Open Theists and Inerrancy Clark Pinnock on the Bible and God

Open Theists and Inerrancy:

Clark Pinnock on the Bible and God

by Norman L. Geisler

Pinnock on the Bible

The Bible is not Completely Inerrant

“This leaves us with the question, Does the New Testament, did Jesus, teach the perfect errorlessness of the Scriptures? No, not in plain terms” (Pinnock, SP, 57).

Although the New Testament does not teach a strict doctrine of inerrancy, it might be said to encourage a trusting attitude, which inerrancy in a more lenient definition does signify. The fact is that inerrancy is a very flexible term in and of itself” (Pinnock, SP, 77).

“Once we recall how complex a hypothesis inerrancy is, it is obvious that the Bible teaches no such thing explicitly. What it claims, as we have seen, is divine inspiration and a general reliability” (Pinnock, SP, 58).

“Why, then, do scholars insist that the Bible does claim total inerrancy? I can only answer for myself, as one who argued in this way a few years ago. I claimed that the Bible taught total inerrancy because I hoped that it did-I wanted it to” (Pinnock, SP, 58).

For my part, to go beyond the biblical requirements to a strict position of total errorlessness only brings to the forefront the perplexing features of the Bible that no one can completely explain and overshadows those wonderful certainties of salvation in Christ that ought to be front and center” (Pinnock, SP, 59).

The Inerrancy of Intent, not Fact

Inerrancy is relative to the intent of the Scriptures, and this has to be hermeneutically determined” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

“All this means is that inerrancy is relative to the intention of the text. If it could be show that the chronicler inflates some of the numbers he uses for his didactic purpose, he would be completely within his rights and not at variance with inerrancy” (Pinnock, SP, 78)

“We will not have to panic when we meet some intractable difficulty. The Bible will seem reliable enough in terms of its soteric [saving] purpose,… In the end this is what the mass of evangelical believers need-not the rationalistic ideal of a perfect Book that is no more, but the trustworthiness of a Bible with truth where it counts, truth that is not so easily threatened by scholarly problems”(Pinnock, SP, 104-105).


The Bible is not the Word of God

“Barth was right to speak about a distance between the Word of God and the text of the Bible” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

The Bible does not attempt to give the impression that it is flawless in historical or scientific ways. God uses writers with weaknesses and still teaches the truth of revelation through them” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

What God aims to do through inspiration is to stir up faith in the gospel through the word of Scripture, which remains a human text beset by normal weaknesses [which includes errors]” (Pinnock, SP,100).

A text that is word for word what God wanted in the first place might as well have been dictated, for all the room it leaves for human agency. This is the kind of thinking behind the militant inerrancy position. God is taken to be the Author of the Bible in such a way that he controlled the writers and every detail of what they wrote” (Pinnock, SP, 101).

The Bible is not Completely Infallible

The Bible is not a book like the Koran, consisting of nothing but perfectly infallible propositions,… the Bible did not fall from heaven…. We place our trust ultimately in Jesus Christ, not in the Bible…. What the Scriptures do is to present a sound and reliable testimony [but not inerrant] to who he is and what God has done for us” (Pinnock, SP, 100).

He Rejects Warfield’s View of Inerrancy

Inerrancy as Warfield understood it was a good deal more precise than the sort of reliability the Bible proposes. The Bible’s emphasis tends to be upon the saving truth of its message and its supreme profitability in the life of faith and discipleship” (Pinnock, SP, 75).

He Rejects ICBI View of Inerrancy

Therefore, there are a large number of evangelicals in North America appearing to defend the total inerrancy of the Bible. The language they use seems absolute and uncompromising: `The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own’ (Chicago Statement, preamble). It sounds as if the slightest slip or flaw would bring down the whole house of authority. It seems as though we ought to defend the errorlessness of the Bible down to the last dot and tittle in order for it to be a viable religious authority” (Pinnock, SP, 127).

He Holds a Dynamic View of Inspiration, not Plenary Inspiration

“In relation to Scripture, we want to avoid both the idea that the Bible is the product of mere human genius and the idea it came about through mechanical dictation. The via media lies in the direction of a dynamic personal modelthat upholds both the divine initiative and the human response” (Pinnock, SP, 103).

“Inspiration should be seen as a dynamic work of God. In it, God does not decide every word that is used, one by one but works in the writers in such a way that they make full use of their own skills and vocabulary while giving expression to the divinely inspired message being communicated to them and through them” (Pinnock, SP, 105).


He Redefines Inerrancy and Rejects the Prophetic Model

“The wisest course to take would be to get on with defining inerrancy in relation to the purpose of the Bible and the phenomena it displays. When we do that, we will be surprised how open and permissive a term it is” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

At times I have felt like rejecting biblical inerrancy because of the narrowness of definition [!! See previous quote] and the crudity of polemics that have accompanied the term. But in the end, I have had to bow to the wisdom that says we need to be unmistakably clear in our convictions about biblical authority, and in the North American context, at least, that means to employ strong language” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

“Paul J. Achtemeier has called attention to the inadequacy of the prophetic model for representing the biblical category of inspiration in its fullness-The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals” (Pinnock, SP, 232, n. 8).

He Holds that there are Minor Errors in the Bible

“The authority of the Bible in faith and practice does not rule out the possibility of an occasionally uncertain text, differences in details as between the Gospels, a lack of precision in the chronology of events recorded in the Books of Kings and Chronicles, a prescientific description of the world, and the like” (Pinnock, SP, 104).

What could truly falsify the Bible would have to be something that could falsify the gospel and Christianity as well. It would have to be a difficulty that would radically call into question the truth of Jesus and His message of good news. Discovering some point of chronology in Matthew that could not be reconciled with a parallel in Luke would certainly not be any such thing” (Pinnock, SP, 129).

“I recognize that the Bible does not make a technical inerrancy claim or go into the kind of detail associated with the term in the contemporary discussion. But I also see a solid basis for trusting the Scriptures in a more general sense in all that they teach and affirm, and I see real danger in giving the impression that the Bible errs in a significant way. Inerrancy is a metaphor for the determination to trust God’s Word completely” (Pinnock, SP, 224-225).


He Holds that The Bible Contains Myth and Legend

“In the narrative of the fall of Adam, there are numerous symbolic features (God molding man from dirt, the talking snake, God molding woman from Adam’s rib, symbolic trees, four major rivers from one garden, etc.), so that it is natural to ask whether this is not a meaningful narration that does not stick only to factual matters” (Pinnock, SP, 119).

“On the one hand, we cannot rule legend out a priori. It is, after all, a perfectly valid literary form, and we have to admit that it turns up in the Bible in at least some form. We referred already to Job’s reference to Leviathan and can mention also Jotham’s fable” (Pinnock, Sp, 121-122).

“Thus we are in a bind. Legends are possible in theory–there are apparent legends in the Bible–but we fear actually naming them as such lest we seem to deny the miraculous” (Pinnock, SP, 122).

“When we look at the Bible, it is clear that it is not radically mythical. The influence of myth is there in the Old Testament. The stories of creation and fall, of flood and the tower of Babel, are there in pagan texts and are worked over in Genesis from the angle of Israel’s knowledge of God, but the framework is no longer mythical” (Pinnock, SP, 123).

“We read of a coin turning up in a fish’s mouth and of the origin of the different languages of humankind. We hear about the magnificent exploits of Sampson and Elisha. We even see evidence of the duplication of miracle stories in the gospels. All of them are things that if we read them in some other book we would surely identify as legends” (Pinnock, Sp, 123).

He Holds Robert Gundry’s View of Midrash in Matthew

“There is no mythology to speak of in the New Testament. At most, there are fragments and suggestions of myth: for example, the strange allusion to the bodies of the saints being raised on Good Friday (Matt. 27:52) and the sick being healed through contact with pieces of cloth that had touched Paul’s body (Acts 19:11-12)” (Pinnock, SP, 124).

“There are cases in which the possibility of legend seems quite real. I mentioned the incident of the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matt. 17:24-27)…. The event is recorded only by Matthew and has the feel of a legendary feature”(Pinnock, SP, 125). [Yet Gundry was asked to resign from ETS by 74 percent of the membership.]

Pinnock on God

The Bible Has False Prophecy

“Second, some prophecies are conditional, leaving the future open, and, presumably, God’s knowledge of it” (Pinnock, MMM, 50).

“Third, there are imprecise prophetic forecasts based on present situations, as when Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem (Pinnock, MMM, 50).

“…despite Ezekiel, Nebuchadnezzar did not conquer the city of Tyre; despite the Baptist, Jesus did not cast the wicked into the fire; contrary to Paul, the second coming was not just around the corner (1 Thes. 4:17)” (Pinock, MMM, 51 n.66).


Even Jesus Made a False Prophecy

…despite Jesus, in the destruction of the temple, some stones were left one on the other” (Mt. 24:2)” (Pinnock, MMM, 51 n.66).


God is not Bound to His Own Word

“God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own” (Pinnock, MMM, 51 n.66).

“We may not want to admit it but prophecies often go unfulfilled…” (Pinnock, MMM, 51, n.66).

God is Limited and Corporeal

But, in a sense, creation was also an act of self-limitation…. Creating human beings who have true freedom is a self-restraining, self-humbling and self-sacrificing act on God’s part” (Pinnock, MMM, 31).

“As regards space, the Bible speaks of God having living space in the heavens:… Let’s not tilt overly to transcendence lest we miss the truth that God is with us in space” (Pinnock, MMM, 32).

“If he is with us in the world, if we are to take biblical metaphors seriously, is God in some way embodied? Critics will be quick to say that, although there are expressions of this idea in the Bible, they are not to be taken literally. But I do not believe that the idea is as foreign to the Bible’s view of God as we have assumed” (Pinnock, MMM, 33).

” The only persons we encounter are embodied persons and, if God is not embodied, it may prove difficult to understand how God is a person….Perhaps God uses the created order as a kind of body and exercises top-down causation upon it” (Pinnock, MMM, 34-35).


God’s Foreknowledge is Limited

It is unsound to think of exhaustive foreknowledge, implying that every detail of the future is already decided” (Pinnock, MMM, 8).

“Though God knows all there is to know about the world, there are aspects about the future that even God does not know” (Pinnock, MMM, 32).

“Scripture makes a distinction with respect to the future; God is certain about some aspects of it and uncertain about other aspects” (Pinnock, MMM, 47).

“But no being, not even God, can know in advance precisely what free agents will do, even though he may predict it with great accuracy” (Pinnock, MMM, 100).

“God, in order to be omniscient, need not know the future in complete detail” (Pinnock, MMM, 100).


God Changes His Mind

“Divine repentance is an important biblical theme” (Pinnock, MMM, 43).

“Nevertheless, it appears that God is willing to change course…” (Pinnock, MMM, 43).

“Prayer is an activity that brings new possibilities into existence for God and us” (Pinnock, MMM, 46).


God is Dependent on Creatures

“According to the open view, God freely decided to be, in some respects, affected and conditioned by creatures…” (Pinnock, MMM, 5).

“In a sense God needs our love because he has freely chosen to be a lover and needs us because he has chosen to have reciprocal love…” (Pinnock, MMM, 30).

The world is dependent on God but God has also, voluntarily, made himself dependent on it…. God is also affected by the world.” (Pinnock, MMM, 31).

God is not in Complete Control of the World

This means that God is not now in complete control of the world…. things happen which God has not willed…. God’s plans at this point in history are not always fulfilled” (Pinnock, MMM, 36).

“Not everything that happens in the world happens for some reason,…. things that should not have happened, things that God did not want to happen. They occur because God goes in for real relationships and real partnerships” (Pinnock, MMM, 47).

“As Boyd puts it: ‘Only if God is the God of what might be and not only the God of what will be can we trust him to steer us…'” (Pinnock affirming Boyd, MMM, 103).

“Though God can bring good out of evil, it does not make evil itself good and does not even ensure that God will succeed in every case to bring good out of it” (Pinnock, MMM, 176).

It does seem possible to read the text to be saying that God is an all-controlling absolute Being…. but how does the Spirit want us to read it? Which interpretation is right for the present circumstance? Which interpretation is timely? Only time will tell…” (Pinnock, MMM, 64).

God Undergoes Change

“For example, even though the Bible says repeatedly that God changes his mind and alters his course of action, conventional theists reject the metaphor and deny that such things are possible for God” (Pinnock, MMM, 63).

“I would say that God is unchangeable in changeable ways,…” (Pinnock, MMM, 85-86).

“On the other hand, being a person and not an abstraction, God changes in relation to creatures…. God changed when he became creator of the world… ” (Pinnock, MMM, 86).

“…accepting passibility may require the kind of doctrinal revisions which the open view is engaged in. If God is passible, then he is not, for example, unconditioned, immutable and atemporal” (Pinnock, MMM, 59, n.82).


He Admits Affinity with Process Theology

The conventional package of attributes is tightly drawn. Tinkering with one or two of them will not help much” (Pinnock, MMM, 78).

“Candidly, I believe that conventional theists are influenced by Plato, who was a pagan, than I am by Whitehead, who was a Christian” (Pinnock, MMM, 143) [Yet Whitehead denied virtually all of the attributes of the God of orthodox theology, biblical inerrancy, and all the fundamentals of the Faith!!!]



