Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
In a previous post the differences between how we refer to the doctrine of salvation in the 1950 Statement of Faith (SOF) and the 2008 SOF were highlighted. A commenter affirmed the EFCA for “trying to become more biblical,” especially when many “seem to be heading in the other direction.” Regarding the specific order of salvation, this person concluded that “the 1950s SOF was actually unbiblical.”
Often the expression used of one or another’s position as biblical or unbiblical is a means of affirming one’s one view and denying the other. Although it does not use the language of heterodox or heretical, it is on a continuum. It is certainly true that there is such a thing as a belief or a theological view being biblical or unbiblical. Often, however, the expression is used as a means to undermine a view different from one’s own.
I am not suggesting that we shy away from using the expression. I am encouraging us to be careful why and how we use it and ensure it fits what we are claiming. We engage as theologians in the task of theology with humility (Isa. 66:2-3), with absolute confidence in God and His Word. What He has said and has been recorded, His special revelation, that is the Bible and what determines what is biblical.
Here is my response to the commenter.
First, regarding the SOF, I am encouraged of your commendation/affirmation of the EFCA’s commitment to the authority of the Bible. We were very aware of this as we walked through the process of revising our SOF. Whenever Statements of Faith (SsOF) are revised, it often is in the direction of making it more liberal and less rigorous biblically. We believe that through our process and with the adoption of our SOF in 2008, we strengthened an already strong SOF. And we did so by affirming the Bible is the norming norm (the absolute authority) and our SOF is the statement that is normed by the Scriptures. We also included biblical teachings in our SOF that were not included in the 1950 SOF, not because they were not believed but rather because they were not being discussed or denied among Christians or the broader culture. One of the purposes of a SOF is to state what we believe in the midst of a culture that is presently questioning, doubting or denying those biblical truths. This is one of a number of reasons why SsOF must be revised so that the faith can be affirmed in the present day in the midst of contemporary denials of biblical truth. Those revisions which are necessary for SsOF are not for the Bible, since it is absolute. Problems occur when it is treated as something that is normed by humans, culture, science, technology, biology, etc.
Second, regarding the 1950 SOF, historically, those who drafted the EFCA 1950 SOF were committed to the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures. They attempted to be biblical in each and every of the 12 articles of the SOF. Our point is that the essential biblical truth could have been stated more clearly, and not in a way that privileged one understanding of the Bible’s teaching of salvation, i.e. the Arminian view. We would not claim, however, that the Arminian position, by virtue of the fact that it understands and articulates a different order of salvation, is unbiblical. (This is not to deny that some Arminian proponents may affirm an unbiblical position. But the same thing could be said for the Calvinist/Reformed proponents. Affirming a theological position does not necessarily make one biblical or unbiblical.)
Finally, regarding the matter of biblical authority and different understandings, we in the EFCA believe one can focus on the essentials of biblical truth and still disagree how that is understood. Because one disagrees with my interpretation of the Scripture does not mean that person is necessarily unbiblical. That person may be unbiblical. But then again, so may I and my interpretation. In our Theology Conference, we will focus on the Scriptures, its sole authority and its sufficiency, its essential teachings upon which most Evangelicals agree, and specifically those of us in the EFCA, and then the non-essential differences. We acknowledge there are differences and that they are real. But these real differences do not necessarily lead to the criticism that the other is unbiblical or to a divide between those of differing perspectives.
In this way we believe the essentials of the gospel are affirmed as of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-5) in doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10-11) and in practice (Phil. 1:27), a small fulfillment of Jesus’ high priestly prayer for oneness in Him (Jn. 17; cf. Eph. 2:11-22; 4:1-3).