(Originally printed in the Winter 2005 Issue of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 8)
The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) was formed for a single purpose—to defend the inerrancy of the Bible. It appears that postmodernism has defanged the ETS as it is unable to respond to warning cries of some of its remaining charter members and others against the hermeneutics and interpretations of neotheists1We chose the term neotheism over open theism to denote a clear distinction from biblical theism. This is a new theism rather than merely a revision of orthodox theism. Although the term open theism is the popular phrase used to describe the views of Pinnock and Sanders, we feel that neotheism more accurately describes their position. John Sanders and Clark Pinnock. The postmodern mind must have had some effect on the organization as it now struggles even to define inerrancy, even with the help of charter members who have explained their meaning of inerrancy to the current membership. How can an organization defend what it fails to be able to define? Neotheism has undercut the nature of the Being by Whom we can say with confidence that the Bible is inerrant—God. And the ETS is left unable to defend Scripture—their lone purpose.
Clark Pinnock and John Sanders claim to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, both men are adamant that they believe and adhere to the inerrancy position through their works. The ETS took the time to examine the positions, writings, and personal testimony of these men to see if they should remove them from the ETS. Why, with such learned people as make up the membership of the ETS, is it difficult to come to a definite decision? Isn’t this a simple “yes” or “no” question? One either adheres to the inerrancy position or a person does not.
A point of contention is how one defines inerrancy. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (TCSBI) is one attempt to explain the nature and qualities of the Bible. At one point in the TCSBI it states:
The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan)2In the case of Pinnock and Sanders, the TCBSI should additionally include the false predictions by God. Our reasons for saying this will be explained following this section of the article, or seeming discrepancy between one passage and another.3“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21, no.4 (December 1978): 295.
In other words, the Bible accurately records the mistakes persons of the Bible make. If God made a mistake, the Bible would still be inerrant if it recorded that mistake correctly. This appears to be the position of both Pinnock and Sanders. We believe we should explain the position of Pinnock and Sanders in this way:
1) The Bible is without error
2) God is not without error
3) The God who is not without error inspired a Bible that is without error.
In John Sanders response to the ETS charge of breaking the group’s inerrancy statement he writes:
Assuming for the sake of argument that a divine change of mind constitutes an error (which I deny it does), this would not imply that Scripture is in error for it correctly records the event. So long as Scripture accurately reports God’s ‘error’ in changing his mind, the inerrancy of Scripture would be preserved.4John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/responsesanders-full.html>
What Sanders means is if God intends one thing and another happens, He was not erred. We disagree with this position and have explained why in the section on Truth. As incredible and improbable as this may sound, we have (in the minds of Pinnock and Sanders) a God Who can commit an error responsible for a text that is without error.
This may keep these men in compliance with the inerrancy requirements for ETS, though it does not pass the smell test. Whose father would not have responded to such logic by saying, “DON’T GET SMART WITH ME!” In other words, the logical thing Pinnock and Sanders should have done was to resign from the ETS. It is our opinion that a neotheistic God logically rules out those who believe this to be the nature of the One Who inspired Scripture from a statement of inerrancy.
Pinnock and Sanders believe that philosophically and logically neotheism does not deny the inerrancy of Scripture. But, it would be wrong for the neotheist to claim that the Bible is inerrant, just yet. Under the neotheist model, God does not have complete foreknowledge of the future. So, we, nor even God, should claim that the Bible is inerrant. It may or it may not be. Only history and time can decide if it should be said the Bible was inerrant. The Bible predicts events such as the Second Coming of Christ, which has not occurred. Unless the future is known for certain we cannot make the claim for inerrancy. Some mad scientist or politician may destroy the earth, and Christ may not have any people to come back to, and He decides not to return. God cannot claim that the Bible is correct when He does not know the future. So we must conclude, if neotheism is correct, that we do not know if the Bible is inerrant. We all—including God—will have to wait for the conclusion of the play. We cannot know the inerrancy of Scripture until the end of time, and we know that all prophecies of the Bible were true.
