Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Some reflections on the 65th annual meeting of ETS

Yesterday wrapped up the 65th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Baltimore, Maryland. For those of you who don’t know, ETS is a society of theologians and biblical scholars who are dedicated to biblical inerrancy and a belief in the Trinity. At the annual meeting, members come together to present academic papers, meet with publishers, and catch up with old friends. What follows are some random reflections about this year’s meeting.

1. It’s been about five years now since Pete Enns left Westminster Theological Seminary because of a conflict about his views on scripture. Upon his departure, he and WTS issued a joint statement saying that “his teaching and writings fall within the purview of Evangelical thought.” I think that claim was highly disputable in 2008. That claim is indisputably false in 2013.

In a panel discussion with Albert Mohler, Mike Bird, and John Franke, Enns denied the inerrancy of scripture, called into question the exodus of Israel, and compared the Bible to a “theological compost pile.” During the discussion, Mohler defended the inerrancy position, and it was clear that Enns was having none of it. Whatever the dispute was in 2008, I don’t know how anyone could argue that Enns is within the fold now.

All the panelists plus Kevin Vanhoozer are contributors to a new Counterpoints book on inerrancy, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. If you want to understand where Enns is today on this issue, get the book.

2. I always like to hear from Robert Yarbrough. He’s a great scholar with a pastor’s heart, and he knows how to deliver the goods. And that is exactly what he did in his presidential address on Wednesday night. Among other things, he expressed his general optimism about the relevance of inerrancy to the modern evangelical movement. He chastised western academics who sit in privileged places scorning inerrancy while brothers and sisters in the Muslim world die to defend it. It was a powerful word, and I look forward to its appearance next year in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. I am very grateful for Dr. Yarbrough.

3. I am a Southern Baptist Christian, and I can’t help but notice how many papers were delivered by scholars from Southern Baptist Seminaries. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I think there were over 100 papers from scholars hailing from Southern Baptist schools. That includes about forty presentations from Southern Seminary alone. My first ETS meeting was the 2000 meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. My observation is that in the last 13 years, the SBC has been on the rise at ETS. What a reversal from the situation 30 years ago when Southern Baptists were in a pitched intramural battle over inerrancy. Back then, many Southern Baptists didn’t even recognize themselves as evangelical. Now they are the vanguard for the defense of inerrancy at evangelicalism’s leading theological society.

4. On the lighter side, I presented a paper in the Greek Language and Exegesis section. Because of the subject matter, I thought I would try to spice-up the introduction of my paper with some humor. Let me just tell you. It wasn’t funny. At all. It was cornier than a Ray Van Neste pun (love you, Ray!). I fancy myself as having a better sense about these things, but I certainly didn’t this time. Nevertheless, I will say this. Although it was kind of awkward in the moment, it sure is funny now!

5. One final confounding thing: Every year, ETS issues nametags that hang from a lanyard worn around the neck. I don’t know why, but no matter what I did the name tag always turned around so that may name was against my chest and my “Banquet Ticket” was facing out. I saw countless others who displayed the name “Banquet Ticket” just as I was. How is it that our name tags always seemed to be facing the wrong way? You would think that it would have been facing the right way at least 50% of the time, but that was not at all my experience. No matter what I did, it seemed like it was facing the wrong way at least 90% of the time. This is a great mystery in the universe.

Seriously though, it really was a great conference, and I want to say thanks to the Executive Director of ETS Michael Thigpen for executing another fantastic meeting. I am also grateful to Southern Seminary for making it possible for me and my colleagues to attend yet another year.


  • Elke Speliopoulos

    Too funny about the name tags! I got in the elevator one evening and Wayne Grudem was already on it. We had met before, and when he asked my name again while looking at my name tag, I thought “Can’t he read?” And then I realized it was turned around to my banquet ticket!

  • Joe Fisher


    The lanyard problem is one of great concern. No matter what conference or event I have attended the name portion always faces in and the schedule (or whatever) always faces out. This is part of the fall.

  • John

    Thanks for the summary. My first ETS meeting was also in 2000. Unfortunately, given financial constraints, it was also my last. Sounds like a great meeting this year. Thanks again for the reflections!

  • steve hays

    In a way, Enns has made things very easy on himself. It takes no intellectual effort to deny that something that Scripture says really happened. He can just sit there an express disbelief. Defending something is generally harder than denying it.

    And the same time, he can only get away with that because of so much he tacitly takes for granted. Things which would be very difficult to defend if he were a deep, consistent thinker.

    Given his view of God (whatever that is), it would be hard for him to justify his moral intuitions or the reliability of reason. He has a simian brain that’s the incidental product of a crude, unthinking evolutionary process.

