This Year’s Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society

By Scott Fowler

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week I attended the Evangelical Theological Society‘s (ETS) annual meeting. I am a new member of the society and this was my first time to attend the meeting. Around 2,200 people were in attendance and, essentially, the three days are spent listening to theological and philosophical papers prepared and read by various presenters.

 

Odd Man Out

 

In a couple of ways I was the odd man out last week. First of all, the ETS is apparently almost totally made up of Baptists, i.e., those who have a Reformed theology. I, being a classical Pentecostal, would not call myself Armenian, but I am certainly not a Calvinist. But that’s not what the week was about and I was not made to feel like an odd man out. I didn’t feel connected either, but I wasn’t there for the warm fuzzies.

 

Second, I would say everyone there was a professor or a theological student looking to become a professor. I was not intimidated by that. I wasn’t lost or over my head or unable to follow the conversations or presentations. I am an academic as well; I have just chosen to teach in the local church rather than pursue the academy.

 

Pentecostals Are Evangelicals

 

Occasionally, I hear Pentecostals express confusion when I group Pentecostals in with Evangelicals. I think the confusion stems from the tendency of Pentecostals to separate themselves from the rest of the church. No one loves Pentecost any more than I do, but Pentecostal scholarship tends to lean toward liberation theology, as if for some reason that would give us more credibility with non-Pentecostal, even non-Christian intellectuals. It’s as though we are always trying to prove that we are not from the other side of the tracks (more about all of this some other time). And, of course, we have been separated from others by the others because we speak in tongues.

 

The point is, while many Evangelicals are not Pentecostal, it is pretty rare to find a Pentecostal that is not an evangelical. So, what is an Evangelical? David Bebbington, Professor of History at the University of Stirling in Scotland, is known for his “quadrilateral” definition of Evangelicalism. For Bebbington, the defining marks of an Evangelical are Biblicism (particular reverence for the Bible), crucicentrism (focus on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), conversionism (the belief that people need to be born again), and activism (the conviction that we should actively share the gospel). Of course, all of these things apply to Pentecostals.

 

The Take Away

 

I enjoyed the week because I love theology and theological philosophy. I also enjoyed it because there were excellent resources available from every major Christian book publisher at excellent prices (I couldn’t resist!). I enjoyed the city of Baltimore (or what I saw of it). But, as enjoyable these things were, they were not the most important aspects of the week. I joined the ETS and attended the annual meeting because Evangelicalism is under attack from without and within and, as an evangelical Pentecostal, I have an interest in that. The theme for this year’s meeting was, “Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and ETS.” And when it comes to the issues that surround inerrancy and the theological defense of the Bible and the gospel, those issues have a home in the ETS.

 

The ETS Annual meeting was not simply a rehearsal of what everyone present believed. The presence of Peter Enns guaranteed that! There was room for some dissent and diversity as evidenced by the panel discussions. It was, I think, and atmosphere of vigorous discussion and debate, though the society seems to project a vivid recollection of those who have either left their number or were asked to leave based on their inability to agree upon the Bible’s inerrancy.

 

All in all, I was challenged by the various sessions I participated in and I am looking forward to next year’s meeting.

 

Scott Fowler is the founder of the Christ and Culture Initiative. He is a pastor/theologian living in New York. You can learn more about him at:  http://scottythinks.wordpress.com/about/

 

Coming Up at ccithink . . .

The Tickle Chronicles

Recently, I made an effort to contact Phyllis Tickle. In case you don’t know who she is, she is the founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, the author of several books, very visible on the web (just Google her), and for our interests here, one of the leading voices of a movement called Emergence Christianity. I wanted to contact her because I was (and still am) concerned about some things she has written and said. I had already some of my concerns in classes and in blog posts here at ccithink and I wanted to solicit her input and inform her that I have been and plan to continue discussing her theology. To my amazement, Ms. Tickle got back to me almost immediately. She was gracious and addressed my concerns

Veritas Conversation with Phyllis Tickle and C...
Veritas Conversation with Phyllis Tickle and Carmen Acevedo Butcher, 3/3/11 (Photo credit: Wyoming_Jackrabbit)

in-depth.

In an upcoming series of articles, I will share the questions I asked of Ms. Tickle, the answers she gave me, and the reasons for my ongoing concern. For these articles I will also draw on her many videos, articles, and interviews given as well as some of her books.

 

Upcoming In House Symposium on Gay Christianity

One of the challenges hurling toward the believing Church is the growing presence of gay Christianity. On a date still to be decided, the “fellows” of the Christ and Culture Initiative with gather to discuss the various questions and challenges facing the Church concerning this subject.

If you have well worked out thoughts on this subject, pro or con, or questions that you would like for us to consider, you are invited to submit those thoughts and questions by emailing them to ccithink@gmail.com. The deadline for submissions is May 15, 2013.

