Why (and how) I am a “confessing evangelical” (response to Al Mohler, et al.)

Why (and how) I am a “confessing evangelical” (response to Al Mohler, et al.) October 7, 2012

In The Spectrum of Evangelicalism (to which I contributed a chapter and responded to other authors’ chapters), Al Mohler touted what he calls “confessing evangelicalism.” I suspect he thinks I’m not one. In fact, he more or less wrote (in his response to my chapter and the book’s conclusion) that I’m not an evangelical at all. He said it in a nice way, though. 🙂

I want to go on record that I AM (!) a “confessing evangelical.”

Many people think that, in order to be a “confessing evangelical,” you have to sign someone else’s written creed or statement of faith. That’s nonsense. All you have to do is “confess” evangelical beliefs.

People ask me what I think about written statements of faith. Well, I’ve written one! (I’m not going to cite it here, but some years ago I was asked by the dean of a seminary to write one for his seminary and I did. He published it as that seminary’s semi-official statement of faith without revision. But I wrote it with the agreement that he would never require anyone to sign it.) But here’s what I think about statements of faith:

Churches and other Christian organizations should not rely on written statements of faith but should ask potential employees and community members to offer their own faith statements (by which I mean doctrinal statements). In other words, rather than putting a written statement in front of them and asking them to sign it or swear allegiance to it, they should ask them to produce their own statements of belief about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. And then they should examine them and determine whether the person belongs among them. I hope that would be done generously.

Whenever I look at a statement of faith someone else wrote, I find a word or phrase or sentence or paragraph I’m not sure about. I might or might not believe it. Often it’s a matter of terminology. There’s no “one size fits all” detailed statement of faith. And too often such statements of faith (that pretend to be one size fits all) are poorly written, sloppy, vague and include paragraphs someone insisted on sometime in the past that are tangential to the gospel (at best).

Now, I do think it’s fine for a Christian organization (church, college, seminary, mission agency, etc.) to have a written statement of faith as a CONSENSUS STATEMENT only. “This is what our community generally believes to be true.” But I’m opposed to requiring individuals to sign them. In place of that, I suggest individuals wishing to join (be hired, become members, whatever) be given the opportunity to write out their own doctrines. Then there should be a trusted group (deacons, elders, pastoral staff, committee, whatever) who looks at it and decides if the person’s beliefs are sufficiently consistent with the organization’s ethos.

So, I always have my statement of faith ready for that purpose and for anyone who wants to see it. It’s not at all private; it’s my faith declaration to the world. “This is what I believe” as an evangelical Christian. Of course, I believe much more, but these are the beliefs that matter. If someone wants me to write down something else and sign it, I probably don’t want to belong to that community. This is sufficient.

So here is what I confess as a Confessing Evangelical. I challenge anyone to say I’m not a Confessing Evangelical in light of this. As I said, “confessing” doesn’t necessarily mean signing someone else’s creed or confessional statement. It can also mean (and in my case does mean) confessing evangelical Christian beliefs in my own words.

A Statement of the Faith of Roger E. Olson


No written statement of faith can express everything that a person or group believes. This is my brief confession of Christian beliefs. It contains what I consider the essentials of my own Christian faith (in terms of cognitive content). Of course, I believe much more, but this suffices to express my basic beliefs as a Christian.

Part One: Christian Beliefs

The first paragraph of each article expresses what I believe all Christians ought to believe as Christians.

The second paragraph of each article expresses my own beliefs that are not dogmas of Christian orthodoxy.

Jesus Christ

I believe that Jesus Christ is God, Savior and Lord of all creation; he is the perfect revelation of God as well as God incarnate, the only perfect mediator between God and humanity, “truly human and truly divine.” I affirm that he was born of a virgin, died an atoning death for the sins of the world, was raised from death to a new form of bodily life by God, and ascended into heaven. He will return in glory, establish his kingdom and inaugurate a new heaven and new earth.

Jesus Christ experienced human life without sin but including growth in knowledge and relationship with God. He was the eternal Logos, Son of God, self-emptied of glory and power, relying entirely on the Holy Spirit for knowledge of God and self and for power to accomplish miracles.


