At the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), members gather to discuss and debate papers that are presented by its various and sundry members. Oftentimes, the papers that are presented are rather unremarkable (like this one), but sometimes they are quite provocative (like this one). For those of us who like theological polemics, this is an exciting forum.
To be a member of the ETS one only has to affirm a two part doctrinal statement: (1) a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, and (2) a belief in the Trinity. Thus, the membership is comprised of men and women from various evangelical and Protestant denominations who are for the most part on the conservative end of the theological spectrum.
Recent meetings of the ETS have seen much controversy over the issue of Open Theism. Open Theism says that human free-will is not really free if God already knows the future choices that people will make. So Open Theists deny that God has omniscient foreknowledge of the future.
The Open Theism controversy in the ETS has centered on the membership qualifications of two prominent proponents Open Theism. These two members, Clark Pinnock and John Sanders, have argued in favor of the Open Theism position in their published works. Roger Nicole, therefore, challenged the membership credentials of Pinnock and Sanders by claiming that their Open Theism is incompatible with the doctrine of inerrancy, a doctrine that every member of the ETS must affirm.
Pinnock and Sanders responded to these charges by maintaining that they affirm inerrancy, even though they do not affirm the exhaustive foreknowledge of God. In the end, Roger Nicoleâ€™s membership challenge of Pinnock and Sanders did not pass, and both men remain members of the ETS today (source).
This failed membership challenge has resulted in an effort by some to define what inerrancy means. In November 2004, the ETS Executive Committee unanimously recommended a resolution that was intended to clarify what the doctrinal basis means by the word â€œinerrant.â€ The membership passed the following resolution with 80% in favor and 20% opposed:
For the purpose of advising members regarding the intent and meaning of the reference to biblical inerrancy in the ETS Doctrinal Basis, the Society refers members to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). The case for biblical inerrancy rests on the absolute trustworthiness of God and Scriptureâ€™s testimony to itself. A proper understanding of inerrancy takes into account the language, genres, and intent of Scripture. We reject approaches to Scripture that deny that biblical truth claims are grounded in reality (source).
At this year’s meeting, the members will vote whether to amend the bi-laws so that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy will become the norm for defining inerrancy in the ETS. If this motion passes, then the ETS will have an official guideline for evaluating whether theological views (like Open Theism) are compatible with a belief in inerrancy.
The vote is Wednesday night, and I will be there voting in favor of the amendment.