Bible society debates exhibit ban for InterVarsity Press

(RNS) Social media lit up this week after a biblical scholar reported that InterVarsity Press would be banned from exhibiting at the Society of Biblical Literature's annual meetings.

Michael Bird, a lecturer in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia, floated the news in response to reports earlier this month that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship plans to fire any employee who disagrees with its theological statement regarding same-sex marriage.

"This is not safeguarding academic freedom, it is censorship, and turning SBL into a confessional organization," Bird wrote in a post on Patheos' Euangelion blog responding to a letter he said had announced the reported ban.

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Not so fast, according to a joint statement released Wednesday evening (Oct. 19) by the Society of Biblical Literature and InterVarsity Press.

InterVarsity Press still will have a booth at next month's annual meetings, Society of Biblical Literature Executive Director John F. Kutsko confirmed to RNS.

But there still is a question, if not a decision, whether InterVarsity Press will be allowed to exhibit at the 2017 conference co-hosted by the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in Boston, according to the joint statement.

RELATED: InterVarsity Press responds to authors' protest of controversial gay marriage termination policy

"That conversation is a part of a larger discussion the SBL Council will have regarding its protocols and standards for exhibitors at its events" at its next meeting, on Oct. 29-30, the statement said.

And it comes "in the context of ongoing discussions involving academic freedom and the disciplinary standards of discourse the organization fosters," Kutsko added in the statement. InterVarsity Press will be part of those discussions, he said.

The Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion always have reserved the right to determine whether exhibitors are in keeping with the character of the annual meetings, he said.

The reference to a "suspension" came from a letter he said he had sent to InterVarsity Press staff regarding reserving exhibitor space for 2017 while at the 2016 conference.

That letter, obtained by RNS, makes clear Kutsko had requested a temporary suspension of InterVarsity Press’ booth registration for the 2017 Annual Meeting while the council discussed whether InterVarsity's policy conflicted with the society's core values. Those values include respect for diversity, inclusivity and tolerance.

It read in part:

"Under IVCF’s employee policy, free inquiry appears to be severely restricted. As stated above, IVCF is within its rights to do so, but SBL is equally within its rights to foster the academic and discursive environment that are at the heart of its mission as a learned society."

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The international society is the oldest and largest organization devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines, according to its website.

Its annual meeting is one of the biggest events in the fields of biblical scholarship, religious studies and theology, the website said. It claims to offer the world's largest exhibition of books and digital resources for biblical studies.

This year's conference will be Nov. 19-22 in San Antonio.

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“For 70 years, IVP has been committed to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas," InterVarsity Press Publisher Jeff Crosby said in the joint statement.

"All of us who represent the IVP Academic program genuinely hope the Council will continue to make room for the particularity of the discourse that IVP Academic brings to the theological academy via SBL’s annual events. Indeed, the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature gatherings have been an essential component for our academic program for more than three decades."

More than 50 InterVarsity Press authors have called on InterVarsity to replace its policy with one that makes room for opposing theological views, including those that affirm same-sex marriage.

In a letter signed by Crosby to InterVarsity authors describing the council decision as "pending" that also was obtained by RNS, he reiterated the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship policy does not extend to its authors. He also referred to the policy as "a rearticulation of understandings that have been in place for decades in IVCF."


  1. IVP on its worst day, is **superior** to SBL and AAR on their best day.

    Plan your 2016-2017 book purchases accordingly.

  2. How can any Christian society of any kind claim that there is such a thing as homosexual “marriage”?

  3. “The Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion always have reserved the right to determine whether exhibitors are in keeping with the character of the annual meetings, he said.” Just because they bear nice sounding names, doesn’t mean they are Christian.

  4. Such whining from the usual anti gay bigots. “Why won’t they hate the way I want them to”.

  5. Who said anything about “gay”? Oh that’s right, the SBL and AAR did. THEY are the ones who initiated this latest controversy.

    You mention the word “hate.” I would say that attempting to blackmail a Christian book publisher, threatening to do economic censorship on IVP in 2017 unless the InterVarsity campus ministry bows and kowtows to the Gay Goliath, represents a whole lotta hatred on the part of SBL and AAR.

    But you happily give those two creepy-clown PC-police organizations a free pass. Why? Because they share your hatred toward solid biblical evangelical Christianity. They worship the Gay Goliath and are apparently willing to blackmail Christian publishers to do the same.

    But I think you’re going to see IVCF maintain a strong stand in 2016-2017. Watch for some Christian PhD scholars to fight back, if SBL and AAR act like a bunch of oily goons.

