I have been a member of a group since 2003 and my wife has never attended one of its meetings—until this week. The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) will hold its 66th annual meeting in beautiful San Diego, California, on November 19-21, 2014. Laura has agreed to join me for this year’s gathering, and I look forward to visiting San Diego with my best friend.
ETS self-identifies as “a group of scholars, teachers, pastors, students, and others dedicated to the oral exchange and written expression of theological thought and research.” Also, it “is devoted to the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ.” According to this Baptist Press article published last week, there are currently 4,400 members, and professors and students from all six Southern Baptist seminaries are scheduled to make presentations at this year’s meeting. Its peer-reviewed publication, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, is one of the premier conservative, biblical-theological journals in the world. I frequently read and cite JETS articles in my research and teaching.
The annual ETS meeting is a three-day marathon of paper presentations in the areas of biblical studies, biblical archaeology, systematic theology, ethics, and philosophy. This week’s 600+ presentations are listed in this downloadable program.
This year, I will present a paper titled “Did Millard Erickson Revise His View of General Revelation and Human Responsibility in Christian Theology, Third Edition (2013)?” The essay is 4,100 words. I will have 40 minutes to read the paper and field any questions from the listeners. In the paper, I compare statements in Baptist theologian Millard Erickson’s second and third editions of his systematic theology textbook, Christian Theology (CT2 and CT3). My thesis is: “I will attempt to demonstrate that Millard Erickson’s view of general revelation and human responsibility in CT3 includes a stronger case than CT2 for the possibility of general revelation inclusivism, a term coined by Christopher Morgan for the view that people ‘can respond to God in saving faith through seeing him in general revelation.'”
A layman’s explanation of the paper is as follows: General revelation refers to the knowledge that all people have through creation and conscience that God exists. Inclusivism is the view that some are saved by God without hearing the message of the gospel. In the second edition of his systematic theology, Erickson explores—but rules out—the possibility that people can be saved through general revelation without hearing the message of the gospel. In his third edition (published in 2013), Erickson strengthens his case for the possibility that people can be saved through general revelation and no longer rules out this possibility. In neither edition does Erickson claim that some people will be saved in this way, only that it is possible.
I document several changes between the second and third editions of his textbook on this issue. Consider one example. In CT3, the word “ordinarily” is added to this sentence which appeared in CT2: “General revelation evidently does not ordinarily enable the unbeliever to come to the knowledge of God.” In this sentence, “does not” in CT2 becomes “does not ordinarily” in CT3. In context, the phrase “knowledge of God” seems to refer to saving knowledge of God. The result is a change between CT2 and CT3 on the matter.
Dr. Erickson does not plan to attend the meeting, but he graciously provided feedback on the paper via email. I have made minor adjustments based on his comments. My goal is to represent accurately and to assess fairly what appears to be slight changes between the second and third editions of Christian Theology by this influential theologian on an important and difficult doctrinal issue.
After I present the paper and it receives further scrutiny from the wider academic community, I plan to submit the paper for consideration to a peer-reviewed theological journal.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 137. Emphasis mine.