Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Help Us Amend the ETS

I am co-sponsoring with Ray Van Neste a proposal to amend the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Next week the Society will meet in Providence, Rhode Island where our proposal will finally come to a vote. I am writing this blog post to get the word out to our friends who are planning on supporting the amendment. If you support our amendment and have a blog, I’m asking you to link this post to help us spread the word.

The process to amend ETS’s constitution is a slow one. The founders were wise to make it that way. Ray and I began this effort in the Spring of 2007 just after Francis Beckwith stepped down from the presidency of ETS. But the impetus for our effort actually goes back a bit further than that.

In 2001, the Society deliberated about what might be the appropriate doctrinal “boundaries” for the ETS. Many papers were presented on this theme, some of which were subsequently published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (45.1 and 45:2). In light of the open theism controversy, it was a timely conversation. But the Society took no action or had any serious discussions to bolster its evangelical identity by revisiting its doctrinal basis. In short, nothing changed.

So Ray and I are trying to get this issue back on the agenda again for serious discussion. That is going to happen at this meeting. In advance of the vote on Friday morning, there will be two sessions of discussion and debate about our proposal. We would like all of our supporters to be at the debate sessions, but we really need you to turn out for the vote on Friday Morning. Here’s the schedule for the three events, and I’m asking you to include these sessions in your schedule next week. These meetings are listed on pages 19 and 30 of the ETS Program Schedule.

11/19 – Wednesday

5:20-6:00pm – Van Neste, Burk, and Executive Committee discuss the proposal followed by a Q & A with audience. Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom E

8:30-9:30pm – Business Meeting: Discussion of the Amendment proposal. Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom

11/21 – Friday

8:30-9:00am – Business Meeting: Vote on the Amendment proposal. Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom A

Here’s the gist of what we’ll be debating. The current doctrinal basis of the ETS consists merely of an affirmation of inerrancy and of the Trinity. We propose to expand this basis to include the doctrinal basis of the U.K.’s Tyndale Fellowship. The Tyndale fellowship unites around evangelical truths a broad group of Christian scholars from varying denominational and theological perspectives (Calvinists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Anglicans, etc). The members of the Tyndale fellowship agree to the statement of belief used by the U.K.’s Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF).

If you want to get acquainted with the rationale for our amendment, there are three items that you need to read:

1.    Our website:

2.    Our 2007 article in Criswell Theological Review: “Inerrancy Is Not Enough”

3.    Van Neste’s 2004 article in SBJT: “The Glaring Inadequacy of the ETS Doctrinal Statement”

If you are a member and are interested in signing up to support our amendment, please visit here. Thanks for your help.


  • Francis Beckwith

    Yes, it will be out at ETS. I just received my desk copies in the mail four days ago.

    BTW, the last chapter addresses the doctrinal statement and the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics.

    Take care,

  • Myles Roberts


    Someone’s meticulous work in the Wheaton archives seems to be missing from your narrative concerning the “process to amend ETS’ consitution.”


  • Denny Burk

    Hear, ye! Hear, ye! Attention all readers. My insights into the founding meeting of the ETS rely almost entirely on the meticulous work done by Myles Roberts in the Wheaton archives.

    Well done, Myles! U R da mang!

  • Russ Ware


    The narrower the definition, the more “evangelicals” there will be (read: so-called evangelicals).

    I am referencing your usage of the word in quotes in an earlier post to deride those who consider themselves evangelical but didn’t vote a certain way in the recent presidential election.

    Will you soon be pushing to amend ETS to reflect those concerns as well?

    Evangelicalism is at its best when it is an expression of our zeal for the life changing power of the gospel and the preaching of such. That zeal, plus an orthodoxy reflected in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed should be enough. In those terms the idea of evangelicalism can have meaning and be the most helpful in our current ecclesial context.

    Furthermore, in those terms, we should have no problem with the concept of Evangelical Catholics, Evangelical Anglicans, Evangelical Lutherans, or even Evangelical Reformed Baptists. 😉 etc…

    To narrow the definition to something that does not allow this is detrimental to the evangelical ideal.

    I would like to see your intent springing from a heart for the truths we should all embrace (as suggested above) and then let the chips fall where they may. The goal should be a unifying concept to lay over the unfortunate division that has characterized the ecclesial landscape since the Reformation. We already have the divisions, they are called denominations, and I hope we could all agree that denominationalism might not be Christ’s ideal for his Church. A generous concept of what it means to be an evangelical might not be the answer (in fact I am sure that it is not), but it is a nudge in the right direction.

    The history of this current ETS controversy, as sparked by Dr. Beckwith’s return to Catholicism, calls that pure intent into question.

    Dr. Beckwith…

    As a ‘closet Catholic’ in many respects (due in large part to my study of Church history in recent years as well as a great deal of exposure to a number of brilliant and Evangelical Catholics) I have a great deal of respect for you and look forward to reading your book.

    Thanks for posting here.

