October 24, 2017

Scholarship, Separation, and ETS (6)

Wally Morris

Part Six: Where Do We Go from Here?

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

Concluding Thoughts and Suggestions

The current debate about inerrancy is much more serious than many realize. More than a few Evangelicals who are members of ETS are very concerned whether ETS will eventually support the traditional understanding of inerrancy as expressed in the Chicago Statements or support a new understanding of inerrancy which will allow people to remain members who do not believe in the historicity of certain Biblical events and people. The impression I get from reading the articles, books, and blog postings of Evangelicals and with talking to ETS members is that the majority of the ETS membership either supports expanding the understanding of inerrancy in order to allow denial of historicity or will not oppose expanding that understanding.[1]

As this issue is being discussed, debated, and written about, what will the Fundamentalists do who choose to be members of ETS? Participate in the debate and discussion? I hope so. Will the Fundamentalists try to exert appropriate influence in order to uphold inerrancy? I hope so. If the ETS eventually decides not to remove those members who promote views which contradict inerrancy, will those Fundamentalists who are members of ETS therefore leave ETS because the scholarly organization refuses to uphold one of its basic tenets of belief? I hope so. Otherwise, what does faithful scholarship mean if the scholars refuse to be faithful? Marsden, in referring to Christians in the academic community, says “… our dominant academic culture trains scholars to keep quiet about their faith as the price of full acceptance in that community.”[2] Are Fundamentalists within ETS reluctant to emphasize certain doctrinal issues concerning ETS members whose views deny inerrancy because they, perhaps unknowingly, are concerned about what Evangelicals may think of them?

If some Fundamentalists who are ETS members choose to remain members, then they should actively work for the traditional understanding of inerrancy.[3] If the ETS refuses to remove from membership those who deny or explain away historicity, then, as Fundamentalists who profess belief in separation, they should leave ETS.

Evangelicals need to confront those within Evangelicalism who are, in essence, denying inerrancy by denying the historicity of the Bible. The problem is that Evangelicals do not have a mechanism for doing that. (For that matter, neither do Fundamentalists.) The only methods Evangelicals have is to write papers and books and for schools to remove them from teaching positions or by removal from the ETS.

Evangelicals are very hesitant to take action which would officially exclude a professing Evangelical from ETS.[4] Although they say they may have to take such action, they seem to spend so much time discussing, debating, and engaging in “dialogue” that nothing is ever done except produce a lot of paper.[5] Perhaps this hesitation comes in part from the tendency of some Fundamentalists to judge too quickly, and today’s Evangelicals are loathe to be associated with that characterization. One way to stifle debate on a doctrinal issue is to accuse your opponent of being “Fundamentalist”, thereby intimidating him to be silent.

I know many pastors who are not Fundamentalists. We sometimes have lunch and exchange emails, Christmas cards, etc. Maintaining Biblical distinctives does not justify rudeness, arrogance, isolation, or self-righteousness. Yet, in an attempt to portray a kinder, gentler Fundamentalism or a desire to have the world or fellow believers recognize our scholarship and academic achievements, we cannot conveniently forget separation from unbelief or from fellow believers who tolerate theological error. If the consequences of such a position result in some leaving Fundamentalism for broader Evangelicalism, that would be seriously unfortunate. It may, however, be the price to be paid for following Biblical principle.

The ETS will have to increasingly clarify its doctrinal basis as those who claim to be Evangelical continue to be influenced by the unbelieving aspects of the historical-critical method. Unbelief always seeks to expand its reach, and some, maybe many, Evangelicals are willing to participate in that expansion. The ETS will have to deal with those members who, after all the debates, papers, seminars, and discussions are over, promote views which deny the historicity of parts of the Bible. At some point, ETS will have to decide what the boundaries are for their own Doctrinal Basis. If ETS refuses to do so, then the Doctrinal Basis has become empty words. If the ETS membership refuses to have a sufficient majority to remove unbelief, then how can Fundamentalists justify membership in ETS and still maintain that they believe in separation from unbelief?

