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.
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.
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).
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.