Alarms in ETS about a Complementarian Conspiracy

Alarms in ETS about a Complementarian Conspiracy September 16, 2016

Last year at The Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting (ETS) some wily moves were made by some wily folks who planned in advance to pass some resolutions that would set a precedent to enhance complementarianism, slow down egalitarianism, and press onto the platform a way of doing business that had more than a few concerned. Many spoke with me about it and were more than saddened by the process and seeming power at work.

When the history of late 20th and early 21st Century evangelicalism is finally written, one of the most embarrassing stories will be the way male leaders behaved and sought to control all voices — mostly after meeting behind closed doors, in seeking to control who gets published and where, and who was chosen to speak so that a who-under-control would say what-was-controlled. Often those who are in control are taking the least amount of heat for this embarrassing way of powermongering.

Stan Gundry has now sent an alarm to ETS that the resolutions contradict what ETS is about and what its Doctrinal Basis is designed to do and not to do. He has suggested, too, that there is a complementarian conspiracy at work.

Before I get to that I must say this: I withdrew from ETS in the early 1980s over how Stan’s brother, Robert Gundry, was dismissed by powermongering folks, which sadly has been the way of ETS at times. I said then and I saw now, when they bring back Bob I’ll reconsider my decision.

Here’s how ETS works at times, but mostly it is group of good (mostly) brothers (and not so many) sisters who love God and who love the Bible and who gather to discuss academic topics. But at other times… well.. A few bothered brothers (not sisters) get irritated by something they see as a drift onto some slippery slope toward SBL or IBR or worse and they email and call and talk to one another and see if they can get a tighter doctrinal statement. But ETS is not a church nor does it have a doctrinal statement, nor does it have a creed; rather, ETS formed a doctrinal basis — inerrancy — that has served its purpose well. (They added a Trinitarian statement later.)

Passing resolutions last year was actually designed to put a block against anyone in ETS who affirms same-sex marriage and to slow down, if not block, egalitarianism, and I will now provide the four resolutions and some commentary by Stan Gundry, which can be read in its entirety below:

The following resolutions were adopted in the last business session of the 2015 national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society:

(1)  We affirm that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess inherent dignity and worth.

(2)  We affirm that marriage is the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life.

(3)  We affirm that Scripture teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage as defined above. This excludes all other forms of sexual intimacy.

(4)  We affirm that God created men and women, imbued with the distinct traits of manhood and womanhood, and that each is an unchangeable gift of God that constitutes personal identity.

You might agree, fine; you might not, fine. ETS is not an organization designed to be setting forth annual resolutions the way the SBC does. The resolutions are curiously ill-defined: Does #2 mean no divorced persons? Does #4 not mean the CBMW is defining who is in and who is not? Stan addresses these sorts of issues below.

Next, Stan’s intelligent suggestion that there are reasons to think this set of resolutions was part of a complementarian conspiracy:

Third, the introduction and passage of the four-fold resolution package and the internet conversations following the 67th Annual Meeting are symptomatic of the desire of some ETS members to move the Society in the direction of precise, doctrinal, and interpretive clarity and definition, ideally in the form of a doctrinal statement and other “position statements.” I am trained not only as a theologian but as a church historian; consequently I am inclined to be skeptical of conspiracy theories unless there is compelling evidence. Nevertheless, based on the evidence, some of us are now wondering if there is a conspiracy within ETS to:

  • ease out biblical egalitarians,
  • exclude women from the leadership of ETS,
  • let qualified women scholars know they are not part of “the old boys network,”
  • shut down discussion of contentious ethical and theological issues,
  • marginalize those who do not come out on the “right side” of those issues,
  • “pack” the nominating committee so as to get their compatriots in the positions of leadership,
  • question the evangelical and inerrantist bona fides of those who ask hard questions and come up with answers that most of us are not persuaded by, and
  • propose and pass a poorly framed set of four resolutions that makes the Society sound more like the Family Research Council or the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood than the intentionally diverse “medium for the oral and written expressions of thought and research in the general field of the theological disciplines as centered in the Scriptures” as stated in the ETS Purpose statement.

