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Inerrancy statement bodes well for ETS, former president says

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The Southern Baptist scholar whose 2003 motion led the Evangelical Theological Society last month to adopt the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says the development is a significant victory for the future of the organization.

L. Russ Bush, faculty dean emeritus and academic vice president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., says ETS’ adoption of the Chicago Statement at its Nov. 15-17 national meeting in Washington is a significant step toward insulating the organization from heresy. Bush served as ETS president in 1994.

“There is little ambiguity left if the Chicago Statement is the standard,” Bush said. “It was produced by an evangelical coalition, not by a single denomination or group; it is a statement on inerrancy, which is not what ETS is focused on; and it is widely regarded as the definitive statement so far on this issue.

“I think it will accomplish a great deal. I have found that many ETS members were unaware of the existence of the Chicago Statement. Calling it to their attention is a valuable result of this bylaw adoption…. It will perpetually introduce new members to the most significant statement on inerrancy produced in the 20th century and call for them to test their views against this standard. We will have a much stronger society if this is done.”

ETS consists primarily of professors and students from professing evangelical Christian seminaries and colleges, including representatives of all six Southern Baptist seminaries. Members of ETS are required to sign a two-sentence confession that affirms the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture.

Conflict arose within the society several years ago when Clark Pinnock of McMaster Divinity College and John Sanders of Huntingdon College were charged by the ETS executive committee of publishing works that undermined the inerrancy of Scripture. Both Pinnock and Sanders are proponents of “open theism,” a view that says God’s knowledge of the future is limited.

At the 2003 national meeting in Atlanta, ETS voted against expelling Pinnock and Sanders from the organization. The two scholars were allowed to remain in the society largely because members could not agree on a specific definition of inerrancy.

Bush proposed a change to the organization’s bylaws in which it would adopt the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to more clearly define the confessional article on the inerrancy of Scripture. After a three-year process, members at the 2006 meeting approved the bylaw change by a 171-19 vote.

“We lost several members when we failed to be able to sort out the open theism debate in terms of inerrancy,” Bush said. “Had the bylaw failed, we definitely would have lost many more. So there is a sense in which I think the bylaw actually secures the future of ETS, though without resolving every issue.”

Pinnock wrote “A Wideness in God’s Mercy” and edited a volume titled “The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God,” both of which espouse the “openness of God” view.

Another Pinnock book, “Most Moved Mover,” brought the issue of inerrancy to the fore within ETS’ ranks; in that work, Pinnock asserted that some predictions in Scripture do not come to pass or do not unfold precisely as they were foretold. Sanders also was challenged for a similar assertion in his book, “The God Who Risks.”

During public discussion of the proposed adoption of the bylaw change this year, Pinnock told members that he and Sanders both affirm the Chicago Statement. Bush said he hopes the society’s adoption of the statement on inerrancy will at least influence Pinnock’s publishing endeavors in the future.

“Pinnock has told me [that he agrees with the Chicago Statement] many times, and he repeated this to me at the D.C. meeting this year,” Bush said. “I told him I was sure of that, but that I hoped he would understand why we felt we needed the Chicago Statement, not as a new addition to the doctrinal basis statement, but as a clarifying document for the society.

“I think he does understand this point, and I am also sure that it will be a factor that he will now take into account when he does future publishing of ideas and issues that may at least appear to argue for points which a reader might think taught contrary to the notion of inerrancy as set forth in the Chicago Statement.”

Bush says Pinnock’s affirmation of the Chicago Statement presents a problem in light of his openness views, but ETS is still better off after having clarified what it means by inerrancy.

“I would far rather have him [Pinnock] sign the membership statement and then explain his views in light of that, than for us to leave our doctrinal basis without this well-known further clarification,” Bush said.

During the debates over inerrancy, some ETS members have wondered if the organization should adopt a more extensive declaration of faith than the two-article statement now in place. Bush said he believes ETS should maintain its current doctrinal basis and require no further affirmations.

“I am perfectly happy with the two-sentence doctrinal basis,” he said. “I do not want to see it changed unless some new heresy finds a way to slip in there. I think we are adequately covered as things stand.

“We do not need or want a more full-orbed confessional statement. We only want to deny membership to those who are Unitarian or otherwise heretically non-trinitarian, or who adopt higher critical methods that destroy the unity and truthfulness of Scripture as the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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