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Evangelical Convictions: A Conversation with Greg Strand about the Evangelical Free Church's Doctrinal Statement Revision

In 2008 the Evangelical Free Church of America adopted a newly revised Statement of Faith. You should give that a read. It's a solid confessional statement that works at connecting each statement to the gospel.

Greg Strand, the EFCA's Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing, worked on Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith, a book that gives clarity to the theological convictions contained in that Statement, spelling out what is affirmed and what is denied (and what is not addressed). His exposition of the Statement is clear, while avoiding a lot of technical theological terms making the book accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

I spent a few days with the EFree leadership at what is called their Mid-Winter Ministerial. I was impressed with their process and thought it worth sharing with you. I was surprised to see that pre-millennialism ended up an essential (see that information below). My denomination is MUCH more specific on most doctrinal issues, but does not require a pre-millennial view (though historical pre-millenialists, like me, are certainly welcome!).

Greg, can you explain what led to the writing of this book?

From 2003-2008, the EFCA was engaged in a revision of their Statement of Faith. The culmination of that revision was reached in June 2008, when the denominational Conference adopted a new Statement of Faith. In order best to understand it and to provide teaching resources for it, it was necessary to provide a companion, a "theological exposition" or commentary to the Statement of Faith. In this way we could expound its truth, clarify what it says and means, and also state what it does not mean.

By the way, the lengthy discussion and final decision was extremely healthy for the EFCA. There was great interest along the way. It revealed a biblical and spiritual vitality in our movement. Interestingly, in an article for CT last year, you made reference to this denominational discussion and decision and also concluded it was healthy: "Orthodoxy is more likely to remain established in denominations with clear faith statements. Confessional anchors have prevented drift in such denominations as the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Evangelical Free Church."

How is the book structured?

It follows the 10 Articles of the Statement of Faith. After an introductory chapter explaining what it means to be Evangelical in two senses, the broader Evangelical stream of which we are a part, and the more narrow Evangelical Free Church of America, there is a chapter on each of the Articles: God, The Bible, The Human Condition, Jesus Christ, The Work of Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Church, Christian Living, Christ's Return, Response and Eternal Destiny. If one wants to read through the actual Statement of Faith, they can do that at the EFCA website: http://www.efca.org/about-efca/statement-faith

As I read the new Statement of Faith I was impressed at how each article connects to the gospel. It's even reflected in the subtitles of the book chapters.

That is right; there is a clear and explicit connection to the gospel that unites each Article into the whole Statement of Faith. So the chapters and subtitles look like this:

God:God's gospel originates in and expresses the wondrous perfections of the eternal, triune God.

The Bible:God's gospel is authoritatively revealed in the Scriptures.

The Human Condition:God's gospel alone addresses our deepest need.

Jesus Christ:God's gospel is made known supremely in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The Work of Christ:God's gospel is accomplished through the work of Christ.

The Holy Spirit:God's gospel is applied by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Church:God's gospel is now embodied in the new community called the church.

Christian Living:God's gospel compels us to Christ-like living and witness to the world.

Christ's Return:God's gospel will be brought to fulfillment by the Lord Himself at the end of this age.

Response and Eternal Destiny:God's gospel requires a response that has eternal consequences.

This attempts to follow both a biblical theology framework, the connection with the gospel, along with a focus on systematic theology, the doctrinal headings.

There are no listed authors. Why is that?

That was very intentional. This is a different work than most Systematic Theology textbooks, for example Millard Erickson's Christian Theology or Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, in that both of them end up espousing the author's position. EC is an attempt to spell out the denomination's theological positions, which is a good representation of evangelical theology. Though it was written by a couple of individuals, it was vetted by numerous others in the EFCA so that it truly became representative of the EFCA. Rather than people in the EFCA saying, for example, "President Hamel said this in Evangelical Convictions," it is much better in a denomination setting for people to say, "It says in Evangelical Convictions."

What is the goal of this book?

This is an attempt by a denomination, the EFCA, to focus on essentials, spell out some of the parameters, and exemplify charity in those areas of the significance of silence, viz. those areas of doctrine/theology which we will debate in the EFCA, but over which we will not divide. For those who abstractly talk about how to live life together under the gospel, and then end up either Reformed or Arminian/Wesleyan or divided on the ordinances, this is a concrete attempt to focus on essentials and live charitably together with the non-essentials.

One of the things I've heard from a number of people in the EFCA is that you "major on the majors, and minor on the minors." Do you feel the new Statement of Faith reflects unity around the essentials of the faith?

Yes. That explains why we put our congregational polity in the preamble, because even though it is our form of polity, it is not considered an essential of the gospel. Additionally, it is why we broadened our statement on eschatology beyond premillennialism for three drafts.

As stated by President Hamel, "the retention of pre-millennial eschatology was vigorously debated, but it was finally retained as a denominational distinctive and conviction rather than a gospel essential. This eschatology issue will need to be reviewed at some point in the future, but clearly the necessary two thirds majority for passage could not be reached by leaving it out."

