The Glaring Inadequacy of the ETS Doctrinal Statement -- By: Ray Van Neste

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 008:4 (Winter 2004)
Article: The Glaring Inadequacy of the ETS Doctrinal Statement
Author: Ray Van Neste

The Glaring Inadequacy of the ETS Doctrinal Statement

Ray Van Neste

Ray Van Neste serves as the Director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He received his Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Dr. Van Neste has served in pastoral and preaching ministry in Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Scotland.


Carl Henry was not only a key architect of the evangelical movement but also a prophetic critic especially as the years progressed and he began to see a loss of direction and vitality in the evangelical movement. One of Henry’s concerns was the loss of evangelical identity.1 Henry even stated, “The evangelicals have increasingly become so broad a spectrum that the term ‘evangelical’ has become meaningless.”2 His concerns were prophetic. The boundaries of evangelicalism have become even more blurred, leading the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) to adopt as its theme for their 2001 Annual Meeting, “Defining Evangelicalism’s Boundaries.” However, it is uncertain whether the conversation generated by this meeting has produced any greater clarity. In fact, the Evangelical Theological Society, which Henry helped to start, appears to lack clear definition itself. Thus, in the spirit of Henry’s critiques, desiring clarity for the sake of the gospel, I offer the following critique of the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society. What follows is essentially the manuscript of a paper given at the 2001 Annual Meeting and retains the rhetorical flavor of the original oral presentation.


The events of Sept 11 have raised awareness of the importance of boundaries or limitations—boundaries determining who may be admitted into our country and who may not, or determining what may be carried onto airplanes and what may not. Boundaries exist to include and exclude; and, as we have seen, the failure to properly exclude has disastrous results.

Something similar can be said of doctrinal statements, which serve as theological boundaries. To function well—indeed, to be of any use at all—they must clearly demarcate a line of exclusion and inclusion. If doctrinal statements fail to exclude properly, they provide neither definition nor boundaries to any group. A group without bounds then easily becomes a group without cohesion, and, like a word without definition, loses any relevance it may have had. It is the contention of this paper that the current ETS doctrinal statement is simply inadequate as it f...

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