I believe in the one God, Yahweh, creator of all ex nihilo, who eternally exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: three divine persons sharing one eternal divine life and being.  God is the creator of all whose rule knows no end. This one triune God is eternally self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent as well as perfectly good, loving, just, holy, righteous, wise, faithful and merciful.

God graciously and freely enters into such intimacy of relation with creation that he is affected by it; God experiences genuine feelings of sorrow and joy in response to creatures’ decisions and actions. All that is to say that God is more like a person than a principle or power.


I believe that human persons are created in God’s image and likeness but that all persons (except Jesus Christ) come into the world under the curse of sin and need reconciliation with God when they attain the age of accountability and sin willfully.

Humans (except Jesus Christ) are totally depraved due to inborn sin (original, inherited sin); they are unable to initiate a right relationship with God apart from God’s prevenient grace that restores free will and ability to respond to the gospel call.


I believe the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ provide the only redemption from sin and that Christ died for all people; reconciliation and new life connected to God are possible only through his death and resurrection.

Reconciliation of God to the world was accomplished once and for all by the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for all people. Individual redemption as restoration to right relationship with God depends only on a person’s repentance and faith which are free and uncoerced responses to the gospel made possible by God’s prevenient grace.

Salvation by Grace

I believe that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith and that people cannot save themselves by works of righteousness but that works of righteousness are products of the Holy Spirit who indwells believers by faith.

A right, saving relationship with God is entirely God’s gift as is inward transformation in righteousness, but these depend on faith which is passive reception of God’s gift and not a meritorious work.


I believe that authentic Christian life begins with conversion to Christ which involves repentance and faith in him; conversion to Christ results in justification (forgiveness) and regeneration (new birth).  These are gifts that cannot be earned or inherited.

Conversion to Christ is individual and conscious and cannot happen to an infant or by means of any outward sign or symbol (sacrament). Children of believers before conversion are not Christians but pre-Christians. Their inclusion in the people of God is by means of covenant between God and families.

Sanctification and Glorification

I believe that converted persons receive the indwelling Holy Spirit who unites believers with Christ and who imparts inward holiness for obedience to God, love of God and other people, and power for service to God, his church and the world. The culmination of this process is glorification in which believers, at the resurrection, are made partakers of the divine nature (“deification”).

Sanctification is a gradual process of cooperation between the believer and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The ability is entirely God’s, but the accomplishment depends on the believer’s willing reception of the Spirit’s work in his or her life. “Infilling of the Holy Spirit” is a work of the Spirit subsequent to conversion and crucial for empowerment for service to God and his kingdom.

Scripture and Creeds

I believe that the sixty-six books of Holy Scripture are supernaturally inspired by God’s Spirit and are the sole supreme authority under God for Christian believing and living.

Jesus Christ is the criterion of interpretation of Scripture. (“Scripture is the cradle that holds the Christ child.”) Creeds and confessional statements are not instruments of doctrinal accountability but expressions of common faith under the authority of Christ and Scripture. They have at most a relative authority for individual Christians and congregations.

The Church

I believe that the church was instituted by Jesus Christ to be the people of God and is made up of all true believers regardless of race, gender, age or station in life. Its necessary marks are unity in the Spirit, universality (diversity), apostolicity of teaching, and holiness (separation from evil), proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and celebration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The church visible is the local congregation of believers. I regard evangelism and missions for the salvation of the lost and social transformation of the world to approximate the future kingdom of God to be essential works of the church as well as individual callings.

The Lord’s Return and Kingdom

I believe in the future, visible return of Jesus Christ and the bodily resurrection to glory of all believers who welcome his return. I believe in the consummation of God’s kingdom over all beginning with judgment. Heaven and hell are the eternal destinies of the righteous and unrighteous.

After Christ’s return he will rule and reign on earth for a thousand years (Revelation 20) after which will come the new heaven and new earth, a resurrection of all creation (Romans 8).