I want to say, once again, two things: (1) I am not a member of ETS though I watch what occurs from where I am, and (2) ETS is filled with friends of mine and I consider it to be a wonderful collection of scholars who are doing good, good work for both academy and church.

The Full Letter of Stan Gundry

WHENCE AND WHITHER ETS?

An Open Letter to the Members of ETS

Stanley N. Gundry

President of the Evangelical Theological Society, 1978

 

The following resolutions were adopted in the last business session of the 2015 national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society:

(1)  We affirm that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess inherent dignity and worth.

(2)  We affirm that marriage is the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life.

(3)  We affirm that Scripture teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage as defined above. This excludes all other forms of sexual intimacy.

(4)  We affirm that God created men and women, imbued with the distinct traits of manhood and womanhood, and that each is an unchangeable gift of God that constitutes personal identity.

In the immediate aftermath of this business session, many ETS members were deeply troubled that any ETS members would vote against these resolutions. The post-ETS blogs of a few ETS members and the comments of their followers expressed dismay that anyone who claims to be evangelical and subscribes to the Doctrinal Basis of the Society would cast a negative vote.

But there was also a significant minority that opposed and voted against these resolutions. These members were troubled that such resolutions would be introduced, that they were not ruled out of order or at least tabled, and that they were passed by a significant majority of those present and voting. I was among the minority that voted “Nay.”

Why? It is a question that deserves to be answered because I am convinced that the future of ETS depends on our repudiation of what happened in that session and that ETS members must realize that resolutions of this nature are not consistent with the nature of the Society. In fact, the issue at stake is whether or not ETS will remain committed to the original purpose for which ETS was formed. I have not taken even an informal poll of others who voted against the resolutions, but I have discussed the matter with enough members to give me confidence that many members agree that the future of ETS is at stake.

My history within ETS uniquely qualifies me to address the concerns these resolutions raise. I have been immersed in the culture and affairs of ETS since my student days in the 1950s and 1960s. I knew on a first-name basis many of the first-generation ETS members. I was taught by some of them. I have been a full member of the Society since about 1968. I have attended most national meetings since 1970, and in the 1970s I was an active participant in the Midwestern section of ETS, serving also as president of that section and on its leadership committee. Then in 1978 I served as the national president of ETS and planned the program for the 30th Annual Meeting of ETS in collaboration with Dr. Kenneth Kantzer, followed by serving the allotted time on the ETS Executive Committee. Relevant to the concerns at hand, my first-hand knowledge of the workings of ETS and its Constitution, most especially the Purpose and Doctrinal Basis of the Society as stated in the Constitution, and my acquaintance with many of the founders and first-generation members of ETS give me insight into their intentions in forming the Society.

So why did I vote against the resolutions? Because the resolutions went beyond the Doctrinal Basis of the Society and were inconsistent with the clearly stated Purpose of ETS. But I run ahead of myself and it is a bit more complicated than that. So let me start at the beginning, the resolutions themselves.

First, it is unfortunate that the resolutions were presented at the last business meeting and then discussed and voted on as a group. My understanding is that those responsible for the agenda did not anticipate that the resolutions would be controversial and so they were scheduled to be considered in the last business session. This was not inconsistent as such with the ETS Constitution or Bylaws, but in a case like this, members should have had advance warning of the nature of the resolutions and ample opportunity to discuss them among themselves and on the floor of the business meeting. Further, many members had already left the conference or were absent for other reasons. Thus, members could not deliberately consider in advance whether or not voting on such resolutions was even consistent with the Purpose of ETS; and, given the time constraints of the program, there was not sufficient time to debate the merits of the individual resolutions and to vote up or down on each one.

The resolutions were so poorly stated that they needed such careful consideration. For instance, the second resolution ignored the question of biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage. And given the diversity of views on divorce and remarriage within ETS, is this really a question on which ETS should be taking a position even in the form of a resolution? What about the third resolution? Viewed superficially, who could possibly object to that resolution? But looked at more closely, “sexual intimacy” and “all other forms of sexual intimacy” are squishy descriptors. Are they intended to refer to physical sexual intimacy, and if so, are holding hands, kissing, or hugging forbidden? My fundamentalist and separatist father would have thought so, but what about the membership of ETS? Would we have a consensus on that question?

