What They Really Meant When They Signed That Statement of Faith

What They Really Meant When They Signed That Statement of Faith February 27, 2014

I dedicate this “musing” to sincere Christian colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who work for evangelical and fundamentalist churches, colleges and other organizations which require signing a standard statement of faith as a condition of employment. I’ve learned that many of them never were, or no longer are, comfortable with these statements. Many of them silently re-interpret the faith statement for themselves in an effort to make peace with it. Thousands of staff members and professors at Christian colleges have become closet progressive Christians, unable to fully express their spirituality because it would cost them their jobs. They face an awful choice of giving up a career they cherish, serving students they love in communities they value, or keeping quiet about their real religious sentiments. Some conservative Christian leaders today complain that their religious liberty is being violated by requiring their institutions to serve gay people or offer family planning services to their employees. Meanwhile, the same institutions won’t hesitate to fire anyone that doesn’t agree with their dogma. These institutions are in deep denial about the big and growing gap between what they require their staff members to believe and what their staff members actually think. In spiritual solidarity with thousands of people for whom real religious liberty would mean unemployment, I offer here a window into that gap.

Here is a typical evangelical college’s statement of faith, which all faculty and staff must sign, in italics. Below each section is what many of them really meant when they signed it.

We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative word of God.

The Bible is inspired by the many different faithful people who composed it over thousands of years. While much of it is myth and poetry, it is infallibly unique as a collection of authentic, precious expressions of the spiritual journeys of many human beings. The Bible’s books are authoritative for the times when they were recorded. God is still speaking! The Bible is God’s word for people thousands of years ago, and some of it is God’s word for today, but it is not God’s last word for tomorrow.

We believe that there is one God, creator of heaven and earth, eternally existent in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God is the natural force of constant creativity in the universe. The Trinity is a poetic way of expressing the generativity, compassion, and energy that flow from this one divine source.

We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, and in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return to power and glory.

Jesus was a human being who discovered deity in himself, and taught other people to find it within themselves. The God within him and all of us is born continually, with and without the process of sexual reproduction. Jesus made mistakes like all human beings, but his sins were continually erased by the divine compassion that he shared with the people around him. His example inspires us to be liberated from sin. Like all human beings, Jesus was a miracle. His acts of selfless compassion were miracles of kindness, as are ours. He was killed by the Romans because they considered him a threat to public order. He forgave the people who aimed to kill him. His willingness to love his enemies who drew his blood became a vicariously atonement for the hatred that people focus on those who hurt them. His example saves us from the cycle of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Poetically, he said that the bread his disciples shared was his body, and the wine they shared was his blood. In the body of bread and wine, he resurrects and rises up to God in power and glory every time people gather to share a meal and remember him.

We believe in the fall and consequent total moral depravity of humanity, resulting in our exceeding sinfulness and lost estate, and necessitating our regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

As in the myth of Adam and Eve, two good people who made mistakes, all of us are beautiful crowns of creation who sometimes act like we are totally morally depraved. We’re all exceedingly sinful and lost sometimes, despite having been born to goodness and noble purpose. The Holy Spirit of kindness brings us back to our natural glory as reflections of divinely compassionate creativity.

We believe in the present and continuing ministry of sanctification by the Holy Spirit by whose infilling the believing Christian is cleansed and empowered for a life of holiness and service.


We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; those who are saved to the resurrection of life and those who are lost to the resurrection of damnation.

Resurrection is renewal of life through a change both of heart and action. When we are lost in greed and hatred, we suffer damnation here on earth. When we experience salvation from a shallow and selfish kind of life, our hearts and actions change for the better and our lives are renewed. Hell is alienation from divinity here on earth, but nobody is stuck there forever. Heaven is experiencing divinity here on earth, an experience available to all people whether or not they follow a particular religion.

We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Likewise, those who follow other religions, or none at all, share a universal spiritual unity with Christians. Other religions can be as much a way of salvation for them as Christianity is for Christians.

JIM BURKLO is the Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California
Website: JIMBURKLO.COM    Weblog: MUSINGS    Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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119 responses to “What They Really Meant When They Signed That Statement of Faith”

  1. I’m convinced that most evangelical scholars don’t believe everything that their statements of faith expect them to. However, I think this post portrays the average professor at an evangelical school as a closet liberal theologian who secretly thinks like Bishop Spong but is too afraid to speak out.

    There are however many intermediate positions between fundamentalism and liberalism. I highly doubt that there are large numbers of people in evangelical schools who reinterpret their statements of faith as in the post. The disconnect is simply too great and you cannot do that without feeling like a complete sell-out.

    Much more common is the person who has moved away from some evangelical ideas (inerrancy, creationism) but is still theologically conservative and would not see this post as a true reflection of where they stand. See e.g. “God is the natural force of constant creativity in the universe. The Trinity is a poetic way of expressing the generativity, compassion, and energy that flow from this one divine source”. This language would feel completely foreign to anyone with an evangelical background, even if they have become less conservative. That’s just not how they speak about God, and embracing anything like this view would mean that you have to actively lie to people on a daily basis in an evangelical context.

    I understand the point of the post and the need to support people who find themselves in difficult situations, but it reads more like a reinterpretation of a statement of faith from a liberal perspective (which is fine, I don’t use liberal as a slur) than a true reflection of how actual progressive evangelical scholars might understand it and how it might lead to inner tensions.