Dr. David Howard is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), and in Friday’s Wall Street Journal he weighed in on the resignation of Dr. Francis Beckwith. Howard thinks that Beckwith’s resignation was entirely appropriate, given Beckwith’s return to the Roman Catholic church. He writes:
His resignation was appropriate, since the ETS affirms that “the Bible alone . . . is the Word of God written.” The phrase “the Bible alone” in the ETS context refers to the 66 books in the Old and New Testaments of the Protestant canon and thus rules out Mr. Beckwith’s continued membership, given that the Roman Catholic Church accepts additional books in the canon, commonly referred to as deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. Mr. Beckwith maintains that he can still sign the ETS statement with full integrity because it does not enumerate the 66 books, but he voluntarily withdrew his membership in the interests of avoiding a rancorous debate in the society.
Dr. Howard is correct. The founders who drafted the ETS doctrinal basis did intend “Bible” as a reference to the Protestant canon of scripture, not the Catholic one. It is no doubt due to Dr. Beckwith’s charity and conscientiousness that the ETS has avoided a divisive debate on this point. Nevertheless, one wonders what might happen if a more cantankerous member should try to press the point. Would the ETS statement be sufficient to stave off that fight? Would the membership of ETS acknowledge what was the clear intention of the authors of the doctrinal basis?
I think it may be time to consider whether or not the doctrinal basis might be amended so as to elucidate more clearly the founder’s intention that the ETS be constituted as an evangelical society. In my view, it is time for members of the ETS to give serious consideration to Ray Van Neste’s 2001 proposal. I shall have much more to say on this topic at a later time.