more musings on the ETS

Is there a more defining evangelical organization than the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS)? Some might say that the quintessential Evangelical organization would be the National Association of Evangelicals, but would that really be true? One key area of comparison is the doctrinal standards of each organization. The NAE requires members to affirm their statement of faith. The ETS requires members to hold to their doctrinal basis. (Of course, the ETS requires a level of scholarly attainment for membership as well, due to its differing nature. We are not comparing that aspect of these organizations.)

Now, which organization requires the more exclusive standard of doctrinal agreement as its foundational basis?

It should be pretty obvious that the more rigorous and exclusive organization is the NAE, as far as doctrinal foundation goes. In my recent posts on the Kevin Bauder lectures, my post NE is dead, long live NE highlights Dr. Bauder’s contention that the mainstream of evangelicalism has adopted the Indifferentist philosophy of the New Evangelicalism (which he says is dead). I think we have to agree with Dr. Bauder that Evangelicalism is Indifferentist in the main. I would go further and suggest that Indifferentism permeates the entirety of Evangelicalism, to one degree or another. (To understand Indifferentism, see indifferentists defined.) In any case, I would submit that Indifferentism is pretty well evident in the foundational doctrinal philosophy of the NAE and the ETS, but more so in the ETS with its minimal doctrinal standard.

In recent years, the ETS has been embroiled in doctrinal controversy over Open Theism. An unsuccessful attempt was made to expel some proponents of OT. These controversies prompted others to push for a more detailed doctrinal foundation. For more links and more details of the arguments for the amendment, you can check out this post by one of the proponents.

The arguments about the ETS and it’s doctrinal statements are of little interest to me, as far as having an interest in the ultimate outcome is concerned. I am interested, however, in some the arguments that individuals are making against tightening up the doctrinal basis of the ETS. Notice, for example, this statement, found at this site:

If ETS starts going down this road, it risks becoming the Fundamentalist Evangelical Society, being closed off to the ideas of the world that may perhaps threaten what status quo of doctrinal beliefs.

The same poster also made this comment:

Each society can make up its own rules, but when people start retreating into the fundamentalist notion of shutting out others who may not have the same or do not have as conservative of views as they do, I get nervous about Christian scholarship’s future.

Other arguments are made against imposing a more severe doctrinal statement on the Society, including an argument that the ETS is not a church and therefore has no power to establish any kind of church court system in order to expel those who might come to deny the doctrinal statement.

On the blog “Parchment & Pen” C. Michael Patton makes this argument concerning the ETS foundation:

The idea here is to be broadly Evangelical. This way, whatever denomination you are from, whatever your view on baptism, whatever your liturgy, whatever your view on predestination, you can find engagement here among those who were bound by one “fundamental”: the inerrancy of Scripture. It is assumed that if society members held such a view of Scripture, they could not verge far off the beaten path. As few anchors as possible creates a stable center of unity and diversity among its scholars. The society chose to have a “doctrinal basis” rather than a doctrinal statement or an extensive confession of faith.

It is interesting to me that evangelicals are so strongly committed to a minimalist doctrinal statement in order to define of the center of their scholarship. If this isn’t Indifferentism, then what is? When the supporters of the minimalist statements accuse any tightening of doctrinal statements of being a “fundamentalist notion”, doesn’t that display the Indifferentist mindset?

I would submit that those who are opposed to an increased doctrinal definition for the ETS are actually those who are most in accordance with the ETS founding principles.

I have asked the question before, and I ask it again, why would real Fundamentalists be involved in the ETS? The whole organization is completely Indifferentist in principle and in belief. If Indifferentism is such a serious error, as Kevin Bauder says (see earlier posts on his lecture series), how can a professor who serves under him in a Fundamentalist seminary legitimately participate? Such participation seems to embrace a philosophy that is entirely antagonistic to the Fundamentalist ethos.

The only defense I have heard of such participation is the defense that the ETS is purely an academic organization where scholars (those with Th.M. degrees and above) can submit the fruit of their scholarly labors in a public forum for peer-review. It is said that such activity involves no ecclesiastical entanglements and is a purely professional association, much like medical associations and legal associations like the Bar.