  • Andrew Orlovsky

    Excellent work Denny. It seems the leadership of my denomination (Brethren in Christ), that claims to be Evangelical, is really into the views of Peter Enns. It really bothers me and I am considering leaving. I have been hoping for a “conservative resurgence” but that appears very unlikely.

  • David A Booth


    I remember reading Enn’s book “Inspiration and Incarnation” and almost falling out of my chair over the way he handled Scripture.

    As an Orthodox Presbyterian Minister, Westminster Seminary has a dear place in our history. What saddened me far more than Enns teaching was that half the faculty of the school stood behind Dr. Enns. It doesn’t surprise me that individuals depart from orthodoxy, but the fact that so many men were unwilling to acknowledge that this was a departure revealed that we had a much more serious problem.


  • Matt Powell

    I thought it was a superb gathering. I was greatly refreshed by Mohler’s approach during the panel discussion. Denny, I wish I could have attended your paper presentation. I also found the panel discussion between Carson and Witherington very informative (and entertaining)..

    Although I do some adjunct teaching (one or two classes per year) for Fuller in Houston, I am just a pastor who loves the scriptures. I am not the stereotypical scholar who attends the ETS meeting. However, as a pastor who loves the scripture and passionately preaches it week after week, I find this conference more refreshing to my soul than any usual ‘pastor’s conference’ that I have ever attended.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    I despise Peter Enns but at the same time I wish there were more recognition that you can still be a conservative evangelical without being a strict inerrantist. There’s definitely a via media there. But the idea seems to be that unless you’re of the “jot and tittle” variety you must be one step away from Ennsville, and that’s simply not true.

  • Don Johnson

    I think the idea of inerrancy is mainly a stalking horse for the idea of concordism with science, which I see as an absolutely deadly assumption which destroys the ability to read Scripture as the original readers/hearers would have, which I think should be the first goal of interpretation of the Bible text. I think inerrancy adherents keep in their pockets 1000 exceptions which they use automagically often without this process even being conscious, it is like doing a magic trick on oneself.

    In other words, in their striving to be faithful, such readings end up being very unfaithful to the original meaning of actual text because of the working assumption of inerrancy/concordism. Dropping the idea of concordism in many cases allows the text to be read as it was originally understood.

    • buddyglass

      “in their striving to be faithful, such readings end up being very unfaithful to the original meaning of actual text because of the working assumption of inerrancy/concordism.”

      Could you elaborate on this? Also- thanks for teaching me the phrase “stalking horse”.

      When I think of the folks most committed to biblical inerrancy “concordism with science” isn’t the first shared trait that leaps to mind.

      • Don Johnson

        CSBI Article XII
        “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

        We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”

        We know the earth is a globe, ancient Jews did not. Consider Mat 4:8 Once more the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, along with their splendor.

        This is only possible when the earth is seen as flat, as on a global earth one can never see all the kingdoms of the world no matter how high the mountain might be. If it is supposed to be a vision, why the detail about going to a very high mountain? The reason is because this is how most people thought of their physical reality, it seems flat as far as we can see.

        • steve hays

          That’s native. Ancient Jews knew from experience that you couldn’t see the whole world from a hilltop or mountaintop. They had experience climbing the highest hills and “mountains” where they lived. And they had experience traveling beyond the horizon. Beyond the circumference of what could be seen from a hilltop or mountain top. It’s not as if no one ever left the village. Consider Paul’s far-flung journeys. Or Abraham’s far-flung journeys.

          • Don Johnson

            The famous verses about kenosis uses a concept of “the underworld” that is not part of our modern conception of physical reality.

            Php 2:10 ThatG2443 atG1722 theG3588 nameG3686 of JesusG2424 everyG3956 kneeG1119 should bow,G2578 of things in heaven,G2032 andG2532 things in earth,G1919 andG2532 things under the earth;G2709

            G2909 is katachthonios and is better translated as “underworld” which was seen as the lower part of the ancient 3-tiered universe of heaven(s), earth and underworld. The 3 tiered universe is found throughout the Bible.

              • Don Johnson

                No, you are demonstrating my point.

                You know too much about physical reality to read the texts as a 1st century reader and so you “automagically” think it is a metaphor, when they thought of it as physical reality.

                The 3 tiered universe is taught throughout Scripture, this is because this is the way they thought of it. Now we know more than they did about physical reality, but that does not give us the right to read metaphor when it was not intended.

                • steve hays

                  You’re not actually projecting yourself into the situation of an ancient Jew. It doesn’t take airplanes or satellites to know that the farthest you can see from a hilltop or mountaintop isn’t, in fact, the edge of the world. You keep disregarding the fact that ancient people traveled great distances on foot or by sea.

