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/

 

Your thoughts on this Tozer Quote . . .

I recently discovered this quote from Tozer that I think is priceless. What do you think he is saying?

A. W. Tozer
A. W. Tozer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It will cost something to walk slow in the parade of the ages, while excited men of time rush about confusing motion with progress. But it will pay in the long run and the true Christian is not much interested in anything short of that.”

What hath Uncle Remus to do with Phyllis Tickle? The Tickle Chronicles Part 3

Uncle Remus as portrayed by James Baskett in S...
Uncle Remus as portrayed by James Baskett in Song of the South (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is part 3 of The Tickle Chronicles. Tickle, an extremely articulate and highly influential voice in the Emergence Christian movement, answered some of my questions via email and gave me permission to share her thoughts with you.

By Scott Fowler

“Actual” vs. “Factual”

 I was riding the Splash Mountain ride at Disney World a few weeks ago, and a phrase written on the wall reminded me of Phyllis Tickle. The phrase derives from the lyrics of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (listen to the song below), a song from the censored Disney movie, Song of the South. In the song, Uncle Remus sings,

Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder. It’s the truth! It’s actual! Everything is satisfactual!

Ah! The simplicity of Disney in the 1940s and the naïve idea that things that were true were actual and factual!1

In the last article (Phyllis Tickle’s Dangerous Hermeneutic), I shared with you Tickle’s response to my question about her view of Biblical authority. When I suggested that she was part of the crowd that no longer sees the Bible as the final authority, she took exception:

NO! Now this one surprises me, for so far as I know I am not usually misunderstood or misquoted here. As an observant Anglican, I believe, and continue to believe, that authority rests in Scripture, reason and tradition. Like Emergence Christians, I believe that Scripture must be seen as “actually” true, rather than reduced to the confines and strictures of human “fact” or being “factually true” in the sense of Protestant Inerrancy, as that term is normally defined. It is one of the prime roles of the Holy Spirit to lead the believer to correct discernment of Scripture, and as Christians we read with and through the tutelage of the Spirit. The odd thing about this point’s being questioned is that I say a dozen times every lecturing day that if there were such a thing as an “average” Emergence Christian and an “average” Protestant or Roman Christian [which there is not, of course], it would be the Emergence Christian who exhibits the more radical and emphatic devotion to the ‘accuracy’ of Holy Writ and to believing in its absolute function as the Word of God Almighty, Now and Always. Of course, the Emergence would also be appalled by the need, esp. on the part of Protestantism, to reduce that same Scripture to non-paradoxical exegesis, to “acceptable” doctrine, to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of. The two, then…i.e., actuality vs. factuality… are entirely different approaches to Scripture, the Emergence being not only a more passionately persuaded one, but also a much, much humbler one. (Emphasis mine.)

So, here we encounter the concept of the Bible as actually true rather than factually true. I think Uncle Remus would be puzzled by this idea as many of us are! I am not sure if this concept originates with Tickle or not. Quoting David Sloan Wilson, Michael Dowd (someone who calls himself “America’s evolutionary evangelist) defines practical truth versus factual truth:

Practical truth is that which reliably produces personal wholeness and social coherence by motivating people to behave in ways that serve the wellbeing of the group. Factual truth is that which is measurably, scientifically real.

A very quick Google search did not yield much on the comparison either way. Nevertheless, Tickle stands by it. So, what is she really trying to get at here?

“Non-paradoxical Exegesis” or “Reason Trumps Truth”

We have to take account of Tickle’s entire statement and at this point pull in her reference to “non-paradoxical exegesis.”

the Emergence [Christian] would also be appalled by the need, esp. on the part of Protestantism, to reduce that same Scripture to non-paradoxical exegesis, to “acceptable” doctrine, to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of.

It sounds like Emergence Christians demand that the Bible not be reduced to straight forward truth but that it be allowed to be paradoxical. I think I can accept the reality that Scripture can be paradoxical. The grace of God is paradoxical. But does Tickle ever allow for Scripture to be factual, straight forward, literal, un-twistable? Is every doctrine of evangelicalism open to the kind of interpretation that somehow “paradoxically” turns the Bible’s prohibition against homosexuality into a celebration of it instead? If, as Gingerich reported,2 Tickle declares that the Bible does not support homosexuality, then how does one arrive at the “paradox” of gay Christianity as Tickle does?3

The last part of the quote above is curious as well and gives us the answer to how Tickle and the Emergence Christians who agree with her arrive at such beliefs. According to Tickle, Emergence Christians:

would . . . be appalled by the need . . . to reduce . . . Scripture . . . to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of.