Social Justice

I believe God calls his people to anticipate the coming kingdom of God through acts of charity and social justice. We are called to help the poor and powerless to live truly human lives and to be prophetic witnesses for Christ’s lordship over every area of creation. We cannot be comfortable with what will not exist in God’s future kingdom on earth. Individual churches must determine for themselves, under the leadership of God’s Spirit, what involvement for social justice means for them.

Christian social justice includes striving by all means compatible with Christian love to eradicate oppression and war.

Part Two: Baptist Distinctives

I believe in the autonomy of the local congregation, rule of the congregation’s affairs by its regenerate members under God, separation of church and state and voluntary cooperation between congregations for evangelism and education.

I believe in freedom of conscience from government domination or control and in the liberty and competency of every Christian believer to interpret Scripture and go directly to God in prayer.

I believe individuals ought to function as believers within accountability to the body of Christ which means respect for the Great Tradition of Christian doctrine and for the faith of the local congregation.

I believe there is no absolute line of demarcation between mature believers and clergy; every adult believer is to function within the body of Christ as a minister. The role of ordained clergy is primarily that of prophecy and teaching although every Christian may prophecy and teach. Some (clergy) are especially trained for these roles and recognized as especially gifted for them by the congregation.

I believe in two ordinances instituted by Christ to be observed by his people until he returns: water baptism of believers and the Lord’s Supper. These are public acts of commitment to Jesus Christ and his church.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David Rogers

    Sign me up . . . oh, wait . . .

  • Wonderful, Roger. Really helpful as an example, and I particularly like the sentence, “We cannot be comfortable with what will not exist in God’s future kingdom on earth.” Amen!

  • Norman


    Very nice process; however I would personally have to rework or eliminate several of your sections to project my biblical understandings. 🙂

  • JohnD

    Of course you’re an evangelical. Al Mohler is an evangelical. Unfortunately, Mohler is a Calvinist, which makes him an evangelical in error. But that does not exclude him from the distinctives. It just makes him a false separatist.

    • rogereolson

      Unfortunately, “of course you’re an evangelical” doesn’t function in today’s evangelical climate. Everyone is always suspected of being something else, no matter what their evangelical bona fides may be.

  • Tony Springer

    My favorite statements in statements of faith are the unmentioned assumed ones, left out due to to a reaction to some doctrinal debate. I remember reading many statements in reaction to mainline liberalism that had a belief in the deity of Christ, but nothing about the humanity of Christ.

  • Ray Prigodich

    Wow! For someone who has reservations about signing a written statement of faith, you’ve produced an outstanding summary of doctrine that I, for one, would be happy to sign. But then again . . .

    • rogereolson

      And I would never ask anyone to sign it. I would ask them to produce their own so we can talk about it (if they were applying for membership in a church or a position in an institution where I had some say in membership or hiring).

  • Just Sayin’

    “God is the creator of all whose rule knows no end.”

    This would read better as: “God is the creator of all and His rule knows no end.”

    • rogereolson

      Just goes to show, even my statement of faith is not inerrant. But if I were a fundamentalist, I would say your critique of my statement of faith, however valid, shows that you are not faithful and therefore unworthy of teaching in my college, university or seminary. 🙂

  • Lonnie

    I have one difficulty. You say this about Jesus: “He was the eternal Logos” any possibility of changing the “was” to “He ‘was, is and is to come the eternal Logos???” Otherwise, where do I sign…er…um…I concur with what you’ve written… Is that good enough?

  • David Anfenson

    Great words, thank you for the clarification about what it means to be a confessing evangelical. I would also find it difficult to be required to sign something that is set in stone, let alone have that be the test of my evangelicalism. You sure sound evangelical to me 🙂

  • Steve Rogers

    This may serve well as your personal evangelical belief statement, but it leaves me wondering how you regard those who would not offer something similar as their own declaration. For example, if I said you may determine the validity of my identity as a disciple of Jesus by my love for others, period, and would not allow you to press me for a broader statement on issues like biblical authority, the nature of God, the virgin birth and so forth, I suspect I could not be in your club. The more detailed the boundaries we create the more necessary it becomes to exclude. And so we end up with the judgments of Al Mohler and the reactions of Roger Olson and the endless belief sorting that divvies us. And for what? The right to claim a label.

