Encouraging Women to Attend This Year’s ETS Conference Part 1: My Experience with ETS

Last year, view Mike Bird noted that the percentage of women attending the Evangelical Theological Society annual conference was really, check really low. He then went on to give five very good reasons for women to attend ETS.

Well, this year’s ETS conference is just around the corner, November 14-16 in Milwaukee. And, Leslie Keeney and I have decided to talk up the ETS in the hopes of encouraging more women to attend this year.

I thought I would start by giving you a brief look at my experience of going to the ETS conference. I have been a student member for eleven years. For me, it all started when ETS came to Toronto. I was in Bible College, and our Integrative Theology class was looking at the Doctrine of God. The professor, seeing the controversy swirling in academia, decided to devote the majority of the semester to Open Theism. Clark Pinnock came to our class, and very patiently and graciously answered all of our queries, concerns and even one outright confrontation. (When we told him he was wrong for stating in ‘The Most Moved Mover’ that God didn’t get angry at Moses, since Scripture specifically says “God got angry at Moses”, Dr. Pinnock openly admitted that he had made a mistake, and that he was hoping to have that error fixed in the next printing). And of course, the Toronto ETS conference was awash in Open Theism papers. So myself, and a few friends went. There we were lowly undergrads. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

It was awesome!

So many scholars!

So many ideas!

So many books! (Oh, if you need only one reason to go to ETS, the book vendors would be that one good reason!)

Were we in over our heads? Absolutely. We landed in one session where William Lane Craig was presenting on Molinism (middle knowledge). Oops. We didn’t understand hardly any of it. But later that day, the three of us ran into Dr. Craig and worked up the courage to ask him about his presentation. He graciously spent twenty minutes explaining Molinism in a way undergrads could understand.

I loved seeing the people behind the books I had been reading. It changes how you read their books. For example, I had liked Gregory Boyd’s writings before going to ETS, but after seeing him present, standing behind the podium in sneakers and utterly unable to stop moving for one second of his presentation, I liked his writings even more. I got to see the passion and energy that he pours into theology and now whenever I read anything by Dr. Boyd, I always picture him constantly moving as he works through his ideas.

That first conference made such an impression, that the next year, my friends and I van-pooled all the way down to Atlanta for the next year’s conference. And then the year after, I was brave and went to San Antonio all by myself.

That’s not to say that every scholar is energetic and fascinating. I quickly learned that sometimes the best writers are dull in person, and sometimes even, really bad at giving oral presentations of their ideas.

And even more eye-opening, not every Christian scholar acts like a Christian. I watched the Open Theism witch hunt spiral out of control. I sat in the general meeting when the entire membership voted on whether or not Clark Pinnock could truly be a member of the ETS. I watched popular, well-liked scholars act like school children who, when asked to play nicely with others, threatened instead to take their ball and go home. And I was shut down by one scholar when I worked up the courage to ask him a question about his book on being a good pastor. “It doesn’t matter, because you can’t be a pastor” was his response to my question.

But seeing the dark side of the ETS doesn’t dishearten me or discourage me from continuing to attend. Indeed, the only reason I haven’t been to ETS these last couple of years is due to finances.

In fact, seeing the dark side, seeing the human side, seeing the messiness of having scholars who hold different views on everything from inerrancy, to women in ministry, to the doctrine of election, encourages me to continue to attend. It is a microcosm of the Evangelical Church and Christianity in general. Life in the Church, life connected to other Christians is both messy and beautiful; it is both exciting and tense. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

So this fall I’m going to ETS. Stay tuned for my next post on the ETS where we’ll talk about all the neat sessions that you can attend (and no, being a woman does not mean you have to go the sessions on gender).

See also, Leslie Keeney’s first post: The ETS Women’s Project.