October 24, 2017

Scholarship, Separation, and ETS (2)

Part Two: Introducing Christian Scholarship and the ETS

Wally Morris

[One] ♦ [Two] ♦ [Three] ♦ [Four] ♦ [Five] ♦ [Six]

Christian Scholarship

Many resources exist for understanding Christian scholarship. Several years ago, Kevin Bauder wrote a series of articles called “Fundamentalists and Scholarship”, originally published in his In The Nick Of Time column. These articles are here and also in the Nick of Time archives beginning here [and see database here, beginning in January 2008].[1]

Five years ago, Douglas K. Kutilek wrote a two-part article for SharperIron called “Becoming A True Christian Scholar” (here and here). The reader comments with the first article are especially interesting. Dan Olinger, Chairman of the Department of Bible at Bob Jones University, has written several brief papers about Christian education. One paper, “How Christians Think”, discusses some issues which relate to Christian academics at any level (here). Dr. Mark Ward has an article available here. Dr. Greg Wills, in a chapel message at Southern Seminary, talks about the balance of scholarship and faithfulness to the gospel (here). D. A. Carson discusses “The Scholar As Pastor” (here). Dr. Andy Naselli discusses scholarship and publishing in a Themelios article (here). BIOLA University offers various interviews which focus on Christian academics and scholarship (here). Dr. Alvin Plantinga has written extensively about Christian scholarship (here). Several have written books about Christian scholarship.[2] Additionally, the Internet contains extensive writing about Christian academics, scholarship, and the meaning of the word “evangelical”.

Many in Christian academic ministry genuinely want to influence others for Jesus Christ in ways that result in someone coming to trust Christ as Savior or in ways that help other believers grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Yet the desire for that influence can also create a desire for respect, acceptance, and inclusion in the wider theological arena.[3] Almost five years ago Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Seminary, expressed concerns about whether some Evangelicals are motivated by a desire for acceptance (here). Trueman also wrote an article for Themelios (December 2008) entitled “The Way Of The Christian Academic”.[4] Interestingly, Trueman believes that Evangelicals’ influence on the wider scholarly community has been “paltry”.

Fundamentalists also wish to influence a wider audience for Christ, including an academic audience. But even though Fundamentalists publish scholarly papers and books, will a wider audience evaluate Fundamentalist work fairly and objectively or even know that such work exists? Do Fundamentalists have the same academic objectives as Evangelical scholars? One of the distinguishing characteristics of Fundamentalism is Biblical separation. The application of Biblical separation will by definition limit types of cooperation with Evangelicals and other groups. Many Evangelicals have made clear that they reject ecclesiastical separation. Some conservative Evangelicals accept some aspects of separation, such as separation from worldliness and, to a lesser degree, some situations of ecclesiastical separation.[5]

History and Purpose of the ETS

Currently, about 4,000 people belong to the ETS. Historical papers about the beginning of the ETS are available here. Beginning in December 1949, the founders and original members came from a wide variety of schools, including Bob Jones University (J. Barton Payne).

The following excerpts from official documentation of the ETS help give a basic introduction to the founding and purpose of 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.”[6]

“In the first decades of the twentieth century, there was a reaction to the modernist movement among some conservative Protestants. They issued a call to return to the ‘fundamentals’ to restore the emphasis on inerrant and authoritative teachings of the Bible to its former wide acceptance. A number of factors following World War I resulted in a general public reaction in the 1930s against the ‘Fundamentalists,’ as they came to be called, and subsequent withdrawal of conservative believers into a closed circle of independent congregations, para-church, and professional groups with increasingly less contact and interaction with mainline Christian denominations. Post-World War II years produced a rising concern among conservative scholars of the necessity to counteract this withdrawal of conservatives from the wider world of scholarly activity. While many Fundamentalists tended to be anti-intellectual, some conservatives, calling themselves Evangelicals, began to challenge liberal solutions.

“The Evangelical Theological Society arose out of a long-standing and keenly perceived need for interaction and wider dissemination of conservative research on biblical and theological issues. Conservative, Evangelical scholars were equally concerned that the Bible was no longer being supported as authoritative in many schools and seminaries, among leaders of main-line denominations, or in published research. By providing an Evangelical arena of intellectual interchange and disseminating the results to a larger public, it was hoped that exposition and defense of Evangelical positions could be added to existing scholarly theological literature more liberal in content.”[7]

The ETS meets annually at different locations throughout the country. The ETS also has many regional meetings. This year one historically Fundamentalist school hosted the ETS Northeast Regional Meeting and, as a result, had a conservative Evangelical speak on its campus (here).[8] The 2014 ETS Eastern Regional Meeting was held at a Catholic university (here). By definition and practice, ETS represents a very broad mix of those claiming to be Evangelical.


Pastor Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN and can be reached at ">. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.

  1. Note: This paper has many internet links which were active and correct at the time of writing this paper. If any are not correct, please let me know. []
  2. Three examples are George M. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea Of Christian Scholarship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Jacobsen, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging The Conversation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Mark Noll, Between Faith And Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991, 2nd Ed.). Of these three, Noll is most helpful. A book which discusses some of these issues is Darrell L. Bock, Purpose-Directed Theology: Getting Our Priorities Right In Evangelical Controversies (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002). Bock is a former president of ETS. []
  3. See George Marsden’s discussion of George E. Ladd in Reforming Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 248-250. Bock mentions this danger as well: 50. []
  4. Themelios 33.3 (2008): 5-7; Available here. []
  5. Note Al Mohler’s refusal to accept the chairmanship of the last Billy Graham crusade in Louisville unless Graham agreed to exclude Roman Catholic participation in the crusade. []
  6. http://www.etsjets.org/about . Bock (112) states “ETS is a spiritual and academic fellowship of debate, dialogue, growth and study.” See also this interview with Robert Yarbrough, recent president of ETS and co-chair of the Inerrancy of Scripture Steering Committee, for a discussion of the purpose of ETS and his comments about inerrancy. []
  7. http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/GUIDES/243.htm ; Also see Bock: 51. []
  8. Note that Dr. Walter Kaiser was scheduled to be the original speaker. []


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