And what about the fourth resolution affirming “distinct traits of manhood and womanhood”? While I suspect all members of ETS (even those of us who self-identify as biblical egalitarians) believe that men and women in many respects are complementary to one another, many of us also believe that the terms “manhood” and “womanhood” are reifications of socially and culturally conditioned patterns of behavior more than they are descriptors of biblically supported male and female characteristics. Rather than being biblically supported, the terms tend to refer to stereotypical lists of alleged gender characteristics to which men and women are expected to conform. Even self-avowed complementarians have no consensus on what constitutes “manhood and womanhood,” so why would a scholarly society like ETS that includes both complementarians and egalitarians even take such a resolution seriously?

So I return to the opening statement of this first point—scheduling the resolutions for consideration as a group at the second business meeting without prior notice meant there was not adequate time to consider and debate the merits and wording of the resolutions and it made it impossible to carefully consider whether or not voting on such resolutions was even consistent with the Purpose of ETS.

Second, this broader issue needs to be considered by the Society. Is it even appropriate for resolutions to be introduced, debated, and voted on that go beyond the Doctrinal Basis and officially stated Purpose of the Society? I believe the answer is a clear and unequivocal “No!” Members tend to forget that ETS was never intended to have a doctrinal statement to which members had to subscribe. We have a “Doctrinal Basis,” one that originally had one affirmation: The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. Years later, the Trinitarian statement was added to the Doctrinal Basis out of concern that anti-Trinitarians such as Jehovah’s Witnesses might successfully claim membership in ETS. But even with that addition, it remains a Doctrinal Basis, not a doctrinal statement. Some members seem not to understand and/or remember the significance of the fact that we function as a scholarly society with a Doctrinal Basis. But even many who remember that we have a Doctrinal Basis all too easily and sloppily refer to it using the phrases “doctrinal basis” and “doctrinal statement” interchangeably, suggesting they do not really understand (or perhaps accept) the significance of the distinction. But this distinction is at the very heart and Purpose of ETS. A bit of historical context will be useful here.

When ETS was formed in 1949, evangelical biblical and theological scholarship was just beginning to emerge from its decline in the dark days of the modernist-fundamentalist debate and the loss of so many mainline denominations and associated colleges, seminaries, and missionary agencies to the takeover of these institutions by theological liberals. For at least fifteen or twenty years, fundamentalists and evangelicals at the local church and grassroots level had a profound suspicion of serious biblical and theological scholarship. But in the mid and late 1940s, this began to change as scholars who were willing to self-identify as fundamentalists (in the classic meaning of that term) and/or evangelical began to find each other, come together, and realize that in spite of all that divided them, they held one thing in common—the Bible and the Bible alone in its entirety is God’s Word written, it speaks truthfully on whatever it intends to say and teach, and hence it is the only rule for Christian faith and practice. Eventually in 1949 many of the fundamentalist and evangelical scholars who shared this conviction agreed there was a need for a scholarly society where members shared the same basis on which conservative scholarship and research should be discussed and debated. On that Doctrinal Basis, they formed the Evangelical Theological Society.

It is easy to forget, or perhaps many ETS members do not know, how deep and sometimes rancorous the divisions were that otherwise separated these same scholars. These divisions ranged from matters of church polity to biblical hermeneutics to the various loci of systematic theology. In fact, dispensational and amillennial theologians were accustomed to trading charges that the hermeneutical methods and theological systems of the other undermined the authority of Scripture. Scholars who practiced secondary separation risked their reputations if they joined with other evangelical scholars who practiced only primary separation or who were inclusivists. At least four of the ETS presidents in the first twenty years of the society would have been sympathetic to what is now known as biblical egalitarianism, a matter over which ETS members today have profound disagreements. Yet these scholars came together in ETS as did Pentecostals and cessationists, believer-immersionists and paedo-sprinklers, Arminians and Wesleyans and Reformed and Lutheran, as well as those who held to congregational, or presbyterial, or episcopal church polity.