Philosophers have proposed several definitions for truth through the years. A pragmatist, for example, sees truth as “what works.” However, we should define truth as that which corresponds with reality. Neotheists must use an intentional view of truth to explain why God can wrongly predict future actions of free moral agents and remain “truthful.”
The Britannica series Great Books of the Western World differentiates physical truth from moral truth:
What Dr. Johnson calls moral truth consists in the obligation to say what we mean. In contrast what he calls physical truth depends not on the veracity of what we say but on the validity of what we mean.”5Robert M. Hutchins, Ed., Great Books of the Western World vol. 3 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1986), 650
Neotheists can no longer expect that God knows physical truth despite the fact that He makes predictions about future physical truths. Sanders explains:
Divine expectations of what creatures with libertarian freedom will do are based on perfect knowledge of the probabilities of the situation. Let us say that there was a 71% chance Israel would put away her idols and a 29% chance she would not. I take it that the biblical language of divine surprise is attempting to get at such a notion. In my view, divine omniscience contains both knowledge of certainties and probabilities. In Scripture when God says “I thought” it is referring to God’s knowledge of probabilities or expectations. God expects the higher probability to come about but is not caught off-guard when it does not since he knew there was a smaller probability that it would not.6John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/response-sanders-full.html>
Neotheists still do believe God is trustworthy about moral truth. God says what He means about what He wants to happen, and it would be wrong, according to neotheists, for us to hold Him accountable when things do not work as He would have liked because of the wrongful use of our free will. This is an intentionalist view of truth. For example: If God intended X, and Y happens; God is still trustworthy. John Sanders gives this example in his response to the ETS charges:
Suppose a mother says to her children, “Tomorrow we will go visit grandpa.” But that evening her husband has a heart attack and has to be hospitalized. Would the children have a valid claim that their mother is untrustworthy because she did not fulfill her promise? Certainly not. The mother spoke truthfully with the full intention [emphasis added] of carrying out what she had promised. But the circumstances changed. Suppose a husband tells his wife that he is going to the grocery store and will be back in twenty minutes to begin grilling for the picnic. However, two hours later he comes in and declares that he has not even been to the store. Instead, he came upon an accident and responded by providing help to the victims. Would his wife be reasonable to respond that her husband was untrustworthy? Hardly! Such situations illustrates that people may be trustworthy who respond appropriately and cancel previous commitments due to changes in the situation.7John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/response-sanders-full.html>
We would agree with this example, in part, because humans do not know what is going to happen in the future. However, the words of the mother were not true. Human statements are not Scripture because humans do not know the future and are unable to make such a bold statement about physical truths. We would agree with this assessment in regard to humans, because humans do not predict the coming of the Messiah or have the sovereign control over world leaders and nations (i.e., Daniel, and the return of Messiah). Determining the nature of God based on human limitations is, however, unwise. What assurance of the future do we have if God’s knowledge of the future is limited and, as neotheists argue, nonexistent?
A question we must answer is whether or not it would be an error for God to intend X and Y to happen? Great Books of the Western World says:
Of course, the man who speaks truthfully may in fact say what is false, just as the man whose intent is to falsify may inadvertently speak the truth. The intention to speak one’s mind does not guarantee that one’s mind is free from error or in possession of the truth.”8Robert M. Hutchins, Ed., Great Books of the Western World vol. 3 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1986), 650
It appears the philosophers and logicians do not agree with Sanders assessment of truth and error. They consider it to be an error for humans to say X and Y happens, though not a moral error, an error nonetheless. Intent does not mean a human would be morally wrong, but intent does not remove error from a statement that is not true. Similarly, if God intends X, and Y happens; this is an error.
Pinnock and Sanders have both admitted error in portions of their books during this debate within ETS.9John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/response-sanders-full.html> and Pinnock, Revision of Most Moved Mover, 10/17/03 on-line at http://www. etsjets.org/members/challenge/execcomm/A-Pinnock-Response-10-1703.html Both explain this to be unfortunate and poorly chosen wording. Rather, it is the logical conclusion to their thinking and model of God.