    • rogereolson

      But I didn’t say or even hint that anyone has to agree with my statement of faith to be Christian or even evangelical. Show me yours and then I’ll decide whether I think you’re Christian (and evangelical). My whole point was that we ought not to ask people to sign someone else’s statement of faith. Each faith community should decide for itself whose statement of faith is “good enough” for membership or participation. No doubt mine would be excessive, overkill, so to speak, for most churches and organizations. I don’t expect anyone else’s to match mine. Mine was written for someone who questioned my evangelical-ness as a theologian.

      • Steve Rogers

        I did show you mine.

        • rogereolson

          As I recall, it didn’t seem like a Christian statement of faith. It was, as I recall it, a statement of ethical aspiration. I believe Christianity does have cognitive content, so I would (if I were on a membership committee or hiring board) ask for more–namely, a statement of doctrines.

          • Steve Rogers

            I understand. They say, “never say never,” but I envision no circumstance in my future wherein I will submit to such scrutiny by a committee.

          • rogereolson

            Look at it from the church or Christian organization’s perspective. How are they to keep intruders out? I once served on the pastoral staff of a church which members of a cult tried to invade. They said they loved Jesus. But we knew they did not believe in him as lord and savior to the exclusion of their cult’s leader who they considered equal with Christ.

  • David Rogers

    But if we ask people to write their own confessions, we then would have to read them and talk with them and actually listen to them. Isn’t it more efficient for there to be a check box and a signature on a boilerplate document?

    • rogereolson

      Yes, and that’s probably one reason why that’s such a common approach. But it’s the lazy way.

      • Dan

        Well said. If confessions are doing their job, more should be done with them other than check boxes and signatures. Would not formal catechesis go a long way toward reinforcing and teaching the meaning of the articles of a confession?

        Secondly, if we operate from a personal confession view; is there a way to reinforce those via some sort of catechism? I am thinking of the Great Commission where Jesus commands teaching as a part of it. Is such teaching formal, informal, or both? And how is it done?

        • rogereolson

          I think every church should have a consensus statement of beliefs and practices; people should not be required to sign it. But their own faith statements should be examined for consistency with the consensus of the church. The church should teach its consensus and allow individual members to express their differing opinions on secondary matters and matters of opinion. But catechesis should be of the Bible and the orthodox doctrines of historical Christianity and the church’s consensus statement.

      • Steven Chetelat

        Possibly splitting the difference might work in any high-volume situations. Hit all the essentials, including the problem areas, in a written statement. If folks are comfortable with that, great. If not, discuss it with them. Save time and still get the needed in-depth conversations.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Wonderful Roger,

    “…..prevenient grace that restores free will and ability to respond to the gospel call.” This statement is most helpful – restoration of both free will and the ability to respond. When is this done? At a particular time for each individual? Only under the preaching (or reading) of the gospel? More generally, at some time in history, perhaps immediately after we received the image of God and were able to do something with this great gift? Was it available before the Resurrection – before Pentecost? Is it, post-Pentecost, freely distributed by the Holy Spirit to all humanity – and, of course, with the onus on us to use the God-given ability to respond? Just like the water hose with us responsible for the opening of the valve.

    These are not in any way hostile questions. I love your entire statement – and promise not to copy it, no matter how much of it I agree with. :). See my next note.

    I’m particularly tuned to these kinds of questions having just finished reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ new book “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning”, which is about much more than the title suggests – all of it very important. I see much grace at work in this man’s writing. Do we call this grace – the existence of which there is no doubt – prevenient grace?

    • rogereolson

      I distinguish between common grace and prevenient grace (as modes of the one grace of God). Common grace is universal (perhaps due to the image of God [I’m very influenced by Emil Brunner about this]); prevenient grace may be universal, but I can’t be sure. All I know is it is especially communicated through the Word of God, the gospel proclaimed (in whatever manner).