A quick scan of the listing of ETS presidents over the past sixty-seven years and the institutions they represented makes the same point. Schools represented range from Wycliffe College, to Dallas Theological Seminary, to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, to Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, to Moody Bible Institute. The theological spectrum represented by ETS presidents is also quite remarkable. As I look at the list I can identify at least twelve presidents associated with one of five or six varieties of Presbyterian and Reformed communions, thirteen who were dispensationalists, five who were covenant premillennialists, one Pentecostal, three Wesleyans, and twelve sympathetic with biblical egalitarianism.

Throughout its history, ETS has been a demonstration of the Purpose for which ETS was formed: The Purpose of the Society shall be to foster conservative biblical scholarship by providing a medium for the oral exchange and written expression of thought and research in the general field of the theological disciplines as centered in the Scriptures.

So I return to the opening question and statement of my second point—“Is it even appropriate for resolutions to be introduced, debated, and voted on that go beyond the Doctrinal Basis and officially stated Purpose of the Society?” I believe the answer is a clear and unequivocal “No!” Why? Because such resolutions are inconsistent with the Purpose of ETS and the reason why we have a Doctrinal Basis and not a doctrinal statement.

Third, the introduction and passage of the four-fold resolution package and the internet conversations following the 67th Annual Meeting are symptomatic of the desire of some ETS members to move the Society in the direction of precise, doctrinal, and interpretive clarity and definition, ideally in the form of a doctrinal statement and other “position statements.” I am trained not only as a theologian but as a church historian; consequently I am inclined to be skeptical of conspiracy theories unless there is compelling evidence. Nevertheless, based on the evidence, some of us are now wondering if there is a conspiracy within ETS to:

  • ease out biblical egalitarians,
  • exclude women from the leadership of ETS,
  • let qualified women scholars know they are not part of “the old boys network,”
  • shut down discussion of contentious ethical and theological issues,
  • marginalize those who do not come out on the “right side” of those issues,
  • “pack” the nominating committee so as to get their compatriots in the positions of leadership,
  • question the evangelical and inerrantist bona fides of those who ask hard questions and come up with answers that most of us are not persuaded by, and
  • propose and pass a poorly framed set of four resolutions that makes the Society sound more like the Family Research Council or the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood than the intentionally diverse “medium for the oral and written expressions of thought and research in the general field of the theological disciplines as centered in the Scriptures” as stated in the ETS Purpose statement.

Lest I be misunderstood, I do believe that theological boundaries are important within the church and its institutions, and as an evangelical Protestant, I believe it is appropriate for churches and parachurch organizations to draw those boundary lines, based on their understanding of Scripture. But ETS is not a church and it was formed to serve a clearly defined purpose. It is significant that it takes an 80% majority vote to amend only three things in the ETS constitution—the Doctrinal Basis, the Society’s Purpose, and the requirement for an 80% majority to amend the first two items. The founders of our Society could hardly have made it clearer that they regarded the Purpose and Doctrinal Basis of ETS to be essential to the organization they were creating.

Why is it important to guard the integrity of the original Purpose and Basis of ETS? I will answer with another question. What better forum is there for collegial discussion and debate of complementarianism and egalitarianism, open theism and classical theism and all points in between, eschatology, the “new perspective” on Paul, and yes, even the question of whether same-sex “marriages” can be defended biblically, than a forum where we have agreed to appeal to the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice, the Bible, God’s Word written?

Copyright © 2016 by Stanley N. Gundry. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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  • I walked away from ETS by watching the way they approached and handled Open Theism. Mine is not a decision that rests on the acceptance or refusal of the Openness perspective, but the manner in which many (some ‘notable’) theologians and scholars treated those who were in the Openness camp. I had a few experiences where mean-spirited attacks, and snarky/whiny responses were given as part of papers, presentations, and even face-to-face by those who were pushing for a narrowly-defined ETS.