  6. Lol. You always reserve your nastiest attacks to Christians who don’t share your bigotry.

  7. This needs to be said: These are secular, academic guilds, not Christian organizations, and I understand why they may not be interested in featuring the house organs of particular faith communities. Many of the people who attend and present at these conferences aren’t religious, but study the Bible, or study religion. Think of AAR as including all the people who study and write academically about religion. All religions. And that’s what makes AAR different from various denominational or even ecumenical organizations.

    Still, while I’m deeply distressed by the decision of IVCF, the SSL and AAR need to interpret their policy for the rest of us, should it result in excluding IVCF. Is there any precedent? Is a Catholic or Mormon press prohibited because of their church’s stands against women in leadership, or only if their publishing rules specifically prohibit free inquiry?


  8. They are apples and oranges. One is a ministry, the others are secular, academic guilds. I wish the article had made it clear what these two organizations are about.

  9. I’m sorry, but I think you are venting in the wrong direction, but you were not helped by this article which offers little explanation of what the AAR and the SBL are, and why they may raise questions. (And there is no clarity about their future going forward.) These are secular organizations, promoting free inquiry, like a secular university. Indeed, many of their participants study religion, but aren’t religious themselves. This group plays by different rules than a seminary, or Christian college. They do not have doctrinal statements, and are not organized in service to the church, but to free inquiry. As I understand it, IVCF has said, “you may not explore this topic if you work for us, or if you do, we reserve the right to tell you what you must say, even what you must believe.” That’s just a fundamentally different approach than the SBL. No judgement, its just different. There are other groups — you can meet with evangelicals, or Baptists, who study the Bible. Groups that begin with a common commitment. But these two groups are not that.

  10. First, these aren’t Christian guilds, they are academic guilds whose members study religion or religious texts. Members may not be religious themselves, they may teach at secular universities, or at religious ones, but they are researchers, scholars. And the organization doesn’t have an opinion on marriage — that isn’t the issue. The issue they might have (though it isn’t clear) is what to do with a publisher that on principle limits inquiry. and stipulates what its writers and employees must think. IVCF may be wonderful and absolutely right, but they are playing by different rules if their publisher tells them what must be the outcome of their research.

    But for whatever its worth, there are plenty of places on the web that will explain why many Christians are glad for gay marriage. That can’t really be a surprise is it? Gay marriages are performed in mainline Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregations.

  11. This is merely strong arming on the part of the SBL, so much for tolerance on divergent points of view. This is the tolerance of, “if you don’t agree with us, we will silence you.” In modern terms, the Right is much more willing to allow and listen to, if not agree with, divergent views, than the Left which requires a lockstep adherence to what it amusingly refers to as progressivism. Does the Right have much to answer for with respect to social and religious policies of the past, primarily on questions of race? Decidedly so. Does the Left ever answer for anything? Never.

  12. It seems hypocritical to me that you would support a Christian organization being allowed to discriminate in the name of religion, but when another organization wants to be selective against your breed of Christian, then suddenly you’re outraged.

  13. IVP and IVCF tend to discriminate against adulterers as well (they say its a sin or something.)

    Do you support strong-armed blackmail tactics against Christian publishers on that basis also ?

  14. Actually, I used to drop by the local library every couple months specifically to check out assorted book authors and journal articles associated with SBL and AAR.

    So I am quite aware of their secularist nature, thanks. Never complained about that (although I was always grateful that IVP had all these Christian PhD authors to help us fight back against the scholarly secularists and skeptizoids. )

    But now the secularists try to dictate a Christian publisher’s employment policies, and do BLACKMAIL on Christian authors? That’s not only raw secularist hubris, that’s an act of WAR, Gapaul. Time to fight back!

  15. Good point. They are a secular organization. As you like to say: its their organization, they can invite or reject anyone they want. If they don’t want to be associated with IVCF’s nonsense, that is their choice and right.

  16. Floyd, I don’t think it’s blackmail. It is critical, absolutely critical to the core of any research of any kind, that findings not be predetermined. Otherwise there is no real research. IVF is predetermining end results.

    It sounds like the sponsoring organization is all about research, hence IVF is simply not appropriate for that venue. There are probably more venues which are good fits for IVF than days on an annual calendar.

  17. I strongly disagree with your points Edward. Please see my response to Floyd just prior to this about appropriate venues.

    My opinion on the openness of Left v. Right is opposite of yours. I suspect the truth is some of both, but it really can’t be accurately measured.

  18. I’m always curious about what makes a Christian so deeply drawn to the language of war, so embracing of the prospect of a fight that it saturates their own language. (Often, with sarcasm and shouting.) But that’s beside the point.