Isn’t this what Tickle’s “actual-sans-factual” “paradoxical exegetical” approach does in the first place? The only way to embrace homosexuality while at the same time agreeing that Scripture prohibits it is through the constructs of and a mandate for a socially palatable human reasoning. In her interview with Andrew Marin, Tickle showcases her own use of human reasoning. Speaking of the various Scriptural prohibitions that she says the Church has “gotten over,” and of divorce in particular, Tickle said,

the Church itself is gonna have to come to grips with the fact that we have changed over the years, we have evolved, the law. We now admit divorce. Our Lord does not speak much about sexuality, but He’s very clear about divorce. It’s the only thing He’s really clear about. And we have managed because out of compassion, and I certainly am for that change, out of compassion and out of common sense and out of a recognition that our times and ways of being are different from those. We have managed to get around the divorce issue and now even ordain divorced clergy, and that kind of thing. The same thing is going to happen with the gay issue. It’s in process. (Emphasis mine.)

Ah! Human reasoning at its finest!

In her previous statement, Tickle must be referring only to Protestant human reasoning which one can only surmise is not as acceptable because, paradoxically speaking, it does not lead to doctrines acceptable to our present society. But in theory, Protestant human reasoning is that which has been influenced by a view of Scripture as “truth” and as “actual” as understood through their proper definitions. And, even though we are faced with difficult situations when our human reasonings collide with its truths, Protestants find the Bible to be, in the end, very “satisfactual!”

The Tutelage of the Spirit

As far as reading Scripture “through the tutelage of the Spirit” and “correctly discerning Scripture,” what can be assumed here but that Tickle has in mind what any of us would agree with: a belief that we come to Scripture by faith through the agency of the Holy Spirit and that He helps us to rightly divide the Word of truth? Words like these cause one to be almost persuaded that, indeed, Tickle is at last an evangelical! Then, we remind ourselves that when Tickle reads the prohibitions against homosexuality, acknowledges them, and yet embraces homosexuality and gay Christianity, we realize that either she is not an evangelical, or the definition of evangelical has changed.

Next Time: I asked Ms. Tickle a follow-up question concerning her stance on gay Christianity. Her response was passionate, reverent, and devotional, but was it Scriptural?

1 The word fact and the word satisfaction have in common the Latin facere “perform; do.” So, the word fact has its meaning in the idea of an event which has actually happened and which can be verified evidentially. The prefix satis means “enough,” so in the word satisfaction, a deed has actually been done enough.

2 http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/01/18/emergence-christianity-comes-to-memphis/

3 See the last article.

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 Scottythinks.com. 

In response to a response from crazyqueerclassicist:

By Scott Fowler

I am writing this article in response to one written by Chris Delmore who took exception to Roger Erdvig’s Boys will be boys . . . or will they? post of a couple weeks ago. By Chris’s own admission he intended to write an article that would be unexpected and annoying. It was unexpected (though not the ideas within, but the time taken to articulately respond to my challenge and Roger’s article), but it was not annoying.

It is not my intention to respond for Roger. Perhaps he will do that at a later date. But I do have some thoughts and questions for Chris.

Definitions

Chris immediately took exception to Roger’s dismissal of the transgender claims of children referred to in his article, demanding respect for their assertions. I would plead for understanding and patience on Chris’s part as far as we evangelical’s1 are concerned in even understanding where our language would be offensive in these issues. Your average Christian is unaware of the intricacies of transgenderism2 and all that it entails. But, I can say that we do not, and should not, say what we say in an effort to disrespect. But one must understand that evangelical Christians come at this issue with a different worldview; one that is less interested in making people comfortable in their choices or situations and more interested in addressing what to us seems like a tragic condition. It seems strange to simply accept that a little girl has begun to identify as a little boy and not try and find reasons for it. Why? Because our worldview says that God has not made people this way. So, since that is what we firmly believe, we look for solutions; for answers. The idea that gender is “by definition . . . a psychological concept” is a strange idea to us and one we cannot accept, and one that, in spite of the sources cited in Chris’s article, is one that probably has not been accepted by anyone for very long. In 1828 gender simply meant “a sex, male or female. . . . a difference in words to express distinction of sex.”3 The American Heritage Dictionary still retains this definition, though it opens the door for a distinction between “sex” and “gender” by defining gender as “sexual identity, especially in relation to society or culture” as well. So, the idea that gender is a psychological concept and that it and sex are “entirely separate concepts” is not one that we accept, in spite of Stryker and Butler and the massive intellectual fire power Chris wheeled out in order to make this point. It is hard however to reconcile the idea that gender is a psychological concept and yet see it defended as something that cannot be changed and, by implication as something that is not chosen or at least engendered by one’s familial environment, etc.