                  You’re blinded by your John Walton/Peter Enns filter.

                  • Don Johnson

                    You can call it blinded, I see Walton, esp., as helpful, altho I do not always agree with them. I recommend him to all Bereans.

                    What is obvious to me is that it is not helpful to try to ramrod supposed concord with science into texts that were written long before the science developed.

                    One of the problems of the idea of inerrancy is that of the 1000 exceptions it uses to avoid the literal meaning when it is not convenient. In this, it distorts the text repeatedly.

                    • steve hays

                      What you call “exceptions” aren’t exceptions. Making allowance for literary conventions isn’t an exception to inerrancy. It would be mindless to define inerrancy without respect to original intent. What would be truly “exceptional” is if we imposed an artificial definition of inerrancy onto Scripture, in spite of Scripture. Inerrantists like Craig Blomberg and Darrell Bock are doing just the opposite of what you do.

                    • Don Johnson

                      I agree with the need to recognize literary conventions. What I do not agree with is the idea that the Bible must be in concord with our modern understanding of physical reality, as what is in the Bible is ancient. When one reads the Bible and “automagically” make metaphors when we know it does not correspond to physical reality, it can and does distort what the original meaning was, so one is most certainly not reading it with ancient eyes.

                    • steve hays

                      In other words, you don’t think the Bible is true. Why not come clean, rather than resorting to euphemistic circumlocutions?

                    • Don Johnson

                      I think God speaks truth in the Bible, but it should be understood in terms of the cultures of the time in which each book was written and not modern culture. This is by far the most common way to take Bible text out of context in my experience.

                • steve hays

                  Let’s play along with your claim that ancient Jews thought the world was like a building with walls and a roof. What would happen in a major earthquake? There are many references to earthquakes in Scripture. In a major earthquake, unreinforced buildings collapse. Whole towns and villages are leveled. That’s something ancient Near Easterners experience from time to time.

                  If a triple-decker universe was rocked by an earthquake, it would be like Samson collapsing the temple or the walls of Jericho collapsing. The firmament would come crashing down as the “pillars of the earth” buckled. Minimally, chunks of the cracked firmament would rain down in meteor showers during/right after an earthquake. Huge rocks falling from the sky. There’d be gaping holes in the damaged firmament, through which the cosmic sea would would empty itself. Like an overhead dam that gives way.

                  Was that the experience of ancient Jews? Did they observe that?

                  • Don Johnson

                    My understanding is the ancients saw the foundations of the earth as being sturdy and the firmament as being firm and strong. Since this was the way they saw the universe, God spoke inside that understanding to assure them.

        • buddyglass

          I get what you’re saying now. With respect to that particular verse, I’ve always thought it was figurative, i.e. Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms but in a supernatural way instead of literally taking him to a mountain so he could see them all naturally (with his eyes) at the same time. Jesus, in relating the story (since, how else would we know about it?) might have said “took me up to a high mountain” to provide a framework for his listeners to understand what took place.

          • Don Johnson

            Yes, Jesus is providing information and it is up to us to do our best to interpret it. My take is that God through Jesus through Matthew in this case is (fully) accommodating to the prevalent understanding of people in the 1st century that the world was flat, as this is the most literal meaning of the text and I find it the most satisfying interpretation.

            • buddyglass

              I think what the CSBI is saying, though, is that the Bible is inerrant insofar as it doesn’t make literal claims to “natural” events transpiring that contradict the true (perhaps not currently understood) laws of science. Passages that seem to present such a contradiction are either a) allegory / figurative, b) describing something supernatural / miraculous or c) in accordance with science that we just don’t yet understand.

              To create a hypothetical example, suppose we were living in a time when the earth was commonly understood to be flat (which further supposes that such a time existed- separate discussion) and that the Bible included a description of someone walking in a straight line and eventually ending up back where he started (i.e. he went around the world).

              Explanation a) would be that this passage is using figurative language. Perhaps it’s mean to suggest that the person made a long journey and then returned to his starting point. Explanation b) is that it’s miraculous. The guy walked in a straight line and God supernaturally transferred him back to his starting point. Explanation c) is that the passage is literally correct, and that our understanding of science is deficient.

              Suppose I’ve accurately described the CSBI’s position (i.e. explaining alleged errors by method a, b, or c), how does your position differ?

              I find myself in the same boat as the CSBI. I’m unwilling to admit that the Bible is “errant” in the sense that it’s “flawed” and “unreliable”. One consequence of this position, though, is that I end up reading many passages as either “figurative / allegory” or “stupendously miraculous”.