The Christ and Culture Initiative

By Scott Fowler

Christ and Culture

Last year I read H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic text, Christ and Culture. For years I had been meaning to read it but, truthfully, it is not the easiest read. But last year, it came alive! Not so much because of Niebuhr’s insights1 but because it so eloquently raises the question: What is to be done about the problem of Christ and culture?2 The question is profoundly important and constantly addressed—either consciously or subconsciously—by Christians and non-Christians alike; by religious and non-religious persons alike; by pop stars and prominent atheists, by actors and professors, by scientists and, of course, preachers of every ilk. My concern for the believing Church and an American culture increasingly hostile towards it,3 prompts my entry into this fray.

And so, for some time now, my question has been, Who do we look to for solutions to the complexities that arise where Christ and culture intersect? It is not hard to anticipate some of the potential answers to that question. For example, someone might suggest that we look to the Holy Spirit for our answers—sort of the “you do not need anyone to teach you” approach from 1 John 2:27. A respectable answer as long as that text is balanced with other texts. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11, we see that God has appointed and gifted some to be teachers. So, as we balance these texts with one another we can clearly see that we have an anointing from the Holy Spirit that enables us to discern between falsehood and truth and even to discern the content that would come from teachers. But we don’t observe a prescribed ethos of individualism that sees all Christians simply listening to their own voices.

Another response to the above question of Who do we look to? Might be, We look to our pastors! And so we do. But not every is pastor equipped and gifted at surveying the spiritual/cultural landscape and helping the Church and the culture at large to know what it should do, though we should expect to find that some are. But what happens when insightful pastors are not widely known or are simply not as good at communicating their insights as those are who tend toward heresy? Similarly, we might also expect that the professors in our Christian universities and seminaries would help in this area, and of course many have, but not all of them. In fact, some of the most egregious attacks against the believing Church are coming from inside evangelicalism.4

Wanted: Men of Issachar

In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we learn about the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Who are the modern “men of Issachar”? Chuck Colson, who died last year, was one of those men. He cultivated an awareness of the relevant issues where Christ intersects with culture, did his due diligence at researching and thinking through the issues from all sides, and fostered meaningful dialogue within and between the Church and the culture in an effort to help them know what they should do. Surely there are many men and women whom God can use in this perilous hour to fill this need for modern men and women of Issachar?!

Sadly, there are many inside the Church who are leading the believing Church astray. Men and women whom we have otherwise trusted are calling for the end of Scripture as the Church’s final authority and the end of an orthodox view of the atonement, calling it a “bloody sacrifice” that “no longer plays.”5 They are leading an assault on the Church’s understanding of Genesis 1-3, even removing our confidence in Adam and Eve and humanity as God’s special creation, bringing into question what we believe about original sin, the fall, and the need for the sacrificial death of Jesus.6 Some are saying that the Church might as well accept same-sex marriage and homosexuality as normal and open its arms to gay Christianity, saying the Church will simply “get over it.”7

The Christ and Culture Initiative is an effort to call together qualified men and women “of Issachar,” either through electronic means such as this blog or in actual convocation, who have been gifted and anointed by God to think through the complex issues that arise where Christ and culture intersect, to dialogue with one another and even with opposing voices through interviews and print concerning these issues, and to thoughtfully, lovingly, yet truthfully and firmly, inspire and challenge the Church and the culture through response.

1 I don’t agree with all of his conclusions but he does offer some important insights; I think the text is frequently misunderstood by modern readers.

2 Niebuhr calls this the enduring problem.

3 I actually mean two things here. I am concerned that the American culture is growing in its hostility toward the believing Church, but I am also concerned for American culture.

4 The believing Church must now of necessity begin to see itself as post-evangelical due to the marring of its true meaning by those who are peddling heresy from inside the Church and due to a media that either cannot or will not make the distinction between what used to be genuine evangelicalism and what now is not.

5 See Bart Gingerich’s coverage of the National Conversation on Emergence Christianity, in Emergence Christianity Comes to Memphis, http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/01/18/emergence-christianity-comes-to-memphis/ quoting Phyllis tickle. When I wrote Ms. Tickle, asking for transcripts, recordings, or video of the event, she replied: “There was no video taken . . . there was an audio which was taken for archival purposes only and will not be released. These decisions were made, I believe, in the interest of being sure that all who wished to speak or make comments or explore issues within the conversation could do so without concern for any post-conference continuations out of context.” See also Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, pages 98-101.

6 See the many articles found on the biologos.org website. See also Gingerich’s article.

7 Watch a 2009 Andrew Marin interview with Phyllis Tickle where Tickle says, “The truth of it is we’re going to get over this.” Andrew Marin, by the way, is the founder of The Marin Foundation, a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to build bridges between the LGBT community and, among other groups, the Church. Google the “I’m sorry campaign.”

Scott Fowler is the founder of the Christ and Culture Initiative. He is a pastor/theologian living in New York. You can learn more about him at:  http://scottythinks.wordpress.com/about/