With respect to prophecy, Clark Pinnock, in footnote 66 in his book Most Moved Mover, says:
We may not want to admit it but prophecies often go unfulfilled … God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own.10Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 51
Part of the problem is Pinnock reads into the text ideas it does not communicate and then explains how God acted differently than He initially intended. For example he says:
…the Assyrians did not destroy Jerusalem in the eighth century (Mic. 3:9-12).11Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 51
Micah does not say that Assyria would destroy Jerusalem:
Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness. Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us.” Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets (Mic. 3:9-12, NIV).
What this text says is that Jerusalem will be destroyed. If one takes the time to read the whole book of Micah, a person will find the only reference to Assyria involves its own destruction (Micah 5:5-7). Pinnock answers his own hermeneutical problem:
Regarding Micah 3:9-12, it seem as if the prophet in the eighth century predicted the destruction of Jerusalem as something that might happen in his time but which in fact happened later on. But Micah did not dogmatise [sic] as to when it has to happen. It’s a simple question of prophetic perspective. From his point of view, it must have seemed to be delayed. But in the end, the oracle in Micah was fulfilled in that what was affirmed in this text was the destruction of Jerusalem, not the date of it.12Pinnock, Pinnock, Revision of Most Moved Mover, 10/17/03 on-line at http://www. etsjets.org/members/challenge/execcomm/A-Pinnock-Response-10-1703.html
At issue is not what Micah thought. In fact, it is a poor hermeneutical tool to base God’s meaning on human feelings, e. g. Jonah. By this standard, God would have been wrong to spare Nineveh, because it was not what Jonah wanted to happen. The goal of the reader should be to discover what God meant. The examination of people’s thoughts to determine Divine revision is a mistake.
John Sanders does not even follow his intentional view of truth with respect to himself. As we will note below and Sanders will explain: He intended to say X, and he said Y; and he calls this a mistake. He uses a correspondent view of truth to apply to himself and an intentional view of truth with respect to God. Sanders states:
In response to this charge let me begin by saying that just as Calvin made continual revisions in his Institutes so I need to revise some of my remarks. In this case, I repent in dust and ashes that I used the word “mistaken” in trying to explain my point. It was a mistake to use the word mistaken. I certainly wish I had expressed the idea differently. So let me now attempt to do so. On pages 132-3 of my The God Who Risks I was trying to understand the biblical texts where God is surprised or where it says that what God thought would happen did not happen (e. g. Jer. 3:7; 32:35). I asked if this meant that God was “mistaken.” I was certainly not saying that God was wrong or erroneous. In fact, I said (p. 132) that God would be mistaken only if he declared that X would infallibly come to pass and it did not. But God never makes pronouncements about infallible happenings unless they will infallibly happen. That is, God does not declare with absolute certainly that X will occur unless he knows it as absolute certainty. Hence, God does not make mistakes. Then, I said, speaking more “loosely” it might be said that God would be mistaken if he “believed” X would happen and it did not happen. I take Jeremiah 3:7 and 32:35 to be examples of God believing something will happen yet that does not happen.13John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/response-sanders-full.html>
He begins by asking for forgiveness because he stated X, and he meant Y. He calls this a mistake. Yet for God to state X and mean Y is not a mistake. He has placed himself on a higher standard than he has placed his Creator.
The intentional view of truth is not adequate to the Christian worldview and the understanding of truth fundamental to biblical study. Most teachers do not use an intentional view of truth when grading a test. In fact, we would not be very happy with a school district whose policy was to make intention the mark for truth. Most people hold themselves and others to a higher standard for truth. That standard is what corresponds to reality. In 2 Kings 18, the Assyrian commander told the people of Jerusalem not to trust the Lord to save Jerusalem. The question is: Should they trust Him? In other words, should they trust a God with an intentional view of truth? Was it God’s intention to save Jerusalem or was this fact?
