Personal,  Theology/Bible

Amend ETS

Many of my readers likely know very little about the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Nevertheless, those same readers would probably recognize the names of many of its members. The membership is a veritable who’s who of evangelical scholars and writers (e.g., William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, John Piper, Tom Schreiner, Wayne Grudem, just to name of few). Thus, the theological orientation of the ETS impacts the broader evangelical movement through the writings and publications of it members—members who come from all over the world.

ETS has a “doctrinal basis” that is aimed at keeping the society constituted of “evangelical” scholars. The Doctrinal Basis is very short, containing only two points: an affirmation of inerrancy and an affirmation of the Trinity. Over the years, it has become increasingly clear to many of us that this Doctrinal Basis has proven insufficient to do what it was designed to do.

For this reason, Ray Van Neste and I will be proposing to amend the Doctrinal Basis of the ETS. The proposal will be introduced at the annual meeting in San Diego next week, and it will be voted on at next year’s meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.

In order to get the word out about this amendment, Ray and I have written an article that was published this fall in the Criswell Theological Review. The title of the article is “Inerrancy Is Not Enough: A Proposal to Amend the Doctrinal Basis of The Evangelical Theological Society.” The editor of CTR has allowed us to post a free copy of the article on the journal’s website, and you can now download and read our rationale for the amendment. Even though the article relates most directly to voting members of the ETS, the issues we raise here are relevant to anyone who is concerned about the shape of contemporary American evangelicalism.

Denny Burk and Ray Van Neste, “Inerrancy Is Not Enough: A Proposal to Amend the Doctrinal Basis of The Evangelical Theological Society” Criswell Theological Review n.s. 5 (2007): 69-80.

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  • j razz

    Wouldn’t it be better to risk some “non-evangelicals” being in the ETS
    than to risk starting down a path of constriction that may work counter to
    the original design of the ETS?
    The problems that would result from allowing some non-evangelicals
    into the ETS would not emerge this year, next year, or maybe even in the
    next 10 years. But eventually, without more evangelical definition, the
    Society may be constituted of a majority of members whose evangelical
    identity consists only in their association with institutions and publishing
    houses that are (or were) known as ―evangelical.‖
    Whenever it happens (in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years?), then there
    really won‘t be any point in having an ETS. The value of ETS is that it
    promotes evangelical scholarship and it preserves a scholarly forum in
    which evangelical concerns are on the agenda (concerns that are not
    necessarily on the agenda at AAR/SBL). When the Society ceases to be
    evangelical, it will cease to have any purpose and will likely go the way
    of the dinosaur.

    Not that this point needs to be made here but if you want to see the end goal of the above question in action, look at most modern day American churches. What is the result of allowing “members” in the fold without having meaningful membership? Is it worth corruption for the sake of not offending?

    Now don’t read to much into what I wrote as the ETS is not a church, but there is a danger in the mode of thinking that poses a question like the one above.

    j razz

  • Bryan L


    You mention “non-inerrantist evangelicals (e.g. N. T. Wright, Richard Hays)” in the paper who would be invited to interact with the ETS. If you see innerancy as a key issue that defines evangelicals so that those who do not subscribe to innerancy can’t join ETS (or should be kicked out) then why do you still refer to those 2 scholars as evangelicals? What’s odd is that they are probably 2 of the leading evangelical NT scholars today yet they still would not be able to join the Evangelical Theological Society.

    How many other leading evangelical biblical scholars and theologians are out there who would not be able to join ETS based on the innerancy issue right now? It just seems inevitable that an even more detailed statement will exclude even more top notch evangelical scholars.

    Maybe an asterisk should be placed next to ETS noting that it actually represents a subgroup within evangelicalism.

    Just some thoughts.

    Bryan L

    BTW Do you know if there is an ETS member list available anywhere?

    And do you know if the Catholic Biblical Association is a specifically Roman Catholic association? I’ve wondered about that.

  • Denny Burk


    Richard Hays and N. T. Wright are already guests of ETS. I have heard both of them speak at ETS.

    Among other things, evangelicals are people who base their beliefs on what the Scriptures teach. Evangelicals in the United States have traditionally linked the Bible’s authority to its inerrancy. If inerrancy goes, then so does authority (see Bart Ehrman for example). Evangelicals in the U.K. have by and large differed from U.S. evangelicals on this matter. Many of them do not believe that inerrancy is a necessary condition of the Bible’s authority. I think they are inconsistent on this point and that wherever such a view is propagated, it does damage to the church.


  • Bryan L


    I understand that they would be guest of ETS (and have been) but they would not be able to join or if they were members they would probably be kicked out (like Gundry) yet they are some of evangelicalisms top NT scholars.

    Doesn’t that seem odd? They are part of what gives evangelicalism it’s cred.

    And you are right evangelicals base their beliefs on what the scripture teaches and those two scholars don’t abandon scripture but base their beliefs on it and interact with it in a way that takes account of the different voices they hear within scripture even if those voices don’t all seem to agree with each other.

    Your example of Ehrman is interesting because it was his inability to continue holding on to the doctrine of innerancy after he could no longer deny what were obvious issues with scripture that he discovered through his study of textual criticism that lead to him abandoning his Christian faith and becoming an agnostic. It was because he was taught either innerancy had to be true or Christianity is not true that he felt he had to abandon Christianity. What would have happened if he hadn’t been brought up with this either or mentality to the Bible?

    Also considering how Ehrman and Hays were treated at SEBTS by Geisler and the crowd (and less so by Kostenberger who was more respectful) after sharing their views on innerancy I’m not sure why they would still want to attend that kind of meeting. It was obvious listening to that discussion that people weren’t too open to hear their ideas where they disagreed. Would they be any more open to hearing them at ETS?

    You said, “I think they are inconsistent on this point and that wherever such a view is propagated, it does damage to the church.”

    Can you expand on that a bit? What are they being inconsistent about? What kind of damage do you see it doing to the church?

    BTW do you know where I can find an ETS member list? I’m interested to find out what other evangelical scholars are not members.


  • Jon

    I, for one, think that an amendment that defines the ETS standpoint is a positive move. Simply stated, it is obvious that to not exclude anyone by leaving your doctrinal statement too general is the same thing as including everyone. Now, this is admittedly hyperbolic, but after reading that bare-bones doctrinal statement, this seems like a logical and wise move.

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