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.