    The thing is, ivcf writers may and do write for other publishers. They can continue to. They can continue to write as conservative Christians if that’s what they are, and their books and articles featured at the AAR and SBL

    If those guilds are having any sort of conversation about this at all (and from this article, we can’t know for sure) they aren’t considering banning authors, or opinions. The question is about the inclusion of publishers, and whether a publisher’s writers have been free to write as their scholarship leads them. A publisher that eclipses that right, that basic value of scholarship, might be of concern to a body like the AAR. It is about academic freedom, not censorship.Presumably it would be equally difficult for them to include a publisher which required its writers to promote liberal ideas as well. Its about academic freedom.

    NT Wright may share IVCF’s same beliefs on the subject of same sex marriage. HarperOne seems to be his publisher. The fact that they do not have a platform that requires him to write from a particular perspective would mean, if I’m right about their thinking, that his books could be all over their next conference, and his ideas discussed at multiple sessions. If that’s not acceptable to you, okay, but I can appreciate why this might be at least a topic of discussion — and it has nothing to do with blackmail or employment.

  19. No, Ms. Leftness, THIS one is absolutely blackmail. I don’t know if you actually read Intervarsity Press scholarly books (such as Dr. Craig Blomberg’s “Interpreting The Parables”, for example), but you can tell just from the title of Blomberg’s book that it has NOTHING to do with homosexual behavior nor the gay marriage controversy.

    Yet the secularist SBL and AAR, in direct violation of academic freedom, would refuse to allow Blomberg’s scholarly IV Press book about the parables of Jesus, to be exhibited, simply because SBL and AAR don’t like Intervarsity **Christian Fellowship’s** (not the IV Press or their scholarly authors or research standards), but merely don’t like the IV **Christian Fellowship’s** employment policy.

    So let’s just be honest here. There’s no white-washing possible. The secularist SBL and AAR aren’t even TRYING to pretend that their demon-possessed anti-evangelical blackmail efforts, involve protecting ANY mainstream research standards, nor ANY mainstream Religious Studies norms, in ANY manner.

  20. IVCF and IV-Press have separate “rules” for their respective employees and scholarly authors. One division is different than the other, and for whatever reason, separate standards are maintained for each. As you said in another post, “one is ministry (IVCF), the other is a secular academic guild (SBL & AAR).”

    But you can clearly see that the secularist academic SBL and AAR are dictating their blackmail terms directly at IVCF, the **Christian MINISTRY** division, not the IV academic publisher and ITS scholar/author policies.

    So I hope you can really understand the exact problem here Gapaul, because you’ve already pointed out why SBL and AAR are NOT being ethical about it.

    SBL and AAR do NOT get to dictate employment policies for Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, or The Navigators, or Campus Crusade, or Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, ****not even through a back-door blackmail approach that punishes separate Publishing Divisions for the employment policies of separately maintained “Ministry”, Non-Book, Non-Publishing divisions.****

  21. IVCF doesn’t try to exhibit with the SBL and AAR.

    It’s the IV Press that does so, and so far the SBL and AAR has voiced ZERO complaints — at all — about any of the (separate) policies and scholarly-author standards that the ***IV Press*** operate under.

    So why blackmail and threaten to kick out the IV Press when (1) they don’t operate under the same rules or employment standards as the IVCF, and (2) SBL and AAR have NO complaints about the IV Press policies?

    Where’s the rationality in that blackmail approach, Spuds? Where’s the academic freedom in that approach? Speak Up!

  22. I don’t know, and I don’t think either of us know how this is going to fall out. I understand IVCF has let their writers off the hook but it still isn’t clear if all staff have to pledge to one particular thought, what that means for the publishing house. I know, you and others may cry blackmail! sensorship! –but I think that’s exactly what it looks like from the other side.

  23. You are a hypocrite. What else is new?

    It’s only blackmail to you if it’s against fundies. Otherwise it is exercising their free choice and moral privilege. You have no problem with Christians playing little exclusion games under the guise of their private choices as an organization, but get all annoyed when you are the ones left out.

    You want Christians to have a privilege to treat others badly with no repercussions. Tough luck. So shall you reap, so shall you sow.

  24. Let’s look at this minus hyperbole or capitalization.

    “you can tell just from the title of Blomberg’s book”
    Titles are not an indication of the veracity of a book. One must look at the research done and methods used to arrive at the conclusions the author comes to. These things must be done dispassionately without forgone conclusions. One cannot begin with an end result in mind because that taints the findings, making them highly suspect.