When a person has a loved one die, we must ask if or why God’s intent to save their life would bring comfort? God’s response to the loss would sound like this, “I wanted to save them, but the situation surprised me, and that is not what I expected to happen.” Rather, we trust in a God of purpose—that this tragedy can be used to the glory of God—and in the face of pain and suffering, good will come. When God says, “Believe and you will be saved,” is it His intention that He speaks of, or is this a fact?
Hear the words of Paul: “And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles” (1 Tim. 2:7, NIV). Is this intention or fact?
The Church’s understanding of God’s knowledge has been almost universal and virtually unchanged throughout Church history. This does not mean, however, that this definition is correct. As stated in the section on Truth, something is not true because we believe it, because it is old, or because it is new. An idea is true because it corresponds to and with reality. So, the goal is not to continue to believe the classical view of omniscience because it is what we, as the Church, have always believed. The goal is to see if the classical, the neotheist, or some other understanding of omniscience corresponds to reality.
We find definitions to be extremely important in this debate. When one says one believes in the omniscience of God, we should be asking, “What does that mean?” A neotheist would say he believes in the omniscience of God. Yet, if one takes the time to examine what he means, one will discover the meaning of the word has changed from the classical meaning. Neotheists have gone to great length to define what they mean when speaking about the nature of God’s omniscience. Their definition bares little resemblance to the classical definition of the nature of God’s knowledge. First, we will look at the classical definition of omniscience and then define and contrast this understanding with the neotheist interpretation of this concept.
Several people’s definitions—both contemporary and historic—show the universal agreement, through time, of the Church’s understanding of God’s omniscience. A. W. Tozer, a well-known and a popular theologian, writes:
To say that God is omniscient is to say that He possesses perfect knowledge and therefore has no need to learn. But it is more: it is to say that God has never learned and cannot learn.14A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper, 1978), 55
One might say it is good to learn, and God would be lacking in some way if He were not able to learn. But, this would be a man-centered or humanistic understanding of reality. It is good for those who lack knowledge to learn. The ability to learn is not good in an ultimate sense. The goodness of learning has the intuitive understanding that there is the need to learn. So for humans, who do not have full knowledge, learning is good. This is not the case for God as Tozer has described Him. God’s attributes of perfection and pure actuality mean that everything that can be known is known, past, present, and future, by an eternal God. God, as an eternal being, does not come to know. He KNOWS.
Pinnock in the Most Moved Mover mentions the book, The Battle for God, as an antagonist to those who follow Neotheism. H. Wayne House and Norman Geisler, the writers of The Battle for God, define omniscience as:
God’s knowledge of Himself and His creation is infinite. It is exhaustive of everything external to Him (Isa. 40:28) and internal to Himself within the members of the Trinity (Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 2:11). He has perfect knowledge of Himself (scientia necessaria, “necessary Knowledge”), and He has exhaustive knowledge of all else. He knows everything immediately, not by acquired understanding (Ps. 139:1-6).15Norman L. Geisler and H. Wayne House, The Battle for God (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), 21
God does not acquire knowledge. This is an important element to the classical understanding of omniscience.
Saint Anselm explains omniscience to be indistinguishable from truth. He says:
But, since knowing is the same to the supreme Spirit as conceiving or expressing, he must know all things that he knows in the same way in which he expresses or conceives of them. Therefore, just as all things are in his Word life and truth, so are they in his knowledge.”16St. Anslem, St. Anslem Basic Writings, 2nd, trans. S. N. Deane (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1962), 145
The knowledge of God is truth. Remember our definition of truth. Anselm’s definition eliminates an intentional view of truth, and so God’s knowledge of the future cannot be intent. As we will show in the following section, the neotheist believes the future does not yet exist; so Anselm and the classical understanding of omniscience distances itself from the neotheistic definition. God’s knowledge of the future, from a neotheistic view, can only be His intentions about the future. For Anselm, His knowledge is true just as His Word is true. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NKJV).
John Sanders defines omniscience in this way:
[T]he omniscient God knows all that is logically possible to know. God knows the past and present with exhaustive definite knowledge and knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open).17John Sanders and Christopher A. Hall, “Does God Know Your Next Move?,” Christianity Today, 21 May 2001, 43
Sanders however has equivocated on the term “know.” In the same article he states:
…the ‘future’ does not yet exist so there is nothing ‘there’ to be known.18John Sanders and Christopher A. Hall, “Does God Know Your Next Move?,” Christianity Today, 21 May 2001, 43
God, from a neotheistic position, does not know that Christ will return in the same way that He knows Christ died on the cross. From the classical position of omniscience, Sanders could claim the future is “closed” regarding Christ’s Return because we understand that God knows the future from the eternal now. God has the same knowledge of the past as He does of the future. This is a standard that Sanders rejected above. Sanders would have rightly stated his position had he said God has intentions about some parts of the future. For example, the Father intends to have Christ return and other parts of the future are open to human free will.
Let us hear Sanders words:
Hence, you incorrectly state our view when you say we believe that ‘God’s knowledge of the future is limited.’ We believe that God knows all that can be known, and to say that it is a limitation for God not to know ‘nothing’ is ridiculous.19John Sanders and Christopher A. Hall, “Does God Know Your Next Move?,” Christianity Today, 21 May 2001, 43
So, as Sanders has defined omniscience, a neotheist should say, “it is ridiculous to say that God knows Christ will return in the future because there is nothing to know.” Thus, to be consistent with his definitions, Sanders should say that God intends for Christ to return. It would appear that an accurate explanation of God’s knowledge of future events is that God has intentions about part of the future and other parts are open. Therefore, to be consistent with this definition, a neotheist should explain omniscience in the following way: God has exhaustive knowledge of the past and present with clear intentions about some parts of the future.
It does not seem that God’s knowledge of the present, as defined by neotheists, holds up under scrutiny either. The position of neotheism is that God has exhaustive knowledge of the present. This is not the definition used in the exegesis of Genesis 18-19. A favorite text of the neotheist—the destruction of Sodom—to show the ability of God to change His mind exposes His limited knowledge of the present. Richard Rice, coauthor of The Openness of God along with Pinnock, Sanders, and others, writes:
When God announced that he planned to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asked him to spare Sodom in order to avoid killing righteous people along with the wicked. “Far be it from you to do such a thing,” he exclaimed, “to kill the righteous with the wicked … Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). Carefully negotiating in time-honored Middle Eastern fashion, Abraham persuaded God to spare the city if it had as few as ten righteous inhabitants (Gen 18:23-32).20Clark Pinnock and others, eds., The Openness of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 29
If God knew, as Sanders stated previously, all that can be known about the present, then what sense does it make for Abraham to negotiate with God? God already would have known there were or were not ten righteous people in Sodom. While not intentional, their exegesis suggests, that Abraham was more righteous than God and God’s knowledge of the present is limited. In a Christianity Today article, Christopher A. Hall comes to a similar conclusion regarding Genesis 22:
If God must test Abraham to find out what is in his heart, this surely calls into question God’s ‘present knowledge of Abraham’s inner spiritual, psychological, mental, and emotional state.’21John Sanders and Christopher A. Hall, “Does God Know Your Next Move?,” Christianity Today, 21 May 2001, 44
Omniscience from Scripture
In The God Who Risks, John Sanders has a subsection of his book titled “Excursus on Prediction and Foreknowledge” in which he sights Ps. 139:1-6 as describing God’s “depth of knowledge.”22John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 129 Had Sanders read this Psalm through to the 15 and 16 verses, he would have refuted his own definition for the depth of God’s knowledge:
“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:15-16, NIV).
If God does not know the future, the point of this Psalm is unclear.
