Every year since I decided to pursue academic ministry I’ve attended the ETS national conference. As a theologian, I hope to attend every year no matter what job I have. While it has its flaws, it is one of the best places for evangelical minds to come together and sharpen and encourage one another, and 3 days later I’m still riding the high of stimulating discussion. This year was my 4th ETS, and my first visit to Baltimore.
My first year I visited all the papers I could on any topic that sounded interesting. Since then I’ve learned that not all papers are worth hearing (especially if they have provocative titles). So following my professors’ advice, I have come to assume anything really stellar will be published, thus I focus on papers either in my specialty or delivered by people I know. This year I only visited the papers of my friends and professors (and Craig Blaising, a mentor to my mentors), and the panel from the authors and editors of Five View on Inerrancy (inerrancy being the theme this year). All of these were good.
In lieu of papers, I focused my time on connecting with friends and professors, and trying to meet new people. This is the real value of these conferences, as other ETS veterans will attest. Great conversations with students, graduates, and professors alike provided insight, challenge, and encouragement that was worth the cost of the flight. So grateful for these people. (You know who you are.)
The plenary sessions by contrast were quite disappointing. Far be it from me to take such brilliant scholars as John Frame and D. A. Carson to task since I’m no expert on their work or inerrancy (or pretty much anything this early in my career). But they seemed to be preaching to the choir, affirming rather than arguing for inerrancy. Frame’s paper could be summed up as “Inerrancy is the fact that all the propositions of Scripture are true, corresponding to reality.” It is a truth not to be argued for but believed on faith as a presupposition of theological work. Carson’s paper seemed like an annotated bibliography of works not yet published; not sure what I was supposed to walk away with there. Neither was helpful for me, but I would be very interested to hear from those who gleaned more.
Due to other commitments, I missed Ben Witherington and his panel discussion with Frame and Carson, which is a shame because I was led to believe Witherington’s contribution would be more substantive. I have yet to hear about it from anyone who went.
As for inerrancy, the theme of discussion, I gleaned the most from that first “five views” panel, as well as papers from Josh Winn and Craig Blaising. As part of a discussion of the history behind Clark Pinnock’s challenged membership, Blaising explained the official role inerrancy plays at ETS as a platform for discussion rather than as part of a doctrinal statement. Winn’s paper did a great job of examining the relationship between the interpretation of the natural world and the interpretation of Scripture, which seems to get at the foundation of the debate. (As for the panel, just buy the book and you’ll probably get more than we got, although the back and forth between authors Mohler, Bird, Franke, and Enns was really good.)
One last note, I hear a vote was taken at the business meeting to extend ETS’s commitment to inerrancy another 65 years. It passed, of course; not sure who would have outed themselves by voting against it. But I wonder whether that will make a difference. I wonder whether more substantive discussion happened in rooms I wasn’t in, because the sense I get is there are doubts about inerrancy and I rarely heard them addressed. Can a passed motion prevent these doubts from resurfacing? Should it?