When we reinserted premillennialism, which was an EFCA distinctive, we could no longer with integrity refer to the SOF as "essentials." This means the EFCA motto has to be tweaked a bit. Instead of saying that we, the EFCA, "major on the majors and minor on the minors," such that we are unified in the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and grant liberty in the non-essentials, we say that we "mostly major on the majors and mostly minor on the minors." In essence, though the EFCA retains its premillennial position, it is clearly a distinctive, not an essential of the faith. This is clearly spelled out in the book.

There is a lot of debate today around the historicity of Adam and Eve. Do you address this, or other contemporary theological issues in the book?

Yes, we did. This is a critical area of discussion among Evangelicals today, the age of the universe and the historicity of Adam and Eve. Let me give you an example from the book (both the statement and the accompanying footnotes) that shows how we have addressed these two important issues respectively.

The EFCA states clearly and explicitly in our Statement of Faith, Article 1 that God is "Creator of all things." We have spelled out some parameters in the EFCA on the matter of creation in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America; 34:

To be sure, Genesis 1 expresses truth about God as Creator and his creation, but because of the uncertainty regarding the meaning and literary form of this text and the lack of Evangelical consensus on this issue, our Statement does not require a particular position on the mechanics of creation. However, to be within the doctrinal parameters of the EFCA, any understanding of the process of creation must affirm:

That God is the Creator of all things out of nothing (ex nihilo)

that He pronounced his creation "very good,"

that God created with order and purpose,

that God is the sovereign ruler over all creation which, by his personal and particular providence, he sustains, (9)

that God created the first human beings--the historical Adam and Eve--uniquely in his image,

and that through their sin all humanity along with this created order is now fallen (as articled in our Article 3). (10)

9 We deny the notion that God is simply the Creator of the universe but is no longer active in it, as is espoused by deism.

10 This Statement does not speak to the precise process of creation or to the age of the universe. To be acceptable within the EFCA any views on these specifics must completely affirm this Statement of Faith and align within these essential parameters.

Regarding the creation of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis and the significance of their uniqueness as historical figures and that they are the first created beings in the image of God (and that this truth is being questioned today by some and denied by others), it is important to note the following theological truth from Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, Article 3, B. The Significance of Adam and Eve, 76-77:

There are legitimate differences of opinion about how one understands the nature of the language used in the early chapters of Genesis to describe the actions of God in the world. However, our Statement affirms that Adam and Eve were historical figures(16) in the following sense: 1) From these two all other human beings are descended (Acts 17:26).(17) 2) These two were the first creatures created in God's image such that they were accountable to God as responsible moral agents. And 3) these two rebelled against God, affecting all their progeny.(18)

What is essential to the biblical story-line is that the problem with the world is not ontological-that is, it is not a result of the material nature of creation itself nor is sin an essential part of our humanity.(19) The problem is moral. The first human beings from the very beginning, in a distinct act of rebellion, chose to turn away from God, and this act not only affected all humanity (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), but creation itself (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). This leads us from considering the dignity of humanity to acknowledging our depravity.

16 The historical reality of Adam and Eve has been the traditional position of the church (so Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin) and is supported elsewhere in Scripture. Particularly, Paul compares the "one man" Adam with both Moses and Jesus (cf. Rom. 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor. 15:20-22). In addition, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Luke 3:23-37; cf. also 1 Chron. 1).

17 We take no position on the manner in which the human soul is passed on, either by natural heredity ("traducianism") or by a unique work of God in each life ("creationism").

18 Consequently, no human beings existed prior to these two, and, consequently, no human beings were sinless and without the need of a Savior.

19 This also gives us hope that human beings can be redeemed from sin.

This is not just a book detailing what the EFCA believes, but it also aims at the heart and life of believers. Can you talk about that a bit?

My prayer for the book is that it would effectively push three important elements: Orthodoxy, orthopraxy and doxology. We wanted to be faithful to "the faith once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3). In light of the necessity in Statement of Faith revisions to address contemporary ways in which the faith is being undermined, we believed it was also important to include some statements on orthopraxy.

For example, as Evangelicals it is one thing to affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. It is another thing to live under that authority in life and ministry. The end of Article 2 on The Bible addresses this: "Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises." (We were influenced by the wonderful statement made in the document the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.)

And finally our prayer was that this ought to lead to doxology, or praise and worship of our great God. The Statement of Faith begins "God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory" and ends doxologically "to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen."

Though this is limited to the EFCA, how would you see this being used more broadly?

Ken Kantzer, former Academic Dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, our EFCA school, and who is now with the Lord, used to say that TEDS was the Free Church's gift to broader evangelicalism. In many ways, this could be said of the denomination as a whole, our desire is to serve the gospel of Jesus Christ beyond the EFCA. Our goal and prayer is that maybe this book can serve as an example/model to other denominations or associations of how to attempt to focus on essentials, spell out some of the parameters, and exemplify charity in those areas of the significance of silence. If it were used in this way beyond the EFCA, we would be grateful to the Lord.

If readers are interested, here is a link to an interview with Bill Hamel, the President of the EFCA.

Greg will be at the blog interacting today. Feel free to dialogue about the content here or ask Greg questions.

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