Evangelicals in the dock.

Author:Leithart, Peter J.

It's called straining a gnat and swallowing a camel. At its annual meeting in Atlanta in November 2003, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) voted to permit Clark Pinnock and John Sanders to retain their membership in the society. The two had been charged with denying the ETS statement of belief. That statement has two parts, one affirming the inerrancy of Scripture and the other affirming the doctrine of the Trinity. Pinnock and Sanders were charged with violating the first clause, which states that "the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs."

These charges were first brought by Roger Nicole at the ETS meeting of November 2002. The gathered scholars, by majority vote, referred his charges to the ETS Executive Committee for further investigation. In October 2003, the Executive Committee met with accuser and accused in order to determine what report to make to the upcoming November 2003 general meeting. In regard to Pinnock, the focus was on his book Most Moved Mover, which included a number of statements that, Nicole argued, "violated the inerrancy clause of our doctrinal statement." One of Pinnock's footnotes (number sixty-six on pp. 50-51, now famous in ETS lore) received the most extended attention. In it, Pinnock stated that prophecies of Scripture are not always fulfilled in precisely the way they were predicted. For example, he wrote that "according to Paul, the second coming seemed to be just around the corner (1 Thessolonians 4:17), even though we today know that k has still not come even in our own day. His word was, however, perfectly appropriate, given the fact that Paul thought that the coming could come at any time." Similarly, Jesus predicted that there would not be one stone left on another when the temple fell, which proved to be a "hyperbolic prophecy." According to Nicole, this claim that biblical prophecy could be mistaken in details violates the Society's statement on inerrancy.

In the case of Sanders, Nicole charged that he violated the statement on inerrancy by writing in his The God Who Risks (1998) that "some predictions in Scripture either do not come to pass at all (for example, the account of Jonah; 2 Kings 20) or do not come to pass exactly as they were foretold." According to the Executive Committee's report, Sanders "holds that many biblical predictions about the future in Scripture may not come to pass as described. However, in...

To continue reading