Evangelical Confessions of Faith
November 14, 2008
Between the Times (a blog by profs at Southeastern Baptist) alerts us to the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society next week, where some professors will be arguing for a new doctrinal statement, encompassing more than a couple sentences on inerrancy and the Trinity — you know, something about the Gospel of our salvation would be nice. Here’s the confession as it stands (which originally only included the inerrancy statement):
“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”
Denny Burke and Ray Van Neste (at amendETS.com) want the ETS to adopt the doctrinal confession of Tyndale House, Cambridge, which follows the confession of the UCCF Christian Unions (the UK equivalent of Inter-Varsity or Campus Crusade for Christ):
a. There is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
b. God is sovereign in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgement.
c. The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.
d. Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
e. The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, is fully God; he was born of a virgin; his humanity is real and sinless; he died on the cross, was raised bodily from death and is now reigning over heaven and earth.
f. Sinful human beings are redeemed from the guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of their representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between them and God.
g. Those who believe in Christ are pardoned all their sins and accepted in God’s sight only because of the righteousness of Christ credited to them; this justification is God’s act of undeserved mercy, received solely by trust in him and not by their own efforts.
h. The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners, enabling them to turn to God from their sin and to trust in Jesus Christ.
i. The Holy Spirit lives in all those he has regenerated. He makes them increasingly Christlike in character and behaviour and gives them power for their witness in the world.
j. The one holy universal church is the Body of Christ, to which all true believers belong.
k. The Lord Jesus Christ will return in person, to judge everyone, to execute God’s just condemnation on those who have not repented and to receive the redeemed to eternal glory.
The statement does several things well. First and foremost, it manages to delineate evangelical fundamentals, while leaving room for particular ecclesial differences within the broad evangelical constituency. It requires no particular confession on baptism or the Lord’s Supper, which should indicate that the confession is not intended to replace the individual confessions of the churches (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.) but, rather, serve as a document of uniformity and collegiality in a common witness to Christ. Among the evangelical fundamentals include brief expressions in support of Nicaean Trinitarianism, Chalcedonian Christology, and Reformation soteriology, especially those aspects emphasized by evangelicals (e.g., “representative and substitute”). There are certainly more elegant evangelical confessions out there. The Heidelberg Catechism (Reformed) is one well-known and much beloved example, especially the first question:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Among contemporary evangelical churches, the Vineyard Statement of Faith expresses many things well, for example:
“WE BELIEVE that God’s kingdom is everlasting. From His throne, through His Son, His eternal Word, God created, upholds and governs all that exists: the heavenly places, the angelic hosts, the universe, the earth, every living thing and mankind. God created all things very good.”
Or this from the Southern Baptist Faith & Message (2000), which excludes Open Theism:
“There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
However, if the ETS wants a more succinct expression, then that of the UCCF may very well be a good one to adopt, and it would unite them in one confession with British evangelicals in universities and colleges.