  • Bev Mitchell

    Your suggestion of asking everyone who applies to a Christian entity to provide their own statement of faith is exactly like the nearly ubiquitous request for a curriculum vitae. In fact, Christians might want to have such a statement as part of their C.V. Prospective employers interested in folks who think for themselves would also expect to see some indication of that independent thought process in the way the basic elements are expressed (perhaps with a mark down for plagiarism). Part of our problem with group statements is that the manners of expression (words as well as phrases and even entire sentences) become codified and therefor expected/required. The eventual result can easily be a dead or dying document – or, at least, confusion, dissimulation and eventual conflict. It’s also extremely boring.

    That’s one of the reasons we like your blog Roger – it is never boring!

    • rogereolson

      I consider that a high compliment! 🙂

  • Tom

    I never considered this kind of proposal before but I think it’s better in the sense that it allows for freedom of inquiry and research where God has yet to shed His light on a truth. The other way is used to often to brand certain people as being “in” or “out” of a “movement” which claims to be broadly evangelical. I’d be interested to hear how Romans 14 applies to this topic or if it even applies at all.

  • John C. Gardner

    I sometimes think in the Wesleyan church that we should ask everyone(including myself) to produce a basic faith statement. It could then be reviewed by the pastors or church Board to see if it was consistent with Wesleyan and General consensual Christian beliefs. This would only be part of membership requirements and would help others to cogently express their views and be able to articulate them. Furthermore, it might help in producing a more theologically literate laity.

  • In response to Steve, Dr. Olson said, “But I didn’t say or even hint that anyone has to agree with my statement of faith to be Christian or even evangelical. Show me yours and then I’ll decide whether I think you’re Christian (and evangelical).”

    First, while I respect that Dr. Olson’s statement of faith was written in response to a specific request, I seriously question why any believer in Christ should ever be expected to produce (write) such a statement in order to prove one’s Christian or evangelical credentials to the satisfaction of another.

    Second, I don’t believe it’s our prerogative to “decide” who is in or who is out of God’s family. Since it is Christ who suffered and died for all humanity, the least we can do is to let him be the Decider. On this I am reminded of how the disciples sought to exclude an outsider from preaching the gospel simply because he didn’t belong to their self-approved ‘evangelical’ group. Jesus set them straight as follows: “John spoke up, ‘Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.’ Jesus wasn’t pleased. ‘Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice'” (Mark 9:38-41 (MSG).

    • rogereolson

      So you think that a person applying to teach theology at an evangelical Christian college, for example, should not be asked about his or her Christian beliefs? May I gently suggest that if Christianity is compatible with anything and everything it’s meaningless?

  • Andy

    This is well written. Very Well Written! And amongst all the discussions,here, it is a good reminder to me that we all agree on so much, doctrinally – left, right, even hyper-calvinist! And in the real world I can’t assume everyone agrees with me on some of the interesting topics you guys discuss (and I largely just observe).

    I especially like your 2-paragraph format distinguishing between what we ALL believe, but leave room for minor disagreements. I learned a lot of this from you: Jesus Christ as the criteria for interpreting scripture comes to mind. I’m losing track of what I learn from the blog and what I learn from your books.

    I would not be capable of writing this statement, so if forced to write one, I’d draw from your’s (with citation, of course). All this theological reading is just a hobby for me. And if asked to sign one, I’ll probably draw on your logic and offer some version of this.

    This post is a keeper! You should put it somewhere on your title bar (maybe under articles?)

    • rogereolson

      I will consider that suggestion.

  • Quartermaster

    After more than 30 years of bible study and study of various Systematic Theologies, I would be compelled to say that Mohler may be evangelical, but his theology is aberrant and I would not accept him at any Bible College or Seminary at which I had hiring authority, not would I accept him as a member in an evangelical congregation.

    I’ve already held that conversation and anyone that holds Calvin’s peculiar doctrines are a write off for me as far as association is concerned. Calvinists are schismatic as they feel they have to force their peculiar doctrines on everyone around them and, consequently, are a divisive influence to be avoided. In my adult life I have seen only one man that held the “Doctrines of Grace” that did not try to force them down anyone’s throat and he is the former Pastor where I attend currently.

