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the Society have come to the realization that they are not in agreement with the creedal statement and have voluntarily withdrawn.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.