The following response was written by the co-sponsors of the amendment, Ray Van Neste and Denny Burk. The views expressed are ours alone, and we do not intend to speak on behalf those who have signed-up as supporters of our amendment.
We appreciate very much the service that the members of ETS’s Executive Committee (EC) render to our Society. Theirs is a time-intensive job, and they have made great strides to improve the quality of scholarship on display at our annual meetings. We wish to thank them for the course that they have set for the Society. We expect great things in the coming years.
Nevertheless, the co-sponsors of the amendment think it is time to express our disagreement with the EC’s public statements about our Amendment proposal. On at least two occasions since we introduced the amendment at the November 2007 meeting in San Diego, the EC has addressed the members of the Society in official forums in terms that have been prejudicial against our proposal. We have not yet been afforded an opportunity to respond in those forums, so we intend to make use of this one.
The EC’s official response to the amendment was read during the business meeting in which our proposal was introduced. It also appears on the ETS website. It reads as follows:
“The Evangelical Theological Society from its founding in 1949 to the present has chosen to work from a doctrinal basis rather than from a doctrinal statement or confession of faith. The Executive Committee considers any changes to be departure from this original intent of the Society. Therefore, before the question of creating a doctrinal statement should be considered, the membership should have ample opportunity to discuss the basic issue: ‘Should the ETS replace its doctrinal basis with a statement of faith?’ Consequently, we propose a special session at the ETS 2008 Annual Meeting to discuss and consider this prior issue.”
On the website, the EC further characterizes our proposal as follows:
“Two ETS members submitted to the Secretary-Treasurer an eleven point proposal to amend the ETS doctrinal basis. As the ETS Constitution requires, the Executive Committee reviewed the proposed amendment. The Executive Committee’s unanimous decision was to recommend postponing this proposal until such a time as the Society would decide that it wanted to change from a doctrinal basis to what it considers the proposal to be–a statement of faith. . . However, the proponents of the amendment determined not to delay, and the proposal was entered into the record to be voted upon at the 60th Annual Meeting in Providence, RI. . . Again, the ETS Executive Committee opposes this preemptive change. We suggest that discussion by the Society as a whole should precede such a proposal (1) to determine if the Society wants to move away from its historic use of a doctrinal basis to a formal confession of faith, and if so, then (2) to deliberate on what points would be appropriate to include. Nevertheless, this proposal will be voted either up or down at the ETS 60th Annual Meeting in November, 2008.”
We are thankful that the EC has scheduled a special session for debate before the vote at next year’s meeting. And we expect there will be ample time to make a full response to these remarks then. For now, we offer a few words of response to three charges that the EC has made.
The Charge That We Are Moving the Society from a “Basis” to a “Statement.” We have addressed this issue on this website and in the article that we published in the Criswell Theological Review. In short, we are not offering this proposal as a doctrinal statement, but as a doctrinal basis. To see our elaboration of this point, read items 1 and 2 on our Frequently Asked Questions page. To those previously published remarks, we would also add these. We are not convinced that most ETS members were aware before now of this supposed vital distinction between a doctrinal basis and a statement of faith. The EC says our proposal calls for a “formal confession of faith.” What is meant by this? Is the current ‘doctrinal basis’ not ‘formal’ and is it not a confession of what is believed? How does this differ inherently from what we propose? How many points can be included in a ‘basis’ before it becomes a ‘statement’? We missed this in historical theology. If they mean we have moved from a simple statement to something which would be used by a church or denomination they are simply wrong. This statement is not used by a church but by an association similar to ours. In light of the fact that the ETS basis has already been augmented in the past, the burden is on the EC to demonstrate how and why this change is such a significant historical alteration.
The Charge That We “Resisted” Delay. Actually, we were not opposed in principle to “delay.” The EC asked us to hold our proposal back until the Society could debate whether the ETS should replace its doctrinal basis with a statement of faith. Since we were not and are not willing to grant the premise of such a debate (see previous point), we could not agree to their proposal. Had they asked us to delay a year to give the Society ample time to consider the merits of our proposal, that would have been an entirely different matter. But the EC did not ask us to debate the merits of the proposal. The EC instead decided to pre-empt debate about our proposal with a debate about doctrinal statements vs. doctrinal bases. They took this action in spite of our protests in writing that we opposed their effort to characterize our proposal as a doctrinal statement rather than a doctrinal basis. We believe that the EC’s framing of the issue in this manner obscures the situation at hand. Most members of the society agree that the doctrinal basis is sadly skimpy. The question is how we can positively declare what we believe in a clear and helpful way.
The Charge That Our Proposal is “Preemptive.” We are at a loss to explain why the EC describes our proposal as “preemptory.” We think the charge is unwarranted and prejudicial. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the EC has characterized the Amendment in this way on the Society’s website. Is there something wrong in members suggesting change? The only way this could be preemptory is if we in some way shut down or avoided a conversation. Until we offered our proposal, the leadership had not on their own initiated any formal conversation about problems with our doctrinal basis. This motion is an attempt to create conversation. Perhaps the preemptory element in all of this is the way in which the EC is coloring the conversation before it can begin.
We understand that we must give some attention to matters of process when seeking to change the ETS’s constitutional structure. And we have done our very best to follow the ETS’s Constitutional guidelines for amending the Constitution (Article VII). But we think that a protracted debate about process could distract the Society from the real matter at hand—the inadequacy of the current doctrinal basis. Whether our proposal is adopted or not, the Society needs to begin this conversation in earnest. We think that the stage is now set for that to take place.