Clashing Worldviews

As for using God as support for our arguments, it is simply inadequate to say that such reference points are meaningless for those that do not believe in “a single, omnipotent, creationist God.” I assume that Chris embraces a postmodern philosophy that does not allow for absolute truth (in contrast I love the simplicity of Aquinas who asserts, “The existence of truth is self-evident. For whoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition ‘Truth does not exist’ is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth.”), though in one place Chris expresses agreement with Roger about truth. And I am unaware of Chris’s religious beliefs. In any case, just because there are individuals who have decided that God does not exist, does not mean He doesn’t exist. And there is no clause that allows for each of us to choose our own universe or our own eschatological destinies based on preference (i.e., the idea that since I don’t believe in God I won’t have to answer to God). Either there is a God or there is not. Either it is the God of the Bible, the Christian God, or it is not. Either the tenets of Scripture (the Bible) are true or they are not. This is the issue.

Do we find certain situations in the world that we cannot explain? Yes. Are there actually people who, as far as they know, are gay or lesbian or identify as being of a gender opposite to what the transgender literature describes as their “assigned sex”? Yes. But human experience does not define the Bible. The Bible defines human experience. Any Christian who sincerely thinks that every person involved in the LGBT community is simply, consciously trying to rebel against God should do some deeper thinking and investigation (though there certainly are those in the LGBT community who seem to be doing just that). But just because there are good-hearted, kind, well-meaning, even god-fearing individuals out there in the wide world who are attracted to the same sex or who identify opposite to their “assigned sex,” that does not make it acceptable. It does not, in and of itself, mean that those realities should be normalized or canonized into the list of normal human experience. The question here is which standard of truth will we adhere to?

Bottom-up Subjectivity4

I found interesting the four explanations to Roger’s rhetorical, “How did we get here so fast?” particularly, number three: the idea that acceptance comes to the LGBT community because people do not want to hurt their loved ones who have come out as LGBT. Of course, it is laudable when people love their friends and families and don’t want to hurt them. Any other intention would not make sense. But from an evangelical Christian standpoint, our commitment to God and to truth trumps our sentimentalities and even our staunch devotion to our loved ones. In fact, changing the truth in order not to hurt someone’s feelings is like a doctor not revealing a potentially fatal disease to a patient because he or she does not want to hurt the patient’s feelings. When we stop valuing and pursuing truth, all other ills find a home where truth once lived.

I respect Chris’s strong assertion that gender is not a choice; that trying to change one’s “crippling sex-gender incongruence” does not work. I care about the word crippling. And in spite of those evangelical Christians who seem to preach about hell like they want you to go there (we all know the type), I think we all are concerned about the word crippling. But our approach is to ask “What can we do to change the situation?” rather than to simply try and make the world more accepting. It’s like the difference between radical surgery and hospice. One you do because you want to fix it. The other you do because nothing else worked and you resign yourself to what doctors say is inevitable. Genuine, Bible-believing Christians want to fix it. I understand that we have not expressed that in love, and I understand that even when we do, those words may still be heard as offensive to the segment of society who is experiencing life as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person. But we want to fix it.

Unfortunate Disconnects

Finally, I think Chris’s last paragraph asserting an improper fixation on children’s genitals is unfair and is as unnecessary as is the implication that any of us would ever condone violence against transgender individuals (or anyone in the LGBT community). That’s not who we are. And I guess I want to address the concept of “homophobia” or “transphobia,” though not here and not yet, except to say that I don’t identify with the idea that we are afraid of homosexuality or transgenderism, etc. in the sense that we are concerned that it may hinder our quality of life or that we are necessarily afraid that we ourselves will become homosexual or transgender (though since we largely see these as being in the realm of choice or at least being environmentally influenced some of that may play a part). Ours is a pursuit of truth and a desire to fulfill the Great Commission, and a genuine concern for people.

I do have some questions:

-What was the earliest point that behavioral scientists or psychologists began to make a distinction between sex and gender?

-How much influence does environment play in gender identity?

– Are there transgender individuals who are happy to be transgender?

-Do transgender individuals claim that there is absolutely no reason to think that the elevation of transgenderism, etc. will ever have an effect on children who are what you refer to as cisgendered but who are bullied for other reasons, thereby leaving them vulnerable to suggestion?

1 I use the word “evangelical” with more and more reserve since I can no longer be confident that everyone is reads the same meaning into it any more. But the word “Christian” is worse since even more heresy is found under that rubric than the word evangelical.

2 Not sure is transgenderism is a fair way to reference here.

3 American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster 1828, (New York: S. Converse, 1828), gender.

4 The concept of “bottom-up” or “top down” applies here in that a growing number of people want to choose truth based on what humans experience or desire rather than from a perspective of what God desires.

 

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/