    • rogereolson

      So, in light of the one exception in your experience, it would be best not to globalize, lumping all Calvinists into the same category (behavior-wise). I have known many exceptions. Unfortunately, in recent years, the loudest Calvinists happen to be the most dogmatic and exclusivistic ones.

      • Quartermaster

        While the term “that conversation” seems to be in the singular, I have actually had that conversation many times. Even the one exception I have observed, I would not hire him. It isn’t a matter of lumping, or anything else, it is a concern that people hear the truth about God and, as I have observed, and you have pointed out, Calvinists misrepresent God.

  • Dan

    Am reading Carl Trueman’s new book “The Creedal Imperative”; in some discussion of the book, Dr. Trueman indicated one positive use of creeds and confessions is to hold ordained ministers, elders, etc. accountable… i.e., they are in some sense for protection of those under their care, that a leader can’t do theological flip-flops without being challenged and disciplined if necessary.
    I don’t come from a background with an elaborate faith statement, in fact it’s rather brief, 8-10 points. The thing that gets me is that I don’t think it gets a whole lot of attention other than applying for membership. In my view, we are not far from being what I’d call “atheological” apart from the very basic doctrines of the faith. I do believe that as a result, there has been some theological whiplash in the pulpit as successive pastors have had widely divergent interpretations of Scripture, views of God’s sovereignty, and so forth.
    Anyway, my own nearly creedless church experience has driven me to explore the creeds and their value, and I am increasingly on a track of favoring adherence to historical confessions. But that’s just me, based on my own 25-30 years as a believer in a handful of evangelical churches.

  • Very nice statement, Roger. I really like your idea of two paragraphs per article, separating between orthodox dogmas and your personal convictions about particular doctrines. That’s a great exercise for anyone to do!


  • Roger, You’re just wrong in your terminology, good brother. “Confessional” evangelical is what Al called himself and I said he wasn’t one precisely over the standard definition of “confessional” as someone who adheres to a formal confession of faith. You want to reduce the category to something like “self-identified,” and it just isn’t that. It’s not what the word means when we speak of a “confessional” Lutheran (= someone who holds to a doctrinal standard such as the Formula of Concord) or a “confessional” Presbyterian (= someone who holds to a doctrinal standard such as the Westminster Confession). So this whole conversation has gone off the rails due to improper definition.

    • rogereolson

      John! Welcome. I didn’t know you visit here. I’m redefining “confessional” my own way. It’s my blog, so…:) But thanks for your input.

    • rogereolson

      John, Your comment deserves more by way of response. Please note that I call myself a “confessing evangelical.” You are right that “Confessional” means affirming, even swearing allegiance to, a formal, written statement of faith–usually a doctrinal standard written by some church body (such as the Westminster Confession). My point is that, like Mohler, I “confess” doctrinal beliefs–something he seems to think only he and his ilk do. My way of doing it is different from his, but it’s still “confessing.”

  • MA

    It seems that the “evangelical” label can be dreadfully convoluted at times. For example, I find it difficult to understand how Mohler and McLaren are both dubbed evangelical in some sense even as they hold drastically different perspectives on almost everything. I understand that your statement of faith is not intended to be a litmus test for entrance into evangelicalism. However, do you think that there is a unified set of beliefs that characterize all evangelicals? In other words, is there a set of belief that a person must affirm (not sign) to be considered evangelical?

    • rogereolson

      That would require a book to answer! In brief, Mohler and McLaren are both evangelicals simply by virtue of belonging to the evangelical movement. That is, evangelicalism is their common constituency. As I define it, an “evangelical theologian” is a theologian of evangelicalism. I don’t know any other way to define it as there is no evangelical magisterium. Now, of course, I have my own (shared by many) general “rules of thumb” about what generally characterizes an evangelical in terms of experience and doctrine. But the moment I trot them out, someone comes along and says “But what about…..?” and usually I have to scratch my head and say “Oh, I didn’t think of him (or her).” That’s why I say there are no boundaries around “evangelical.” It’s an ideal type, not an organization.

