As people hear about my plans to go to ETS this November, they almost all ask the same question, “Why ETS? Why not another conference?”
I have been to SBL. But it is very much about biblical studies, biblical languages, text criticism and the like. I am more theology-oriented so I found that there was a lot of SBL that was outside of my area of interest. I could go to AAR, but it tends to be too broad and too big. I could maybe one day go to the Karl Barth conference at Princeton, but I am not nearly Barthian enough, and it feels too niche. I should probably one day attend the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association, I just haven’t had the opportunity yet. (And weirdly enough it’s often cheaper to fly to ETS than it is to fly to the CETA meeting. I guess that’s the downside to living in Canada).
At ETS I am spoiled for choices, and more often than not, there are more sessions that I want to attend than I have time for.
The second question/statement I get quite a bit is, “I don’t know how you can sign their doctrinal statement.” Sometimes this is said innocently. Sometimes it’s said a little bit smugly, as if the person is really saying, “I’m too good and too smart to sign the doctrinal statement and you are beneath me for signing it.” Sometimes it’s said with genuine curiosity.
The doctrinal statement is signed every year when the annual dues are paid. It says:
The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.
For most people who question this statement, they stumble on the “inerrant”. “Inerrancy” has become a hot topic in evangelicalism. Does the Bible have authority? What does this authority look like? Is Scripture without error? And if it is, how so? And this doctrinal statement, does not actually define “inerrant”. The ETS website points people to the Chicago Statement (1978) for more information. Some people have said that this doctrinal statement is too exclusive. Others point out that more and more of the signing members of ETS are those who hold to a very conservative understanding of inerrancy. Some people are fairly neutral on this statement, saying that because it specifies that Scripture is inerrant in the autographs, and we don’t have those original autographs, that it is a non-issue. We can and should wrestle with the textual variants and not be afraid of weighing the implications of the different textual issues.
Other people point out that though leading evangelicals sign the doctrinal statement, their theology does not seem to affirm the statement that they sign. Suzanne McCarthy, for example, is blogging through the Trinity sentence of the doctrinal statement, specifically the statement that the three persons of the Trinity are “equal in power and glory”. Suzanne doesn’t understand how those scholars who hold to eternal subordination of the Son can sign the doctrinal statement.
I personally like that the doctrinal statement is short and not over-involved. There is room to debate and discuss the “hows” of the doctrinal statement through the annual meetings and paper presentations. I was there when Clark Pinnock was brought up on charges of failing to uphold the doctrinal statement of inerrancy. But as was mentioned over and over at the meeting when the vote was taken, interpretations are not inerrant. There can be different interpretations of Scripture that may be less “right” than others, this does not necessarily mean that the person who holds the specific interpretation does not hold to the trustworthiness of Scripture.
Whatever else I am, I am an evangelical. And I’m not ashamed to say that, even though these days it’s cooler to disparage and mock evangelicals. I am an evangelical who believes that it is important to explore theology and biblical studies from an evangelical perspective, and that evangelicalism has something to contribute to the world of academia. I have been a student member of the ETS for ten years (oh my where did that time go?) and one day I hope to be a full member, once my schooling is complete.
Now, it’s true that it’s been eight years since I was last at ETS. And just looking at the program guides over the last eight years, it is hard not to notice the conservative turn that the ETS membership is taking. There appears to be a growing contingent of presenters and attendees from SBTS which has caused some people concern. Who knows, maybe I’ll go to conference this year, and find that it’s not the same conference it was years ago. And that’s okay. But my guess, is that I’ll go, and rub elbows with people I agree with, and people I don’t. I’ll sit in on fantastic presentations, and probably sit in on a few not so stellar presentations. That has happened each time I’ve been to ETS. I will go and learn and be edified. I will go and be challenged. I will go and see what is currently “hot” in evangelical academia. I will go and spend a whole bunch of time checking out the tables and tables of books in the vendors’ hall. I will sit in on at least one or two sessions of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. And I will go and meet new people. I’m looking forward to meeting Leslie and other bloggers who I’ve gotten to know online.
And maybe one day I’ll have a conference budget that will allow me to attend all kinds of theological conferences without having to worry about the cost. Then I can go to ETS and to the Karl Barth conference, and to whatever other conferences strike my fancy. Ah the life and dreams of an academic!