Update on Amending the ETS

Last year, I posted several notices about an effort that Ray Van Neste and I are undertaking to amend the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). You can read about that effort at our website www.AmendETS.com. Today I am passing on two new developments to those readers who are interested.

First, Ray and I (the co-sponsors) have written a response to the Executive Committee’s characterization of our proposal. We disagree with their public statements, and we have written about it here: “Response the Executive Committee.”

Second, the January issue of Christianity Today has a report about the amendment effort. The story talks about the meeting in San Diego where we introduced the amendment, and it also mentions Francis Beckwith and his exit from the ETS last Spring. It’s titled “Inerrancy Plus.” Unfortunately, the article is not available online, so you’ll have to read it in the print version if you are interested.

9 Responses to Update on Amending the ETS

  1. Brett February 6, 2008 at 2:15 am #

    I guess I just really don’t see the problem with the existing statement. Not surprising though, worrying about doctrinal statements thus making them canonical instead of the canon, and not mentioning the love of people. Standard.

  2. Ben Stevenson February 6, 2008 at 5:04 am #

    Brett,
    The UCCF Doctrinal Basis (and therefore the possible future ETS statement) say:
    “The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.”

    The Bible teaches that we should love other people (Matthew 5:43-44, Matthew 22:39-40).

    Therefore, the UCCF statement implies that we should love other people. The statement also says that the canon of Scipture is more important than doctrinal statements (“…supreme authority in all matters of belief …).

    Therefore, your complaints are unjustified.

  3. Brett February 6, 2008 at 4:14 pm #

    Ben,

    This is a really bad argument you bring up. Every other point after their statement about the Bible, they say, can be found in the Bible. So why put any other doctrinal point up there if they can all be found in the Bible? Why not just put “The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour” and be done with it and not put any other points? My argument is that a love of God and neighbor is what God intends for all peoples, and people (like ETS members) are quick to put points up about God, but not about people. Sad, sad, sad, sad, sad. A bit Pharisaical as well (actually very Pharisaical).

    Also,the statement does not say that the canon of Scripture is more important than doctrinal statements. Even if this can be implied from the verse, doctrinal statements and catechisms are regarded as higher than scripture because when scripture goes against them we either have to lie about believing in the doctrinal statement, part ways in fellowship, or make the Bible stay within the bounds of the doctrinal statement.

    So if ETS adopted this, and the Bible seemed to go against something regarded in the statement, then in order to remain in ETS, we elevate the doctrinal statement to a canonical status and make the Bible fit what it says. This is how doctrinal statements work. A better approach would be to make the doctrinal statement fit into the mold of what the Bible says, and not make the Bible fit into the mold of what the doctrinal statement says. Then the Bible would truly be the authority, but sadly in evangelicalism, it’s the complete opposite. We read the text through the lens of the Westsminster Catechism or the Baptist Faith and Message, and not the other way around. That’s why I believe evangelicals are somewhat Catholic, because they elevate human doctrinal statement and catechisms to canonical status and read the Bible through the lens of those statements. Tragic!

  4. Ben Stevenson February 7, 2008 at 11:40 am #

    Brett: “Every other point after their statement about the Bible, they say, can be found in the Bible. So why put any other doctrinal point up there if they can all be found in the Bible?”

    There is also disagreement about most of the other points. I am not aware of any group that denies the principle that we should love other people.
    You seem to imply that some evangelicals are not loving as you call them Pharisees, and seem to accuse evangelicals of not caring about people.
    Well maybe some evangelicals are not loving in practice, but I really doubt you would find any theologian who object in theory to the idea that we should love each other. If we do find them, maybe the statement would need to be amended.

    Brett: “Also,the statement does not say that the canon of Scripture is more important than doctrinal statements.”

    This is what the Amendmnet says:
    “This written word of God consists of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments and is the SUPREME AUTHORITY in ALL matters of belief and behavior.”

    Brett: “So if ETS adopted this, and the Bible seemed to go against something regarded in the statement, then in order to remain in ETS, we elevate the doctrinal statement to a canonical status and make the Bible fit what it says.”

    The Evangelical Theological Society is for evangelical theologians.

    If someone does not agree with evangelical theology there is no necessity for them to join. People have to make up their minds what they believe – if they disagree with evangleical theology they don’t need to join a theological society for evangelicals.

    There is no necessity that the evangelical theology society survive. If people think its beliefs are wrong, they can find other places to discuss theology. But that does not mean that this amendment is not appropriate for a society of evangelical theologians.

    Brett: “A better approach would be to make the doctrinal statement fit into the mold of what the Bible says, and not make the Bible fit into the mold of what the doctrinal statement says.”

    Many people believe that this statement does fit with what the Bible teaches.

    It would not make sense for someone who believes the Bible to be the “supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour” to then change their beliefs to fit with what the Statement of Faith says, rather than what they believe the Bible says. Do you have actual evidence that people are doing this?

  5. jigawatt February 7, 2008 at 12:10 pm #

    Brett,

    You seem to have a problem with doctrinal statements in general. Would you mind letting us know to which church and/or denomination you belong? Does your church have a statement of faith? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

    If you’re curious about me, I’m a member of South Baton Rouge Presbyterian Church (PCA). As a baptist, I take objection to the WCF’s position on baptism (and some other points as well), but I’m in agreement with them on the essentials of the gospel.