It would be interesting to know whether our “Fundamentalist” ETS members are in favor of the more restrictive doctrinal position or not? According to its opponents, such a move would make the ETS more like a church. It is kind of ironic that Fundamentalists should logically side with the doctrinal minimalists in order to maintain any semblance of the argument that the ETS is purely a professional, academic organization and thus allowing Fundamentalist participation!

I have yet to see a convincing argument Fundamentalist seminary and Bible college professors have any legitimate grounds for participation in the ETS.



  1. I have yet to see a convincing argument Fundamentalist seminary and Bible college professors have any legitimate grounds for participation in the ETS.

    After reading your article here, I think ETS should publish the article. Well written and well researched indeed.

    So should I sent my copies of ETS back?

    Is there not room in the pastors library for this kind of academic , scholar labour? Our should we be kept in a box that does not allow us to engage in this kind of thinking. Other wise we might not have write your article.

  2. Don,

    In what ways to do you see participation in ETS as fundamentally different from say particpating in an online forum such as SI or Baptistboard, other than that ETS requires their participants to sign a different doctrinal statement, possess certain academic credentials, and present papers rather than write blog posts?

  3. Hi Charles and Andy

    Charles first – no, I am not against having ETS literature in my library. They sometimes publish useful information.

    Andy, you ask a good question. I’ll have to think more on that one. Initial response: the ETS seems to be a more formal partnership than online fora. If the ETS had no “church” basis, then perhaps it would be more legitimate.

    Yet it had objections when its president re-converted to Roman Catholicism. He can still sign the current doctrinal statement in good conscience, he has commented to that effect on one of the blogs I looked at, not sure if I linked it above. But what does it mean if he is unacceptable – if it is merely a professional organization and not church-like.

    Further, what can the objection be to the Open Theists if the ETS is merely a professional organization. What is the big deal? Why even allow the attempt to oust them?

    But you do have an interesting point. I’ll have to think more on that.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Andy, in thinking a bit more about this…

    Would you agree with me that the founding principle of the ETS is Indifferentism as Bauder describes it?

    Would you also agree that, whatever else they might be, the founding principles of the Baptist Board and SI are not Indifferentist?

    If you agree with those two notions, an immediate and wide distinction appears between those entities.

    Further, I think there is an element of partnership involved in the essential nature of organizations like ETS and NAE that becomes unbiblical fellowship, whereas a simple discussion forum is something else again. Some may wish to say that the partnership aspect of ETS involvement is minimal, but is it so minimal as to be acceptable?

    More later as thoughts occur to me.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Don,

    To be honest, I don’t know much about the founding principles of ETS, but right off hand, I’m not sure it is legitimate to apply the Indifferentist label to these types of organization. I think it comes down to the issue of partnership and fellowship. Obviously there is a level of interaction and potential fellowship in any of these organizations, but I think that comes selectively when you find individuals with whom you have substantial agreement. There are guys on SI and BB with whom I have interacted but could not join in fellowship at their church. There are some that I could. If I was a member of ETS, I would say the same thing. So, I guess the question I have for you is, why is the interaction in ETS more substantial partnership than that of an online forum? Or how is it partnership at all? Or what about the involvement turns it into fellowship or promotion of an unbiblical ideal?

    One answer might be that ETS, for example, allows a broader membership than what we are comfortable with – i.e., their doctrinal statement is not as restrictive as it should be. But all the doctrinal statement does is limit or allow who gets to be involved in the discussion of the society (or the online forum). ETS wants to limit participants to those who hold to inerrancy. Such a standard allows for broad interaction within the evangelical community but not so broad as to waste time interacting with those who don’t take the Biblical text seriously. That’s my take on what they are doing.

