Evangelical Theological Society in the Danger of Split

( [email protected] ) Oct 21, 2003 09:37 AM EDT

Currently within the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), there is a big debate going on over whether or not it is possible to maintain the inerrancy of the Bible while not believing in God’s omniscience of the future.

A meeting will be held on Nov. 19-21 in Atlanta by ETS members to decide whether to expel two of the ETS members – McMaster Divinity College’s Clark Pinnock and Huntingdon College’s John Sanders, who are supportive of “open theism,” which is considered as heresy among critics. Open theists believe that God does not know the future decisions because nothing has been made about the future.

ETS is under the pressure of split. Some people don’t look at this issue with much of concern, rather they are more concerned with the possibility of degradation of integrity of ETS if it actually splits.

"Many do not want to deal with this issue, believing that it is unnecessarily divisive," L. Russ Bush, past president of ETS and current academic dean at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on the ETS website. "My response is simply that open theism is the source of this division, not those who are seeking to preserve the integrity of the membership boundary set by the commonly accepted doctrinal basis."

Some people think expulsion of Pinnock and Sanders is not reasonable since the cause of their expulsion is not against the membership requirement of ETS which simply requires agreement on two-sentence statement, affirming inerrancy and the doctrine of Trinity, on top of a small yearly fee and

"The doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society is limited," wrote Haddon Robinson of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. "That serves the Society well. ETS is not a church; it is not a seminary. It is a Society for evangelical scholars with widely divergent views to come together to hear one another out.

"... Voting people out of the membership with whom we disagree not only works against a purpose for which the Society exists, but, ultimately, it could destroy ETS completely."

Another past president, Reformed Theological Seminary's Bruce Waltke, has sided with Pinnock and Sanders, saying that while he believes their views are heretical, they must be allowed to stay and the society "must be allowed to breathe."

But others assert that one cannot believe in both inerrancy and open theism and that a belief in open theism conflicts with a belief in an inerrant Bible. Southeastern Seminary's Bush pointed out that open theism conflicts with the ETS doctrinal statement, "Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs."

First, open theists "do not believe that God can speak inerrantly about the actual future," Bush argued, because they believe that the "future is truly and fully open."

Such a belief means that the Bible cannot be inerrant, Bush argued. "[The Bible] might be inerrant if God in fact got it right, but we could not know it is always right even if we know it is an authentic word of God, because God simply does not and cannot know everything about the actual future."

Secondly, Bush wrote, open theists "believe that God can change His mind in such a way that something He has purposed and revealed in Scripture might be significantly changed by God's own decision." Thus, "God is not utterly trustworthy; He might reveal His will to us but then change His mind in such a way that what He previously revealed would prove to be wrong or false.”

"This is exactly what Pinnock, Sanders, and all other open theists should do," Bush wrote, pleading with them to resign that if they do not resign they "will divide the Society, and they may destroy it. They will be famous, but they will not persuade the majority of the rightness of their position. The controversy will rage on, many leading conservatives will leave, and no good can come from that."

Wayne House, president of Oregon Theological Seminary, also argued that Pinnock and Sanders must be removed.

"[T]he implications of failing to remove them from ETS are great," he commented. "I believe the failure to do so will bring a major rift in the Society, and removing them will cause only a few to leave.

”If Pinnock and Sanders are allowed to remain, then all doctrinal requirements should be removed. At least in this way we may maintain our integrity," he wrote.

Two years ago the society passed by a vote of 253-66 a non-binding resolution opposing open theism.

For Pinnock and Sanders to be expelled, it must be proven that open theism is incompatible with inerrancy.

An initial vote took place last year, when the society voted 171-131 to investigate Pinnock and 166-143 to investigate Sanders. A nine-member committee will present its recommendation in Atlanta; a two-thirds majority vote of all members present is required for expulsion.

"It will be a sad day if I am expelled from the ETS on these charges," Pinnock wrote. "I am on trial here, but in a way, so is the ETS itself.

"... If I am ejected, some members will bolt and if I am not ejected others will bolt. The blame lies on Roger (one of the founding members of ETS who -- he is ruining the ETS."