The [Ecumenical] Evangelical Theological Society

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The [Ecumenical] Evangelical Theological Society, Eastern Region, 2014 meeting in Baltimore

ImageThe present-future chasm between Interfaith Ecumenical Evangelicals, Post Conservative Evangelicals,Neo-Evangelicals, and Conservative Evangelicals

As “Ecumenical Evangelical” is an oxymoron, “conservative Evangelical” is a redundancy. By definition, “Evangelical” historically included the idea of “not-ecumenical” (unless it meant to work for unity among the diverse body of Evangelicals). And “Evangelical” by definition meant conservative (not Historical-critical or Neo-orthodox) in regards to hermeneutics and theology. Correspondingly, are not “Post-conservative” and “Neo-Evangelical” also oxymoronic ways of saying “no longer conservative”?
Image The [E]-ETS met for their Eastern regional meeting for 2014 at Saint Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, about a mile from our Protestant and conservative evangelical seminary. It was unquestionably the strangest Evangelical Society meeting that I have ever attended: a love-fest of faiths and a goodly number of quirky “Evangelical” papers (not meaning to disparage all the topics, but very few were on the Bible itself), including an interfaith response panel to Gerald R. McDermott’s first excellent keynote presentation. That panel consisted of a Mormon, an atheistic Jew, an orthodox Jew, and was chaired by the moderate former editor of Christianity Today. (Unfortunately, for such an interfaith extravaganza, I am told the Muslim respondent was not able to attend.) Even though the speaker was given response time, he was rather outnumbered by those respondents who pounced on his call for the freedom to persuade, among other things. After McDermot’s second keynote address, he did not have sufficient response time (ten minutes to rebut seventy minutes of criticism). Also, for the two rebuttals of his second address, there was no equivalent presentation of a counter-perspective, making both sets of counter-arguments to the speaker appear biased by design against the speaker’s presentation. Perhaps an oversight, but such unprofessionalism on such serious matters could (inadvertently) communicate a biased jury of a rigged courtroom, especially if ETS Eastern region is interested in real debate.

 I am all for friendship, dialogue, and debate in their proper contexts (ETS?), in so far as it is possible, but in light of the keynote address on “The Emerging Divide in Evangelical Theology,” I see that it is not just a divide in Evangelicalism, it is a watershed chasm of confusion. It leads me to ask, what is the mission of ETS? I am told that ETS does not have a formal mission statement, but the closest representative viewpoint may be found on the ETS website front-page: “We serve Jesus Christ and his church by fostering conservative, evangelical biblical scholarship.” Dialogue and vigorous debate can be wonderful, and I certainly learned very interesting things through the panel responses, but I still doubt that this event served our mission of advancing evangelical biblical scholarship. I understand that guest speakers for ETS meetings are sometimes not members of ETS, and ETS even allows speakers who could not sign our basic doctrinal statement. In both cases, I question whether this actually advances evangelical biblical scholarship in the conference context.

 For example, the first response to McDermott’s second keynote address from Peter Enns, a self-described Evangelical (or as others have said, a “post-conservative”), and whose argument, in my opinion, was mocking and condescending to the speaker. By inference from what he said, I felt that it would apply to all of us who would identify ourselves as “conservative” Evangelicals. This first response, coming from someone who does not believe in the inerrancy or infallibility of the text of the Bible, led me to wonder how much he still believes of what is in the Bible (historically and theologically). Having grown up with many similar, so-called “liberals,” I was disappointed to see this respondent did not even share in their common “tolerant,” “non-judgmental” social graces. And, his cavalier dismissal of McDermott’s exhortation to hold to the faith was shameful. I fail to see how this advanced evangelical biblical scholarship. Is it lacking in grace for me to say so in this public space? Well, please forgive me, if so, but that was my assessment, and I sincerely do say it in love for someone who professes to be a brother in Christ. If we must endure such tirades at ETS, even if entertaining, then I retain the right to invite us all to repent of his trajectory for the faith “once delivered.”

