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Evangelical Theological Society adopts inerrancy statement

WASHINGTON (BP)–Members of the Evangelical Theological Society adopted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy Nov. 16 to clarify the organization’s position on Scripture.

Adoption of the Chicago Statement is aimed at allowing the organization to exclude members or potential members who hold aberrant theological positions, such as “open theism,” that undermine biblical inerrancy.

Members attending ETS’ 58th annual meeting voted 171 (90 percent) to 19 to adopt the resolution put forth by the organization’s executive committee in 2004 and approved by the membership at the 2005 meeting. At this year’s meeting, members voted to add the statement to ETS’ bylaws to give the organization a clearer definition of the phrase “inerrancy of Scripture” as used in the ETS statement of faith.

Craig Blaising, a member of the ETS executive committee, pointed out that adoption of the Chicago Statement is not a revision of ETS’ articles of faith, a brief statement which members are required to sign that affirms the doctrine of the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture. The Chicago Statement merely clarifies what ETS means by the term “inerrancy,” he said. Blaising serves as provost of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Should one ETS member formally accuse another of expressing an aberrant view of Scripture, the Chicago Statement will provide the society with guidelines to determine whether the accused member should be disciplined. ETS initially considered writing its own definition of inerrancy, but the existence of the Chicago Statement made it unnecessary, Blaising said.

“The Chicago Statement is a well-known and broadly accepted statement among evangelicals regarding the inerrancy of Scripture,” Blaising said. “There was no need to reinvent the wheel.”

Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology and senior associate dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of theology in Louisville, Ky., said the adoption is a positive step, but will not likely eliminate all issues related to the Bible and ETS. Ware, who has written numerous works refuting open theism, was elected vice president of ETS during the same meeting that considered the Chicago Statement.

The issue of inerrancy arose prior to the 2003 annual meeting in Atlanta when ETS members voted against revoking the membership of two theologians who hold to open theism, or the “openness of God,” a position which argues, among other things, that God does not know perfectly what will happen in the future.

The two theologians — Clark Pinnock and John Sanders -– prevailed largely because ETS members could not agree on a precise definition of the term “inerrancy” in the organization’s statement of faith.

One of the aspects of openness theology that ETS’ adoption of the Chicago Statement seeks to address is its teaching that some biblical prophecies will not actually be fulfilled, a teaching which many evangelicals believe undermines biblical inerrancy.

ETS founder Roger Nicole, who brought the charges against Pinnock and Sanders, said at the 2004 meeting that adoption of the Chicago Statement would set forth precisely what the charter members of ETS intended when they included the term “inerrancy” in their statement of faith.

“In my judgment [adoption of the Chicago Statement] eliminates the claim by anyone that inerrancy is a vague term,” Nicole said in 2004. “The meaning of inerrancy is clarified and if there is any member who does not agree with that definition he should resign … or be disciplined.”

However, the Chicago Statement likely will not keep open theists from joining ETS; Pinnock said both he and Sanders can affirm the statement.

“Both John Sanders and I see it as a good statement that we can both agree with,” he told members Wednesday night during discussion of the proposal.

The Chicago Statement was produced in the fall of 1978 during an international summit of concerned evangelical leaders. It was signed by nearly 300 evangelical scholars such as Nicole, Norman L. Geisler, Carl F.H. Henry, Harold Lindsell, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul and James Montgomery Boice.

It contains five short statements that define inerrancy, followed by 19 affirmations and denials that further define the doctrine. For example, the first article reads: “We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God. We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.”

One of the brief opening statements says of Scripture: “Being wholly and verbally God-given … [it] is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”

By contrast, the ETS statement on Scripture is brief. It reads, “The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

Ware, of Southern Seminary, described ETS’ adoption of the Chicago Statement as “a significant help but I don’t think it is a panacea. That is, it won’t preclude all problems that come up in terms of claimed violations of the doctrinal statement of ETS. It’s not as though you could take one look at the Chicago Statement and say, ‘Of course, they are in or out.’

“What it does is provide greater specificity. All we had was the term ‘inerrancy,’ which was to be defined, I suppose, as each person chooses,” Ware said. “This provides a specific, widely accepted definition of inerrancy…. I think it is a good move, one that is altogether constructive, but one that will by no means solve every problem that arises.”

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  • Jeff Robinson