    So, when a Catholic or an Open Theist can sign the doctrinal statement, the society has to decide if those positions are truly in line with the limits they intended for their society. When I was a moderator at SI, many of these same types of issues came up, even with people who supposedly agreed with the SI doctrinal statement. What sort of discussion community did we want to maintain? If people want something broader than SI, there is the BB. If people want something broader than ETS, there is the SBL. If they want something more restrictive, then I’m not sure what other societies or forums are out there. To me it comes down to what type of discussions do you want to have and with what type of audience?

  6. Just had to run off to a Bible study after approving your message, hence a bit of delay in responding.

    Ok, you ask, “So, I guess the question I have for you is, why is the interaction in ETS more substantial partnership than that of an online forum? Or how is it partnership at all? Or what about the involvement turns it into fellowship or promotion of an unbiblical ideal?

    As I understand it, membership in the ETS allows you to submit papers and, if approved, present them. The presented papers are published in JETS. So your partnership in the ETS links you in a cooperative effort to further the Evangelical cause.

    I contend that the Evangelical cause is Indifferentist in the mainstream, Bauder, in his lecture, seems to agree with that viewpoint. I ask, what is more indifferentist or more thoroughly evangelical than JETS? My thesis in this post is that the ETS is actually more Indifferentist in philosophy than even the NAE.

    The result, then, is that you are joining hands in a cooperative effort to produce a body of work that furthers Evangelicalism, i.e., Indifferentism. To me, that is aiding and abetting those who have egregiously betrayed the gospel. It seems entirely contrary to the Fundamentalist philosophy.

    I am not saying that all our Fundamentalist brethren are betraying the Fundamentalist idea, necessarily, but it does seem inconsistent with it. And it may be that it hasn’t been thought through sufficiently.

    I just don’t think it is merely a discussion forum.

    But… I could be wrong. I would welcome argumentation that would either demonstrate that I am wrong about ETS indifferentism, or that although ETS is indifferentist, participation in its efforts is not aiding and abetting indifferentism.

    Thanks for probing and pushing me on this. I appreciate the challenge.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. T. Pennock says:


    I’m wondering what your “fundamentalist philosophy” is. You certainly employ it as sifting mechanism in all your evaluations. But what are the principles that constitute this philosophy?

    It seems you often use the term “fundamentalist philosophy” as a well-defined body of religious measurement. But where are these standards found? And what are they?

    Just curious.

    Just curious

  8. Hey, Tracy, a very good question. Thanks.

    For a very simple answer, I think of Curtis Lee Laws original call: “We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called ‘Fundamentalists.”

    The philosophy is for militancy against those who would betray the fundamentals. I realize that you will likely want to limit that simply to the modernists, but I think Bauder is right in his lecture 10 (see previous posts) in identifying indifferentism as almost as egregious an error.

    Where I differ with Bauder is probably his willingness to grant to Conservative Evangelicals a label of “Not Indifferentists” but “significantly different” from Fundies. My take on the CEs is that they are perhaps “Indifferentists-lite” and as such should be treated with extreme caution and appropriate distancing (though not necessarily denouncing).

    All of that is worth a more extensive post sometime, but perhaps you can glean a bit of my point of view with that.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  9. Don,

    You wrote, “As I understand it, membership in the ETS allows you to submit papers and, if approved, present them. The presented papers are published in JETS. So your partnership in the ETS links you in a cooperative effort to further the Evangelical cause.”

    I guess I don’t see ETS as designed to further any cause, either evangelical or fundamental. I see it as an academic tool to further Biblical understanding and to sharpen our understanding of complex theological issues. If there was an agenda to promote a particular Indifferentist viewpoint (like the NAE and CT specifically does), then I could see your point but I don’t think that is the case. ETS is evangelical in the sense that it intends to address theological topics from an evangelical (i.e., Christian) standpoint. Now, there will be a flavor to its discussion that is Indifferent because of the majority of its participants, but is it really furthering the *cause* of Indifferentism? I have access to all the JETS articles online through the Emory library system. Just browsing through some of the journal articles I would say that most don’t have anything to do with promoting any cause. Sure, there are articles promoting academic mumbo-jumbo and positions that neither of us would support but there are lots of “response to” articles that present “our” side, too.