    As for me and my house, we were Baptists turned non-denominational bible church folks who began to be exposed to these things and have landed for now in a very conservative, evangelical Lutheran church. I’m not sure what the future holds for us but I feel very strongly that our current church is a gift from the Lord at this point in our journey. I’m reading a lot of Richard John Neuhaus, Carl Braaten, Robert Jenson and now Francis Beckwith these days. 🙂

    God bless,
    Evangelical Lutheran Russ

  • jeff miller

    If you press on with the tools Jesus gave you, you may be called anabaptist or even cultist.

    the only other consistent option is “Catholic”. The denominational stopping places in between are just resting places for people who want to take a break from thinking consistantly. Yet many of whom embrace the catholic spirit.

    This is my same old complaint about forming and sustaining societies and institutions that Jesus did not authorize.


  • John Holmberg

    I don’t see the “Baptist” on the website, where are you getting that from? In any case, can’t we all agree that denominations are not nor were they ever Christ’s ideal? They are primarily a post-reformation construction that is the result of disunity, a trait no Christian is supposed to possess towards other Christians? Don’t we all agree there, regardless if we belong to a “denomination” or not?

  • Don Johnson

    My preferred way to designate myself is simply believer, as that is a good NT word. I know most Messianic Jews do not want to be called Christian, but they would agree they are believers.

    What Denny is doing is asking ETS to define what it is and what it is not and more than it does today.

  • Scott

    Why is it necessary to seek a more narrow definition? I’ve been involved in the ETS and have yet to see a tremendous need to tighten things up. If you stay the course with the current definition, i.e. inerrancy & a trinitarian confession, I think you’re quite successful in keeping the group restricted to an evangelical audience. If you go much further than this, I fear you make it a group of “evangelicals” 😉 rather than an evangelical society. The broad sense contributes far more to the advancement of scholarship that the narrow sense ever can.

  • Don Lowe

    I had a couple questions regarding the amendment.

    1) Is #6 intended to exclude “evangelicals” who deny penal substitution?

    3) Is #7 intended to exclude the New Perspective of Paul and Federal Vision?

  • Mason Beecroft

    There really are people who think it is me and Jesus, nothing else. Wow! Tillich did get one thing right (evangelicals leap over 2,000 years back into ‘Bibleland’).

    Anyway, as an evangelical catholic (aka Lutheran), I would like the opportunity to join ETS someday. Really. Perhaps when I recover my love of the genitive. For now, I will rest secure in my man-made rituals, secret societies and works righteousness, completely ignorant of Holy Scripture and Christ. I guess I just can’t think “consistantly” (sic).

    BTW, where are those Jesus’ tools? Is this a carpenter reference?


  • Russ Ware


    You moderated me for my last comment. Seriously?

    I am sincerely wondering if it was a mistake since I’ve seen much stronger things written in comments on your blog.

  • Russ Ware

    Yep… it was a mistake… mine. 🙂

    The comment I thought had been deleted was on the other thread.

    I forgot we had two going on this subject.

    My apologies.

  • John Holmberg

    This “amendment” is just silly. You’re narrowing the definition basically to reformed/semi-reformed Augustinians. I don’t care where you got the doctrinal statement from, it’s far too narrow. Maybe you should just start the ERAANPSBTS (Evangelical Reformed Augustinian Anti-New Perspective Southern Baptist Theological Society) Denny, because it seems that’s what you’re trying to make this. It would be tragic if it passes (which I think there’s absolutely no way it will), and would bring the scholarship level of ETS down to the level of scholarship at SBTS. I think most of the members will probably just laugh at it and it will prove to be a waste of time. It’s the epitome of pride to try and making everything conform to your own beliefs, practices, and convictions (e.g. politics, evangelicalism, ecclesiology, etc). The beautiful thing about Christianity is that we can have unity amidst our diversity, and the current ETS fosters this.

  • Russ Ware

    “Maybe you should just start the ERAANPSBTS (Evangelical Reformed Augustinian Anti-New Perspective Southern Baptist Theological Society) Denny, because it seems that’s what you’re trying to make this.”


    This is exactly the sense I have gotten from this all along.

    Denny’s ‘flavor’ of Christianity is a subset, and a small one at that. Small in terms of numbers and in terms of its historical underpinnings. And I do not begrudge him that. I think he’s just missing out on a great deal of the richness and fullness of our faith (old and new).

    Fortunately, I expect cooler and wiser heads will prevail and this amendment will not pass.

  • Don Lowe

    I’m still waiting on an answer to my questions. They’re honest questions. I’m not here to provoke. I’m actually one of those Evangelical Reformed Augustinian Anti-New Perspective Baptists.

    The reason I ask is that I think the proposers of the amendment should be as forthcoming as possible. There are NPP/Federal Vision proponents in ETS membership, and if this statement will exclude them, it should be stated up-front.

    I think that the doctrinal basis ought to be revised, but I think it ought to be incremental and on things more central.

    For example, defining the Bible as those particular 66 books as the supreme authority over all traditions is a good place to start. The need to be born-again is also essential. I think these things should and could be amended without any controversy.

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