The Great Commission Is the Purpose of Missiology: Southern Seminary Hosts Regional Evangelical Missiological Society Meeting

Travis Hearne — March 21, 2024

For the first time in twenty years, the Southeastern region of the Evangelical Missiological Society met on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s campus, on Saturday, March 16. Over thirty presenters arrived on campus to engage mission concepts and strategies from a biblical perspective and to commend sound mission theory and practice to churches, mission agencies, and schools of missionary training worldwide.

J. Keith McKinley, Associate Professor of Christian Missions and Director of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization, applauded the event and the Southern Seminary doctoral students who presented.

“Several of our doctoral students took the opportunity to present papers and represented our institution very well,” McKinley said. “The Evangelical Missiological Society is an important gathering for missiologists to challenge one another in fields of study, including theology, philosophy, church history, world religions, anthropology, culture, and, more recently, leadership.”

The origin of EMS goes back to 1967 in Urbana, Illinois. Several missions professors recognized the need for dialogue, fellowship, and cooperation among evangelicals devoted to researching, publishing, and instructing in areas related to the mission of the church.

On October 3, 1968, at a meeting of the EFMA (the Evangelical Foreign Mission Association, now known as The Mission Exchange) and IFMA (the Interdenominational Foreign Missionary Association of North America, now known as CrossGlobal Link) in Winona Lake, Indiana. Professors present officially formed the Association of Evangelical Professors of Missions (AEPM), an organization that effectively served the purposes of mission instructors for over twenty years.

As the 1970s and 1980s progressed, interest in missiology increased and Christian missions was reviewed and redefined by some scholars in ways that seemed incompatible with biblical mission. Some missiologists believed that a scholarly society committed to the Great Commission proved necessary.

In 1988, the late esteemed professor Donald A. McGavran wrote:

I want to lay before you . . . a very important item.  The evangelical professors of  missions have an organization which is not really called missiology.  I think that is a grave mistake. . . .  What is really needed in North America and around the world is a society of missiology that says quite frankly that the purpose of missiology is to carry out the Great Commission. (Personal letter to David Hesselgrave dated April 7, 1988)

McGavran’s concern being widely shared, the AEPM was reorganized in November 1990, as the Evangelical Missiological Society.

The EMS currently has over 400 full and associate members. Members meet each year for regional meetings and an annual conference. 

“The experience was valuable both as an opportunity for us to hear from a broad range of subject area experts and for us to contribute to the field of missiology,” McKinley said. “EMS engages with the important ideas related to taking the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth for the glory of the Lord.”

The EMS meeting came right before Southern Seminary’s Great Commission Week, March 25–29. This week is full of events for students to learn more about current missions opportunities and options for those considering full-time missions following graduation.

Contact The Bevin Center with any questions.

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