25.10.03

What follows are some comments on a specific issue, which I suspect may not be of interest to many of you. I write this for my sake as much as anyone else's; I still hope those of you who read it enjoy it, but I thought fair warning was in order.


Pinnock, Sanders, Nicole and the ETS
(for full details and articles that I have read regarding what I am writing, refer to this ETS page.

Today I found out from a friend that there is currently a membership challenge process going on within the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) with regards to Clark Pinnock and John Sanders.

Let me start off by saying that those are two academic theologians whom I have great respect for. There are a few people on that list, but not a lot. The list is not entirely composed of those I agree with; I disagree in a lot of ways with John Piper, but I very much respect him. I disagree also with some of what both Pinnock and Sanders say, though less so than with Piper. That list is also limited to those theologians whose works I have actually read and/or studied; there are likely many other very respectable scholars out there who I just don't know about, and so not being on the list of scholars I respect does not neccessarily mean that I don't respect that scholar.

Before I give my reaction, let me explain further. The ETS as a society has a very short doctrinal basis, "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." It has no statement of faith, instead it has attempted to provide a safe place for dialogue to occur between evangelicals, and it trusts that the bible will win out in the end, whatever that means. So in order to expel a member it must be shown that they disagree with some part of this doctrinal basis; each member must sign it each year, so it also means (by implication) that the character of those scholars is being questioned. Dr. Roger Nicole in 2002 brought charges against both Sanders and Pinnock, claiming that their teachings violate the innerrancy doctrine in the doctrinal basis. Once the charges are issued, there is a vote as to wether or not the issue should be taken up by the executive committee. This vote occured, and the majority voted that yes, there should be an examination. So, for the past year, this has been occuring. On Oct. 3rd the executive committee met with those involved, and had prepared its reports. These findings, interactions, and reports are not yet available for viewing. However, their website does say that "The original charges, brought in November 2002, will be voted upon at the ETS Annual Meeting, in a special business session, in the evening of November 19, 2003." In my understanding of the constitution and by-laws of the ETS this means that the committee has decided to reccommend a vote on the expulsion of Pinnock and Sanders be taken. I am a little confused there though, so I could be wrong.

My initial response, before reading any of the papers written up, was one of cynicism. Expel them and get it over with, join with the rest of evangelicalism in the multiple ways that you have resisted up until now. Several people have, rightly in my opinion, pointed out that there is more at stake in this vote than simply Pinnock's and Sander's membership. It calls into question the entire nature of the society. So my cynicism continued: It was a miracle that such a place existed for so long within the confines of evangelicalism, praise the Lord for that, mourn its passing, but it was inevitable. I mean seriously, a place of open dialogue, respect and safety for differing opinions called ETS? Get real. My cynicism was short lived, not because my opinions really changed, but because I realized it was pointless, and the lack of hope was just not good, no, it was downright bad.

Now, I have read Dr. Nicole's charges against both Pinnock and Sanders, as well as their responses, the letters by the president of the society, some of the responses, and several other articles (Basically all the links on the site I put right under the title, plus a few). As well I have read many of Pinnock's books, a few but not many of Sanders, and several of various people who oppose these two. I found Dr. Nicole's papers charging Pinnock and Sanders to be very shallow. It is fairly obvious that the real issue is not innerrancy at all, but hermeneutics and a theology of God, with all the surrounding issues of free will, calvinism and arminianism, etc. Both Pinnock and Sanders, in their response papers, point out the incredibly indirect nature of Dr. Nicole's charges. It seems, when combined with much of what Dr. Nicole said during the yearly meetings of the ETS, that there is much more and much less going on that appears on the surface. Pinnock's response, though good in that it gets right to the point and wastes no time refuting much of Nicole's indirect attacks, does seem somewhat lacking. He is no saint; after pointing out that Nicole uses some pretty low blows involving guilt by association and broad strokes of character slander, turns around and does nearly exactly the same thing (Nicole compares Pinnock's ideas to Socianism, and Pinnock compares Nicole's to Muslim doctrine. Admittedly, Pinnock goes into no detail and makes no direct attacks, whereas Nicole does. Still Pinnock does imply much). Sanders, on the other hand, provides what is in my opinion an incredible response, defending himself on every front.

In the end I have found it hard to seperate my opinions on the theological issues from my opinions on this political action. On the one hand, I find that many others are not even attempting to do this, i.e. Dr. Nicole. So I feel somewhat justified in this, but I cannot accept it. Dr. Nicole's charges are missing the point; the issue is not inerrancy. For some reason, open theism is incredibly threatening to much of evangelical theology and theologians. The responses to it have been intense, with book titles such as "God Under Fire", "Beyond the Bounds", "Battle for God", "Creating God in the Image of Man". It has been called a cancer and a heresy. Yet, many of those who disagree with it, from both Calvinist and Arminian camps, have advised charity and moderation. Why is it then that some are given to such a strong response? I have my own suspicions; Perhaps it has more to do with power and unwillingness to change, as some have claimed. Or, dare I say it, perhaps it calls into question some of our long cherished security and our ability to shirk responsibility because "God planned it all this way". Could it have more to do with the long standing, and often unstated, N.American priority of safety as well as the continually growing trend of holding no one responsible, or of throwing the responsibility anywhere but ourselves, than it does with genuinely grappling with biblical texts to better grow in our faith, maturity and understanding? I realize that those accusations sound harsh. Let me say that I well understand the fears associated with those things; no one wants to be vulnerable, and no one wants to be judged. But does not the bible teach the importance, and inevitability, of both those things? In the end, I to fall into the trap of pointing the finger, making it personal, and so on. So can I blame Dr. Nicole for these things? They are human, but that is no excuse. I need to watch it in myself, as does Dr. Nicole. I also realize that in all likelihood, the harshness of the response is out of genuine concern; genuine belief that Open Theism is incredibly bad. The issues I brought up may be under the surface, systemic and not conscious, or not. Still one can only stand amazed at the lack of gentleness, humility, and charity in those who have reacted so vigorously against Pinnock and Sanders. I can only pray that the majority of the members of the ETS will see what is going on, and by that I don't mean what I have just mentioned, but that the charges are missing the point.



For a few varying opinions and short articles on this:
Christianity Today
Stone Campbell Journal
Crosswalk

No comments: