December 12, 2017

ETS Revisited

Don Johnson

Earlier this year we published a series of articles on the Evangelical Theological Society, an organization in which some fundamentalists hold membership. Our articles called those who participate to actively seek to enforce the orthodoxy of members or to sever their relationships with the ETS. Recent news concerning the ETS underscores the urgency of that call, see: “The Evangelical Theological Society after Obergefell” by Denny Burk.

Professor Burk points out that recent papers published by ETS members are supportive of gay marriage. One speaker at an ETS session openly advocates acceptance of homosexuals as Christians. (The speaker was listed as a “guest speaker” and is not a member of ETS.)

Many readers are already aware that David Gushee is a recent convert to the gay marriage cause. Contrary to his former evangelical beliefs which were well-known through his writings, Gushee now believes that gay marriage and homosexual practice can be consistent with Christianity.

Other speakers, who are members, made presentations openly supporting gay marriage. Burk says of this development:

It seems that there are some ETS members who regard support for gay marriage as an evangelical option. Moreover, the sexual binary of Genesis 1:27 seems to be up for grabs as well.

Nevertheless, the ETS adopted four resolutions concerning sexuality, marriage, and gender identity as follows:

(1)  We affirm that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess inherent dignity and worth.

(2)  We affirm that marriage is the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life.

(3)  We affirm that Scripture teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage as defined above.  This excludes all other forms of sexual intimacy.

(4)  We affirm that God created men and women, imbued with the distinct traits of manhood and womanhood, and that each is an unchangeable gift of God that constitutes personal identity.

Burk reports that members of Society opposed voting on the resolution, some desiring to defer the matter for another year. The resolutions passed by an overwhelming majority, but there were some opposing votes and some abstentions. Burk confidently offers this evaluation:

I am confident that the “no” votes and abstentions were mainly due to the process and not to the substance of the resolutions.

Professor Burk goes on to make the astute observation that the issue raises once again the “boundaries” question, i.e., who can be a member of the ETS and who must be excluded? The doctrinal requirement for membership in the ETS is notoriously thin. The homosexual agenda is yet again putting pressure on the Evangelicals of the society to define itself. Burk closes:

The ETS in recent years has shown little interest in drawing more boundaries or in a strict enforcement of the current boundaries. If that situation holds, shouldn’t we expect more presentations from members affirming gay marriage? I guess we’ll see. In any case, ETS 2015 seems to have been a watershed moment for the marriage issue.

From a fundamentalist viewpoint, these rumblings sound so similar to the defeats of orthodoxy in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies of the 1920s. Again and again moderates advocated a “softer” tone, punted on issues, preferred studies to action, and so on. In the ETS, for the moment, the moderates were defeated. But should more be done than merely passing resolutions? Should those advocating “gay marriage” be allowed as members at all? We would think not, but we doubt the ETS will move in that direction.

For further reading, we offer links to our series on the ETS by pastor Wally Morris:

Scholarship, Separation, and the ETS

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

We live in sober times, Christians need to be aware of the myriad attempts to overthrow orthodoxy in Christian institutions. We can’t afford to relax our guard and consider the era of fundamentalist watchfulness to be over.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


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