 The second respondent, John Franke, to McDermott did not add much to the “conversation” (his preferred word for describing the ecumenical, interfaith agenda) beyond his usual reliance on Karl Barth and other (long passé) neo-orthodox ideas. He did make one remarkable attempt to advocate for Barth, saying that Barth never said that the Bible is not the “word of God.” This classic “Evangelical” misreading of Barth may disarm us, but it is an inexcusable misrepresentation, since we should all know by now that Barth’s term “Word of God” has little, if anything, in common with an Evangelical definition (the same being true of most of Barth’s major theological categories). Certainly a view which defines “word of God” as errant, and even possibly that which we preach, and also somehow distinct from “revelation,” is entirely out of accord with our ETS statement: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” From <http://www.etsjets.org/about>

 ETS also affirms, along with our collective affirmation of inerrancy as a membership requirement, “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” I can confidently say that Barth’s viewpoint contradicts the “Chicago Statement”:

  Article III

  • We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
  • We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

   Article XII

  • We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
  • We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood. From <http://www.etsjets.org/>

 The increasingly frequent claims that Barth is essentially an Evangelical may simply be the fruit of poor (or disingenuous?) scholarship, but all the same very misleading and misapplied in critiquing McDermott. I fail to see how this respondent advanced evangelical biblical scholarship. May we also turn away, in genuine repentance, from such revisions of our sacred revelation from God.

 A Bit More Seriously, if these two respondents are truly broad and liberal minded why did they for some years work to subvert the Evangelical schools (that employed them) into their own agenda of PoMo Modernism (Historical Criticism and Barthianism), while at the same time barring entrance there to “conservative” Evangelicals? Since it is common knowledge that they had to leave those respective schools, and that those schools were left to pick up the pieces, I have wondered what was gained. Would it not be the right thing for those of genuinely contrary persuasions to the schools they serve to simply start their own, or go where they can build for their own vision? I am all for Evangelical diversity and unity (properly “ecumenical” as in Eph 2:18-22), but diversion from the Evangelical heritage of the places that employ us is neither honest nor respectful of them. In reality, it seems for those who want the table open to all, even other faiths, themselves would not offer a seat (at our own table) for those who do not want the Evangelical table open to all.

Certainly, there may have been some inclinations in these schools towards this New (PoMo) Modernism, but I believe there was also an understandable reluctance by many older conservative Evangelicals to engage in hot rhetoric and debate, and more interest in a “gentlemanly” approach to disagreements. This was particularly true of those who had become battle-weary of the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies, as well as from the costly internal conservative fights among strong “personalities” who trounced one another in various ways. Add to this their fear of the frequent new Modernists’ responses to conservative critiques (of their “Neo-Evangelical” directives for Evangelicalism) that such critiques were just “unscholarly.” These factors do not exonerate leadership from complicity in institutional compromise, even if they explain some of the drifting accommodations to secularization. They also do not explain the ongoing lack of consensus at such schools regarding those accommodations.

In conclusion, this conference raised the question of whether in the name of inclusivism the leadership of ETS was drifting from the ETS affirmations on scripture, as well as truly biblical scholarship? My “reading” of this conference may be wrong, and I hope it is. But for those who would dismiss mine as just biased, Modernist subtext, I would dissent, since it is possibly and reasonably accurate and truthful. It is, moreover, our cherished Evangelical Society I am speaking about. And, it is worthy of defense in its effort to uphold and advance (through proclamation and persuasion) the Great Tradition (and biblical scholarship) extolled by McDermott. Even though it is also worthy of ongoing reform, I believe, nevertheless, that most of us are not asking for redefinition by those who do not share our core values. Indeed, repentance maynecessarily have to precede reform here, as is often the case, and as I know well from personal experience.

I recommend to all of ETS that we each turn (yes, repent) from these PoMo trajectories that jettison us from biblical Evangelicalism and the great and precious tradition of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that we stand with our long held doctrine and mission in advancing truly evangelical biblical scholarship.

  • Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
  • Ephesians 5:6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
  • Philippians 1:9-10 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,
  • Colossians 2:2-4 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
  • 1 Timothy 1:11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
  • 1 Timothy 6:20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,
  • 2 Timothy 1:14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
  • Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.[1]

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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