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Reflections on the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society

In the Nick of Time

Jeff Straub

The third week of November is always reserved for the gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society, now in its 67th year. As we do not publish a new Nick during Thanksgiving week, I had to wait until this week to offer a few comments on the meeting.

Three of our full-time professors attended ETS, and one of our adjunct professors, Bryan Blazosky, presented a paper arising out of the dissertation work that he is completing for Brian Rosner at Ridley College in Australia. Some might question the appropriateness of fundamentalist schools participating in or even attending this meeting. However, the Central faculty have a long history both of attending and presenting papers, as have schools like Detroit, Faith, and others. Since this year’s meeting was held in Atlanta, a number of BJU faculty members attended as well.

The meeting is academic in nature. The three-day conference provides an opportunity to see old friends, classmates, and students, to make a few new friends, and to hear the latest scholarship from some of the brighter minds in conservative theology. It also provides an opportunity for a historian to gauge the thinking and direction of modern evangelicalism, for very often defenses of both sides of theologically divisive issues are expressed in the papers read at the annual meeting.

In recent years, the Society has taken on a distinctly Southern Baptist flavor. Several recent presidents of ETS have been professors at Southern Baptist schools (Tom Schreiner, 2014, and Bruce Ware, 2009, from Southern; and Craig Blaising, 2005, from Southwestern). The Southern Baptists are heavily represented both in attendance and paper presentation. Many of the seminary presidents make the meeting a priority, and so Southern Baptist professors show up en masse for the two business meetings of the Society. Southern Seminary holds an annual alumni dessert reception in which President R. Albert Mohler points out the large number of Southern graduates who present papers at the annual meeting. Southern Seminary graduates have been among the most prolific presenters in recent years. Further evidence of the Southern Baptist influence on ETS is the fact that the offices of the Society are now housed on the campus at Southern, and the Society’s executive director, J. Michael Thigpen, participates in campus academic life. (Coincidentally, Southern also hosts the offices of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.) The presence of conservative Southern Baptists has definitely strengthened the Society since 2000.

An example of this may be seen in a series of resolutions that were adopted. Several Southern Baptist professors, including Owen Strachan (Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern and President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), proposed a series of four resolutions addressing the current cultural pressures regarding homosexuality and gender identity:

  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.

These were discussed from the floor, with a few members questioning not the resolutions themselves but the precedent of accepting resolutions from the floor that had not been vetted by the Society’s executive committee. Thanks to the Southern Baptist presence at the Thursday business meeting, the resolutions passed overwhelmingly.

Since 2015 is the 200th anniversary of the death of Andrew Fuller, the great British Baptist missionary supporter of William Carey, the Baptist History study group hosted a series of eight papers on the life and thought of Fuller. There has been considerable debate in Southern Baptist circles as to the extent of Calvinist theology in their history, and both the Calvinistic and the more Arminian camps of the SBC want to claim Andrew Fuller as a theological progenitor. This tension was evident in a pair of papers arguing essentially antithetical theses regarding Fuller’s view of limited atonement!

The theme for the conference this year was “Marriage and Family.” Two of the plenary sessions were particularly well done. Myrto Theocharous of the Greek Bible College in Athens, Greece, handled a very difficult topic with great grace in her paper, “Becoming a Refuge: Sex Trafficking and the People of God.” ETS President Scott B. Rae’s address discussed current cultural issues in his paper, “Bioethics, the Church and the Family.” These were the only two plenary sessions I attended, so I cannot speak for other papers. I do understand from Denny Burk, another Southern Baptist, that some present openly endorsed gay marriage. Because the ETS doctrinal statement is at best minimalist, it will be interesting to observe how the current culture war over human sexuality impacts evangelicals in the long run. ETS will be one arena to watch as the debate continues to unfold.

Next year, the annual meeting will be held in San Antonio, Texas, and the theme will be on the Trinity. In light of certain issues pertaining to the egalitarian/complementarian discussion and other current issues on the nature of the triune God, the subject should produce a number of interesting papers. My plan is to submit a proposal for a paper on the Trinitarian conflict in early English Baptist history that resulted in the Salter’s Hall conflict of 1719.

——

Requiescat in pace. We learned early Thursday morning that one of our faithful graduates, Ernest “Ernie” Miller (b. 1974), of Edmonton, Alberta, succumbed on Wednesday evening to melanoma after a two-and-a-half-year struggle. Ernie graduated with the MDiv in 2001 and completed his ThM in 2011. Ernie’s father Murray also graduated from Central. Ernie taught for several years at Pillsbury before it closed in 2006. He moved back to Canada and became the pastor of Bible Baptist Church of Edmonton. He leaves a wife, Rachel, and four children under the age of eleven. We grieve with the family at his passing but rejoice that he is now in the presence of the Lord. “Ps. 116:15, “Faithful in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

divider

This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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By Grace I Am an Heir of Heaven
Christian L. Scheidt (1709–1761), trans. H. Breuckner

By grace I am an heir of heaven:
Why doubt this, O my trembling heart?
If what the Scriptures promise clearly
Is true and firm in ev’ry part,
This also must be truth divine:
By grace a crown of life is mine.

By grace alone shall I inherit
That blissful home beyond the skies.
Works count for naught, the Lord incarnate
Hath won for me the heav’nly prize.
Salvation by his death he wrought,
His grace alone my pardon bought.

By grace! These precious words remember
When sorely by thy sins oppressed,
When Satan comes to vex thy spirit,
When troubled conscience sighs for rest;
What reason cannot comprehend,
God doth to thee by grace extend.

By grace! Be this in death my comfort;
Despite my fears, ’tis well with me.
I know my sin in all its greatness,
But also him who sets me free.
My heart to naught but joy gives place
Since I am saved by grace, by grace.

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