    Interestingly enough, many of the same names are circling the wagons around complementarianism, so I can probably imagine what folks like Stan Gundry are experiencing by way of reply (e.g., backlash). Although there are a number of good folks in the ETS, the power-hungry seem to be able to grab the reins and make for a terrible experience for those who do not accept their positions on certain matters. This is terrible behavior for evangelicals and theology (and even for societies!).

  • Tucker

    As a one-time “sister” member of ETS, I read this blog with sadness, anger and the concern that Stan is way too late for his protest. Indeed, a complementarian take-over was bound to happen as it has among Southern Baptists and a lot of independent churches and colleges. And it’s more than the women’s issue; it relates to young earth creationism and other issues as well—issues that lead to faculty firings over “doctrine” that had never before been in the doctrinal statement. I have a long history in fundamentalism that began in a little country church in northern Wisconsin. As an adult, I was for a short time involved in Carl McIntyre’s Presbyterian fundamentalism and later in the IFCA (Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America). Back then we had the decency to split off from the “heretics.” If one set of fundamentalism wasn’t orthodox enough for us, we left and formed a new group and were proud of it. In recent years, there has been an insidious and conspiratorial and political form of fundamentalism that hides behind closed doors. Ordinary folks (and sometimes scholars) have no idea what has happened until it’s the law of the Medes and Persians and nothing can be done about it.

  • John W. Frye

    I know Ruth Tucker, Stan Gundry and Scot McKnight personally. I deeply respect their opinions and scholarship. As a pastor watching this sometimes strident attempt by the complementarian, YEC, ESV endorsing, Reformed only group, I think they actually believe they alone are God’s last hope for the planet. There seems to be an arrogant messianic quest among them to the point they tamper with the Hebrew text to validate their *political* agenda regarding complementarian views (the ESV on Gen 3: 16). How novel is that?
    Personally I don’t think they know how very small their evangelical ghetto is. But in their view, “the way is narrow, and only we have found it.” Sad. Very sad.

  • pam

    seeking to control, powermongering, complementarian conspiracy at work, you say?

    Here’s a quiz. This quote is attributable to whom?

    “I would encourage younger pastors and scholars who support CBMW in the following ways:
    (1) Play offense and not just defense. ETS is an excellent place for many young scholars to do that”

    Wayne Grudem made this statement in his Personal Reflections, which can be found on CBMW’s website. It’s no secret he has become the Guru and Grand Poobah among a large proportion of pastors & seminarians. If Mr. Grudem said it, well, then it must be true.

    Regardless of his intentions, my observation is that his adherents have taken his words to heart and embarked on an aggressive military campaign of sorts — an offensive front.

    In her article entitled “A Question Mark Over My Head — Experiences of Women ETS Members at the 2014 ETS Annual Meeting”, Emily Louise Zimbrick-Rogers describes the following:

    “David Howard, a complementarian professor of Old Testament at Bethel Seminary and the 2003 ETS president, explained that the nominating committee process has become “somewhat of a coordinated effort” and “somewhat more politicized.”45

    Dan Treier, a systematic theology professor at Wheaton who describes himself as egalitarian in some respects and soft complementarian in others, said, “Not only has there been an attempt to keep women off the board, but there has been an attempt to stack the board with complementarian males and to keep egalitarian males out of the picture.”

    Another male complementarian who has been in leadership explained what he saw at play: “There are very strong complementarian forces that prevent women from getting on the nominating committee. . . . This subculture, this machine, is working at full force. These people want to control it.”
    *****

    http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/personal-reflections-on-the-history-of-cbmw-and-the-state-of-the-gender-debate/

    http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/question-mark-over-my-head

  • You failed to add “anti-gay” to your descriptors. Unfortunately, that’s a trait that’s not unique to ETS and is pervasive in the greater evangelical culture. I was struck by the notion in Scot’s post that it’s evidently reprehensible to treat women the same way evangelicals treat gays.

    What is this Jesus Creed thing again?

  • “Mine is not a decision that rests on the acceptance or refusal of the Openness perspective…”

    But isn’t it? If one really does hold Open Theism to be heresy, then wouldn’t you expect them to offer kind of rebuke that people like the Apostle Paul gave their own theological opponents? (Though I wouldn’t call them mean-spirited, snarky, or whiny—just firm, authentic, and often lamenting.)