    • Dan

      MA: Please see Carl Trueman’s book “The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”, a short ebook. The “real” scandal, in his view, is that there is no longer any shared or commonly understood “evangel”. Trueman as an OPC member, writes from a traditional confessional view.

  • Timothy

    Perhaps the distinction between Roger and Mohler is that the latter is a “confessing” evangelical rather than a “confessing evangelical”. For Mohler the confessing and the confession assume an importance that can seem to me somewhat at odds with the evangelical commitment to the Bible.

  • Mick Lee

    It is interesting y’all keep insisting on reinventing the wheel. The best “statements of faith” were written by the early Christian centuries ago: The Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.
    Certainly concise. Far less wordy. Biblically faithful.

  • Tom

    I have a basic question. Is there a qualitative distinction to be made among the different creeds spanning church history. Someone could say the first category is more authoritative since the church was more or less unified but I don’t think that is necessarily so. But there must still be some distinction. Any recommendations on where to read up more on the history of this.

    1) Apostle’s Creed & Nicene Creed

    2) Westminster Confession & Formula of Concord

    3) Written Statements of faith composed by churches and organizations

    • rogereolson

      Any book that is other than simply a compendium of these will approach them from some particular tradition of interpretation. The most famous single compendium is The Creeds of Christendom by (I think Philip Schaff). J. Gordon Melton has a three volume compendium of creeds and confessional statements that is much more detailed and broken down into denominational traditions (which creeds they accept, what confessional statements they have written, etc.). There are numerous books on individual creeds and the major Protestant confessions. One I recently purchased is Christopher R. Seitz’s Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism (Parthenon). At the other end of the spectrum is the time honored Baptist Confessions of Faith by W. L. Lumpkin. I’ll let others make other suggestions.

      • Dan

        Helpful references! Thanks.

  • Eagle


    Remember you’re dealing with Fundementalism 2.0. So you have to keep that in your mind. BTW…over at the Wartburg Watch there was a comment that John Piper said that its a sin to celebrate July 4? Have you heard anything about that?

    BTW…I love your blog. I hover around here and read. I used to be a Christian but got singed by the modern reformed camp. So now I just sit on the sidelines and read your blog, Greg Boyd’s books, Chaplin Mike over at the Internet Monk, etc… It’s encouraigng to know there are moderates out there…..granted they be small.

  • John C. Gardner

    Do Baptists have confessions or doctrinal standards which they are asked to affirm? The Wesleyan church has Articles of Religion which are denominational standards but these are not formally required to be affirmed by laity. Should an institution or denomination do more education so that it is possible for lay members to be familiar with the doctrinal standards? Too many Wesleyan churches seem to have only a minimal amount of instruction prior to membership although some close to CS Lewis’s mere Christianity is assumed.

    • rogereolson

      Baptists have produced numerous statements of faith over the years and have used them in widely varying ways. Traditionally, however, even candidates for ordination have not been asked to swear allegiance to any written statement of faith. Those have been treated as consensus statements, not “instruments of doctrinal accountability.” Except. There are exceptions. Particular Baptists in particular (Calvinists) have sometimes elevated (for example) the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1688) to the status of a creed. It’s very difficult to generalize about Baptists.

  • A. Rose


    Thanks for another thought-provoking post. I’ve just been reading about a Christian community who have both a statement of faith, and also a statement of practice, i.e. they publically declare both doctrine and praxis. While right belief is certainly important, perhaps churches and other Christian institutions give a skewed impression of Christian discipleship by giving formal expectations of cognitive beliefs but with no formal expectation on how a person lives.

    Of course, there is always a danger of slipping into legalism, but if I were considering someone to join my church membership, or the staff at my faculty, I would be just as concerned about how their lives embody Christ as how their minds reflect orthodoxy. You can have fantastic theology but be a lousy Christian, just as Christian history has shown that you can have lousy areas in your theology, but still be an incredible ambassador for God’s kingdom.

