Scholarship, Separation, and ETS (1)

Part One: Raising some questions

Wally Morris

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

With this article we commence a series raising the question of Fundamentalist involvement in the Evangelical Theological Society. Some of our readers may have never heard of the ETS, we hope that this series might be enlightening. We recognize that some Fundamentalists will also disagree with the idea of raising questions on this subject. Nevertheless, we believe that the questions Pastor Morris raise are important and worthy of discussion.

What is the Fundamentalists place and role in scholarship, particularly scholarly organizations such as the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS)?

I do not deny the necessity and importance of proper scholarship for Fundamentalists. In fact, I applaud it.[1] The variety of theological beliefs just within Evangelicalism is mind-boggling. Pastors such as myself do not have the time to read and study the various books, journals, and papers available. We need Fundamentalist academics to do this work for us.[2]

Many today still have the perception of Fundamentalists as “anti-intellectual”. Elements of Fundamentalism have in the past and still do in the present regard with suspicion and even hostility certain levels of education, especially, perhaps, “cemetery” (seminary) education. However, even though Evangelicals today still erroneously accuse Fundamentalists of a lack of scholarship, anti-intellectualism, and withdrawing from academic interaction, Fundamentalism in general does not fit the caricature which persists.[3] Many of the resources for Christian education (such as textbooks and education philosophy) have come from Fundamentalists, who also started colleges and Bible schools in order to provide an alternative to the quickly deteriorating theological and moral condition of secular universities and Christian colleges. Fundamentalists were not writing many books for the “scholars” because they were writing books to train their children, which is actually very ingenious and quite Biblical [Deut 6:4ff].[4] Today, two of the major Christian school and homeschool textbook publishers are Fundamentalist, not Evangelical — quite impressive. Now, with the growth and maturing of Christian textbooks, Fundamentalists have the time and resources to write for other venues. I think one point of misunderstanding has been that Fundamentalists have chosen a different type of intellectual pursuit and development than the secular world and even different than what most Evangelicals have expected. But has the time come for Fundamentalists to expand beyond what we have done in the past? For example, when we look for resources on issues such as inerrancy, open theism, or textual criticism, few Fundamentalists have written academic studies on these topics.

Perhaps in an attempt to develop stronger scholarship and improve personal growth, some Fundamentalists are members of ETS (as mentioned above). Some have never held membership and would never consider membership, while others, seem to be more open to ETS membership. Is membership in ETS an appropriate response or choice for Fundamentalist scholarship? While I recognize the importance of scholarship, surely in answering this question, part of the discussion should at least include addressing problems that exist within the Evangelical Theological Society.

As I worked on this paper, I talked with and exchanged emails with several Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. Those willing to talk with me were friendly and open about their beliefs. However I was disappointed at the reluctance of many other Evangelicals and Fundamentalists to discuss the issues I raise in this paper. I was also disappointed that some members of the ETS Executive Committee were also reluctant to answer questions. I recognize that part of that reluctance, perhaps a lot of it, is because I am a stranger to them, and they did not know what I would do with the information they might give me. Nevertheless, I think the issues I will raise here are important and require consideration before we consider joining in the efforts of ETS.

Questions For Thought & Discussion

Several questions need to be debated and answered about the issue of Fundamentalists and ETS. These questions also relate to the larger issues of scholarship and separation. I do not intend these questions to be an attack on or a defense of specific individuals or educational institutions. These questions are designed to clarify an area of ministry which seems to be growing in importance and which few have discussed openly. Some of these questions are designed to stimulate thought and discussion and will not be answered fully in this paper.

  • Do the principles of separation apply in any way to membership in professional theological societies?
  • The validity of ETS membership seems an assumed positive by many. Is this a legitimate assumption?
  • What does Fundamentalist membership and participation in ETS communicate or imply?
  • What are the objectives of Fundamentalist scholars?
  • Recognition by peers?
  • Acceptance as legitimate scholars?
  • Influence with Evangelicals, theologians, scholars, the world?
  • Genuine interaction among believers?
  • Personal professional and spiritual growth?
  • How important to us is recognition by others?
  • How “scholarly” does the work of a Fundamentalist have to be before others recognize that work as “scholarly”? What are the standards, and are they fairly applied?[5]
  • Do options exist for Fundamentalists to influence the broader academic world, including the Evangelical world, without possibly violating Biblical principles of separation?
  • Are alternative means available for this influence other than membership in ETS?
  • Because of the serious controversies within the ETS today, is Fundamentalist membership in ETS wise?
  • Has the presence of Fundamentalists within ETS had any discernible impact on ETS in restraining or moderating the influence of those who deny historicity and influencing the members and leadership of ETS to enforce its Doctrinal Basis?

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

  1. I am a pastor and not a scholar, although I attempt to be “scholarly” in my service to Christ by reading and studying carefully. I like Cicero, read Cicero, and have many of his books and books about him, but I am not a Ciceronian scholar. I studied Latin in college and Greek and Hebrew for my M.Div., also passing the Hebrew comprehensive. I had intended to complete a Ph.D., but my wife developed some serious health problems, and I lost interest in doctoral work. I never forgot the possibility of some type of doctoral degree, so I finished a D.Min. in 2008 and published the dissertation in 2014. But I am not a scholar. I am quite content to pastor a church, preach and teach four times every week, counsel, evangelize, pray, and do everything and anything else ministry for Christ requires. What I do, I want to do well. But I don’t want to deceive myself about what I am doing nor why I am doing it. I believe that scholarship is important, but not the most important, either for me or for those whose ministry life is in the academic world. []
  2. This does not absolve pastors from personal work on this material where time and ability make this possible. []
  3. See Mark Sidwell, “Fundamentalist Intellectualism: The Winona Lake School of Theology,” Biblical Viewpoint, XXXIV: 2, November 2000: 113-122. Note also the Fundamentalist seminaries such as BJU, Central, Detroit, Faith and others, the growing number of books and articles from Fundamentalists, such as Detroit Seminary’s Journal, Maranatha Baptist’s Journal, BJU Seminary’s publication of books and dissertations, and the annual Bible Faculty Leadership Summit. Additionally, other books produced by Fundamentalists in recent years highlight the work of Fundamentalists, such as James B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor, eds., God’s Word In Our Hands: The Bible Preserved For Us (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2003), Robert. D. Bell, The Theological Messages of the Old Testament Books (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2010), A. Philip Brown II and Bryan W. Smith, eds., A Reader’s Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), and many more. Note also Randy Leedy’s work on Greek sentence diagramming for Bibleworks. One Fundamentalist who is a member of ETS commented that he is disappointed at the level of scholarship at ETS meetings. []
  4. However, we are not attempting to suggest a superiority in training children over scholarship. My point is that some Fundamentalists decided to concentrate on the needs of growing Christian schools and not academic scholarship. []
  5. I ask this question because many Evangelicals question the scholarship of Fundamentalists. []