  • I too was there for the whole Open Theism dust up, and it was badly handled. I have also heard papers castigating N. T. Wright and the New Perspective which were based on the Westminster Confession more than on Scripture. There is always something to get the angry young Calvinists worked up into a frenzy.

    Heresy or not, Open Theism does not violate the doctrinal basis of ETS, which is inerrancy and Trinity ONLY. The open theists may be wrong in their interpretation of the Bible (and I think they are wrong), but they still accepted the Bible as inerrant. They re-defined some attributes of God in a way inconsistent with traditional systematic theology, but they did not deny Trinity. An Open Theist would not be able to sign the doctrinal statement of my school or my church, but they should have been welcome in the ETS based on the doctrinal statement of the society.

    I would think both egalitarian and complmentarian views would be welcome in a scholarly society like ETS since neither violates the doctrinal statement. There are other scholarly societies where this debate would not be tolerated, but for other reasons!

    I would also like to think that scholars can sit down and discuss and debate these issues without resorting to underhanded “conspiracy” tactics better suited for political campaigns.

  • First, let me say that I’m going to leave the charge of heresy lie. This issue has been gone over many times in many places and, frankly, the use of heresy is too often used haphazardly around this issue (meaning “something I strongly disagree with” more than “outside the bounds of orthodoxy”). And, this discussion is not about Open Theism per se, but about the behavior of the ETS.

    Even if one believes that an issue (such as Openness) is heretical, the level of behavior to which I have referred remains ridiculous and unbecoming a disciple of Jesus. Most people probably have not seen the level of behavior and rhetoric that goes on behind the scenes around some of these issues, and my point is that I can imagine the sorts of responses that Stan Gundry will receive for this latest statement.

    So, EVEN IF one were to think of Openness as theological thought outside the bounds of orthodoxy, I still would believe that it would be wrong to speak and act in certain ways towards those opponents. In 2001 I stood at the front of the main hall in Colorado Springs and watched a leading member of ETS (some would say a notable scholar), who has been at the center of a few of these power-grabs over the years, who thought it appropriate to respond (in full view of those gathered around the just-finished presenter) by characterizing the “god of open theism” by wringing his hands, dancing on his tiptoes, and saying in a shrill and weak voice to mimic god, “I just don’t know about anything because I’m just a little god who needs to be told about what I know … (etc).” So, when I say mean-spirited, snarky, and whiny, I have this (and many other) situation not too far from my mind. And some people still regard him as a giant in the ETS and in evangelical theology.

    There are many who disagree with Open Theism (and other issues) that still believe in honest discussion and exploration into the things of God. As ETS seems to demonstrate, there is always another issue that needs to be fought by excluding voices. So, to answer your initial question, mine is not a decision that rests on the beliefs of the members of ETS, but on how ETS seems to handle such issues.

  • This was precisely the issue of Open Theism raised around Clark Pinnock, who I vividly recall sitting with heads in hand during that ugly discussion at ETS in 2000, Colo Spgs. Later he recanted, but I did not see an adequate statement from ETS showing forgiveness for how they handled it all. The tone and tenor of most was not civil and less than appropriate.

  • hoosier_bob

    I agree with Tucker that this protest comes far too late. I’m a layperson who connected with evangelicalism when I started attending Park Street Church with my college roommate. At the time, evangelicalism seemed to be turning a corner and leaving its fundamentalist past behind.

    But something happened in the mid-1990s that seemed to signal a return toward a kind of neo-fundamentalism. I kept thinking that it was a phase, and that evangelicalism would eventually correct its course. But no correction ever occurred. With each passing year, evangelicalism became increasingly misogynistic, increasingly racist, and increasingly homophobic. I finally just walked away, and regretted that I hadn’t done so 15 years earlier.

  • I wrote this six years ago after Pinnock died, recalling that Colorado Springs meeting. Although I disagree with Pinnock, Sanders and the rest of the Open Theism people, they were the classy people that weekend.

    https://readingacts.com/2010/08/17/sad-news-clark-pinnock-has-died/