A Band-Aid on Cancer: Comments on the Recent ETS Decision to Accept ICBI Statement (2004)

A Band-Aid on Cancer:

Comments on the Recent ETS Decision to Accept ICBI Statement

by Norman L. Geisler, former president of ETS

November 29, 2004



At its November 2004 meeting in San Antonio, the members of the Evangelical Theological Society voted to approve the following statement:

For the purpose of advising members regarding the intent and meaning of the reference to biblical inerrancy in the ETS Doctrinal Basis, the Society refers members to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). The case for biblical inerrancy rests on the absolute trustworthiness of God and Scripture’s testimony to itself. A proper understanding of inerrancy takes into account the language, genres, and intent of Scripture. We reject approaches to Scripture that deny that biblical truth claims are grounded in reality.

While on the surface this may appear to be a significant clarification of the ETS understanding of inerrancy, in reality it is little more than a Band-Aid on cancer for many reasons.

First of all, the statement is not binding on members since it is not part of the ETS bylaws. At best it is only informative, not normative.

Second, even if it became part of the Bylaws, it is not binding. In its own words it is only “advising” members. Good advice is nothing more than a bite without teeth. Members need to be instructed, not merely advised, about its expressed meaning.

Third, the statement contains the ambiguous word “intention” which leaves the door open for those, like Pinnock, who affirm only the inerrancy of intention, not all facts, in the Bible. But this is clearly not what either the founders of ETS mean or the framers of ICBI. “Intention” often means merely purposed or unexpressed intent, neither of which is what is meant by inerrancy.

Fourth, it does not address the real problem, namely, that ETS knowingly allows people to be members who do not hold what the framers meant by its statement. Why then should they accept the framers meaning of the ICBI statement.

Fifth, a new statement was not necessary. ETS needs only to enforce the framers meaning of the statement it has. But ETS refused to do this when all the living framers petitioned ETS a few years ago, insisting that the Open Theism view on inerrancy is not what the framers meant. That should have ended the issue right there. It is like rejecting the understanding of the Gospel by Peter, Paul, and John while they were still alive in favor of a broader view by some younger converts.

Sixth, both Clark Pinnock and John Sanders were on record in advance, saying they would sign the ICBI statement on inerrancy. As a framer of the ICBI statement who has read carefully Pinnock’s writings, I can assure you that he does not agree with the ICBI meaning of its statement. Indeed, the ICBI expressed what it meant by its Chicago Statement in an official commentary: Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary by R.C. Sproul. It defined truth as “a correspondence view of truth,” namely “that which corresponds to reality” (p. 31). Pinnock flatly denies this of the Bible as I documented in the four pages of unrecanted quotes presented to the ETS at its annual November meeting in 2003.

If ETS desires to do something useful and not just put a Band-Aid on cancer, it should embrace a statement like this:

For the purpose of instructing members of the official and binding meaning of its inerrancy statement, ETS adopts the ICBI Chicago Statement on Inerrancy as understood by the ICBI framers and expressed in its official commentary: Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary by R. C. Sproul. All members are required to accept the ICBI statement as meant by its framers and expressed in its official commentary or be subject to dismissal from ETS membership.

Don’t hold your breathe on this one. It would take a miracle to get the needed two-thirds vote to add this to the ETS Bylaws. And the membership could not even muster that many votes to oust Pinnock and Sanders who denied what its framers meant by its inerrancy statement.

The sad truth of the matter is that passing this statement was worse than doing nothing because it gives the appearance of doing something when in fact it is doing nothing–except leaving the wrong impression that something important was done. It is in fact doing nothing more than perpetuating the hypocrisy of allowing members to sign a statement and belong to an organization which claims to believe in inerrancy when in fact they do not.

This is not to say that there are not many other worthwhile organizations that do not have inerrancy statements. It is simply to point out that it is a matter of integrity to insist that all members of an organization actually believe that for which the organization stands. And when any member can no longer in good conscience sign the statement as meant by its framers, then integrity demands that they leave or be asked to leave.