              • Don Johnson

                Is a parent lying when they tell a young child that their mom has a baby “in her belly”? I think they are NOT lying, rather they are giving the young child information in terms the young child can understand.

                Similarly with the Bible, as God is so far beyond us in understanding, God HAD to come down to our level to begin to explain things to us, I just believe that God fully accommodated to the original readers/hearer of each book in the Bible, that is, God inspired the authors to communicate in terms that would be understood by them.

                • steve hays

                  This is not a question of what God is like, but what the world is like. You don’t think the world is unknowable. To the contrary, you think the Gen 1 description of the world is known to be wrong.

                  • Don Johnson

                    I think Gen 1 uses ideas that were understood by the original readers/hearers to answer questions that were important to them. There are many things about how they understood the world worked that is different from the way we understand the world works. There is a vast chasm that we need to try our best to cross from modern times and cultures to ancient times and cultures.

                    And one of the most important ideas when reading any text is to not try to use it to answer questions that were not asked, even when they are important to us.

                • buddyglass

                  “God inspired the authors to communicate in terms that would be understood by them”

                  So I think I understand where you’re coming from now. What I still don’t understand is how your view conflicts with the CSBI statement on inerrancy. Are you saying the CSBI position necessarily requires Jesus to have been supernaturally transported to a high mountain and then supernaturally given the ability to see all the kingdoms of the world using his human eyeballs? Because I’m not sure their statement necessarily requires that. Maybe I’m just misreading it.

                  • Don Johnson

                    No, I do not claim that.

                    My point is that the worldview of the common people in the 1st century was that the world was flat (after all, it looks flat and flat maps work fine for the most part) and God through the author of Matthew spoke INSIDE that flat earth paradigm, since that is how people at that time understood things to work and that this is not lying.

                    And this idea of fully accommodating to the original readers/hearers is what God did in general in Scripture. So, for example, I do not need to try to find a physical analog for the firmament, I just need to see that that is how the ancients understood the heavens above to work. Repeat as needed.

                    • steve hays

                      The earth looks flat? How did ancients account for the seasons if the earth was flat? How did they account for annular variations in the position of sunrise and sunset along the horizon if the earth was flat? How did ancient mariners account for different constellations if the earth was flat?

                    • Don Johnson

                      Psa_104:19 He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.
                      Dan_2:21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;

                      Psa_74:16 Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
                      Job_9:7 who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars;

                      Gen_1:16 And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars.
                      Deu_4:19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

    • Lauren Bertrand

      Quite possibly. Don Johnson offers the the only comment here that shows any level of analysis or synthesis, based on the standards set by Bloom’s taxonomy. Judging from this conversation, it sounds like Pete Enns is a solid theological name worth investigating further.

      • Don Johnson

        I did not know about “Bloom’s taxonomy” so I looked it up.

        I try to read from a wide variety of people with different opinions, in other words, I strive to break out of any self-imposed information cocoon. I have read things by 3 of the panelists before this and plan to get the book mentioned. I see Enns’ and Mohler’s positions as being on opposite ends of the spectrum on this subject.

        Another way of seeing this subject is “How much accommodation did God make when inspiring Scripture?” FWIIW, I believe “full accommodation” is the best answer to the question and so I expect to find no concord with modern science in the Bible, rather I find that the Bible uses the (physical) understandings of the times in which each book was written/edited in order to express spiritual truths. I find the Bible also uses literary conventions and idioms of those times and if one is not aware of these, then in some cases, it is very easy to misunderstand what is being said. is the now finished “live blog” from the ETS presentations, there is no video/audio that I know of as of yet.

        • Garth Madden

          I don’t believe that we’re going to lose the plot on anything fundamental just because we may gain a more thorough understanding of certain idioms from studying other ANE text. This comes down to whether you believe in the perspecuity of Scripture or not. From years of studying Scripture, I believe most figures of speech, metaphors, and anthropomorphic speech are apparent to those who don’t try to overly parse or distort the meaning of words or author’s intent (e.g. how some attempt to do with Ecc. 1:5 or Luke 17:6). Yes, Scripture was written to a particular audience and context and we should do our best to understand all of this as nearly as we might. But it is also clear to me that the Author also intended for these words to be read and grasped, not just a single generation, but all generations that would precede His second coming, which both the OT and NT point to with remarkable repetition and clarity.

          How the perspecuity of Scripture ties in with Genesis 1-11: if it was intended to be understood in allegorical terms, there are many methods that Moses could have employed in order to make this clear. He didn’t use these. Instead, he seems to anticipate that some will doubt the miraculous nature of his narrative and assures the reader that he is not embellishing the facts or telling a myth that points to truth.