    In the beginning, there is a hypothesis, what the scholars thinks might be true. Then the scholar begins researching to discover *if* her hypothesis is correct. It really is possible for just about anyone to find sources to support just about anything. But that doesn’t bear weight or authority.

    In addition, some books from a particular publisher may be well done while others are not. So some IVF books may be helpful and reputable but others are not.

  25. Like I suggested earlier, I’ve read Dr. Blomberg’s book “The Parables Of Jesus”. So I already know about the research and the methodology presented in that book. Blomberg’s conclusions were reached dispassionately, without any prior conclusions, and supported on every angle with solid scholary arguments and cites. If you disagree, read the book first and then let me know.

    You can get a very small but perhaps useful taste of the research, the outline, and the methodology, just by going to Blomberg’s book on Amazon and clicking on the “Look Inside” tab. If you’re not familiar with the book, give it a try.

    But again, if SBL and AAR have any concerns about the scholarship, research, or methodology standards of any IV-Press book, then ****IV-Press**** is where they need to direct their concerns or their threats. Not the IV **Christian Ministry.” SBL and AAR have NO business dictating to, nor blackmailing, any church or para-church ministry groups. They’re not the purview of SBL and AAR.

  26. Floyd, I took a brief look, and it seemed reasonable, but my argument is not about particular book. It’s about sound scientific research. Perhaps this book is appropriate and the other commenters who’ve been critical are mistaken. I do understand your argument, and thank you for making it in a reasonable way.

  27. How about the KKK, which requires its members to be born-again Christians? Do you feel it’s appropriate to describe the KKK as a christian organization? I daresay their treatment of scripture wouldn’t get a seat at the table at SBL and the AAR either. It’s really no different.

  28. The difficulty lies in the fact that few of us if any are truly objective, we are all subject to some form of bias on occasion relative to a predisposition to affirm those ideas that most appeal to us. I strive to frame my viewpoint spiritually speaking solely by scripture, politically I have tended recently to be slightly more flexible as the kingdom of the world does not equate with the kingdom of God. Where we part particularly is that it is my position that the Right has become less censorious on the question of speech, and the Left more so. The appropriateness of venues is entirely another question to me. Your argument to Floydlee speaks to research, but I submit that research is always subject to the bias of predisposition. You mention people being about to find support for almost any view, but that doesn’t provide weight or authority. No argument with that, but then who determines what has weight, and who operates from a position of authority? I think we end up with the same difficulty.

  29. I inadvertently replied to myself when attempting to reply to you. My reply to you is actually posted below my comment to which you replied, if you can suss out that rather confusing signpost on my part.

  30. In terms of bias, I agree that no one is absolutely objective. I am referring to those who have a specific plan, perhaps “proving” that Mary Mags was a prostitute. So he searches for support for his argument, while deliberately ignoring anything which contradicts. That kind of “research” cannot be allowed to stand.

    For research to carry weight, it must be subject to counter proof and real give and take, even if that does not result in unanimous consensus. At least such evidence bears citation.

    In the graduate school I attended there were professors in serious disagreement on basic theological positions. As students we were encouraged to hear excellent persuasive arguments and had access to any contradictory research. My school was part of a library consortium including RCC, Baptist, UCC, UMC and PC-USA grad schools. Enrollment in one school allowed complete access to any of the libraries. Dialog with profs, writers, other students, and clergy was not only encouraged, it was expected.

    In all of this, we took courses on our specific denomination’s doctrine and were fully aware of ordination requirements. If any student could not swear full allegiance to that doctrine, the sooner she knew that, the better.

    Faith based on ignorance is not as sound as faith that as been tested by fire. The same is true of theological beliefs.

  31. Perhaps my greatest grief intellectually speaking, is the wide divergence between theological assertions by well schooled academicians of all stripes, I have been tempted to question if not criticize the Savior’s apparent disinterest in speaking completely explicitly to certain issues that we continue to have heartburn over. Surely He foresaw such potentialities. At the same time such questions of Him might appear impertinent in the overall scheme of things. If all seekers are genuine, I wish consensus were easier to obtain. Certainly anyone who seeks ordination by a specific sect should be prepared to accept the doctrines of that sect if they wish to minister within its organizational construct. Theological ignorance again may be determined or measured by bias, depending on whose ox is being gored. As per your example of Mary Magdalene, some have attempted to link her with the woman taken in adultery, which I don’t think the text supports, others, as noted, link her to prostitution; again, not supported by the text. Whatever her issues, the only explicit remark on these matters is that Jesus cast 7 demons out of her from which she benefited. Of course, in the interest of intellectual honesty, some scholars discount the authenticity of Mark 16: 9-20 where this statement occurs.

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