    I keep going back to the parallel I see with the online discussion forums. The reason I began to participate on BB was to help prepare for a SS series I was starting on the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I sought to interact with people who did not take a YEC viewpoint on those chapters because I wanted to see their arguments and how they would respond to my arguments. I wanted to find potential weaknesses in my presentation before I got up and taught the material to my class. If I was a credentialed scholar, I would consider doing the same type of thing within an organization such as ETS. I find JETS helpful and why shouldn’t fundamentalists participate in scholarly discussion?

  10. Hi Andy

    Thanks again for your interaction. I am in major catch-up mode today, so have to beat it over to the office and have at least one appointment with church folks today, so I will have to beg off on an answer until later in the day.

    My angio “vacation” is over!

    Will get back to you soon, though.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  11. Joining the ETS and presenting there is historically taboo in fundamentalism, so Don isn’t making some kind of weird point. This is definitely a change in policy among fundamentalists. This would have been a huge no-no in the past, like being on the platform of the Billy Graham crusade or on the Billy Graham board.

    From my perspective, I don’t think it is wrong to go to the ETS to speak as long as the person speaking presents something that confronts the sin and false theology of the ETS, as opposed to joining and getting along as a colleague. I would call that “fellowshipping” and, therefore, violating Scripture. Read Fred Moritz’s books on separation—he applies the appropriate separation passages to point out the error of this kind of association. No one that I know of in fundamentalism blinked when Moritz wrote what he did in his books.

  12. Hi Andy

    From the ETS site we find this:

    About the ETS

    Founded in 1949, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) is a group of scholars, teachers, pastors, students, and others dedicated to the oral exchange and written expression of theological thought and research. The ETS is devoted to the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Society publishes a quarterly journal, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), an academic periodical featuring peer reviewed articles, as well as extended book reviews, in the biblical and theological disciplines. The ETS also holds national and regional meetings across the United States.

    And this:

    Purpose Statement

    The Evangelical Theological Society was formed in 1949 to accomplish the following purpose: “To foster conservative Biblical scholarship by providing a medium for the oral exchange and written expression of thought and research in the general field of the theological disciplines as centered in the Scriptures.” (Constitution, Article II.

    On the other hand, we have this from the NAE:

    Mission Statement

    The mission of the National Association of Evangelicals is to extend the kingdom of God through a fellowship of member denominations, churches, organizations, and individuals, demonstrating the unity of the body of Christ by standing for biblical truth, speaking with a representative voice, and serving the evangelical community through united action, cooperative ministry, and strategic planning.

    I guess what we are arguing is if ETS partnership in publishing JETS is equivalent to “cooperative ministry” as in the NAE.

    I obviously don’t see a lot of difference between the two efforts.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  13. Don,

    The way your last comment showed up on my computer screen, I saw your three quotes but not your conclusion. When I read those, I thought, “Yes, they are very different in purpose and participation is not the same.” Then I scrolled down to see your take on it and it was the exact opposite of mine. So, we may be at an impasse.

    Kent, I couldn’t find anything in Moritz that was directly applicable. Do you have a page number? If he does make an argument against ETS, I would like to read it.

  14. Hey Andy… I have a few things I’m going to chip in soon that might help you and my Dad a bit, but I don’t think I’ll have a chance to put them up here today. It may not totally solve the argument, but it could help you both.

    Since I haven’t told my Dad what I have to say either, I probably will have to keep it a “secret” tomorrow at church. :) I promise I will get back to this next week, though. Unfortunately, I have just a bit too much going on today :)

  15. Andy,

    Moritz doesn’t mention “ETS” specifically even as, like I think you would already know, he doesn’t list every single organization from which to separate from. And, it isn’t what I said in my comment. I said, “the error of this kind of association.” Quotes on pp. 74 and 83 apply, however.

    On p. 74, Moritz quotes a book on separation by the Bob Jones faculty, entitled Biblical Separation:
    “[S]eparation may be necessary: from a church member who persists in worldly living, from a brother who follows a false teacher, from a ‘Christian leader who refuses to take action against those who have been disobedient.'”

