ETS Leaders In Concern After Expulsion of an Open-Theist

( [email protected] ) Nov 22, 2003 10:51 AM EST

After the voting took place on Tuesday night with the result of 32.0 percent of the votes to Clark Pinnock and 62,7 percent of the votes to John Sanders, unanimously recommending Pinnock to keep his membership of the organization, the Evangelical Theological Society is in concern of its future condition whether or not it would split.

Both Pinnock and Sanders were charged with violating the statement of faith of ETS which affirms inerrancy of the Bible and the Trinity by believing in “open theism” which says God does not know the future absolutely.

Many society leaders past and present face the future with mixed emotions. Bruce Ware, a theology professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, hopes Sanders' close encounter with expulsion will serve as a warning to members and show them the seriousness of the society in acting upon its doctrinal boundaries.

"I'm hopeful that, even though John Sanders was not voted out, I thought and continue to think it should have been done," Ware said. "It was a high enough vote that it sends a shot across the bow that the society does have limits. I think it will have the effect of anchoring the society a bit from continued freefall or continued unthwarted movement to the left, which might have been the case otherwise."

Norman Geisler, who served as ETS president in 1998, saw the failure to oust Pinnock and Sanders as a sign of future split within the society.

"Ultimately, there will be two or three societies instead of one," Geisler said shortly after Tuesday's vote. "Because when over 60 percent of the people lose -- 60 percent is a significant majority -- and the 30-some percent has taken over and has [said,] 'We don't care what the [ETS] founders said [about inerrancy],' that's a really tragic day. ... It puts [ETS' future] in jeopardy eventually unless this problem is rectified, which I don't see it being easily rectified. I think there's going to be two or three societies -- one or two that will emerge from this society."

However, outgoing ETS President David Howard said the future of the ETS seems to be on the right track.

"I'm really encouraged for the future of ETS," Howard said. "I was fearful that this would result in a great split one way or the other, with a large group leaving no matter which way the vote went. ... We may lose a handful of members on one edge or the other, but I don't fear that the society will split. I am very excited about the future of the society. I think it is vibrant and I think the scholarly part of it is terrific."

One issue the society may have to examine is the clarity of its doctrinal statement. Many ETS members feel the brief statement of faith doesn’t have clear definition of inerrancy. The executive committee voted 7-2 to expel Sanders but the two dissenting members -- Howard and Wheaton College's Gregory Beale -- opposed his dismissal because of the ambiguity of the statement of faith in defining inerrancy.

Howard recommended adoption of a fuller-orbed definition of inerrancy referring to the detailed Chicago Statement on Inerrancy which both Pinnock and Sanders said they affirm. A change in the confession must be approved by 80 percent of the membership.

"I think, at the very minimum, we need to adopt a definition of inerrancy," Howard said. "Whether it be the Chicago Statement or something [else], but we need to officially adopt it. I'm not quite so convinced we need a full doctrinal basis [for membership].

"I think we will go to that and my only concern is that we don't write it so narrowly that we start writing out large groups of people, that we don't start trying to do so in terms of conduct or social issues or things like that. It has to be brief enough that it would protect where we are but it wouldn't narrow the focus of the society."

Roger Nicole, a founding member of ETS, said the organization is not in jeopardy because it had been giving notices regarding importance of doctrinal integrity of the organization long time before the decision was made against Pinnock and Sanders.

"I think the future is good," Nicole said. "It is a society that can discipline itself. The people who belong to it are now under notice that they cannot just play hide and seek with our confession of faith, that we mean what we say and we are going to stick with it."