All italic emphasis in original, bold emphasis this author’s emphasis.

SP–Clark Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (San Francisco, Harper & Rowe: 1984).

MMM–Clark Pinnock, The Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2001).

Did Clark Pinnock Recant His Errant Views?

By Norman L. Geisler

December 1, 2003

It Would Seem That He Did

It is widely believed that Clark Pinnock changed his views on whether the Bible has errors in it and thereby convinced the ETS Executive Council and Membership that his views were not incompatible with the inerrancy statement of the ICBI. As a result, both the Executive Council recommended and the membership voted on November 19, 2003 to retain him in membership.

It would seem that Pinnock did in fact recant his earlier view for several reasons. First, his restatement satisfied the Executive Committee who examined him. Second, his restatement convinced the membership of ETS who gave him a 67 percent vote of approval. Third, the paper he read at ETS left the impression that he had changed his view. Fourth, his written statement indicates that he made a “change.” Fifth, he wrote in his paper and said orally to the membership that he accepted the ICBI statement on inerrancy which would indicate a change. Finally, upon reading the Executive Committee report and hearing Pinnock’s paper, I too got the impression he had changed his view.

To cite the ETS Executive Committee about their decision, “This is a direct result of extensive discussion with Dr. Pinnock, including his clarifications of many points, and his clarifying and rewriting of a critical passage in his work, retracting certain language therein” (Letter October 24, 2003 from Executive Committee to ETS membership, p. 1, emphasis added in all quotes). They added, “The day ended with Dr. Pinnock disavowing– voluntarily and unprompted–some of the affirmations in note 66 [of Most Moved Mover which claimed that a number of biblical prophecies, including one by Jesus, were not fulfilled as predicted] (ibid., 3). Thus, “the Committee reveals its belief that, in the light of Dr. Pinnock’s clarifications and retraction of certain problematic language, the charges brought in November 2002 should not be sustained” (ibid., 3-4). They also said “Dr. Pinnock…has clarified and corrected parts of what he wrote” (“ETS Executive Committee Report on Clark H. Pinnock October 22, 2003,” p. 2).

On The Contrary

In spite of all of this, there is good evidence that Pinnock never really recanted his views on inerrancy. First, he never used the word “recant” of his views in either written or verbal form. Second, he never used any synonyms of recant when speaking of his views on this matter. Third, even if it could be shown that he actually changed his view on prophecy, he has never recanted his position on numerous other statements that are incompatible with the ETS statement on inerrancy.

When one reads carefully what the ETS Executive Committee said of their decision to approve of Pinnock’s views, it does not really say he recanted his views but only his way of expressing them. It wrote: “This is a direct result of extensive discussion with Dr. Pinnock, including his clarifications of many points, and his clarifying and rewriting of a critical passage in his work, retracting certain language therein” (Letter October 24, 2003 from Executive Committee to ETS membership, p. 1). Likewise, as we will see below, what Pinnock said was only a recantation of how he expressed his view, not of the view itself.

I Answer That

Once we understand Pinnock’s view, it is not difficult to explain why he appeared to change his view when in reality he did not. It grows out of his view of truth.

Pinnock’s Intentionalist View of Truth

When Pinnock speaks of the truth of Scripture, he does so in terms of the author’s intention. An error is what the author did not intend. Hence, an intended “truth” can actually be mistaken or not correct and still be “true” by Pinnock’s definition. This came out clearly in Pinnock’s answer to a question after his paper. When asked whether he would consider an inflated number in Chronicles an “error,” he responded, “No,” since exaggerating the numbers served the intention the author of Chronicles had in making his point. So, what is incorrect, mistaken, and does not correspond to reality, is not considered an “error.” Of course, by this intentionalist view of truth all sincere statements ever uttered, no matter how erroneous they were, must be considered true. Clearly, this is not what the ETS framers meant by inerrancy. Ironically, even the Executive Committee itself disavowed such a view in principle when they excluded “various forms of views explicitly affirming errors in the text (though condoned by appeals to so-called ‘authorial intent’).” See the “Executive Committee Report on John E. Sanders October 23, 2003,” p. 6. Unfortunately, they did not apply what they said to Pinnock himself.

That Clark Pinnock holds an intentionalist view of truth is clear from his many statements on the matter. He wrote, “All this means is that inerrancy is relative to the intention of the text. If it could be shown that the chronicler inflates some of the numbers he uses for his didactic purpose, he would be completely within his rights and not at variance with inerrancy” (Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (hereafter SP, 78). Again, “We will not have to panic when we meet some intractable difficulty. The Bible will seem reliable enough in terms of its soteric [saving] purpose…. In the end this is what the mass of evangelical believers need–not the rationalistic ideal of a perfect Book that is no more, but the trustworthiness of a Bible with truth where it counts, truth that is not so easily threatened by scholarly problems” (Pinnock, SP, 104-105). Finally, “Inerrancy is relative to the intent of the Scriptures, and this has to be hermeneutically determined” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

It is important to note that the ETS Constitution implies a correspondence view of truth when it speaks of one making “statements” that are “incompatible” with the Doctrinal Basis of the Society (Articles 4, Section 4). Further, even the Executive Committee affirmed a correspondence view of truth (“ETS Executive Committee Report on John E. Sanders Oct 23, 2003,” p. 2). But if this is so, then their action was inconsistent since on a correspondence view of truth Pinnock has unrecanted statements that claim the Bible affirms things that do not correspond to the facts (see below under nos. 4, 9, 10).

Pinnock’s Statement About ICBI is Misleading

Both in his paper and verbal presentation at ETS (11/19/03) Pinnock said he affirmed the ICBI statement on inerrancy. Many took this as an indication of his recanting. However, this is not the case since Pinnock is on record as viewing statements on “truth” as being what the author intended. But this is clearly not what they meant. But Pinnock seems unaware that the ICBI framers explicitly ruled this intentionalist view of truth out in favor of a correspondence view of truth. They wrote, “By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.” It adds, “This part of the article [13] is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.” It goes on to claim, contrary to Pinnock [SP. 119], that “the New Testament assertions about Adam, Moses, David and other Old Testament persons” are “literally and historically true” (R.C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary, Oakland, CA: ICBI, p. 31). But Pinnock clearly denied this (see no. 14 below).

So, Pinnock does not believe the ICBI statement on inerrancy which emphatically repudiates his view. In point of fact, Pinnock does to the ICBI statement what he does to the ETS statement; he reads them through his own intentionalist view of truth. In both cases, Pinnock is clearly in conflict with the meaning of the framers. On a correspondence view of truth, which is what the framers of both ETS and ICBI held, Pinnock’s view embraces errors in the Bible, that is, statements that do not correspond to the facts.

Further, Pinnock’s alleged recantation is not all encompassing. Pinnock did say that he was willing to make “changes” in his writings, but he did not tell us which ones. Indeed, he did not even say clearly that any of these changes would involve the admission of errors. He wrote: “I am 100% certain that, were we to sift through the text of The Scripture Principle as we did with the Most Moved Mover, some phrases would have to be improved on and some examples removed or modified.” Indeed, he added, “I am sure, were we to go through it carefully, changes would be in order” (“Open Theism and Biblical Inerrancy” a paper given on November 19, 2003 at the ETS annual meeting, p. 4). He spoke only of removing or modifying illustrations, improving phrases, and the like. There is not a single definitive word about admitting any error to say nothing of recanting four pages of quotations we presented the ICBI Executive Committee from Pinnock’s writings.

As to the ETS Executive Committee’s decision, a careful look at its language will reveal that Pinnock never recanted any of his views. Consider again the statements of the Committee. It speaks only of “clarifying and rewriting of a critical passage in his work, retracting certain language therein” (Letter October 24, 2003 from Executive Committee to ETS membership, p. 1). Notice that the only thing that was “retracted” was “certain language,” not his view. Indeed, Pinnock claims that his view remained the same, for he said, “I was not intending to violate it [the ETS inerrancy statement]. My clearing away the ambiguity is what made possible a positive verdict in my case. And I could do it sincerely since it had never been my intent to violate inerrancy here or elsewhere in my work” (Pinnock, ibid., 3). Pinnock said the same of statements he made in The Scripture Principle: “It was not and is not at all my intent to deny inerrancy…” (Ibid., 4). By this logic, no sincere author has ever made any error either in any of his or her books since they never intended to do so.

The Committee also said, “The day ended with Dr. Pinnock disavowing–voluntarily and unprompted–some of the affirmations in note 66 [of Most Moved Mover in which he claimed that a number of biblical prophecies, including one by Jesus, were never fulfilled] (October 24, 2003 letter from the ETS Committee to the membership, p. 3). Thus, “the Committee reveals its belief that, in the light of Dr. Pinnock’s clarifications and retraction of certain problematic language, the charges brought in November 2002 should not be sustained” (ibid., 3-4). But here again the only retraction was only of “problematic language,” not of his actual view on the matter which remains unrecanted.

The same is true of another use of the word “corrected” by the Committee with regard to Pinnock. They wrote: “Dr. Pinnock …has clarified and corrected parts of what he wrote” (“ETS Executive Committee Report on Clark H. Pinnock October 22, 2003,” p. 2). But here again it is not a correction of his view which was in error but of the language he “wrote,” that is, the way he expressed it.


In summation, although at first blush it would appear that Pinnock recanted all previously held views incompatible with the ETS inerrancy statement, the contrary evidence demonstrates that he did not recant any of these views. Certainly, he nowhere recants all of them. And even one of them is sufficient to show that he embraces a view that is incompatible with the ETS statement on inerrancy. Rather, using his intentionalist view of truth he claims he believes in inerrancy as understood by the ETS and ICBI framers, when in fact he does not.

But if Pinnock did not really recant his errant views, then what of the validity of the ETS acceptance of them as compatible with its inerrancy statement. It is bogus.
There is a way Pinnock can clear the air. All he has to do is to repudiate in unequivocal and unambiguous language all of the following statements he has made that are contrary to the ETS framers view of inerrancy:

1) “Barth was right to speak about a distance between the Word of God and the text of the Bible” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

2) “The Bible does not attempt to give the impression that it is flawless in historical or scientific ways” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

3) “The Bible is not a book like the Koran, consisting of nothing but perfectly infallible propositions…” (Pinnock, SP, 100).

4) “The authority of the Bible in faith and practice does not rule out the possibility of an occasionally uncertain text, differences in details as between the Gospels, a lack of precision in the chronology of events recorded in the Books of Kings and Chronicles…, and the like” (Pinnock, SP, 104).

5) “Did Jesus, teach the perfect errorlessness of the Scriptures? No, not in plain terms” (Pinnock, SP, 57).

6) “The New Testament does not teach a strict doctrine of inerrancy…. The fact is that inerrancy is a very flexible term in and of itself” (Pinnock, SP, 77).

7) “Why, then, do scholars insist that the Bible does claim total inerrancy? I can only answer for myself, as one who argued in this way a few years ago. I claimed that the Bible taught total inerrancy because I hoped that it did–I wanted it to” (Pinnock, SP, 58).

8) “For my part, to go beyond the biblical requirements to a strict position of total errorlessness only brings to the forefront the perplexing features of the Bible that no one can completely explain” (Pinnock, SP, 59).

9) “All this means is that inerrancy is relative to the intention of the text. If it could be shown that the chronicler inflates some of the numbers he uses for his didactic purpose, he would be completely within his rights and not at variance with inerrancy” (Pinnock, SP, 78).

10) “We will not have to panic when we meet some intractable difficulty. The Bible will seem reliable enough in terms of its soteric [saving] purpose…” (Pinnock, SP, 104-105).

11) “Inerrancy as Warfield understood it was a good deal more precise than the sort of reliability the Bible proposes. The Bible’s emphasis tends to be upon the saving truth of its message and its supreme profitability in the life of faith and discipleship” (Pinnock, SP, 75).

12) “The wisest course to take would be to get on with defining inerrancy in relation to the purpose of the Bible and the phenomena it displays. When we do that, we will be surprised how open and permissive a term it is” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

13) “Paul J. Achtemeier has called attention to the inadequacy of the prophetic model for representing the biblical category of inspiration in its fullness–The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals” (Pinnock, SP, 232, n. 8).

14) “I recognize that the Bible does not make a technical inerrancy claim or go into the kind of detail associated with the term in the contemporary discussion…. Inerrancy is a metaphor for the determination to trust God’s Word completely” (Pinnock, SP, 224-225).

15) “In the narrative of the fall of Adam, there are numerous symbolic features (God molding man from dirt, the talking snake, God molding woman from Adam’s rib, symbolic trees, four major rivers from one garden, etc.), so that it is natural to ask whether this is not a meaningful narration that does not stick only to factual matters” (Pinnock, SP, 119).

16) “On the one hand, we cannot rule legend out a priori. It is, after all, a perfectly valid literary form, and we have to admit that it turns up in the Bible in at least some form. We referred already to Job’s reference to Leviathan and can mention also Jotham’s fable” (Pinnock, SP, 121-122).

17) “The influence of myth is there in the Old Testament. The stories of creation and fall, of flood and the tower of Babel, are there in pagan texts and are worked over in Genesis from the angle of Israel’s knowledge of God, but the framework is no longer mythical” (Pinnock, SP, 123).