    Then on p. 83, he writes two statements applicable, especially in conjunction with the quote on p. 74: “Churches, pastors, and other leaders will need to apply these principles to situations of cooperation and fellowship between churches, or between churches and service organizations. . . . Associations of churches, mission agencies, publishing houses, Christian colleges and seminaries, and other such organizations are also responsible to be consistent in obedience to the principles delineated in Scripture.”

    There is plenty in the two books that Ernest Pickering wrote as well.

    I’ve been alive long enough to know that an appearance with the ETS is something new for fundamentalists that goes out of what they have done. If it is something that is now right, why was it wrong before?


    I think a major reason for this is something that Ernest Pickering talked about in his The Tragedy of Compromise, that being the trouble of fundamentalists attending new-evangelical schools. If you are going to attend their schools, then being in their societies does not matter. What is being overlooked in doing this?

  16. Hi Kent,

    I am not quite sure what you mean by your question. I am somewhat conflicted about fundamentalists attending new-evangelical (or would it be better to say, “Indifferentist” schools). It seems inevitable that such decisions make profound impact on personalities. Very few men have the internal strength to maintain a consistent fundamentalist philosophy after immersing themselves in such an environment, it seems.

    However, I do recognize that academically speaking there may be a rationale for training outside the “fundie bubble”.

    One of the differences with the BJU of today (for example) with the BJU of my era and earlier is that most of those professors who had been educated in secular or liberal or indifferentist schools had been educated there first, then come to BJU as their final destination. Now it seems the BA is from the fundie school, then advanced degrees are taken in other schools, then individuals sometimes come back to fundie schools as profs. Some of these people may be weaker fundamentalists in the end, I think.

    But, as I say, I can see some benefits for getting other perspectives in education. It is a very dangerous path to follow, though, so perhaps the benefits are very marginal at best.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  17. OK, finally I have time to join in. My earlier comment alludes to this:

    At the Bible Faculty Leadership Summit this summer, Bauder gave a paper that makes these points:

    1. He posed the question whether participation in academic societies (which are not fundamentalist in nature) violates ecclesiastical separation.
    2. Acknowledging the argument that separation applies to churches, he defined ecclesiastical separation as recognizing “someone as a Christian (a member of the church universal)” who denies the gospel. He insists that separation thus applies to more than just local churches, and that indifferentists should be separated from.
    3. He argues that participation in the ETS, as a society which “claim[s] to be Christian” necessarily requires an implied fellowship with Open Theists (for example) as believers. This analysis makes him “personally uncomfortable with membership in the ETS.”

    This was all said long before the ETS leadership controversy, but I think it refines the argument a bit.

    One last thing… Bauder noted that his evaluation depends on tricky judgment calls where “our perspectives and decisions may differ.” In other words, he anticipates the argument that we had here.

    Hope that helps… I’m not going to argue for Bauder, but it seemed to me that this discussion could have profited from a clearer statement of what he meant.

  18. Thanks Duncan. I look forward to some lengthy hashing this stuff out when you are home next week.

    I am thinking of some further writing, not directly related to the ETS specifically, but to the essential mood of fundamentalism. Just as New Evangelicalism could be characterized as a mood, so to can Fundamentalism. It seems to me that:

    1. The militant mood permeates the fundamentalist mindset, applying to one’s personal life, one’s local church life, and extending to every other association of life.

    2. The militant mood manifests itself when the fundamentalist encounters error deviating from the fundamentals. I have a few examples in mind.

    3. The militant mood is not belligerence (though tempers are too often strained, at least, and the flesh is ever present, alas). Rather, the mood is one that is ready to confront and expose error as vigorously as necessary for each instance of it, and often that necessitates public censure and exposure.

    Last, the militant mood is always surrounded by a suffocating crowd of men-pleasers who attempt to stifle the militants as only a few ‘wing-nuts’ on the fringes.

    Well, more later…

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3