ETS 2017: In Perspective

by Jackson Watts, Matthew Bracey, and Jesse Owens

Two weeks ago the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society was held in Providence, Rhode Island. For nearly seventy years the society has existed to promote and encourage rigorous biblical and theological scholarship. ETS publishes a quarterly journal known as JETS (Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society), has regional chapters which hold annual meetings, and provide venues for scholarship and promote networks among scholars across various disciplines. Readers can learn more about ETS here or search for prior posts on the Forum about this organization and its annual meeting. This year’s program is also accessible here.

Since the theme of the meeting was the Heritage of the Reformation, it was appropriate for the meeting to be held in Providence, just down the street from the first Baptist church in America, founded by Roger Williams. Many of the sessions were related to the Reformation, or somehow connected to the theology of the Reformers. Yet regardless of one’s scholarly interests, there was something there for everyone.

This year three Forum contributors attended the meeting, and six Free Will Baptists in total presented papers, moderated sessions, or attended. In this post, we Forum members will provide an overview of the presentations that we were able to attend. As we all sat in on some of the same sessions, we have chosen for one of us in those instances to comment on those sessions.

ETS in Review

The first session we attended was given by Dr. Matt Pinson on Wednesday morning. It was entitled, “Are Predestination and Election Corporate? Toward a Reformed Arminian Account.” This is a subject Pinson has thought deeply on and researched, and the fruit of that reflection was shared in this paper. Pinson argues that Arminius taught individual election and then commented on how that belief might make a practical difference in interpreting key passages, as well as in making use of them in personal and corporate worship.

One of us then attended a presentation entitled “Experiencing Volunteer Satisfaction in the Context of a Local Church,” given by Paul Garverick of Indiana Wesleyan University. This presentation was adapted from some of Garverick’s doctoral research on a large Midwestern congregation. Garverick noted that there is extensive research done into people’s job satisfaction in the corporate world, but next-to-nothing available on volunteer satisfaction in the non-profit and religious sector. His research into how volunteers in the local church experience satisfaction in their service is a subject pastors need to spend more time reflecting on as we know they are the lifeblood of our ministries.

Leopoldo Sanchez of Concordia Seminary presented, “Teaching Outside Your Discipline.” Sanchez provided interesting personal anecdotes to explain how common it is for most persons in religious-affiliated colleges, universities, and seminaries to be asked to teach outside of their primary area of expertise. He then offered some reasons why this was actually positive and then provided practical hints for those who would be asked to do this occasionally or regularly. To those who find themselves in this situation, we’d recommend they purchase the audio presentation of his presentation here.

Matthew Easter, professor at Missouri Baptist University, presented an interesting paper entitled “Esau as Prototypical Defector from the Community of Faith.” He explored a figure seldom mentioned in discussions of Hebrews. We tend to hear much about Moses, Melchizedek, and more, but not Esau. However, Dr. Easter helped attendees think deeply about what the author of Hebrews might be teaching about the nature of community and true faith by considering the example of Esau.

A highlight of the meeting was the second plenary address given by Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Seminary and prolific author. He gave an address on Martin Luther. George explored an aspect of Luther’s story that is often not discussed: the role that the Devil and the demonic played in his own spiritual and theological journey.

One of our favorite Wesleyan theologians Fred Sanders presented a paper entitled “Grace the Civilizer: Paul Undomesticated in the Pastoral Epistles.” He explored Titus 2:11-14 as a key passage for theologically orienting the reader to a major theme of the Pastoral Epistles. His presentation was followed by Eckhard Schnabel who presented “The Contribution of the Pastoral Epistles to New Testament Ecclesiology.” In the spirit of Luther, he offered forty theses that could be derived from the Pastoral Epistles to inform one’s ecclesiology.

One of us caught the tail-end of a panel discussion surrounding a somewhat recently-published book entitled Canonical Theology. Panelists discussed this book and especially the problems associated with a term like “canonical theology,” which has come to describe several different ideas at once. Nevertheless, the topic of theological method continues to be a significant one in modern evangelical scholarship.

Jonathan Padgett, pastor and doctoral candidate from Southern Seminary, present a stirring but informative paper entitled “Child Sexual Trauma, Dissociation, and the Soul: A Christian Psychology Proposal.” Like it or not, pastors must be better equipped to minister in what Eddie Moody calls a “changing sexual landscape.” This includes many young and middle-aged adults dealing with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Jackson Watts delivered a paper entitled “Cultural Analysis and the Dynamics of Leading Change in the Church” to a room full of interested scholars and local church leaders. Watts explained the importance of assessing the culture of one’s church in order to determine the best way to lead change. Just like communities, churches are unique as well. Therefore, local church leaders need to be fully aware of the social setting of their church, and their unique church culture. What do people value? How do they view worship, architecture, or other artifacts? How do they respond to other forms of change? These and other questions are important for pastors seeking to bring about healthy change in their church. Watts’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion of how to best assess one’s cultural setting.

