on the Evangelical Theological Society and fundamentalists

Recent events at the ETS meetings again call into question fundamentalist participation. The Christianity Today LiveBlog reports on a session by J. P. Moreland of Talbot Seminary. The session had this arresting title: "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It"

Consider this statement as reported by LiveBlog:

“In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ,” he said. “And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.”

The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.”

or here’s another treat:

Likewise, Moreland argued, “because the human soul/spirit and demons/angels are real, it is possible, and, in fact, actual that extra-biblical knowledge can be gained about these spiritual entities. … Demons do not exist in the Bible. They exist in reality.”

By not researching how demons work, how to fight them, and other such issues by, for example, working with exorcists, Christian scholars are harming the church, Moreland argued. In a similar vein, he thinks evangelical scholars and the movement as a whole are rejecting “guidance, revelation, and so forth from God through impressions, dreams, visions, prophetic words, words of knowledge and wisdom.”

This session was some kind of ‘breakout’ session at the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. I don’t know if the transcript will be represented by a formal paper published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) or not. Regardless, this kind of thinking is obviously part of the milieu at ETS. I have an electronic copy of JETS and occasionally find some interesting articles there, although I don’t find it a "go to" resource because JETS general tenor tends towards this kind of unbelief. That is not to say that such blatantly unbiblical thinking is present in every JETS article, but that JETS tends in that direction.

Which brings me to the issue of fundamentalist participation in the ETS. I have discussed this on another blog somewhere, although I can’t remember exactly where or when. Some prominent fundamentalists defend the association. I can’t imagine how they can defend their association with such unbelief.

In a related post, LiveBlog reports on an attempt to amend the doctrinal statement of the ETS. At the moment, members of the ETS must adhere to a very simple doctrinal statement. They must affirm belief in the Trinity and in the inerrancy of the Bible. That is all. The attempt to amend the doctrinal statement comes from men who don’t think the current statement is sufficient and that it allows for heretics to be members. I recommend that you read the whole thing, but I am struck by how much this sounds like the attempts of the fundamentalists to clarify orthodoxy in the Presbyterian church and in the Northern Baptist Convention back in the 1920s. It’s sort of deja vu all over again.

The effort at ETS will likely fail, just as those efforts in the 1920s also ultimately failed.

But again, why are fundamentalists involved in something like this at all? Did we learn anything from the 1920s or not?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


  1. Dave says:


    It seems that you consider something like ETS to be the equivalent of the Northern Baptist Convention or the Presbyterian Church. Help me understand how you think on this matter–it seems that associations of churches are a somewhat different category than a society of individuals?

    In other words, how does ecclesiastical separation apply in this case?

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Dave

    I will readily concede the point that the organization is not a denomination. In that sense, the current situation is entirely different from the 1920s.

    The parallel I am seeing is in the kind of fight that appears to be erupting – conservatives are attempting to right a sinking ship by reforming the doctrinal statement. I don’t think that will work, just as it didn’t in the past.

    As for an association of individuals vs. one of churches … if this type of fight emerged in the FBF, what do you think the fundamentalists should do?

    Thanks for reading.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I think you may be conflating two things.

    Mooreland’s presentation is one of probably dozens that were given. He was advocating his view of sola scriptura; it isn’t directly a battle in the ETS of some sort.

    The doctrinal statement issue has been going back and forth for a number of years now (since the Open Theism problem). If you’re interested in more on this issue, two related written works would be the chapter by Grudem in “Beyond the Bounds” in which he argues for new boundaries and the book by Bock in which he argues that boundaries are essential, but evangelicalism needs something like a broader ETS for the sake of interaction, etc. Basically, he argues that there need to be different kinds of platforms which call for different levels of agreement.

    All that said, I’ve been at several FBF meetings where someone presented a view which I believe to be wrong, even unbiblical, and it did not immediately prompt my departure from either the meetng or the group. They’ve published statements and positions that I deem serious error. At this point, I am no longer personally tied to the FBF, so it’s a non-issue, but that wasn’t always the case.

    It seems to me that you need to make the case that participation in a professional society is prohibited by the biblical teaching on separation. I’ve never been convinced of that case (even though I am not personally a member).

    P.S. I think the earlier conversation to which you referred was over at Chris Anderson’s blog in connection to the article in CT by a fundamentalist. I think.

  4. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Dave

    Let me get back to one of your earlier questions: “how does ecclesiastical separation apply in this case?”

    My view in this case wouldn’t be covered by ecclesiastical separation but by personal separation. You are not personally involved in the FBF any longer, perhaps as a matter of separation? At least on some level? So what I am advocating would be a similar stance.

    I well recognize that this is an area where differences of opinion will arise. My view is that participation in the ETS [as a member] is not helpful for the cause of Christ and I wouldn’t be involved.

    I think you are right that the earlier discussion was on Chris’s blog. I don’t remember exactly which article it was. If Chris is reading, maybe he can provide a link.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Don Johnson says:

    Hey, it’s too funny and weirdly coincidental…

    Chris’s site got spammed today on the very post that Dave mentions above, the one I couldn’t remember. Here is the link:

    Makujina Review Published by Christianity Astray

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Chris Anderson says:

    Just lurking, Don.

  7. Don Johnson says:

    Better to lurk than to spam… I think…

    From M-W online:
    1 a: to lie in wait in a place of concealment especially for an evil purpose b: to move furtively or inconspicuously c: to persist in staying
    2 a: to be concealed but capable of being discovered; specifically : to constitute a latent threat b: to lie hidden
    3: to read messages on an Internet discussion forum (as a newsgroup or chat room) without contributing

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3