Historian Gregory A. Wills and North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary Travis S. Kerns have been named to the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas.
Wills, who has served 25 years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., will be research professor of church history and Baptist heritage and founding director of the new B.H. Carroll Center for Baptist Heritage and Mission.
Kerns, a church planter who has served as NAMB’s Send City missionary in Salt Lake City, will be associate professor of apologetics and world religions. He is the author of The Saints of Zion: An Introduction to Mormon Theology.
Gregory A. Wills
Southwestern President Adam W. Greenway said Wills has “a demonstrated and distinguished track record of teaching and scholarship, and he is firmly committed to the primacy of the local church and to Baptist distinctives.”
Gregory A. Wills
“Both personally and professionally, Dr. Wills stands squarely in the Carroll tradition of ‘scholarship on fire,’ and I can think of no one in Southern Baptist life more capable to lead this new institutional initiative, fittingly named for our founder and first president, than he,” Greenway said.
Wills noted, “Since its founding in 1908 under the leadership of B.H. Carroll, Southwestern Seminary has played a critical role in equipping in scriptural conviction and zeal those called by God to serve His church as pastors, missionaries and teachers. I am grateful to God for the privilege of serving at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 25 years and will always treasure the many joys shared with wonderful students and colleagues there. With full confidence that God is now leading me and my family to become members of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary family, I look forward to joining the long tradition of vital Kingdom work there.”
Wills, who has specialized in Baptist life over the last two centuries, most recently was the David T. Porter Professor of Church History at Southern. He first came to the seminary in 1994 as archives and special collections librarian, then joined the faculty full-time in 1997. He later served as dean of the seminary’s school of theology from 2013-18.
“Greg Wills is a first-rate scholar, theologian and churchman,” Southwestern Seminary Provost Randy L. Stinson said. “What he brings to Southwestern in terms of Baptist heritage and scholarship is unparalleled in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Wills holds a Ph.D. from Emory University, master of divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and master of theology and bachelor of science degrees from Duke University. His dissertation, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900, was published by Oxford University Press.
Wills is the author of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009, also published by Oxford. He is currently writing an updated history of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is scheduled to be released by B&H Publishing in 2020 during the convention’s 175th anniversary year.
The B.H. Carroll Center for Baptist Heritage and Mission will be housed in the building known during its construction as the Baptist Heritage Center. The name has now been modified to honor B.H. Carroll, Southwestern Seminary’s founder and first president. The Carroll Center will house significant Baptist archival collections; serve as a research hub for doctoral students in Baptist studies; and sponsor lectures and events to promote and perpetuate Baptist history and identity.
Wills and his wife Cathy have four children. He will officially begin at Southwestern in the fall semester.
Travis S. Kerns
Greenway said Kerns, with years of academic and ministry experience, especially in the area of Mormon studies, is “not only an extraordinarily gifted apologist, but he has demonstrated experience as a pastor and church planter.”
Travis S. Kerns
“He will help us more effectively equip our students to know what they believe, why they believe it and how to share their faith in an increasingly secular and pluralistic culture,” Greenway said.
Kerns said he is looking forward to becoming part of the seminary’s “big-tent vision” and “the emphasis on evangelism and missions that is across the campus. That is where my heart is.
“My hope is to train students in not only a love for the gospel, but a love for sharing the gospel with people from any other faith tradition, and to be able to defend their faith with any person who asks,” he said.
Kerns taught apologetics, world religions and philosophy at Southern Seminary for eight years before moving to Salt Lake City with his wife Staci and son Jeremiah in 2013. As a NAMB Send City missionary, Kerns has led and given oversight to missions and church-planting efforts in a largely unreached region dominated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
From an early age, Kerns developed an interest in learning the beliefs and motivations of other religions and has studied Mormonism for more than 20 years, devoting much of his academic work, including the focus of his doctoral research, to LDS history and philosophy. His book on Mormon theology was published by B&H Academic in 2018.
Kerns holds Ph.D. and M.Div. degrees from Southern Seminary and an undergraduate degree from North Greenville University in South Carolina.
NAMB President Kevin Ezell said Kerns “has done a magnificent job connecting Southern Baptists to the needs of the West. We will miss him, but I am excited about the prospect of him investing in the next generation of missionaries and leaders. SWBTS and its students will be incredibly blessed by his ministry.”