18) “We read of a coin turning up in a fish’s mouth and of the origin of the different languages of humankind. We hear about the magnificent exploits of Sampson and Elisha. We even see evidence of the duplication of miracle stories in the gospels. All of them are things that if we read them in some other book we would surely identify as legends” (Pinnock, SP, 123).

19) “At most, [in the NT] there are fragments and suggestions of myth: for example, the strange allusion to the bodies of the saints being raised on Good Friday (Matt. 27:52) and the sick being healed through contact with pieces of cloth that had touched Paul’s body (Acts 19:11-12)” (Pinnock, SP, 124).

20) “There are cases in which the possibility of legend seems quite real. I mentioned the incident of the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matt. 17:24-27)…. The event is recorded only by Matthew and has the feel of a legendary feature” (Pinnock, SP, 125). [Yet Gundry was asked to resign from ETS by 74 percent of the membership.]

21) “God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own” (Pinnock, MMM, 51).

In short, the ETS framers would not affirm any of these and Pinnock has not denied any of them. If he really wants to clear the record, then all he has to do is deny all 21 of these in clear and unequivocal terms. If he does not, then his unrecanted written views are contrary to what the ETS statement really means since the framers would not agree with any of them. And it is an evangelical tragedy of great magnitude that the Executive Committee of ETS and a majority of its members have retained Pinnock in what has now become the formerly Evangelical Theological Society.


All italic emphasis in original, bold emphasis this author’s.

SP–Clark Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (San Francisco, Harper & Rowe: 1984).

MMM–Clark Pinnock, The Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2001).


Neotheism: Orthodox or Unorthodox? A Theological Response to Greg Boyd

Neotheism: Orthodox or Unorthodox?
A Theological Response to Greg Boyd

by Norman L. Geisler


Professor Boyd’s view is part of a broader movement called “Free Will Theism” or the “Openness View of God,” a position embraced by some noted contemporary evangelicals like Clark Pinnock.1 A more descriptive name for the view is neotheism, since it rejects crucial aspects of classical theism in favor of neo-classical theism also known as process theology.2Indeed, Pinnock placed the view “Between Classical and Process Theism.”3

Some chief characteristics of neotheism as embraced by Greg Boyd are: 1) A libertarian views of free will (which entails the power of contrary choice); 2) a limitations on God’s infallible foreknowledge to non-free acts; 3) a partially open (non-determined) future, namely, one where free acts are involved; 4) the belief that God’s nature can change; 5) that God is temporal, and 6) the implication that God is not simple (indivisible) His essence.

A Response to Boyd’s Neotheistic Attack on Classical Theism

Classical theism, as embraced by St. Augustine, St. Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and virtually all the great Fathers and Teachers of the Christian Church is rejected by neotheism. Particularly under attack are God’s attributes of Pure Actuality (with no potentiality), Immutability, Eternality (Non-temporality), Simplicity (indivisibility), Infallible Foreknowledge of everything (including free acts), and Sovereignty (complete control of the universe and future). The central charges by neotheists against classical theism include the following:

The Charge That Classical Theism is Rooted in Greek Philosophy

Statement of the Charge.–Boyd claims that classical theism is based, not on Scripture, but on Greek philosophy (Boyd, 17, 24, 85, 115, 109, 144).4 He writes: “My fundamental thesis is that the classical theological tradition became misguided when, under the influence of Hellenic philosophy, it defined God’s perfection in static, timeless terms.” That is, “All change was considered an imperfection and thus not applicable to God.” He adds elsewhere that “…we simply must free ourselves from the Hellenistic philosophical assumptions that God must be unchanging in every respect and that time is an illusion….” (Boyd, 17, 85) That is, that change and time are “less real” and less good than the unchanging timeless real (Boyd, 130).

A Response to the Charge.–In response, several important observations need to be made. First of all, it is not correct to attribute this view to Greek philosophy. No one was more Greek than Aristotle, and he believed time involved real change.5 Further, “less real” and an “illusion” are not the same. Plato held the former, namely that this temporal world was not an illusion but a “shadow”6 of reality (but not a non-reality).7

Second, even if Boyd called the classical view of God “platonic” philosophy, it would still be wrong. For Plato never identified God (the Demiurgos) and the Good (the Agathos), his absolutely unchanging metaphysical principle. Identifying God with the ultimate metaphysical principle was the unique Judeo-Christian contribution to philosophy of religion.8 Thus, the reverse of the traditional objection is the case. It was the Judeo-Christian concept of God as Self-Existent, Pure Actuality (based on Ex. 3:14) that transformed Greek metaphysics!9

Third, the attempt to blame philosophy cuts both ways. One can equally argue that neotheistic interpretations of the biblical texts resulted from the influence of contemporary process philosophy. Although Boyd notes some differences between his views and process theology, nevertheless, he clearly buys into much the “dynamic” process view of God espoused by Alfred North Whitehead and followers (Boyd, 31, 107).10

Finally, there is nothing wrong as such with having a philosophical influence on biblical and theological studies. Philosophy is necessary to do both exegesis and systematic theology. One should only be sure that he is utilizing good philosophy. So the question is not whether it is Greek thinking but whether is good thinking. It is not a matter of whether the view is Hellenic but whether it is authentic. After all, the Greeks also believed in the law of non-contradiction which cannot be discarded in theological thinking without engaging in self-defeating statements.11

Even fellow neotheists admit that “No one should criticize the Fathers for trying to integrate current philosophical beliefs and biblical insights. If the God of the universe and of truth is one, theologians should try to integrate all of the truth that they know from any quarter.”12

The Claim That God is Temporal

Statement of the Claim.–Like other neotheists, Boyd affirms that God is temporal. God not only looks ahead, but He even changes His mind about the future (Boyd, 16, 30, 45, 69). Indeed, the part of the future yet to be determined by free acts is so open to God (Boyd, 123) that He even takes “risks” (Boyd, 156). Although Boyd wishes to place God in some unexplained sense beyond time (Boyd, 131), he admits that God both changes and is in is temporal in the sense of experiencing things in a temporal sequence (Boyd, 131). Unlike fellow neotheists, Boyd puts forward no formal argument for God’s temporality but, rather, he generally assumes 1) from his interpretation of the biblical text that God literally changes; 2) from his belief that God’s non-temporality is a “Greek,” “static,” and outdated view of reality (Boyd, 17), and 3) from the fact that “every verb applied to God in the Bible testifies to this” (Boyd, 131-132).

A Response to the Claim.–Boyd’s comments call for response. First of all, not every verb in the Bible used of God is tensed so as to make God temporal. In fact, when God speaks of Himself in Exodus 3:14 is in the eternal non-temporally “I AM.” And Jesus, disregarding the normal grammatical past tense expected in His famous “before Abraham was” statement, repeated that God, whom He claimed to be, was the same “I Am” (Jn. 8:58). As for the usual references to God in Scripture from a temporal human point of view, one would expect that they would be tenses in a temporal sense because they are from a human point of view. And for the statement of God manifest in angelic form in the Angel of the Lord (e.g., Gen. 18; Jud. 13), here too the angel is in finite form in a temporal world. In this case one would expect the statements to be tenses, as all other statements made by beings in the temporal world. After all, Jesus made all his statements as a man in the past present or future, but even Boyd would have to admit that this in no way means it was not also God who existed before the temporal world.

Second, behind the denial that God by nature is beyond time and change is the neotheist’s argument that God changes and undergoes temporal sequences. One form of the implied argument assumes the cause of a temporal act must itself be temporal. But this clearly is not the case, for the reasoning used proves only that the effect must be temporal, not the Cause. By the same kind of reasoning neotheists should conclude that God is a creature since He made creatures. Or, that God is finite because He made finite things, etc.

Further, another way to state the problem is to note that process and neotheist thinkers who use this argument confuse God’s attributes and Hisacts. His acts are in time, but His attributes are beyond time. There is no reason why the Eternal cannot act in the temporal world. Just as all the radii of a circle are many and yet the center from which they come is one, even so God can have multiple acts without being multiple Himself. Likewise, there is nothing logically incoherent about a timeless God acting in a temporal world.

What is more, if God is in time, then Boyd’s protest to the contrary (Boyd, 133), God cannot think faster than the speed of light which is the fastest movement in the space-time world.13 If God’s nature is in time, then He is temporal. And if He is temporal by nature, then He is also spacial and material. For time, space, and matter are correlative in the contemporary view of physics which Boyd seems to accept.

What is more, if God is spacial-temporal-material, then, according to contemporary astro-physics, He must have come into existence with the Big Bang. That is, He must have had a beginning, since, as the Kalam argument demonstrates, an infinite number of actual moments before today is impossible. In infinite number of actual moments (as opposed to an abstract infinite number) could not have occurred before today, since today is the end of the series of all moments before it. But an infinite number of moments has no end. Hence, there can only be a finite number of actual moments before today.14 In short, Boyd’s view of God’s nature would not be God at all but a finite creature created by God!15

Boyd’s attempt to avoid this conclusion is in vain. He says, “Of course God is `above time,’ for our concept of time is simply the way we measure change” (Boyd, 131). But he goes on to speak of a “God who experiences things, thinks things, and responds to things sequentially.” But he cannot have it both ways, if God is really beyond time and change, then he does no experience temporal change. And if He experiences temporal change, then He is in time. Boyd simply cannot have it both ways, unless he posits two nature in God, one that is non-temporal and unchanging as classical theists do and another that is changing. But we have already shown that this other “nature” is not really God at all but a creature. This leads to another claim by Boyd, namely that God is not simple.

The Claim that God is Not Simple in His Being

Statement of the Claim that God is not Simple.–Boyd’s view clearly entails the denial of God’s simplicity–a crucial attribute in the classical view of God. For if, on the one hand, Boyd claims that God changes and is in time (Boyd, 44, 63, 96) and yet, on other hand, he claims God has aspects of His nature that do not change, God must have a least two aspects, dimensions, or poles to His nature–the very position held by process theologians.

Now it appears that this is precisely what Boyd affirms. For on occasion, he says God has unchanging holiness, and unchanging character (Boyd, 78, 80), is eternal in form and structure, and necessary in his love (Boyd, 110, 111). But the only way to hold both this and also that God changes is to deny God’s simplicity, which is precisely what most neotheists do.

A Response to the Claim.–Several comments are in order here. First of all, if God has two dimensions or poles, then neotheism is really a form of process theology, since classical theism, like process theology, is monopolar and neotheism is bipolar in its view of God. Thus, in its overreaction, to what it believed to be the “frying pan” of classical theism, neotheism has landed in the “fire” of process theology. In making Plato their enemy, they have made Whitehead their friend (or vice versa). By attempting to avoid the alleged pitfall of Greek philosophy they have fallen into the bottomless pit of process philosophy. 

Second, there is a way of escape for neotheism, but it is one they seen reluctant to take. They could affirm that what is changing is really not part of God’s nature, but only reflects God’s actions that are in time. That is, God is unchanging and non-temporal in His essence but engages, nonetheless, in changing activities. But since this is precisely what classical theism asserts, neotheists are faced with a painful dilemma: either 1) they can admit they hold a bipolar process view of God as does process theology, or else 2) they can return to classical theism’s insistence that God’s nature does not change, but only the results of His actions do.

Third, lest neotheists are tempted to take the first horn of the dilemma and admit they have a bipolar process view of God, consider this: upon analysis of the other “nature” or “pole” of God that can change, it turns out to be a creature and not part of the Creator at all. For the Creator has no beginning, yet this changing nature must have a beginning since it is temporal, and an infinite series of actual moments is not possible.

2) This same logic applies to other characteristics that a temporal, changing, “nature” of God would have. For whatever is temporal is also spacial. And whatever is spatial is material. And whatever is spacial-temporal-material is subject to the II Law of Thermodynamics, namely, it both had a beginning and is decaying. Surely, no one who claims to be a Theist (as neotheism wish to be) can believe there is a nature in God that had a beginning and will have an end. Such a nature is by definition a finite creature and can not be part of the Creator.

3) Further, this supposed changing “nature” of God would be finite, yet neotheists admits God is infinite. But whatever is finite needs a caused. Hence, this limited nature would not be God but a creature made by God. In short, it would not be another part or pole of God, it would be a creature God created, which is exactly what classical theism contends. Thus, neotheism’s belief that God has a changing temporal nature (along with an unchanging one), reduces logically to classical theism.

The Claim That God Must Change If His Relationships Change

The Claim Stated.–Noetheists like Boyd assume that God must change when His relationships do (Boyd, 44, 63, 77, 82, 83, 96). Their argument can be put like this: 1) God is related to a changing world; 2) Whatever is related to a changing world undergoes change; 3) Therefore, God undergoes change.

A Response to the Claim.–Given what neotheists believe about God, this argument against classical theism is clearly invalid. First of all, premise 2) is untrue. As classical theist’s have pointed our for centuries, God no more changes when the world changes in relation to Him than the pillar changes when the person changes in relation to a pillar by moving from one side to the other. The person changes in relation to the pillar, but the pillar does not change in relation to the person.16 God has an eternal, unchanging knowledge about the changing relationship the world has with Him. But this no more makes God changing than creating a dependent world makes God dependent on it. Or, that God making a creature demands that He thereby becomes a creature. It is an strange logic that insists that the Creator must take on the characteristics of a creatures because He creates them or relates to them in some way.

