ETS seeks to clarify doctrinal basis with Chicago Statement

Communications Staff — December 1, 2004

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Members of the Evangelical Theological Society have passed a resolution to consider using the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to clarify the organization’s position on the inerrancy of Scripture.

Adoption of the Chicago Statement would allow ETS to exclude members or potential members who hold aberrant theological positions — such as “open theism” — that undermine biblical inerrancy.

Members attending the 56th annual ETS meeting in San Antonio voted 234 (78.5 percent) to 58 to accept the resolution put forth by the society’s executive committee.

Greg Beale, the outgoing president of ETS, said many members felt a more precise definition of inerrancy is needed in the wake of the recent challenge presented by open theism.

At the 2003 annual meeting in Atlanta, 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 — were acquitted largely because ETS members could not agree on a precise definition of the term “inerrancy” in the organization’s statement of faith. To join ETS, one must sign a statement of faith that affirms belief in two doctrines: the inerrancy of Scripture and the Trinity.

This year’s vote, on Nov. 19, on the Chicago Statement does not automatically enact it as an ETS bylaw but allows the executive committee to further examine the resolution at its next meeting in August.

The committee will take feedback from ETS members and then decide whether to recommend adopting the Chicago Statement as a proposed bylaw at the 2005 ETS national meeting in Valley Forge, Pa. Beale said the committee could bring the resolution before the ETS membership for adoption or could recommend further discussion.

If members vote to adopt the Chicago Statement, it will not become a part of the ETS statement of faith but will serve as “a useful instrument for interpreting” the article on inerrancy, Beale said.

If adopted as the “interpretative instrument,” the Chicago Statement then could be used for excluding members who hold aberrant views of Scripture, Beale said. One of the aspects of openness theology the resolution seeks to address is its teaching that some biblical prophecies will not actually be fulfilled in reality, a teaching which many evangelicals believe undermines biblical inerrancy.

ETS founder Roger Nicole, who brought the charges last year against Pinnock and Sanders, said 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. “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.”

The Chicago Statement was produced in the fall of 1978 during an international summit conference of concerned evangelical leaders. It was signed by nearly 300 noted 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.”

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