By now, many of you will have read Justin Taylor’s interview with Andreas KÃ¶stenberger, accomplished NT scholar and current editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS). Among other things, KÃ¶stenberger discusses with Taylor the issue of evangelical identity and the role of the ETS in the larger evangelical movement. He writes:
‘The issue of evangelical identity, I believe, is a fascinating one, because, unlike, say, Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism, which have a visible head and an institutional hierarchy, evangelicalism is centered on shared convictions regarding Scripture, Christ, salvation, and so on. This lack of formal structure makes it more difficult to define and to steer the movement into the right, or any, direction. In the ETS, too, recent controversy such as the “Open Theism” debate has focused attention once again on the question of what are our foundational beliefsâ€”most notably inerrancy . . . it is vital to sharpen our understanding of who we are and where we want to go in the coming decades. The Journal, of which I serve as Editor, has an important part in this as well in that it can help set a standard of academic excellence in evangelical scholarship and serve as a reflection of the developing evangelical identity by publishing material on issues that define who we are as evangelicals.’
KÃ¶stenberger’s remarks are right on target here, especially the last line about JETS and its agenda to publish articles having to do with “issues that define who we are as evangelicals.”
I would add, however, one observation. Neither the Journal nor the ETS’s annual meeting will be able to sustain a focus on evangelical “issues” if the Society itself is not explicitly constituted as evangelical. It is for this reason that I am co-sponsoring the amendment to expand the doctrinal basis of the ETS. It is a move to preserve this forum for engagement. Today I go to San Diego for the annual meeting, and we will introduce the amendment this week to the Society. I have high hopes for this effort.
I would also make one other observation. The ETS does not determine the “issues that define who we are as evangelicals,” and that is certainly not what we are trying to accomplish with our amendment. The ETS does not function as the gate-keepers of orthodoxy for evangelicalism, nor can it do so. That role belongs to the churches alone as they faithfully embody and proclaim Christ’s gospel to the world.
Nevertheless, I do believe that ETS has a role to play in the evangelical movement. It provides a unique forum for deliberation and debate among theologians and scholars of the evangelical tradition. It is precisely because the forum is evangelical that it is valuable. If that evangelical identity is lost, the Journal and the ETS itself will become irrelevant. Hopefully an amendment like the one we are proposing will prevent that drift.