benefit of mentorship is also part of the reason we offer a course for Southern Seminary masters students who wish to earn credit while attending ETS.

Family and friends often wonder why I would enjoy traveling across the country to listen to people read manuscripts of academic papers. The benefits of scholarship, fellowship, and mentorship are what draw me back to ETS each year. As onward Christian soldiers, this is one way the evangelical theological community positively impacts the church’s mission.