Second, the same point can be made using by neotheist’s own beliefs. For they do not believe the Creator becomes a creature simply because He creates one. Nor do they believe the beginingless God acquires a beginning simply because He creates something with a beginning. Likewise, they do not accept that God becomes contingent or finite upon making a contingent or finite thing. Why then does God have to become temporal and changing because He made a temporal and changing world.

What is more, Boyd fails to recognize is that creating the world does not change the nature of God. Certainly, God does not change “internally,” that is, in his essence, when He creates something else. If He does, then Boyd and neotheists will have to give up their belief that there an essential core of attributes in God that do not change (see Boyd, 44, 78). The only thing that changes is “external,” namely, the world’s relationship with God. And, contrary to neotheists, this change is not a change in God’s nature, for the change is in something that is finite, dependent, has a beginning, and is subject to decay. In fact, it is a change in the creation, not a change in the Creator. So the change in relationship with God is not due to a change in the Creator but in His creation. Prior to creation, there was no world to have a relationship with God, so there could be no relationship between it and God. But when the world was created, the change was not in God but the world and its relation to God.

At creation there was a new relationship to God but not any newattributes in God. However, He did not change in His essence; only an external relationship to Him changed. And when the external relationship changed, it was not because a change occurred in God but, rather, the change was in the external thing related to Him. At creation there was no change in what God is but only in what He did. Failure to make this distinction leads to the neotheistic confusion of speaking of God changing in his non-essential nature. It assumes that to act in time is to be temporal. But it does not demonstrate that the Actor is temporal; only that the results of His acts relating to the temporal world are temporal.

Furthermore, God cannot have a “non-essential” nature. “Non-essential” means something one has, but it is not essential for Him to have it. Buy “nature” is meant what is essential to a thing. For example, human nature is essential to humans. Without it we would not be human. So, a non-essential nature is a contradiction in terms. Since nature means essence, it would be a non-essential essence, which is nonsense.

The Claim That A Proper View of Free Will Demands that God Can Change

A Statement of the Claim.–Neotheist like Boyd claim that free will must be understood in a libertarian sense of self-determination, namely, the power to do otherwise (Boyd, 57, 63, 65, 96, 99, 122, 135). This being true, Boyd concludes that God cannot know future free acts with certainty. If He did, they would be determined. And if they are determined, then they cannot be free (Boyd, 16, 111, 123, 147).

A Response to the Claim.–First of all, the classical theist’s reply is that God’s will cannot be changed. For He is omniscient, and so what He knows will be, will be. God’s will is in perfect accord with His knowledge. Therefore, God’s will is as unchangeable as is His knowledge. This does not mean that God does not will that some things change. It means that God’s will does not change, even though He will’s that other things change.17 Of course, the Bible speaks of God repenting. But God repents only in a metaphorical sense, as man views it. Even Boyd admits anthropomorphisms are used of God in the Bible (Boyd, 118-119). And his test of “rediculousness” for when references to God should be taken as anthropomorphic is both subjective and inconsistently applied by him. For Boyd admits that speaking of God as repenting (which he believes is literally true) strikes some as rediculous (Boyd, 118).

Second, Boyd acknowledges that even anthropomophisms can tell us something literally about God, but rejects that this can be true of God’s alleged “mind change.” Classical theists have long observed that human repentance tells us something about God, namely, that God has more than one attribute upon which He must act consistently. Hence, before a person repents, he is under God’s attribute of wrath, and after he repents he is under God’s attribute of mercy.18 God is really both wrathful and merciful, and when one repents there is a real change in his relationship with the unchanging God.

Third, classical theist believe that God knew from eternity who would repent. And God’s will includes intermediate causes such as human free choice. So God knows what the intermediate causes will choose to do. And God’s will is in accord with His unchangeable knowledge. Therefore, God’s will never changes, since He wills what He knows will happen.19 That is to say, what is willed by conditional necessity does not violate human freedom, since what is willed is conditioned on their freely choosing it. God wills the salvation of men only conditionally (2Peter 3:9). Therefore, God’s will to save them does not violate human free choice; it utilizes it.20

Of course, while God’s will does not change, the effects of His will in time do change. For God wills unchangeably from all eternity that many different and changing things will happen at different times so that eventually His sovereign purpose will be accomplished. Just as a doctor knows and wills in advance to change the patient’s medicine when their condition changes, even so God wills unchangeably from all eternity to meet the changing conditions of His creatures in order to accomplish His ultimate purposes. An omniscient Mind cannot be wrong about what it knows.21

The Claim That God Cannot Have Unlimited Omniscience

A Statement of the Claim.–The new theism also rejects the classical concept of omniscience in favor of a limited form of omniscience.22 In principle, omniscience is defined the same, namely, that God can know anything that is possible to know. However, Boyd claims that with regard to future free acts, God can change His mind; God can only speak in conditional terms, and it is logically impossible for Him to know them. Boyd writes: “…if people are genuinely free, by logical necessity God cannot foreknow as settled their future freely chosen actions.” Why? Because, total foreknowledge of the future would imply a fixity of events. The future is a “done deal.” The “snapshot” of the future was taken in God’s mind from eternity. Hence, nothing in the future needs to be decided (Boyd, 44, 69, 120, 121).

Boyd’s argument can be put in this form: 1) If God knows the future, then it is determined (otherwise God would be wrong about what he knows). But we are not free to change anything about God’s knowledge. Hence, we are not free to change the future. However, true freedom is the ability to change the future. Hence, if humans are free to change the future, then God cannot know their future free acts in advance.

The argument can also be stated this way: If God knows already what will happen in the future, then God’s knowing this makes it impossible for it to change. That is, since God is infallible, it is impossible that things will turn out differently than God expects them to turn out. So if God knows that a person is going to perform an act, then it is impossible that the person fail to perform it. Thus, he does not really have a free choice whether or not to perform it.23

A Response to the Claim.–In response to this claim, classical theists point out several things. First of all, it is not true that nothing in the future needs to be decided. All future free acts need to be decided. But God foreknows for sure exactly how they will be decided.

Second, true freedom is not, as Boyd claims, the ability to change the future–not in the sense that what God knows will change, for God knows for certain what will freely happen. Rather, true freedom is the ability to do otherwise. But since God knows what will be chosen, then what is chosen by free agents will not be contrary to what God foreknew for sure (=determined) would occur.

Third, one of the greatest classical theist of all time, Thomas Aquinas, keenly observed why there is no contradiction between God knowing future free acts and their being freely chosen. It is simply because a contradiction occurs only when something is both affirmed and denied of the same thing at the same time in the same relationship. But the relationship here is not the same. For “Everything known by God must necessarily be” is true if it refers to the statement of the truth of God’s knowledge, but it is false, if it refers to the necessity of the contingent events.24

Since God is an omniscient being, He knows with certainty what we will do freely. The fact that He knows “in advance” from our temporal perspective does not mean that the event can not happen freely. For God can know for sure that the event will occur freely. The necessity of His knowledge about the contingent event does not make the event necessary (i.e., contrary to free choice). It simply makes His knowledge of this free event an infallible knowledge. In brief, the same event can be viewed in two different relationships; one in relation to God’s foreknowledge and the other in relation to man’s free will. Since the relationship is different, the law of non-contradiction is not violated.

Furthermore, if God is a timeless being, then He knows all of time in one eternal Now.25 But the future is part of time. Therefore, God knows the future, including the free acts to be performed in it. So the problem of not knowing future free acts is inherent in a temporal view of God but not in a non-temporal view. God sees (in His eternal present) the whole of time; past, present, and future (for us). But if God sees our future in His present, then our future is present to Him in His eternity, as an effect pre-exists in its cause. In this way there is no logical problem as to how He can fore-see free acts. He does not need to fore-see; He simply sees. And what He sees in His eternal Now includes what free acts will be performed in our future.

Finally, classical theism offers several arguments for God’s total omniscience, including future free acts. For one, an omniscient God knows all the states of reality, both actual and potential. God’s knowledge is not simply of the actual; He also knows the potential. He knows both what is and what could be. He knows what will be and what can be. For God can know whatever is real in any way it can be known. And both the actual and the potential are real. Only the impossible has no reality. Thus, whatever is potential is real. This being the case, it follows that God can know what is potential as well as what is actual.26 This means that God can know future contingents, that is, things that are dependent on free choice. For the future is a potential that pre-exists in God. And God knows whatever exists in Himself as the cause of those things.27

Is Boyd’s Neotheism Heretical?

Boyd seems especially sensitive to the charge of heresy, since he denies it repeatedly in his book (Boyd, 8, 9, 12, 19, 20, 84, 115, 116, 172). To use the less emotive word, let us ask whether neotheism is “unorthodox”? In response, several points are significant.

Some of Boyd’s Grounds for Orthodoxy are Questionable

For starters, one must reject Boyd’s statements that Christians should not divide over issues like this, since they are only a “peripheral” matter (Boyd, 8, 9, 19, 20). The nature of God is no peripheral matter. It is fundamental to virtually every other essential Christian teaching. Furthermore, it is possible to have heretical views of God, as even Boyd acknowledges from his former beliefs as a Oneness Pentecostal (who deny the Trinity).28

Furthermore, Boyd’s stated criterion for orthodoxy is faulty. He contents that “No ecumenical creed of the orthodox church has ever included an articles of faith on divine foreknowledge” (Boyd, 116). First of all, this misses the point, since there are other things about Boyd’s view other than divine foreknowledge that can be challenged, namely his denial of God’s eternality, immutability, and simplicity which the creeds do address.

Second, the creeds do no need to contain an “article” on a matter for it to be included and clear as to their view. Third, the test is too narrow, since the creed did not contain an article on the Inspiration and infallibility of Scripture and, but it is clear that it was entailed in all their pronouncements.29

Likewise, his implication that unity at any price should be achieved falls short of the mark (Boyd, 8, 9, 19). The same logic could be used with a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or with an evangelical who denies the infallibility (and inerrancy) of the Bible.

The Importance of Separating the Questions

Before proceeding to answer the million dollar question of whether Boyd’s neotheism is unorthodox, it is necessary to make two distinctions. First, a person can be orthodox on every other Fundamental Christian doctrine and still be unorthodox on one. Many evangelicals, for example, accept the other fundamentals of the Christian Faith and deny inerrancy. Hence, they are orthodox in general but unorthodox in this particular doctrine.

Also, it should be pointed out that someone can be unorthodox on some particular doctrine (such as inerrancy) and still be saved. Salvation is dependent on believing certain soteriological doctrines, such as the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins (1Cor. 15:1-4) but not on explicitly believing all essential evangelical doctrines (e. g., the inspiration of Scripture and the Bodily Return of Christ). Our knowledge of Boyd’s belief has not yielded any evidence that he is not evangelical on the other essential doctrines of the Faith.

Defining Orthodoxy on the Nature of God

Implicit Unorthodoxy

Typically, an unorthodox doctrine is a denial of a fundamental doctrine of orthodox Christianity as judged by the orthodox Fathers and confessions of the early Church. Taking this as a standard to evaluate neotheism, the question of Boyd’s doctrinal orthodoxy is another matter. Here, it appears that two points must be made before we can arrive at a conclusion. 

First, there is a difference between explicit unorthodoxy and implicit unorthodoxy. The former is a formal denial of some fundamental doctrine of the Christian Faith, and the later is a denial by implication. That is, it is a position that logically entails the denial of a fundamental teaching of the Faith.

With this definition in mind, it appears that neotheism, as embraced by Boyd and others, is implicitly unorthodox on its doctrine of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. For if Boyd is right, then the Bible contains unconditional predictions about the future that could be wrong. For example, the Bible predicted that the Devil is free but that his ultimate fate in Hell is predetermined (Rev. 20:10). But according to neotheism, this prediction cannot be infallible. Hence, at least this part of the Bible is not infallible. The same logic would apply to all unconditional predictive prophecy of which there were many about Christ (e.g., Dan. 9:24f; Psa. 16:10 cf. Acts 2:30-32; Micah 5:2).30 Even Boyd admits that God made an infallible prediction of the Cross (Boyd, 46), but how is this possible on neotheistic grounds when Jesus said He freely chose to go to the Cross (Jn. 10:18).

Neotheist’s attempts to avoid this conclusion are inadequate. Clearly not all biblical predictions are conditional, and God’s knowledge of the character of individuals is no guarantee they will not change (Boyd, 160, 171). And if God can know for sure in advance they will change, then He has infallible foreknowledge of free will, which is exactly what Neotheists deny.

So the minimum that can be said of Boyd’s view is that it logically undermines a crucial tenet of orthodoxy (and possible others). Some object to taking implicit unorthodoxy as test for orthodoxy, since there are other things (like a bad theological method) that seem to do the same. Yet many evangelicals are unwilling to label these methods as unorthodox, at least not in the sense they would other unorthodox beliefs.

However, this stance seems to be theologically myopic, since a bad theological method it can be equally devastating to the Christian Faith as outright denials of major doctrines. For example, certainly the Evangelical Theological Society would not tolerate in its membership someone who claimed to be believe in inerrancy, but utilized a method of interpretation that totally allegorized all literal, historical truth away, including the death and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, some years ago some 75% of the ETS membership voted from its ranks a New Testament scholar who utilized a Midrash method of interpretation of Matthew that denied the historicity of only parts of that Gospel, not including the death and resurrection of Christ.31 Along with the vast majority of ETS members, we conclude that orthodoxy can be both implicit as well as explicit, methodological as well as confessional. Indeed, the former can be as harmful to orthodoxy as the latter.

