the perils of the naive

Jeff Straub publishes a report on the ETS proceedings concerning the late attempt at tightening up the ETS doctrinal basis. His report, especially the last four paragraphs, provide interesting reading.

The Vote—The final business meeting came early Friday morning. The final issue on the agenda was this vote which was placed before the membership. Less than 5 percent of the society’s 4,600-plus members attended the business meeting, but the constitution specifies that such an amendment requires an affirmation from 80% of those attending the business meeting, not of ETS as a whole. A standing vote took place, and 46 of the 177 members who voted favored the amendment. Apparently, people who attended the business meeting simply abstained. Immediately after the vote, ETS secretary-treasurer James Borland moved to adjourn. President Bullock accepted the motion with a second, despite loud objections. He then put the motion to the gathered members. Over the voices of more noisy protests, the motion carried and the meeting was adjourned. Members quickly filed out of the hall.

Several members approached the platform to question President Bullock’s speedy closing of the meeting. Grudem, among others, was frustrated that his planned proposal was preempted. Bullock explained to those gathered around him on the platform that had the vote been stronger, he would have allowed for the Grudem motion. Since, in his opinion, there was a weak showing to the amendment, he felt justified in closing the meeting. Other members of the executive committee seemingly were caught off guard. It was an unexpected and disappointing conclusion.

If the ETS follows Robert’s Rules of Order, a motion to adjourn cannot be debated, it is a privileged motion. Since this is so, the abrupt ending without debate was legitimate under the rules of order, but it also was clearly a power play on the part of quicker witted opponents of doctrinal amendment.

Should we be surprised? It is ever thus!

Look back at the records of the meetings in the days of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and I would expect you will see similar power plays by savvy modernists and their moderate enablers to head the conservatives off at the pass. Same old story here. The simple and naive are tripped up by procedure. No surprise. Kind of funny, though, in an ironic sort of way. I don’t know why victims of this power play should be surprised. They aren’t going to win in the game of political hardball.

It remains to be seen what the ETS membership will do in light of this decision. Many of those present, including Grudem and the two Southern Baptist men who originally proposed the motion, were disappointed. Since the meeting ended, however, Burk and Van Neste think they have gained some ground in that the executive committee is now motivated to take up the matter more closely. One thing became patently obvious: the society needs a parliamentarian to help run its meetings. For two members of the executive committee to limit further discussion, without the knowledge of the committee as a whole, seems odd. Time may have played a factor as further discussion would have taken the meeting over its allotted time slot.

Gained ground? Right. Mark these fellows down as hopelessly naive.

The society needs a parliamentarian to run its meetings? Hah! They obviously have one and he ran his opponents into the ground. What the conservatives need is to realize who and what they are dealing with. And perhaps they need to read the rules of order again.

The motion failed for several reasons. First, those who supported it early in the discussion failed to attend the vote in sufficient strength to carry the day. Even some who favored the motion on Wednesday were missing at the vote on Friday. Moreover, the statement itself, while broad enough for some, was too narrow for others. One Arminian argued that he could not sign it because the statement affirms that all humans are guilty. He believes, however, that infants, though sinful, are not actually guilty until they commit personal sin. So it seems that while the statement is broad, it is not broad enough. Another man suggested that the statement would omit Landmark Baptists because it affirmed the universal church. In the end, perhaps Mohler will prove to be prophetic. Maybe ETS is really a society about the study of evangelicalism rather than a group of evangelical scholars, though doubtless many will dispute this interpretation. Time will tell.

Those who supported it earlier didn’t support it sincerely enough to bother to show up and vote. Right! Do the words ‘lip service’ carry any meaning? If you support something that is going to be voted on, you show up to vote. Actions speak louder than words.

One of the things that is ironic here is that we see again the display of the left’s superior politicking. The conservatives usually don’t have this figured out and usually get overridden every time. This is just like the old controversies of the twenties. What is even more ironic is the so-called fundies who are surprised (and involved) in all of this.

Deja vu, anyone?



  1. I’m pretty sure this article is what Duncan was referring to earlier. (Duncan, you can correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Jeff Straub seemed to indicate that there were potential problems with the resolution that may have prevented conservatives from voting for it as written, who may have otherwise:

    … some who opposed the particular statement favored additional doctrinal strengthening.

    Moreover, the statement itself, while broad enough for some, was too narrow for others. One Arminian argued that he could not sign it because the statement affirms that all humans are guilty. He believes, however, that infants, though sinful, are not actually guilty until they commit personal sin. So it seems that while the statement is broad, it is not broad enough. Another man suggested that the statement would omit Landmark Baptists because it affirmed the universal church.

    The other interesting thing is that the members of the executive committee that spoke against the motion would all be conservatives. So, the conflict was not between conservatives and modernists but between conservatives who favor a more tightly controlled membership and conservatives who didn’t (or who at least didn’t approve of the narrowing as defined by the motion).

    But all this is really beside the whole point that I was raising in my previous comments, and that is, does participation in ETS really constitute unbiblical fellowship? Membership does not mean that you agree, or support, or promote everybody or anybody in the society. It just means that these are the people who get to contribute to the discussion. The issue for people in ETS is whether the group as defined by their current doctrinal statement is too broad or too narrow for profitable discussion. The doctrinal statement helps limit topics and viewpoints to those that are most apropos to the group.

    It appears that a subset of ETS members would prefer to limit their discussion participants to those who hold a more tightly defined conservative position. I think the Beckwith situation has shown that the doctrinal statement is not narrow enough to even limit the participants to bona fide evangelicals. So, personally, if I was involved, I would support a tighter statement. But my question is, is it biblically wrong to discuss theology with a Roman Catholic or to apologetically interact with an Open Theist in an academic forum?