Sanders and neotheists shutter at such an interpretation because they confuse the knowledge of God with the control of God. What a neotheist hears is that God has written the book of our life and, therefore, men are not free. It is true that many do hold to just such an understanding, but many others do not. God can know the future, and mankind can still be free. Despite the efforts of John Sanders, God’s knowledge of the future does not necessitate the loss of human free will.
ETS and Open Theism
The Evangelical Theological Society met for the first time in Cincinnati on December 27, 1949 under the chairmanship of Edward R. Dalglish. The common desire of the society was “scholarship based on the concept of biblical inerrancy.”[23. Records of the Evangelical Theological Society Collection 243, 3 March 2001, <http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/GUIDES/243.htm> (6 January 2005)] The very foundation upon which ETS was founded is what has come under attack the past several years.
On November 19, 2003 members of the ETS voted to retain Pinnock and Sanders. Some 388 out of 619 votes were cast to dismiss Sanders, while only 212 out of 644 voted to expel Pinnock. While the votes to expel Sanders were a simple majority it lacked the 2/3 majority needed to affirm his expulsion.23David Neff, “Dispatch from Atlanta: What Fireworks?,” Christianity Today, (20 November 2003), <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/146/41.0.html> (6 January 2005)
The attempt at expulsion from the ETS centered around the issue of the inerrancy of the Bible. Posted on the ETS web site, we read their doctrinal basis:
The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”24Evangelical Theological Society, Doctrinal Basis, <http://www.etsjets.org/doctrine. html> (6 January 2005)
This doctrinal basis must be subscribed to by its members yearly.
Pinnock and Sanders both say they agree with this statement. We have previously argued that Pinnock and Sanders state they subscribe to inerrancy, but they transfer a different meaning into the word.
The plain meaning behind the phrase “inerrant in the autographs” is that every word given by God and recorded by the man of God corresponds to reality—without failure. It is a statement about what the Bible declares, not about how the Bible is interpreted. Divine infallibility accounts for the perfection in what the Bible declares. Human fallibility accounts for the variety of interpretations a particular passage may generate. Inerrancy is a statement about the text, not the interpreter.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, printed in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1978,25“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21, no.4 (December 1978) gives a clear and cogent understanding of biblical inerrancy.
First, TCSBI confirms the object of inerrancy is the Bible, not one’s interpretation of it. Second, TCSBI underscores the inerrant nature of the Bible as it pertains to acts of God and world history. Item 4 under the summary statement reads:
Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”26“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21, no.4 (December 1978), 290
Clearly those who constructed TCSBI had a correspondent view of truth. They believed that the Bible inerrantly describes all that has taken place and all that will take place in this universe. Following the construction of TCSBI, R. C. Sproul wrote a commentary clarifying key points contained in it. In his commentary on Article XIII titled “Truth,” Sproul writes:
By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth. This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, [emphasis added] the purely personal or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.27R. C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary (Oakland: ICBI, 1980), 31
By redefining inerrancy, Sanders and Pinnock claim to subscribe to the doctrinal basis of the ETS. Pinnock notes that the word inerrancy as stated in the ETS doctrinal basis means that, “it signifies pretty much what a member thinks of it.”28Pinnock’s Response to ETS Charges are on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/ response-pinnock.html> Further, according to the ETS Executive Committee Report dated October 23, 2003, Sanders confessed agreement with The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.29ETS Executive Committee Report on John E. Sanders, October 23, 2003 on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/execcomm/ A-Sanders-ExecComm-10-23-03.html> As noted above, the framers of TCSBI clearly had in mind a correspondent view of truth when they defined inerrancy. There is little excuse for Pinnock and Sanders to be confused or unaware of the theological meaning of the word inerrancy.
At the November 2004 meeting, members of the ETS voted to include a statement that officially “advises” its members to refer to The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy for a clear understanding of what inerrancy means. This will probably make little difference in moving Sanders or Pinnock to resign from the ETS as many have already “advised” them to leave.