          • Don Johnson

            I accept the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture the way the original Reformers understood it, that the way of salvation is presented clearly in Scripture and does not need an institutional church to be correctly presented. This was in contrast to what the Roman church taught.

            The original Reformers agreed that other parts of Scripture were more challenging and the diversity of doctrines that actually arise in the various denominations is sufficient proof of that for me.

            I think the author of early Genesis DID use literary methods to tell the readers the best ways to understand these texts starting with the way to assign literary genre to them and that they are not told as straightforward historical narrative, they are Creation/Origins stories. Based on what I find in the text itself I read them similar to parables.

      • steve hays

        Enns is a “solid theological name” if you’re looking for someone who echoes your own disbelief. But hollow objects are more resonant than solid objects.

        • Lauren Bertrand

          Thank you. Normally, if a person thinks long and hard about these things, disbelief–or, at the very least, skepticism–is the most logical result. Everything else veers awfully close to confirmation bias.

            • Lauren Bertrand

              What am I confirming? I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant. That is not the same as it being junk. I’m not trying to remove anything that supports the notion of Biblical inerrancy, because to me all it takes is one flaw to prove it is errant. Nonetheless, tt remains, in my opinion, the most valuable moral tool in existence–despite its flaws. The all-or-nothing approach, to which most Christian moderates take umbrage, assumes that anything but inerrancy equates to disbelief (or, the correct word, I think, should be “non-belief”). While I personally am a non-believer, I still profoundly respect the Bible–meanwhile, many believers still do not think it is entirely true, or at least is indebted to its pre-enlightenment context. Whether its Peter Enns or Don Johnson, many scholars still revere Scripture while critically engaging with its axiomatic discrepancies.

  • David A Booth

    As John Walton’s name has been mentioned a few times, it might be useful to note that Professor Walton affirms Biblical inerrancy.

    • steve hays

      To the contrary, he believes Genesis 1 presents a false view of the physical universe, because God didn’t correct the narrator’s primitive, mistaken conception.

  • David A Booth


    Have you read The Lost World of Genesis One? Walton does not argue what you are suggesting he did. He argues that it is better to understand the description as being functional rather than ontological. You may disagree with Walton’s conclusions (I disagree with some of them) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in verbal plenary inspiration and that the Bible is therefore inerrant.

    Disagreeing with my interpretation (or your interpretation) of a text doesn’t mean that someone no longer believes the Bible to be the word of God. If it did, wouldn’t Orthodox Presbyterians and Southern Baptists both have to accuse each other of not believing in Biblical inerrancy?


    • steve hays

      Yes, I read it.

      He says it’s functional. But he also says it assumes and purports an obsolete view of the physical world. So, yes, he most definitely denies the inerrancy of Gen 1. And he expressly denies the plenary inspiration of Gen 1 since he denies that God corrected the narrator’s antiquated misunderstanding.

      Trying to shift this to a debate over differing interpretations is an exercise in misdirection.

  • Don Johnson

    Whatever my reaction is, the question still stands. Who made you part of the inerrancy police? Whomever you might think it was, I do not accept their authority. As a Baptist, I retain my ability to interpret Scripture as I see proper. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice.

    • steve hays

      Your question is irrational and irrelevant. It doesn’t matter who I am. You gave a reason for your position. I explained why your reason was unreasonable. I evaluated your position on your own grounds. It failed on your own grounds.

    • Derek Taylor

      Don, in Genesis 7:19-20, when Scripture says that “all the high mountains were covered with water”, is Moses providing us with an allegory? Is he dealing with outdated models of science that are now proven to be errant, since many modern day scientists have declared the idea of a global flood to be an impossibility?

      • Don Johnson

        I see the flood story as an interweaving of 2 stories, per Friedman and now Lamoureaux. I think these stories are likely based on an actual local flood. The quote you gave is one possible way to translate the Hebrew, but not the only way and not my preferred way to do so. So my best take is that some kind of flood happened in the Middle East and there were 2 streams of oral stories about it that used lots of poetic imagery and that were merged in Gen. The story itself has a literary structure that mimics a flood by being a giant chiasm, I see this is another hint on how the text is intended to be read as straight history is not structured like this.

  • Shirley Barron

    The answer to the nametag problem would seem to be: have a second nametag to place on the opposite side of the plastic holder, and have the banquet ticket separate. Regarding the conference, it was great! I’m in the middle of the 5 Views book right now, & find it very thought-provoking. So far, Bird and VanHoozer seem to resonate with me.

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.