Explicit Unorthodoxy

This leaves one more question to answer: does Boyd engage in more than implicit or methodological unorthodoxy. That is, does he explicitly deny a fundamental tenet of the Christian Faith? The answer to this seems to depend on the answer to two other questions: 1) Is the nature of God a fundamental tenet of the Christian Faith? and 2) Are the early Creeds, Councils, and Confessions of Christianity a test for orthodoxy?

Early Statements of Orthodoxy on the Doctrine of God
Inasmuch as the early pronouncements of the Christian Church were an expression of the beliefs of the great Fathers of the Church, their views on these matters are also a test of orthodoxy.

Statements of the Fathers Behind the Creeds

Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 107). The earliest known precreedal statement of a Church Father, reveals crucial elements of a classical view of God. It reflects a predictive prophecy from Scripture that implies God’s infallible foreknowledge that Christ is waiting in heaven “till his enemies are put under his feet” (Schaff, CC32 II, 12). Ignatius added, Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible [Schaff, ANF, I, 94]. He also spoke “…of the nature of God, which fills His works with beauty, and teaching both where God must be, and that He must be One [Schaff, ANF,33 II, 131].

Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-c 165). Justin concluded that God, therefore, is…an uncompounded intellectual nature, admitting within Himself no addition of any kind; so that He cannot be believed to have within him a great and a less (Schaff, ANF, IV, 243). He added, For Moses said, He who is…. But either of the expressions seems to apply to the ever-existent God. For He is the only one who eternally exists, and has no generation (Schaff, ANF, I, 282).

Clement of Alexander (A.D. 150-215). He declared that All things, therefore, are dispensed from heaven for good…according to the eternal foreknowledge, which He purposed in Christ (Schaff, ANF, II, 319, 320). For He shows both things: both His divinity in His foreknowledge of what would take place, and His love in affording an opportunity for repentance to the self-determination of the soul (Schaff, ANF, II, 228).

Tatian (c. A.D. 160). He declared: I was led to put faith in…the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centred in one Being [Schaff, ANF, Vol II, 77].

Irenaeus (A.D. 180). Philip Schaff calls Irenaeus “the most important witness of the doctrinal status of the Catholic Church at the close of the second century.” Irenaeus affirmed there was “one God” (a reference to God’s unity and possibly His simplicity) who “made the heaven and the earth” “out of nothing” and who made predictions of Christ’s “birth from the Virgin,” of His “passion,” “the resurrection from the dead,” His “bodily assumption into heaven” and His “appearing from heaven” at the Second Coming. That God’s foreknowledge is infallible is seen in the fact that “His Son…was always heard in the prophets…” (Schaff, CC, 12-19).

In his seminal work Against Heresies, Irenaeus declared that: God alone…(remains) truly and forever the same.34 And in this respect God differs from man… [who] is made and He who makes always remains the same.35 God is referred to as “the Father invisible” (denoting His immateriality). He also implies God’s infallible foreknowledge that the angels would never change their will and thus will be sent into “eternal fire.” Likewise, the “Rule of Faith” is said to be “immovable and irreformable,” thus reflecting the character of God whose Word it is.

Irenaeus also wrote: He also ascended to the heavens, and was glorified by the Father, and is the “Eternal King.36 Now what has been made is a different thing from him who makes it. The breath then is temporal, but the Spirit is eternal [Schaff, ANF, I, 538]. He also added of God that He is a simple, uncompounded Being without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to Himself (Schaff, ANF, I, 374]).

Athanagoras (2nd Cent). The early athenian Christian thinker Athanagoras affirmed that “It is evident That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, [and] eternal [Schaff, ANF, II, 133].

Tertullian (A.D. 200). He replies to Marcion by noting we must vindicate those attributes in the Creator which are called into question namely, His goodness, and foreknowledge, and power [The Five Books Against Marcion, Chap. 5]. Moreover, he affirms the eternality of God when he states, This rule is required by the nature of the One-only God, who is One-only is no other way than as the sole God; and in no other way sole, than as nothing else [co-existent] with Him. So also will He be first, because all things are after Him; and all things are after Him, because all things are by Him; and all things are by Him, because they are of nothing [Against Hermongenes, Chap. 17].37

Tertullian also declared that, As God, because He is uncreated, (He) is also unalterable. Citing Scripture, he also said: “`Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail…’ pointing out plainly…who it is that doth endure for ever God.”38

Origen of Alexandria (A. D. 230). Although Origen embraced some unorthodox teachings, He did not appear to deny the classical attributes of God. He declared: For God, comprehending all things by means of His foreknowledge, and foreseeing what consequences would result from both of these, wished to make these known to mankind by His prophets [Schaff, ANF, IV, 594]. He also wrote of “One God” who “created and framed everything” as well as God’s omnipotence in Christ’s birth of the “Virgin” and “resurrection” from the dead (Schaff, CC, 23).

Novatian of Rome (A.D. 250). He speaks also of God as “Almighty” and “Maker of all things,” including this temporal world (which places Him beyond time) (Schaff, CC 21).

Gregorius Thaumaturgus of Neo-Caesarea (c. A. D. 270). He belief embraces “one God” with “eternal power” who has the power which “produces all creation.” This God is both “Invisible,” “Immortal,” “Incorruptible,” “Everlasting,” “a perfect Trinity,” and “not divided,” having both “eternity” and “sovereignty.” God is “ever the same, unvarying and unchangeable.” Here we have almost all the attributes of classical theism most of which are rejected by neotheism, including immutability, eternality, and simplicity (indivisibility) (Schaff, CC 24, 25).

Alexander of Lycopolis (3rd Cent) In truth I think it to be more accurate doctrine to say that God is of a simple nature [ Of the Manicheans, Chap. 10, Vol. 6]

Lucian of Antioch (A.D. 300). He confessed belief in “one God the Father Almighty, the maker and Provider of all things.” God is “unchangeable,” “unalterable,” and “immutable.” He then “anathematizes all heretical and false doctrine” (Schaff, CC 26, 27).

Arius (A.D. 328). Even though his view of Christ was unorthodox, nonetheless, in the “Private Creed of Arius” he confessed that God was “Almighty” and that by him “all things were made.” Noteworthy is the phrase “before all ages” which reveals His belief that God is before time, namely, non-temporal which is another attribute rejected by neotheism (Schaff, CC 28-29).

Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 325). Like others before him, Eusebius affirmed the central attributes a the God of classical theism, declaring: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.” God is also described as “Light,” “Life.” The resurrection and ascension of Christ are also acknowledged as manifestations of God’s omnipotent power (Schaff, CC 29-30).

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. A.D. 350) confession agreed in almost every point with Eusebius, saying: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in one Lord Jesus Christ,… begotten of the Father before all ages, very God, by whom all things were made.” Thus affirms both God’s unity and eternality (Schaff, CC 31).

The Creeds of Epiphanius (A.D. 374). In his first formula he confessed: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible….” God and His Son are eternal, existing “before all worlds [ages].” He speaks of God’s one “substance” or “essence” which Christ shared. He adds the attribute of “perfection” as well as the ability to make predictions through the “Prophets” and denies that Christ is “changeable” or “variable” in “substance or essence” from God the Father (Schaff, CC 33-34; 37-38).

Since it is well known that the views of St. Augustine,39 St. Anselm (1033-1109)40 and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)41  are clear statements of classical theism, they need not be added here. Likewise, it is well known that the Reformers were also classical theists.42 Indeed, no major Father up to and through the Reformation deviated from the central attributes of the God of classical theism.

The Statements of the Creeds Themselves

The Creed of Nicaea (A.D. 325)

This creed refers to one God the Father All-sovereign, maker of all things one substance. And those who say God is created, or changeable, or alterable, these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes (Bettenson, DCC, 36].43

The Dedication Creed (A.D. 341)

This creed refers to one God, Father all sovereign, framer, maker and providential ruler of the universe, from all things came into being before all ages unchangeable and immutable (Bettenson, DCC,44 57-58).

The Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed (A.D. 381).

Like its precursors, this creed confessed “one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Likewise, God was “before all worlds.” He has “one substance (essence).” God’s omnipotence is manifest not only in His ability to create the world, but to perform the miracle of the virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and ascension of Christ (Schaff, CC, 58-59).

The Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451).

Although stressing the deity of Christ, this creed refers to God as “perfect,” existing “before all ages,” having a “nature,” producing the supernatural “Virgin” birth, and making prediction through “the prophets from the beginning” (Schaff, CC, 62-63).

The Athanasian Creed

This creed by a noted defender of orthodoxy begins by declaring that “Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep the whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” This includes believing that there is “Unity” in God’s “Substance (essence)” without “dividing”; that each member of the Trinity is “eternal,” “uncreated” and “incomprehensible” or “unlimited.” God is also “Almighty.” He is not “Three Gods” but “one.” He is also “perfect God.” God’s power to “raise the dead” is also mentioned (Schaff, CC, 66-69).


It is evident that the early Creeds and Confessions of the Faith embraced classical theism on the crucial attributes denied by neotheism such as simplicity, eternality, immutability, and infallible foreknowledge of all events, including future freely chosen ones. What is more, the teachings of the Fathers behind these creeds and confessions is unequivocally on the side of classical theism and opposed to neotheism.

Further, it is clear that the doctrine of God is a crucial doctrine of the Christian Faith by any adequate standard for a fundamental doctrine. For it is essential to almost every other, if not every other, doctrine of the Faith.

Therefore, if this is the case, then neotheism is explicitly unorthodox on its view of God. To consider it otherwise, is to create a new test for orthodoxy.

One thing is certain, whatever term one chooses to use of neotheism’s view of God, the minimum that can be said is that: 1) It is contrary to the great orthodox creeds, confessions, and councils of the Christian Church, as well as the virtually unanimous teachings of the Fathers of the Church up to and through the Reformation into modern times; 2) It is internally inconsistent; 3) It reduces logically to process theology, and 4) It undermines the infallibility of the Scriptures. If these are not sufficient to merit the charge of unorthodoxy, then we are left to ask: what deviation on the fundamental doctrine of God would qualify as unorthodox and by what standard.

1. Clark Pinnock et. al. eds., The Openness of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

2. See Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 526-527.

3. This is a title of Clark Pinnock’s chapter in Ronald Nash ed., Process Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987).

4. Greg Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Openness View of God [GP] (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 17, 24, 85, 115, 109, 144.

5. See Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XII in Richard McKeon ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941).

6. See Plato, Republic, Book VII.

7. Plato was not a pantheists (like Shankara) or a monist (like Parmenides). Rather, Plato believed in a finite God and a real cosmos that has been eternally formed by the this Demiurgos (God). This world is only a “shadow” in comparison to the world of Forms which is a higher reality, being spiritual and immaterial substance. The relationship in Plato, then, is between substance and shadow, not between substance and non-substance, or reality and non-reality (illusion).

8. See Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1992), Chap. 1.

9. The linguistic meaning of “I AM” as used of God in Exodus 3;14 is in accord with the understanding of the early Fathers who took it to mean the self-existent One. See Geisler, Creating God in Man’s Image (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 79.

10. Other neotheists admits that “process theology [to which they acknowledge some strong affinities–Pinnock, OG, 140] itself is vulnerable to criticism for excessive deference to philosophy–in this case, to the process philosophy of Whitehead” (ibid., 141).

11. See Norman L. Geisler, “First Principles,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 250.

12. Clark Pinnock et. al. The Openness of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1994), 106.

13. See the excellent treatment of this point by a former process thinker, Royce Gruenler, The Inexhaustible God: Biblical Faith and the Challenge of Process Theism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983).

14. See William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (London: Macmillan, 1979).

15. Other neotheists address this same problem by claiming that when God changes, nevertheless, His “essential nature” remains unchanged (Pinnock, 28). What then is changing God must have two parts, dimensions, natures or poles–one which changes and one which does not. But this is process theology–the very view neotheist claim not to hold. For if God has “part” of his essence that can change and another “part” that cannot, then God is not an indivisible being. He must have at lest two “parts” or poles, one that is changing and another that is unchanging. But this view is not theism but the heart of bipolar panentheism–the very thing the new theism disclaims.
Or, to put the objection in another way, if God is necessary in the unchanging part (pole) and not necessary (i.e., contingent) in the changing part (pole), this raises a whole nest of metaphysical problems. Which attributes of God are necessary and which are not How do we know which are which How do we know God’s moral attributes (love, purity, truthfulness, etc) are part of His unchanging nature. Further, if God is contingent in one part, then this means it has the possibility not to be. (Only a Necessary Being has no possibility not to be.) But no mere potentiality for existence can actualize itself. For it cannot be in a state of actuality and potentiality at the same time. In other words, the potentiality to be cannot actualize anything. Only what actually exists can actualize anything.

16. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae trans. by Anton Pegis (New York: Random House, 1944) 1.13.7.

17. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.19.7.

18. See Stephen Charnock, Discources upon the Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996 reprint of his 1682 work), 341-342.