  • My heart was “strangely warmed” in reading your confession, Dr. Olson. Like you emphasize, the Evangelicalism of which I am part, has been a large tent movement. Much of my spiritual formation comes out of the influence of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I have along the way vacillated between the poles of “too narrow” and “too broad” as I have worked out my own relationship with the movement. Sometimes I get really discouraged over what gets into the tent. At other times I am saddened by who gets pushed out of the tent. It takes a lot of work to do Evangelicalism since it won’t rest in easy formulaic answers to what constitutes true believing, though for some it looks like it is too easy, requiring less than a full orbed confessionalism. What I have found most dangerous to the movement is not its larger boundaries (as problemmatic as that can be) but those who seek to confessionalize the movement and turn it toward a denominationalistic ethos. I think your statement builds the appropriate number of fences but doesn’t rely on fences as the defining “feel” of the movement. That’s important to me. What should be most attractive about a movement is what is at the center.

  • Dr. Olson,
    I loved the read, especially after finishing a great year in systematics with Dr. William Abraham and Dr. Bruce Marshall. I saw that you mention the Trinitarian-God. You even gave preference to the 1st and 2nd persons of the trinity, for they had their separate explanations. I’m curious as to why the Holy Spirit did not have 2 paragraphs? Was this intentional? I did notice that the Holy Spirit was seen throughout the rest of your statements and was wondering if that was representative of the a theological position you hold for the Holy Spirit?


    • rogereolson

      Maybe I just got my “fill” of the Holy Spirit growing up Pentecostal! 🙂 Seriously, I think the Holy Spirit’s main “job” (for us) is to promote Christ.

  • dima

    “Christ died for all people” – is this what “all Christians ought to believe as Christians”?

    • rogereolson

      Even Calvinists who believe in “limited atonement” say that Christ died for the non-elect; he just didn’t “secure their salvation” by his death.

  • Hi Roger,

    I didn’t read through all the comments, so forgive me if this has already been addressed (and point me towards that discussion).

    One thing I have never been able to wrap my head around is the notion that all humanity is born sinful except Jesus Christ. This is problematic for me not because I think Jesus was born sinful, but because his exclusion from this “rule” suggests either the (Augustinian?) notion that sin is passed down through men (and not women) and that Jesus was excluded because he was born miraculously of a virgin, or that perhaps our notion of original sin is flawed–that perhaps the curse of sin is on the world but we are not innately sinful at birth.

    The first doesn’t sit well with me (as far as I know, scripture never suggests that sin is passed on exclusively through male humans); the second option is so entrenched in Western Christianity that I’m hesitant to pursue the thought at the risk of being branded a heretic.


    • rogereolson

      Why Jesus was without original sin is a mystery, like much else about Jesus. We believe it because it’s revealed and fits his life. Metaphysical speculation about it gets us to no definite answers. One possibility (purely speculative and therefore debatable) is that he did assume a “fallen human nature” through Mary but, unlike everyone else since Adam, never embraced it or acted upon it. I like Niebuhr’s idea of sin as “inevitable, not necessary.” No one is guilty of original sin (contra Augustine who misread Romans 5:12); the guilt comes with its embrace and affirmation through positive acts of evil. Anyway, that’s a traditional Wesleyan and Anabaptist view of original sin–corruption without guilt at birth. I don’t have any idea why Jesus never would have acted sinfully except that he is God.

  • Bravo, Bravo!

    May I plagiarize your statement of faith? Please?

    • rogereolson

      You have my permission. It’s in the public domain now. 🙂

  • Forgive me for taking some liberties with your confession. But such as it is I wanted to pass along my own thoughts in furtherance of this discussion – http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/10/what-confessing-evangelical-believes.html.

    Moreover, thank you for such a clear statement of the Christian faith. There are other ways to write such statement of personal faith as you have mentioned. This one stands as testament to that classical expression of Christianity.

  • CFCIBishop

    In the context of our ministry, statements of faith are the central beliefs of the church. They provide new believers a sense of direction and give older believers proximal measure to begin if they have none. They are not required tenets that must be believed by everyone and require a signature. Your section on Scripture and Creeds helps with this point.