By defining truth as that which is intended, neotheists are left with a God Who is not without error. This is heresy. The ETS should not allow such theology to find rest amongst its members. Pinnock and Sanders should resign. Since they have chosen not to, the members of the ETS should have voted to expel them.
If allowed an ongoing platform within the ETS, the neotheist system will have a crushing effect on the Church. A.W. Tozer begins his excellent book The Knowledge of the Holy with these strong words:
What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.30A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper, 1978), 1
Misrepresenting the nature of God is no small matter (Deut. 32:4; Mal. 3:6; Isa. 17:10).
Pinnock and Sanders have made a God Whose nature closely resembles the nature of man. They have taken the imminence of God and such attributes as love and elevated them above ideas of transcendence and justice. The attributes of God must be kept in balance. He is a simple being. He is not a God of parts that ebb and flow with changing situations.
It is not too late for the ETS to act. It is not too late for Pinnock and Sanders to act. A line must be drawn. All too often in our day pluralism reigns. The level of sincerity of the person holding an idea seems to be more important than the idea itself. If neotheism is allowed to stand along side true biblical theism, what is next? The ETS must draw a line in the sand and say to neotheism—no further!Ω
Randall Birtell and Randal Ming were the Scranton, KS Branch Directors of MCOI and they also were completing their Master’s Degrees in Apologetics at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC at the time this article was published.
© 2017, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.
|↑1||We chose the term neotheism over open theism to denote a clear distinction from biblical theism. This is a new theism rather than merely a revision of orthodox theism. Although the term open theism is the popular phrase used to describe the views of Pinnock and Sanders, we feel that neotheism more accurately describes their position.|
|↑2||In the case of Pinnock and Sanders, the TCBSI should additionally include the false predictions by God. Our reasons for saying this will be explained following this section of the article|
|↑3||“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21, no.4 (December 1978): 295.|
|↑4||John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/responsesanders-full.html>|
|↑5, ↑8||Robert M. Hutchins, Ed., Great Books of the Western World vol. 3 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1986), 650|
|↑6, ↑7, ↑13||John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/response-sanders-full.html>|
|↑9||John Sanders full response to charges on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/response-sanders-full.html> and Pinnock, Revision of Most Moved Mover, 10/17/03 on-line at http://www. etsjets.org/members/challenge/execcomm/A-Pinnock-Response-10-1703.html|
|↑10, ↑11||Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 51|
|↑12||Pinnock, Pinnock, Revision of Most Moved Mover, 10/17/03 on-line at http://www. etsjets.org/members/challenge/execcomm/A-Pinnock-Response-10-1703.html|
|↑14||A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper, 1978), 55|
|↑15||Norman L. Geisler and H. Wayne House, The Battle for God (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), 21|
|↑16||St. Anslem, St. Anslem Basic Writings, 2nd, trans. S. N. Deane (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1962), 145|
|↑17, ↑18, ↑19||John Sanders and Christopher A. Hall, “Does God Know Your Next Move?,” Christianity Today, 21 May 2001, 43|
|↑20||Clark Pinnock and others, eds., The Openness of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 29|
|↑21||John Sanders and Christopher A. Hall, “Does God Know Your Next Move?,” Christianity Today, 21 May 2001, 44|
|↑22||John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 129|
|↑23||David Neff, “Dispatch from Atlanta: What Fireworks?,” Christianity Today, (20 November 2003), <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/146/41.0.html> (6 January 2005|
|↑24||Evangelical Theological Society, Doctrinal Basis, <http://www.etsjets.org/doctrine. html> (6 January 2005|
|↑25||“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21, no.4 (December 1978|
|↑26||“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21, no.4 (December 1978), 290|
|↑27||R. C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary (Oakland: ICBI, 1980), 31|
|↑28||Pinnock’s Response to ETS Charges are on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/ response-pinnock.html>|
|↑29||ETS Executive Committee Report on John E. Sanders, October 23, 2003 on-line at <http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/execcomm/ A-Sanders-ExecComm-10-23-03.html>|
|↑30||A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper, 1978), 1|