19. Further, what God wills to happen, He knows will happen. For both willing and knowing are coordinate and eternal acts in God.

20. See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1.19.7.

21. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.14.2-7.

22. Of course, in one sense of the term, even classical theists place “limitations” on God’s foreknowledge, namely, He can only know what is possible to know. God cannot know what is contradictory (like square circles). But this is not really a limitation; it simply says God knows in an unlimited and consistent way, since His nature is both unlimited and consistent.

23. See Pinnock, Openness of God, 147.

24. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1.14.4.

25. It is important to observe here that it is a category mistake to argue that the future does not yet exist and so it cannot yet exist in God’s Now. For the way the future exists in God Now is not the same as the way it will exist in man’s future. For God knows what we know but not the way we know. The way the future exists for us is temporally. But the way it exists in God’s knowledge is eternally. In fact, the future pre-exists in God’s knowledge (which is identical to His nature) eternally as an effect pre-exists in its cause. So, when God knows the future, He knows it in Himself from all eternity, since that it were it existed as He has known it eternally.

26. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.14.9.

27. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.14.13.

28. See Boyd’s excellent refutation of this heretical view in his book, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992).

29. See Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983 reprint), Vol. II (Hereafter CC) and Norman L. Geisler, Decide for Yourself: How History Views the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1982), Chaps. 2-3.


31. In defending his view in The Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society (March 1983, p. 114), Gundry agreed that no one who confesses belief in inerrancy should be eliminated from ETS because of an unorthodox method, even if it were the method of total allegorization of Scripture (such as held by the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy)!

32. All Schaff citations are from his The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983 reprint), Vol. II (Hereafter CC).

33. Philip Schaff, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1976), hereafter ANF.

34. Irenaeus, Against Heresies in Ante Nicene Church Fathers ed. by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956)I.411, hereafter ANF.

35. Irenaeus, in Schaff, ACF, I, 474.

36. Irenaeus in Schaff, ANF, I, 577.

37. See Schaff, ANF, 162f.

38. Tertullian, in Schaff, AFC, II, 95.

39. See Norman L. Geisler, What Augustine Says (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1982), Chap. 3 for citations.

40. For Anselm’s views see St. Anselm, Anselm of Canterbury: Trinity, Incarnation, and Redemption, trans. by Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1970), especially 152-199.

41. See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1.1-19.

42. See John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1957), Vol. I.

43. All Bettenson citations are from his Documents of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971)

44. Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), hereafter DCC.

Copyright © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

Methodological Unorthodoxy

Methodological Unorthodoxy

by Dr. Norman L. Geisler



Is unorthodoxy limited to doctrine or does it also include methodology? Or, to focus the question: Is there ever a time that one should be disqualified from an organization committed to inerrancy (such as the Evangelical Theological Society) because his theological method is inconsistent with his conscientious claim to believe in inerrancy?

  1. Methodology Examined

We will limit our discussion to the doctrine of inerrancy, although the same reasoning could be applied to other doctrines.

  1. Is confession a sufficient test for orthodoxy? Let us consider the question: Is conscientious confession of the doctrine of inerrancy solely in terms of what the confessor takes it to mean a sufficient grounds for determining orthodoxy on this doctrine?[1] We suggest that the answer to this is negative for several reasons.

First, making conscientious confession of inerrancy the only test of orthodoxy is tantamount to saying that sincerity is a test for truth. But as is well known even the road to destruction is paved with good intentions (Prov. 14:12).

Second, a statement does not mean what the reader takes it to mean to him. It means what the author meant by it. If this is not so, then a statement can mean anything the reader wants it to mean, including the opposite of what the author meant by it. If this were the case then neo-orthodox theologians and liberals could also belong to ETS, since many of them believe that the Bible is inerrant in some sense (usually in its purpose).

Third, no theological organization has integrity without some objective, measurable standard by which its identity can be determined. In the case of ETS the standard is the stated doctrine of inerrancy: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” But if anyone can take this statement to mean that the Bible is true in any sense he wishes—as long as he believes it sincerely—then our organization has no doctrinal integrity.

So we conclude that sincerity is an insufficient test for orthodoxy. In addition to sincerity there must also be conformity to some objective standard or norm for orthodoxy, for truth is conformity with reality.[2] And without such conformity one is not truly orthodox, regardless of his confession to the contrary. Our Lord made it clear that mere confession of him was not enough, for he denied those who confessed “Lord, Lord” but did not “do the will of the Father” (Matt 7:21). Likewise, saying “I believe, I believe” (in total inerrancy) is not sufficient. One’s beliefs must truly conform to the fact that all of Scripture is true before he is considered orthodox on this point. So it is not mere subjective confession but objective conformity that is the sufficient test for orthodoxy.

  1. Are there unorthodox methods? By doctrine we mean what one believes, and by method we mean how one arrives at this belief. The question, then, is this: Can one’s method be contrary to his doctrine? Can one deny de facto (in fact) what he affirms de jure (officially)? If so, then would not the methodology he utilizes undermine or negate the theology he confesses?

Let us take some examples. The first two cases will be taken from Church history, and then three examples from contemporary evangelicalism will be used.

(1) The Averronian double-truth method. Thirteenth-century followers of Averroes were condemned for holding a double-truth methodology whereby they could confess the truth of revelation at the same time they held truths of reason that contradicted it.[3] Should an Averronian belong to the ETS? That is, should one belong to ETS if he holds that the Bible is wholly true from the standpoint of faith, yet from the standpoint of reason he also holds many things to be true that contradict truths of Scripture? I should hope we would say “no,” simply because this methodology contradicts the theology (i.e., bibliology) he confesses. Despite the fact that they could confess revelation to be inerrant, Averronians held things to be true (by reason) that were contradictory to this revelation. Thus the alleged confession to inerrancy is actually negated by other beliefs, and the denial of inerrancy flows logically from their method.

(2) The allegorical method. How about Origen? He confessed the inspiration of the Bible. In fact he can be understood as believing the inerrancy of Scripture, for he said:

That this testimony may produce a sure and unhesitating belief, either with regard to what we have still to advance, or to what has been already stated, it seems necessary to show, in the first place, that the Scriptures themselves are divine, i.e., were inspired by the Spirit of God.[4]

On the other hand Origen claimed that to take the story of Adam and Eve as literal is absurd and contradictory.[5] He believed this because he adopted an allegorical methodology. Could an Origenian, then, belong to ETS? I should hope not, because his methodology is contrary to his theology—that is, while he confesses a belief in total inerrancy his actual beliefs (resulting from his allegorical method) do not conform to an adequate understanding of total inerrancy, for he denies the truth of some parts of Scripture. In short, his methodology undermines his bibliology. He claims to believe what the Bible presents as true, but as a matter of fact he does not believe everything in Scripture.

The same logic could be applied to a modern allegorist—for example, a Christian Scientist. There is no reason that Christian Scientists could not sincerely confess to believe the ETS statement of inerrancy. Yet by their allegorical method they deny the humanity of Christ, the historicity of the resurrection, and many other Biblical teachings. Let us ask again: Should we allow a Christian Scientist to join ETS? If not, is it not because his methodology is inconsistent with his confession? Does he not, in effect, take away with his left hand (hermeneutically) what he confesses with his right hand (bibliologically)?

Now let us discuss three contemporary examples: Jack Rogers, Paul Jewett and Robert Gundry. Let us ask whether their methodology is consistent with their theology (particularly their bibliology). All three of these men confess to a belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. At least two of them deny that there are any errors in the Bible (Rogers and Gundry), and one (Gundry) belongs to ETS.

(1) Jack Rogers believes that the Bible is wholly true. He even went so far as to say that he was “in agreement with the view of inerrancy set forth in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy [1978].”[6] However, Rogers really denies inerrancy and allows for the possibility of factual mistakes in the Bible.[7]Would we allow Rogers to join ETS? If not, why not? If so, then the ETS statement is vacuous, for it would be possible to believe that the Bible is without error and yet that is has errors in it. Again, is not the reason for excluding Rogers that he denies in practice what he confesses in theory? He has a theological procedure that allows him to believe that the Bible is true, even though not all statements in Scripture need to represent things as they really are—that is, some statements in Scripture may be mistaken.

Indeed, Rogers disavows the classic statement of inspiration: “What the Bible says, God says.”[8] This means that the Bible could affirm what God denies. So if there is significant content in the ETS statement, then someone like Jack Rogers should not be included in its membership.

(2) Paul Jewett is another case in point. Jewett claims to believe in the inspiration of the Bible. He also acknowledges that the apostle Paul affirmed that the husband is the head of the wife (1 Cor. 11:3). However, argues Jewett, Paul is wrong here—that is, God does not affirm what the apostle Paul affirms here. Indeed, God denies it, for according to Jewett the truth of God is that the husband is not the head of the wife as Paul affirmed him to be.[9]

What implications does Jewett’s view have for inerrancy? Simply this: He has denied in principle the classic statement of inerrancy: “What the Bible affirms, God affirms.” For he believes this is a case where Scripture affirms as true that which is not true. If Jewett is right, then in principle when the interpreter discovers what the Bible is saying he must still ask one more very significant question: “Hath God said?”

In view of this denial that “what the Bible says, God says,” surely we would not allow Paul Jewett to join ETS. But why not? Again the problem is methodology. Despite Jewett’s claim to orthodoxy he has a method that is inconsistent with his confession. What he gives with the right hand confessionally he takes away with the left hand hermeneutically. His unorthodox methodology belies his confession to orthodoxy (on the doctrine of Scripture). Indeed, we would say that he is methodologically unorthodox.

(3) The case of Robert Gundry is interesting and more crucial to ETS because he not only confesses to inerrancy but he also belongs to ETS. Yet like the other examples he holds a methodology that seems inconsistent with the ETS doctrine of inerrancy.

In many respects Gundry holds a limited form of the allegorical method. Like Origen, he confesses that the Bible is inspired. Yet like Origen, when there are parts of the Bible that if taken literally seem to him to contradict other parts of Scripture, Gundry rejects their literal truth and takes a kind of allegorical (i.e., midrashic) interpretation of them.[10] For example, Matthew reports that wise men followed a star, conversed with Herod and the scribes, went to Bethlehem, and presented gifts to Christ. Gundry, however, denies that these were literal events. He denies that Jesus literally went up on a mountain to give the sermon on the mount as Matthew reports it. He denies that the saints were literally resurrected after Jesus died as reported in Matthew 27, and so on. So while Gundry confesses to believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, he denies that these events reported by Matthew are literally and historically true.

But to deny that what the Bible reports in these passages actually occurred is to deny in effect that the Bible is wholly true. As the 1982 “Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics” declares, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (Article XIV). This is precisely what Gundry does—namely, he claims that some events reported in Matthew did not actually occur but were invented by the gospel writer.

The question, then, naturally arises: Should Gundry be a member of ETS? Is not his actual methodology inconsistent with his confessed bibliology? Does it not also, like those previously discussed, take away hermeneutically what he confesses theologically? And if others with unorthodox methodologies would be excluded from membership in ETS, then the question arises: Why should Gundry be included?

Surely it is insufficient to say that Gundry should be included because he conscientiously confesses inerrancy whereas others do not. For, as previously noted, it is not mere confession of a doctrine that is the test for the truthfulness of a belief but actual conformity to what that doctrine means.

Neither will it suffice to point out that Rogers and Jewett officially deny the classic formula of inerrancy—”What the Bible says, God says”—but that Gundry does not officially deny it, for Origen and Christian Scientists could hold this formula too. Denial of the formula renders one unorthodox, but affirmation of the mere formula does not necessarily make one’s view orthodox.

As a formal principle, “What the Bible says, God says” is empty and content-less, for it leaves wide open the question of just what the Bible is saying. The mere formula means only that “if the Bible affirms something, then God affirms it too.” As a mere formula it does not imply that the Bible actually affirms anything in particular. But surely the ETS doctrinal statement is not a mere empty formula. The very name “Evangelical Theological Society” implies that we believe the Bible affirms an evangelical theology, which implies that certain basic content is included in our confession.

Nor is it sufficient to point out that while others deny inerrancy de jure,Gundry does not. Gundry’s is a de facto denial of inerrancy, for he denies that some events reported in Scripture did in fact occur. But our ETS statement insists that we believe the entire Bible is true.

We summarize the argument this way: (1) The ETS statement demands belief in the entire Bible; (2) Gundry denies part of the Bible; (3) therefore Gundry’s view does not really conform to the ETS statement.

Still, some may insist that the implied evangelical content as to what the Bible is affirming should not exclude those whose method does not entail the denial of any major doctrine of Scripture. But Gundry affirms all major evangelical doctrines, such as the deity of Christ, his atoning death, his bodily resurrection, etc. Surely, then, Gundry’s unorthodox methodology is not tantamount to unorthodoxy. Or is it? In response let us note several things.

First, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is a major doctrine, and Gundry’s method is a de facto denial of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Even if his method never leads him actually to a denial of any other doctrine, it does deny one important doctrine, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, as far as ETS is concerned this is the only explicitly stated doctrine by which one is tested for membership. So Gundry’s denial of the occurrence of some events reported in the gospel of Matthew is a denial of the ETS doctrine that all Scripture is true.