On Wednesday, one of us attended a panel discussion of the question “Is the Reformation Over?” The panel consisted of and was moderated by Wesleyan scholars, including Charles Edward White (Moderator), Daryl McCarthy, Carey Vinzant, and Gareth Cockeril. The panel discussion began with a lively defense of justification by grace through faith by Daryl McCarthy. McCarthy concluded that the Reformation is not over since the Roman Catholic Church’s practical teaching on justification remains largely unchanged since the time of the Reformation. Vinzant and Cockeril were hesitant to answer the question directly, opting instead to focus on a document entitled “Is the Reformation Over?” In the end, Vinzant and Cockeril seemed to find much in common with Roman Catholic theology, even on the doctrine of justification. They’d perhaps like to nuance their views a bit more, but the panel left some concerns on the table.

Another fascinating panel held was entitled the “State of Social Trinitarianism.” Fred Sanders moderated the discussion while Tom McCall, Luke Stamps, and Dolf te Velde served as panelists. As usual, Fred Sanders was brilliant, insightful, and entertaining. McCall and Stamps engaged in several hardy disagreements, and te Velde offered several insightful comments on Arminius’s Trinitarian theology. McCall, although he does not affirm Social Trinitarianism, defended what he thought were valuable contributions made by Social Trinitarian theology and theologians.

Peter Leithart, R. R. Reno, and Jennifer Powell McNutt participated in a panel in which they discussed the public legacy of the Reformation. This was an insightful discussion exploring religious freedom, as well as the organizational fragmentation that has resulted from the Reformation.

Forum contributor Jesse Owens presented a paper entitled, “The English General Baptists: The Anti-rationalists.” His thesis was that the Arminian General Baptists of the late-seventeenth century were not rationalists, as author Richard Muller argues. Rather, they affirmed the radical total depravity of man and the necessity of God’s preceding, operative, and sustaining grace. Part I of Jesse’s presentation may be found here and Part II here.

Another panel discussion featured Mark Coppenger, David McNutt, Eugene Merrill, Matthew Rosebrock, and Taylor Worley. The discussion followed on the heels of a presentation from Coppenger about the place of images in the life of the church entitled, “Iconography Meets Phenomenology Meets Karpology.” Whereas Eastern traditions have tended to use icons and images as a means of worship, Western traditions have tended to view them as art. The panel discussion followed this theme.

ETS President Sam Storms gave an address during the banquet Thursday night. He sought to demonstrate how someone can believe in a closed canon and the sufficiency of Scripture and in the continuation of sign gifts. He showed examples form the New Testament of believers receiving prophetic utterances that did not rise to the level of canonical Scripture. However, in so doing, he failed to distinguish these instances from the Holy Spirit’s illumination in the hearts and minds of all believers.

Marvin Jones, professor at Louisiana College, gave a presentation on “Thomas Helwys’s Ecclesiology: Religious Liberty as Culmination of Reformed Thought.” Naturally, this was an appealing topic for contributors and readers of this forum. Jones’s book The Beginnings of Baptist Ecclesiology may be found here.

Timothy Walker, a doctoral student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, presented on Carl F. H. Henry’s view of natural law in sociopolitical engagement. Walker asked, “How shall Christians then engage?” Not only is the created order fallen, according to Henry, but men and women are also fallen. The proper basis for sociopolitical engagement is, therefore, not nature, but special revelation. Walker, however, argued for the role of natural law in such engagement.

Free Will Baptists were well-represented on this year’s program. In addition to the sessions above, Dr. Matthew McAffee of Welch College moderated a section of the program and also presented “Ugaritic Ditanu and Greek Titans: An Appraisal of Etymological and Narrative Connections.” He continues to establish himself as a notable scholar in his particular field. Dr. Jeff Cockrell of Welch College also attended, and moderated a New Testament section of papers on the Gospel of Mark.

 Concluding Thoughts

Naturally there were many other interesting sessions. Several were organized around recent or upcoming publications. One session featured all the contributors to Four Views on the Church’s Mission (Zondervan). They presented their positions and then engaged in dialogue and took questions from the audience. Crossway also has recently published a significant new book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Theological, and Philosophical Critique. Contributors to this massive, 1000+ page book presented their arguments from multiple disciplines and then took questions from attendees.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for us is the fact that we continue to be pleasantly surprised by the growing interest in Reformed or Classical Arminianism. We all continue to encounter new persons dissatisfied with five-point Calvinism or with mainstream Southern Baptist thought, Wesleyanism, and more, who are finding their way into the legacy of Arminius via Helwys, Grantham, and then modern Free Will Baptists like Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, Matt Pinson, and others.

Next year the society will hold its annual meeting in Denver on November 13-15. The theme will be “The Holy Spirit.” Perhaps we’ll see you there.

Author: The Helwys Society

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