  6. Brett February 7, 2008 at 1:39 pm #

    Jigawatt,

    I used to attend a southern Baptist church but am currently looking for another one. What I am saying it, if I felt the Lord calling me to pastor a Methodist church, but I didn’t necessarily believe the Bible taught baptism by sprinkling or I was more reformed theologically, then in order to pastor that church I have to change my beliefs. I’m not gonna choose a church based on if I agree with every point of their doctrinal statement or not.

    Doctrinal statement have become somewhat of a joke with evangelicals…a big joke. I agree there has to be some bounds, but those bounds have to be very wide and the list has to be small. Instead, we have made the bounds very narrow and the lists long. Honestly, there are just some things in these doctrinal statements that aren’t necessary for salvation and are more of gray areas than they are black and white. The beautiful thing about the body is that we can have unity amidst our diversity…both in belief and practice.

    I’ll have to address the rest of it later because I have to leave. But I certainly think trying to get this changed as if it’s going to do anything is a waste of time and a misguided focus. I’ll stand by that any day of the week.

  7. Ben February 7, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    My problem with the either the proposed statement or basis has been the same all along – it petrifies definitions.

    My take on ETS is that it is made up of educated people who wish to do academic work under the banner of “evangelical”. In my mind, the beauty of ETS is that no formal definition of “evangelical” is offered by the society other than the present summary statement. Within this summary statement is plenty of room for self-professed evangelicals to do academic work that move forward the evangelical distinctives. And, as pressures shift in our increasingly pluralistic culture, evangelicals are free to explore new categories to address those pressures without fear of being cast out of the society, or judged on the basis of a doctrinal basis/statement not designed to deal with the current pressures.

    What I am saying is that the evangelical society itself should define, on an ongoing basis through community, what it means to be evangelical. In my view, this proposal petrifies the definition of what constitutes an evangelical in a way that aims to keep out those who could contribute to the evangelical cause in a radical way.

    On another note, this one specifically directed towards Denny, I was doing academic work with the president of ETS during the Open Theism controversy a couple of years ago. He read to me (with identifying information omitted) some of the letters he received over the executive committee’s handling of the dispute. Overwhelmingly, they were highly vitriolic, full of what I would consider much anger, malice, slander, and arrogance. The worst of them were sent certified mail – he had to sign for these awful letters. They were very hurtful to both my friend and myself. I’ve had little to do with ETS since that time.

    In your response to the EC, I detect a similar tone of anger and arrogance, though veiled. I encourage you to condition your future communications with more humility.

  8. jigawatt February 7, 2008 at 6:15 pm #

    Brett,

    In reference to your first paragraph, you seem to be upset that you can’t pastor a Methodist church without agreeing with what Methodists believe. Would you be okay with a committed paedobaptist being called as the pastor of your baptist church? What would this pastor do if he was preaching on the topic of baptism? What if you had a theonomist pastor? Would you be alright with him preaching a sermon series on Leviticus? There is a reason doctrinal statements (let’s call them DS’s) go into more detail than the basics of our unity in the gospel. It’s not to exclude people from God’s family. Rather, it’s to define the distinctives of what different churches (or in the case of ETS, parachurch organizations) believe. Why is this bad?

    Instead, we have made the bounds very narrow and the lists long

    Actually, we have shortened the lists considerably in comparison to DS’s of yesteryear, and made the language more inclusive. Compare the 2000 BFM with the 1689 London Confession for reference.

    Honestly, there are just some things in these doctrinal statements that aren’t necessary for salvation

    I agree that in general DS’s address more than just the essentials of salvation. As far as I know, the only people who think you have to agree with them in absolutely everything are folks like Darwin Fish etc. Perhaps DS’s should spell out which doctrines are essential and which are secondary. But you seem to indicate that all DS’s for churches and for parachurch organizations should be simplified to just a sentence or two. Why?

    and are more of gray areas than they are black and white

    Is baptism a gray area? Or is it just not essential for salvation? Just because it might be gray for you doesn’t mean that others don’t have convictions about it.

    The beautiful thing about the body is that we can have unity amidst our diversity…both in belief and practice.

    I completely agree. As a baptist member of a PCA church, I can attest to this personally. And our PCA church partners with a Methodist church in town doing, get ready, … Mercy Ministries.

  9. Francis Beckwith February 7, 2008 at 10:33 pm #

    From the paper I delivered at the University of Notre Dame on December 1, 2007:

    This is why I still consider myself an Evangelical, but just not a Protestant one. Surely it is true that contemporary Evangelicalism has its roots in conservative Protestantism, but it has also been shaped by the Catholic and Protestant charismatic and Pentecostal movements as well as the spirituality and apologetics of authors like C. S. Lewis, who, though an Anglican, produced works that were “Catholic” in their tone and substance. This is why Lewis is one of the most beloved writers among Catholics. Moreover, if one thinks of Evangelicalism as a renewal movement that stresses personal conversion and spiritual development, evangelism, a high view of Scripture, and fidelity to Christian orthodoxy, then one can certainly be a Evangelical Catholic, as I believe I am. If the term “Evangelical” is broad enough to include high-church Anglicans, low-church anti-creedal Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, the Evangelical Free Church, Arminians, Calvinists, Disciples of Christ, Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, open theists, atemporal theists, social Trinitarians, substantial Trinitarians, nominalists, realists, eternal security supporters and opponents, temporal theists, dispensationalists, theonomists, church-state separationists, cessationists, non-cessationists, kenotic theorists, covenant theologians, paedo-Baptists, and Dooweyerdians, there should be room for an Evangelical Catholic.

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