    In response to Kent, I appreciate and agree with the portions from Moritz that you quoted. I just don’t see how it applies to ETS.

    Like I said previously, we may not see eye-to-eye on this one, and I feel that I’m beginning to just repeat myself, so I’m not sure if there is anything else for me to say. But I do appreciate the discussion and give and take.

  2. Hi Andy,

    I actually am not making a point against participation with this post. It just struck me how ironic it was to see the conservatives snookered again and the fundies standing alongside amazed at it all.

    Conservatives vs. conservatives? Maybe. I would describe them as conservatives vs. (at best) indifferentists – though they are all tinged with indifferentism to some degree or another.

    Finally, I think that our discussion boils down to your question:

    is it biblically wrong to discuss theology with a Roman Catholic or to apologetically interact with an Open Theist in an academic forum?

    As long as the organization has a doctrinal basis at all, and there is any sense of a notion that the group can decide who is in and who is out, then the organizational basis defines what the organization is. In this case, it is a very broad, loosely evangelical organization, promoting a loose evangelical cause. As such, I don’t think fundamentalists can legitimately participate.

    If there were no doctrinal basis, if it is just a society for the study of evangelical topics, and no one can get kicked out – then maybe there is a basis for involvement. Although I would still wonder about the fundamentalist commitments of those who want to hang out with those who betray Jesus Christ.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. I’m pretty sure this article is what Duncan was referring to earlier. (Duncan, you can correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Actually, Andy, I wasn’t referring to the Straub article (I didn’t know of it until I read about it here). What I was talking about last week was something that Bauder said.

    I’m going to put that up now, but I’ll do it over on the other thread (more musings on the ETS).

  4. To start, I’m old enough and know the history of fundamentalism in the last 30 years, that fundamentalists would have opposed participation in the ETS. This is new for fundamentalists. The silence about it is new. Maybe those guys never, ever agreed with that kind of separation and it was only a few very influential fundamentalists who believed in that kind of separation, but it seems like it is being ejected now.

    Andy, I believe my Moritz quotes do apply, unless we are not defining what they are doing as fellowship. Why are these men getting together? Here is what ETS says about membership in its bylaws: “Associate members shall be those who are in sympathy with the scholarly and theological purposes of the Society and who desire its publications and fellowship.” Members desire the “fellowship” of the ETS, plainly stated. This goes against what Moritz wrote in treating these types of organizations the same way as a church.

  5. Dave says:


    I think we are roughly the same age, but we have walked in slightly different circles and I’d counter your statement by saying I have known fundamentalists who have participated in ETS for the past 30 years. Well known fundamentalists. Strong separatists. I think we both are looking at what the other is writing and scratching our heads. I can’t believe you’d claim what you have, given my experience and observation. You can’t believe what I’ve written given your own experience and observation.

    While I agree that Moritz’s statements might imply something like ETS, perhaps it would be better to allow his actions to indicate whether it does or not. He did, and may still, sit on the board of a seminary that has had profs who are members of ETS for decades and that’s never posed a problem for him that called for separation.

    We’ve seen recently that my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I cannot ever recall hearing during the course of my training anybody suggest that membership in ETS is compromise of the biblical convictions regarding separation. I don’t ever recall hearing a sermon on this at any fundamentalist conferences. I can only recall it popping up on a few blogs from time to time. That’s my experience, but obviously experience isn’t the final court (for any of us).

    For the record, I am not a member of ETS (not that there’s a problem with that) and have never attended a meeting, so I am not defending myself here. Anyway, carry on.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Dave.

    Thinking out loud here: is it possible to be a member of something but not a participant? For example, if you want to get National Geographic, you become a member of the society… That doesn’t mean you are participating in anything, you are just receiving a magazine.

    In this discussion, is it possible to be a member of ETS without participating, as such?

    Or would this fall into the category of too much hair-splitting?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Dave says:


    I am not that familiar with the realities of ETS membership, etc., but I think that the only means of participation would be to go to or present in one of the meetings. You can be a member and not go to these. It seems like the main value to membership is voting privileges, but also the right to present papers (I think that is tied to mbrship).

    When the FBF shifted its policies on membership, then tied it to Frontline subscriptions, it created a somewhat similar scenario–people who are members who never attend anything and are so only because they subscribe to the magazine.

    I don’t know if it bad form to cross comment between threads, but Duncan raises, and you’ve made before, a point that relates to my post, but I don’t think contradicts it. In the past year or so I’ve seen some of the comments by Kevin Bauder that raise question about ETS membership. I wasn’t at the presentation which Duncan cited, but KB had some things on SI that pointed in that direction. I don’t necessarily believe that this was something that he was taught, but is the outworking of his own thinking regarding separation (particularly the question of what ecclesiastical means in the label ecclesiastical separation). But, perhaps Kevin would echo Kent’s view on this. Could be. I don’t think so, but might be.

  8. Hi Dave,

    Well, I don’t think much remains to be said vis a vis the righteousness or unrighteousness of ETS participation. The question hangs on whether or not such participation and/or membership falls in the realms of biblical fellowship. I think we haven’t settled this question. Or perhaps better, no one has convinced me that ETS participation is NOT the same as fellowship as described by the Bible.

    Not that I am the final authority!

    As far as this particular post is concerned (to bring us back on topic), do you see the ironies in the way this meeting was conducted? It does seem to me to be clearly a power play by those opposed to further defining membership.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  9. Dave,

    You’re better connected and have broader and deeper knowledge than I do of fundamentalism, so I defer to your comment. It is a surprise to me and shows my naivite in this area, but I believe you. It is true that I am commenting based on the books I’ve read by fundamentalists—we have the Moritz and Pickering books mainly—and based on my experience. However, I have also found myself many times to be surprised about how book writings flesh themselves out in real life. Thanks for your comment.