The differences are slowly growing between those Evangelicals who hold to the understanding of inerrancy as expressed in the Chicago Statements and those who wish to modify that understanding in order to “solve” various interpretative problems and “solve” the skepticism of more liberal self-professing Christians and of an unbelieving world. These differences have been percolating for many years and must be resolved in order to maintain the integrity of the ETS Doctrinal Basis.

That resolution can come in a variety of ways. For example, the ETS can formally vote that the views of men such as Licona and Enns are not compatible with the ETS Doctrinal Basis and that those who hold such views can not be members of ETS.[6] The ETS also can continue to debate these issues for many more years until those who hold to the Chicago Statements are such few in number that their influence is negligible and irrelevant.[7] Or perhaps the ETS will formally split, with one group maintaining control of the ETS and another group forming a different organization. At the present time, many of those who still hold to the traditional understanding of inerrancy are writing many books and articles in order to defend inerrancy and convince others of the soundness of their position. But other than writing books and articles, what further do they intend to do? Are they willing to apply the appropriate ETS by-laws for formal investigation of doctrinal beliefs? If they cannot mobilize a sufficient majority to remove members, will those who hold to inerrancy as explained in the Chicago Statements therefore leave the ETS as a matter of principle and separation? The books and articles on inerrancy are helpful, but is this all they intend to do – write a lot of articles and books, nothing more?

Fundamentalists who choose to be members of ETS, if that is the choice they make, should use their membership rights to press these issues. If Fundamentalists do not, then are they more interested in the stimulus of professional scholarly exchange than in the theological integrity of the organization they are members of? Would lack of involvement in the inerrancy debates in ETS also show a lack of application of separation as well?

Although some in the ETS are trying to maintain adherence to the Doctrinal Basis, it is debatable whether they have a sufficient majority to formally force the issue. Do Fundamentalists wish to belong to an organization which cannot maintain adherence to a fundamental doctrinal issue and which cannot enforce its main doctrinal basis? Do Fundamentalists wish to participate in a spiritual association composed of people who deny the historicity of some parts of the Bible?

I encourage those Fundamentalists who are ETS members to seek formal action concerning those who deny Biblical historicity. I would also encourage those Fundamentalists who are not ETS members but who are considering such membership to avoid joining the ETS, based on Scriptural principles of separation and based on the current confusion and unwillingness of the ETS to do anything more than write papers on inerrancy and historicity. For a Fundamentalist to join an organization which is reluctant to enforce its Doctrinal Basis seems to violate the principles which define a Fundamentalist.

While Fundamentalists may, and should, criticize the ETS tendency to debate inerrancy ad infinitum, a proper question needs to be asked: Where is the Fundamentalist involvement in the scholarly debate on inerrancy?[8] Are Fundamentalists publishing books and articles which contribute to our understanding of inerrancy? Other than Dr. Custer’s book and a few magazine and journal articles, I am not aware of anything.[9] Why should we let Evangelicals “take leadership” on this issue, or any issue?

Although some wish to find some common ground between Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals, the reality is that stubborn “cultural” issues, such as music, alcohol, and tobacco, and Biblical issues, such as inerrancy and separation, refuse to go away. Scholarship is a worthy and necessary goal for Fundamentalists. But association with and participation in ETS are neither necessary nor preferable for Fundamentalists.


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. Business meetings of ETS are often poorly attended. []
  2. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea Of Christian Scholarship, 7. []
  3. Several conservative Evangelicals who are members of ETS are actively working to protect the inerrancy basis of the Society. One, who has written extensively about this issue, told me that he is probably not very popular among the Society right now. []
  4. The phrase “agree to disagree” occurs regularly. []
  5. The ETS has been debating and publishing papers on historical criticism for over 30 years. []
  6. Many ETS members do not believe that inerrancy and denial of historicity are contradictory. For example, some faculty at several Southern Baptist seminaries have publicly stated their support of Licona. []
  7. One well-known Evangelical from what historically has been one of the major conservative seminaries told me that removing Gundry was a mistake and that those who were instrumental in Gundry’s forced removal were an “extreme faction in the ETS”. The person is currently on the ETS Executive Committee. []
  8. I acknowledge, however, that I could easily miss something since I am a pastor and not involved in scholarship. []
  9. I acknowledge, however, that I could easily miss something since I am a pastor and not involved in scholarship. []


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