Further, it can be argued that Gundry’s position does lead logically to a denial of other teachings of Scripture even if Gundry does not personally draw these conclusions. It should be remembered that Jewett’s methodology has yet to lead him actually to deny any major doctrine. The method itself, however, leads logically to a denial of a major doctrine—i.e., the doctrine of Scripture. For Jewett’s method denies the principle of inerrancy that “what the Bible says, God says.”

Just because Jewett did not apply his own implied principle (“What the Bible says, God does not necessarily say”) elsewhere does not mean it is not applicable. The fact remains that the principle is applicable, and if it is applied it will lead logically to denial of another major doctrine. For example, if Paul can be wrong (because of his rabbinical training) in affirming the headship of the husband over the wife, then logically what hinders one from concluding that Paul is (or could be) wrong in the same verse when he affirms the headship of Christ over the husband? Or if rabbinical background can influence an apostle to affirm error in Scripture, then how can we trust his affirmations about the resurrection in the same book (1 Corinthians 15)? After all, Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in the resurrection. If he had been a Sadducee perhaps his view on the resurrection would have been different. How then can we be sure that Paul is not also mistaken here on the major doctrine of the resurrection?

Now what applies to Jewett seems to apply also to Gundry. Although Gundry does not apply his allegorical (midrashic) interpretation to any major doctrine, the midrash methodology seems to be applicable nonetheless. For example, why should one consider the report of the bodily resurrection of the saints after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27) allegorical and yet insist that Jesus’ resurrection, which was the basis for it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23), was literal? By what logic can we insist that the same author in the same book reporting the same kind of event in the same language can mean spiritual resurrection in one case and literal bodily resurrection in another case? Does not Gundry’s method lead (by logical extension) to a denial of major doctrines of Scripture? And if it does, then there seems to be no more reason for including Gundry in ETS than to include Origen, Rogers or Jewett. They all do (or could) affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, and yet all have a method that actually negates or undermines inerrancy in some significant way.

Even if one could build safeguards into the midrash method whereby all major doctrines are preserved from allegorization, there is another lethal problem with Gundry’s view. The ETS statement on inerrancy entails the belief that everything reported in the gospels is true (“the Bible in its entirety”). But Gundry believes that some things reported in Matthew did not occur[11] (e.g., the story of the wise men [chap. 2], the report of the resurrection of the saints [chap. 27], etc.). It follows therefore that Gundry does not really believe everything reported in the gospels is true, despite his claim to the contrary. And this is a de facto denial of inerrancy.

It will not suffice to say that Matthew does not really report these events, for he reports them in the same sense that he reports other events that Gundry believes actually occurred. In fact some stories that seem more likely candidates for midrash (for example, the appearance of angels to the Jewish shepherds in Luke 2) Gundry takes as literal, whereas the earthly pilgrimage of astrologers following a sign in the sky he takes as purely imaginary (i.e., midrash). Regardless, the fact of the matter is that Gundry denies that certain events reported in Scripture (Matthew) actually occurred. This means in effect that he is denying the truth of these parts of Scripture. And if he denies in effect that the Bible is true “in its entirety,” then he has disqualified himself from ETS.

  1. An Objection Considered

Does not the above argument prove too much? Granted the finitude and fallibility of man, is it not a reasonable presumption that we are all inconsistent in our beliefs in some way or another? Therefore should we not all be excluded from ETS?

Several crucial differences between common inconsistency of belief and a conscious commitment to a methodology that undermines our beliefs should be noted, however. First, the common inconsistencies with which we are all plagued are unconscious inconsistencies. When they are brought to our attention we work to eliminate them. On the other hand a theological method such as Gundry’s midrash method is a conscious commitment on his part.

Further, and more importantly, common inconsistencies are not recommended as a formal method by which we are to interpret Scripture. Hence they have no official didactic force. They do not purport to teach us how to discover the truth of Scripture. Gundry’s method, however, entails a crucial truth claim. It claims that by using this method we will discover the truth that God is really affirming in Scripture. After all the mere formula, “What the Bible says, God says,” is empty in itself. Gundry’s method proposes to tell us what it is that the Bible is actually saying and thus what God is actually saying. This makes a conscious commitment to a theological method a very serious matter, for a hermeneutical method purports to be the means by which we discover the very truth of God.

Further, there is another possible difference between common inconsistencies and the serious inconsistency in which Gundry engages. The former do not necessarily lead logically to a denial of major doctrine, but the latter can. As was noted earlier, unorthodoxy in methodology leads logically to unorthodoxy in theology. This is true regardless of whether the proponent of the method makes this logical extension himself. For example, a double-truth method or an allegorical method leads logically to a denial of the literal truth of Scripture.

III. Conclusion

Assuming that there are some methods that are inconsistent with a belief in the ETS statement on inerrancy, where should we draw the line and why should we draw it there?

In the above discussion I have offered a criterion for drawing such a line—that is, for determining methodological unorthodoxy. Briefly it is this: Any hermeneutical or theological method the logically necessary consequences of which are contrary to or undermine confidence in the complete truthfulness of all of Scripture is unorthodox. The method can do this either de jure or de facto.

It seems to me that if we do not accept some such criterion we are admitting the emptiness of our ETS confession. For if the ETS statement of faith does not exclude any particular belief about Scripture, then it includes all beliefs about Scripture. And whatever says everything, really says nothing.

My plea, then, is this: In order to preserve our identity and integrity as an evangelical group that confesses an inerrant Word from God, we must define the limits of a legitimate methodology. If the one I have suggested is inadequate, then let us find a sufficient one.

One thing seems safe to predict: Granted the popularity of evangelicalism and the degree to which the borders of legitimate evangelical methodology are now being pushed, the Evangelical Theological Society will not long be “evangelical” nor long believe in inerrancy in the sense meant by the framers of that statement unless we act decisively on this matter.

In short we would argue that, since methodology determines one’s theology, unless we place some limits on evangelical methodology there will follow a continued broadening of the borders of “evangelical” theology so that the original word “Evangelical” (in “Evangelical Theological Society”) will have lost its meaning. After all, even Barth called his neo-orthodox view “evangelical.” Is this what the word “evangelical” meant to the founders of ETS? Or have we already conceded so much to the “new hermeneutic” that it does not really matter what the words “evangelical” or “inerrant” meant to the authors of the statements, but only what they mean to us? On the other hand, if we reject this kind of subjective hermeneutic (and we most certainly should), then it behooves us to draw a line that will preserve our identity and integrity as an “evangelical” theological society. Such a line, we suggest, need not entail a change in (or addition to) our doctrinal statement but simply the explicit acknowledgment (perhaps in the by-laws) that the denial of the total truth of Scripture, officially or factually, de jure or de facto, isgrounds for exclusion from ETS.[12]


[1] It is assumed, however, that a conscientious confession is a necessary condition for membership in ETS even though it is not a sufficient condition.

[2] That truth involves conformity to reality is argued in our article, “The Concept of Truth in the Inerrancy Debate,” Biblioteca Sacra (October-December 1980) 327–339, reprinted in The Living and Active Word of God (ed. M. Inch and R. Youngblood; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1983) 225-236. The 1982 “Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics” has a clear and succinct statement on this point: “WE AFFIRM that the Bible expresses God’s truth in propositional statements, and we declare that biblical truth is both objective and absolute. We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts. WE DENY that, while Scripture is able to make us wise unto salvation, biblical truth should be defined in terms of this function. We further deny that error should be defined as that which willfully deceives” (Article VI).

[3] In 1277 Siger of Brabant and followers were condemned by the Church for teaching that “things are true according to philosophy but not according to the Catholic faith, as though there were two contradictory truths.” See “Averroism,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingston; Oxford: University Press, 1974) 116.

[4] Origen, De Principiis 4.1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4 (ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).

[5] Ibid., 4.1.16-17.

[6] Cited in Christianity Today (September 4, 1981) 18.

[7] Rogers is able to claim that the Bible is wholly true and yet it may contain some mistakes because he redefines “error” to mean what misleads rather than what is mistaken. See the article in n. 2 for a refutation of this position.

[8] J. B. Rogers and D. K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (New York: Harper, 1979) 315.

[9] See P. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 134, 171.

[10] See R. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

[11] Since a “report” is “a statement of facts” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary,unabridged), Gundry has denied the fact stated in the report. It is futile to say that Matthew does not report these events, for he reports them in the same sense that he reports other events (sometimes in the same chapter) that are taken to be literally true by Gundry.

[12] vol. 26, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 26, 1 (Lynchburg, VA: The Evangelical Theological Society, 1983), 86-94.



Copyright © 2013 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

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.

Why I Resigned from The Evangelical Theological Society (2003)

Why I Resigned from The Evangelical Theological Society

Norman L. Geisler

November 20, 2003


Today, I tendered my resignation from ETS.  It was a painful decision for many reasons.  First, I have been attending the Society for forty-four years.  In addition, I served as a past president, and I was founder and first president of a daughter organization, the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS).  What is more, I love the organization and that for which it once firmly stood–the total factual inerrancy of the written Word of God.

Many things occasioned my decision to leave ETS, all of which came to a climax at the annual conference of ETS in Atlanta.  Since many will wonder why I resigned, I would like to make it clear to all.

1.  ETS Has Lost Its Doctrinal Integrity

First and foremost among my reasons for resigning is that ETS has lost its doctrinal integrity.  For decades it has had a single “Doctrinal Basis”: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” With the official decision to retain in membership persons who clearly deny what the ETS framers meant by this statement, ETS has lost its doctrinal integrity.  By a vote of 388 to 231 (nearly 63%) Clark Pinnock was retained in the Society.  John Sanders was also retained but by a lesser vote.  In view of Pinnock’s blatant and unrecanted written views that contradict the meaning of the ETS framers, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

2.  ETS Has Adopted a Revisionist Interpretation of Its Own Doctrine.

Further, the society has knowingly adopted a revisionist hermeneutic that undermines all for which it stands. For the report of the Executive Committee, confirmed by the membership vote, knowingly allows in its membership persons who do not hold the same view on inerrancy as that of the framers of the doctrinal statement.  This they have knowingly done since 1976 when the Executive Committee confessed that “Some of the members of the Society have expressed the feeling that a measure of intellectual dishonesty prevails among members who do not take the signing of the doctrinal statement seriously.”  Other “members of the Society have come to the realization that they are not in agreement with the creedal statement and have voluntarily withdrawn. That is, in good consciencethey could not sign the statement” (1976 Minutes, emphasis added). By this criterion then we now have nearly 63 percent of the Society who approve of persons who are not signing the statement “in good conscience,” since they voted to retain Clark Pinnock whose views are clearly not in accord with what the ETS framers meant by their Doctrinal Basis.  For in November 2000, all the living Founding Fathers signed a statement that “The denial of God’s foreknowledge of the decisions of free agents is incompatible with the inerrancy of Scripture.” 

Further, an ETS Ad Hoc Committee recognized this problem when it posed the proper question in 1983: “Is it acceptable for a member of the society to hold a view of biblical author’s intent which disagrees with the Founding Fathers and even the majority of the society, and still remain a member in good standing?”  The Society never said No.  And now in effect, the Society has given a resounding Yes in response with a 63% majority vote to retain Clark Pinnock in its membership.

3.  ETS is Now Operating Contrary to Its Own Historic Precedent

The 1970 Minutes of ETS affirm that “Dr. R. H. Bube, who [sic] has for three years signed his membership form with a note on his own interpretation of infallibility. The secretary was instructed to point out that it is impossible for the Society to allow each member an idiosyncratic interpretation of inerrancy, and hence Dr. Bube is to be requested to sign his form without any qualifications, his own integrity in the matter being entirely respected” (emphasis added). This makes it clear that members cannot give their own meaning to the statement but are bound by what the framers meant by it.  But Open Theists hold views contrary to what the Founders meant by the doctrinal basis of ETS, and they have just received strong approval of the Society.

4.  ETS is Logically Inconsistent with Its Own Doctrinal Basis

The ETS statement affirms: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs” (emphasis added).  The word “therefore” logically connects the word of “God” and “inerrant” to make it clear that neither God nor the Bible errs.  This meaning of the word “therefore” is confirmed by the living framers of the statement.  But Open Theists confessed both God and the Bible err in the sense understood by the framers of this doctrinal statement, namely, they believe that the Bible affirms some things that are not factually correct.  John Sanders agrees that there are unconditional prophesies that go unfulfilled.  And Pinnock confessed that Chronicles gives exaggerated numbers that do not correspond with the facts.  But these count as errors according to the understanding of the ETS founding fathers.  All the living founders expressed this in writing to ETS and those not living have expressed this same view in their writings.

5.  ETS Acted Inconsistently with Its Long-Standing Journal Policy

In 1965 ETS Journal policy demanded a disclaimer and rebuttal of Dan Fuller’s article denying factual inerrancy published in the ETS Bulletin. They insisted that, “that an article by Dr. Kantzer be published simultaneously with the article by Dr. Fuller and that Dr. Schultz include in that issue of the Bulletin a brief explanation regarding the appearance of a view point different from that of the Society”(1965).  But with the favorable vote on Pinnock’s and Sander’s membership, ETS has now officially approved views similar to and even more radical than Dan Fuller’s denial of factual inerrancy.

6.  ETS Has Acted Contrary to Previously Approved Presidential Decisions

Speaking of some who held “Barthian” views of Scripture, the Minutes of the ETS Executive Committee read: “President Gordon Clark invited them to leave the society” (1983).  But Clark Pinnock holds an unrecanted Barthian view of Scripture.  He said flatly: “Barth was right to speak about a distance between the Word of God and the text of the Bible” (The Scripture Principle, 99, emphasis added). But if Barth was right, then the ETS statement is wrong since it claims the Bible is the written Word of God.  Even the minority of the ETS Executive Committee who refused to vote to expel either Pinnock or Sanders from the Society admitted that a Barthian view of Scriptures would be grounds for dismissal (October 23 Report, p. 6).  Yet Pinnock expressed this unrecanted written view, and they refused to expel him.

7. ETS Refused to Consider Pinnock’s Major Work on the Topic

While many praised the Executive Committee for the fairness of their procedure, they turned a blind eye to the arbitrariness of it.  The Committee knowingly refused to consider any quotations from a major work of Clark Pinnock on the topic, The Scripture Principle. In spite of the fact that a former president (me) provided them in advance with four pages of damning quotations from this book, any consideration of it was ruled out of order in considering Pinnock’s innocence or guilt.  Whatever the alleged technical merits of the decision, it was a practical disaster.  Their decision to exclude citations from this work because they were not presented in the original complaint is akin to claiming that the testimony of a prime witness of a murder cannot be allowed to testify since they were not cited in the original brief to the court.  This was a tragic and arbitrary decision that led to the Pinnock exoneration of the charges and made a sham out of the proceedings.  How can a man be considered innocent of the charges when a prime work of his on the topic was knowingly and deliberately not considered?  This is an especially grievous error since this work contains at least four pages of citations which show the incompatibility of his views with that of the framers of the ETS doctrinal statement.

Other reasons could be stated, but these suffice to provide the grounds for resigning from an organization that I have loved and served for forty-four years.  It is for me a tearful and tragic day; I deeply regret the moral compulsion to resign, but it had to be done.





The following document was composed by Norman L. Geisler and given to all the membership present at the December, 1983 meeting of the Evangelical theological Society in Dallas, Texas.  It is retained it in its original form without editing so that the reader can get a feel for exactly what occurred at this historic meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.



  1. The Robert Gundry issue has been pending now for three years since it was first brought to the attention of the ETS Executive Committee.  It is due time for action by the members.
  2. Last year the president announced the Executive Committee’s approval of Gundry’s membership without allowing any discussion or a vote from the ETS membership.  Yet the ETS Constitution requires that action can be taken on “the continued membership of an individual” only after a vote of the membership (Article IV, Section 4).  This is the first opportunity subsequent-to the Committee’s pronouncement for the membership to act.
  3. A petition (Jan., 1983) from representative ETS members across the country was presented to the president of ETS.  It included the signatures of several presidents and deans of schools, as well as those of numerous other members.  The petition read, “We the undersigned, hereby protest the ETS executive council decision (December, 1982) regarding the views of Dr. Robert Gundry.  We call upon the council to rescind its decision.”  In view of the Executive Committee’s choice not to respond to this request and in view of the fact that the Constitution gives authority in such matters to the members, it is imperative that the membership as a whole act at this time.
  4. By the Executive Committee’s favorable decision on Gundry’s membership the impression was left of official approval by the Society as a whole, even though the action was taken without consulting the membership.  For instance, The Presbyterian Journal (Jan. 12, 1983) headlines on the issue declared, “Evangelical Theological Society Retains Controversial Author.”  The lead sentence said, “The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) has decided not to rescind the membership of a Westmont College Professor over a provocative new commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.”  Even the secular media reported, “Society clears New Testament Professor” (Los Angeles Times, 12-25-82) (emphasis added in these quotes).  So the impression left with the public is that the society as a whole, not just a few individuals, acted in approval of Gundry’s membership.  Since this is not the case, it is now time for the members to express their will.
  5. Subsequent to the last annual meeting, an ETS letter entitled “The Executive Committee Report on Dr. Gundry’s Position” announced to the membership “that at any time at an annual meeting, there can be a call for a question and vote concerning the membership of any one in the society” (p. 2).  This annual meeting is our only opportunity to express these constitutional rights.
  6. Gundry’s views have been plainly stated and thoroughly aired both at the last annual meeting and in eight articles and responses in the March ’83 issue of JETS.  His views are clear, well known (see Notes [below]),–and there is no further need to discuss them.

In view of the ample time, thorough discussion, and apparent ETS approval of Gundry’s status without input, it is now time that the members exercise their constitutional obligation and become involved in this decision.




  1. ETS is not merely a theological debating society.  By its very name it is the “Evangelical Theological Society.”  Besides this unspoken consensus on evangelical theology, the Constitution spells out an explicit, undebatable “doctrinal basis” which confesses “the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs” (emphasis added).   The official brochure of “The Evangelical Theological Society” (1978) calls this the “creedal statement” of “conservative scholars.”  But in spite of this unequivocal creedal affirmation that the entire Bible is without error we find ourselves debating about whether someone can belong who has denied that some of the things reported in the Gospel actually occurred (see Notes [below]).  There should be no debate about this issue.  Our name and Constitution are unequivocal on this point.
  2. The ETS Ad Hoc Committee on critical methodology has recommended the adoption of the ICBI Statements on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics (reported to ETS members, October 20, 1983, p. 2).  Gundry’s name was explicitly mentioned in plenary session by the drafters of the ICBI Statement on Hermeneutics as one who propounded a view which is excluded by this document (see Articles XIII & XIV quoted below).  The official ICBI commentary on this point (Summit II: Hermeneutics, 1983) also has Gundry’s position in view (p. 11), and the ICBI “Executive Council” voted unanimously to inform ETS that “Robert Gundry is inconsistent with the ICBI Summit II statement” (ICBI Council “Minutes,” October 21, 1983, p. 3).
  3. It has been and remains a firm conviction of evangelicals that no “discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the tradition they incorporated” (as noted in ICBI Hermeneutics Statement, 1982, Art. XIV). The Statement adds, “We deny that genre categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Art. XIII). But despite semantical maneuverings to the contrary, this is precisely what Gundry rejects.  For Gundry holds that numerous sayings of Jesus and events recorded on the Gospel of Matthew were invented by the author and did not actually occur.  Gundry states very clearly, “Hence ‘Jesus said’ or ‘Jesus did’ need not always mean that in history Jesus said or did what follows…” see Notes [below]).  This is a de facto denial of inerrancy which excludes him from membership in ETS.
  4. Few ETS members agree with Gundry’s unorthodox views, and scarcely any New Testament scholar have embraced them.  Indeed, most members of ETS flatly disagree with Gundry’s interpretation which claims that Matthew invented certain sayings and events in his Gospel.  In fact, many are frankly shocked by it.  Two of our long-standing, most reputed ETS members expressed their concern as follows:  “The kind of interpretation provided by Dr. Robert Gundry appears scandalous!” (Roger Nicole, letter to President Goldberg, 12-22-82).  “No more damaging approach to Biblical authority can be found than this.  The pall of doubt cast over the recorded sayings of Christ will open the gate wide for all and sundry to apply for membership in the ETS if Gundry’s membership is going to be upheld in our Society (Gleason Archer, letter to President Goldberg, 1-11-83).  If we do not act decisively on Gundry’s membership, it will have a dangerous, precedent-setting influence on ETS. [That was 1983. Clearly, there are many more today.]
  5. Many ETS members agree with what the president of one of our largest seminaries put bluntly in these words: “If Gundry stays in ETS, then I am leaving.”  In point of fact many are already discussing the possible need to begin a new theological society which takes seriously its view on inerrancy.  If we do not act now, then we are in danger of losing large numbers of our members who want to preserve the strong stand on inerrancy ETS was founded to perpetuate.
  6. Good hermeneutics demand that we exclude Gundry from our membership.  For the issue boils down to how we are to interpret the ETS constitution and doctrinal basis.  1) Will we interpret them as the authors meant them?  2) Or, will we interpret them for what they mean to us?  In short, if we approach the ETS statements the way “evangelical” and “conservative” scholars (which we claim to be) have historically approached the Scriptures, then we must reject Gundry’s view of Scripture as unorthodox.  Certainly it is not in accord with the “evangelical” view of inerrancy (as envisioned by the ETS founding fathers) to deny the historicity of sayings or events reported in the Gospel record.  And it clearly is not in accord with the ICBI statements which the ETS “Ad Hoc Committee” on critical methodologies recommends to clarify the ETS position.
  7. Gundry made it clear in his response in JETS (March ’83, p. 114) that he believed ETS membership should not exclude anyone who sincerely signs the ETS doctrinal statement, including people like Origen, Averroes, Karl Barth, and even May Baker Eddy!  But if the ETS statement is made so all-inclusive, then ETS has lost its evangelical identity and its doctrinal integrity.  There are other scholarly organizations which take no stand on inerrancy (e.g., SBL).  Let those who cannot conscientiously sign the ETS statement in the historic sense identify with these groups which make no pretense to believe in inerrancy.  But let ETS and its members make no pretense about their belief in inerrancy.  Integrity is the issue.
  8. The present ETS Constitution provides that “in the event that the continued membership of an individual be deemed detrimental to the best interests of the Society, his name may be dropped from the membership roll at an annual meeting…” (Art. IV, Sect. 4).  We believe that the membership of Dr. Robert Gundry fits clearly into this category.  We thereby urge that the membership vote to preserve the integrity of ETS.
  9. Organizationally, the choice before us is this:  Will ETS as an organization continue to carry the torch for inerrancy as envisioned by its founders, or will it be necessary to start a new organization to accomplish the original goal of ETS?  Wisdom dictates that it would be better to reaffirm than to reorganize.  But history is replete with examples of new organizations which have arisen to fulfill the original goals of once evangelical groups which have since drifted from their solid evangelical commitments.  Let us pray that history does not repeat itself in the current crises of the Evangelical Theological Society.


In consultation with many concerned ETS members

Norman L. Geisler





Quotations from R. Gundry’s Matthew Commentary (Eerdmans, 1982).

  1. “Clearly, Matthew treats us to history mixed with elements that cannot be called historical in a modern sense.  All history writing entails more or less editing of materials.  But Matthew’s editing often goes beyond the bounds we nowadays want a historian to respect.  Matthew’s subtractions, additions, and revisions of order and phraseology often show changes in substance; i.e., they represent developments of the dominical tradition that result in different meanings and departures from the actuality of events” (p. 623).
  2. “Comparison with the other gospels, especially with Mark and Luke, and examination of Matthew’s style and theology show that he materially altered and embellished historical traditions and that he did so deliberately and often” (p. 639).
  3. “We have also seen that at numerous points these features exhibit such a high degree of editorial liberty that the adjectives ‘midrashic’ and ‘haggadic’ become appropriate” (p. 628).
  4. “We are not dealing with a few scattered difficulties.  We are dealing with a vast network of tendentious changes” (p. 625).
  5. “Hence, ‘Jesus said’ or ‘Jesus did’ need not always mean that in history Jesus said or did what follows, but sometimes may mean that in the account at least partly constructed by Matthew himself Jesus said or did what follows” (p. 630).
  6. “Semantics aside, it is enough to note that the liberty Matthew takes with his sources is often comparable with the liberty taken with the OT in Jubilees, the Genesis Apocryphon, the Targums, and the Midrashim and Haggadoth in rabbinic literature” (p. 628).
  7. “These patterns attain greatest visibility in, but are by no means limited to, a number of outright discrepancies with the other synoptics.  At least they are discrepancies so long as we presume biblical writers were always intending to write history when they used the narrative mode” (p. 624).
  8. “Matthew selects them [the Magi] as his substitute for the shepherds in order to lead up to the star, which replaces the angel and heavenly host in the tradition” (p. 27).
  9. “That Herod’s statement consists almost entirely of Mattheanisms supports our understanding Matthew himself to be forming this episode out of the shepherd’s visit, with use of collateral materials.  The description of the star derives from v. 2.  The shepherds’ coming at night lies behind the starry journey of the magi” (p. 31).
  10. “He [Matthew] changes the sacrificial slaying of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,’ which took place at the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple (Luke

2:24; cf. Lev 12:6-8), into Herod’s slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem (cf. As. Mos. 6:2-6” (pp. 34, 35).



Editorial Comments on the ETS Gundry Decision in 1983

By Norman L. Geisler



First, it can be agreed that the process by which Gundry was removed from ETS was not a rush to judgment.  Actually, it was a long and patient procedure covering some three years.

Second, the basic issue was the influence of genre criticism on New Testament studies which was centered on the views of Robert Gundry.  The legitimacy of his views was apparently supported by many ETS members (since 30% of them voted to retain Gundry in ETS membership).

Third, the vast majority of the membership felt obliged to act since the leadership failed to consult them in the Gundry decision which was contrary to their views.

Fourth, the vote was not a bare majority or even two-third majority.  It was a very significant 70% majority in favor of dismissing Gundry from ETS for his views.

Fifth, “the ETS Ad Hoc Committee on critical scholarship” recommended unanimously [10/20/83] the adoption of the ICBI Statements on Inerrancy [1978] and Hermeneutics [1982] and noted that Gundry’s view were inconsistent with these statements.  ETS failed to do this.