Below is a summary of what I believe and how I think on various issues. I have divided it up into a section on foundational thinking, general theology, and finally some hot-button issues in the church. For simplicity’s sake, I have not included biblical references for support. If one is familiar with the debates, one will likely know where to find scriptural support for each point. If you want more detail or my biblical evidence for a particular point, please do not hesitate to ask.
Attitude in Theology: I like the general approach demonstrated in the saying, In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity. Love, humility, and faith must mark our theological thinking and discussions among fellow Christians. Considering the wide swaths of Christianity in the world today, despite our many differences, there is more that unites us than divides us.
Differing Levels of Clarity, Importance, and Flexibility: We must recognize that some doctrines of the faith are more clearly taught in Scripture than others, and that some beliefs are more important than others. For example, human sinfulness is more clearly taught than, say, the proper system of church governance. Similarly, the Trinity is more important to the faith than, say, a preferred mode of baptism. We must hold some things more loosely than others, recognizing these differences; to put it another way, we should not major on the minors. In my thinking there is thus a corresponding flexibility in some of these areas. Because I do not hold all the following beliefs with equal conviction, at certain points I would be willing to adopt the beliefs and standards of a given church. Part of wise theological method, in my opinion, is community, so if there are points where we would need to have some discussion, I am happy to do so.
Tensions, Paradoxes, and Middle Positions: Similar to the last paragraph, there are issues where it is notoriously difficult to discern the correct biblical position—usually because the evidence points in multiple directions. In such cases the temptation is to completely explain away one side of the evidence while adopting one’s preferred set of evidence. My preference is to try hold a moderate position on such issues and try very hard to hold on to all strands of evidence. This often leads to tensions or paradoxes that are difficult to finally explain. In my opinion we need to be wary of theological systems that claim to have figured out every detail exactly. I thus value humility and faith over certainty.
God and Christology
I am orthodox in Trinitarianism and Christology (cf. the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds). I believe that God has eternally existed as one in essence—there is one God. God, however, has eternally existed in three separate persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each is fully God. Jesus was both fully human, and fully divine—having both a human nature and a divine nature. Despite this, he remained one single person, with both natures unmixed and unconfused with one another (cf. the Chalcedonian Creed).
The Scriptures and Revelation
I believe that the sixty-six books of the Bible are, as special revelation, inspired, infallible, and inerrant—in the original manuscripts, and with features of genre rightly understood. As such, we are to preach and teach the Word of God, confident that God will work through the process. I think there is also a place for the study of general revelation, such as the natural created order—and in the end I believe there will be no final contradiction. While God’s revelation is perfect and absolutely true, we will never understand it perfectly or absolutely. So theology, as a human work of trying to understand God’s revelation, will always be flawed, incomplete, and working toward better understanding. Hence the famous saying: faith seeking understanding. Once again, humility is needed.
Humanity and Sin
I believe that humans were created in God’s image to rule and steward the earth, and that through evil spiritual forces and the sin of Adam and Eve, sin and death spread to all of humanity. There is not one aspect of humanity which is not, at some level, touched and corrupted by sin. Yet all humans, by virtue of having been created by God, are valuable. There is thus no place for racism or writing-off any humans as worthless or untouchable.
Redemption and the Gospel
I believe that through Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, atoning and substitutionary death, resurrection, and exaltation to heaven, God is lovingly and graciously working to bring redemption and restoration to all humanity and all the created order. Salvation is found in Christ alone. The gospel consists in the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit which is given to believers. The inward response to the gospel is faith and repentance, two sides of the same coin that may be used interchangeably (repentance focusses on the initial turning, and faith focusses on lasting attitude of trust). There is no true faith without repentance and no true repentance without faith. The outward response to the gospel is baptism and confession of faith in Jesus as Lord. When someone puts faith in Jesus, he or she is given the Spirit and is brought into spiritual union with Jesus, thus participating in Jesus’ death, justification, and—in the future—resurrection. The gift of the Spirit brings inevitable life-change, and a lack of perseverance in the faith or some measure of godly fruit becomes evidence of a lack of true salvation or connection with God.
Eschatology and Christian Living
I believe that an “already but not yet” eschatological tension is the heart of New Testament theology and explains almost every aspect of Christian life. With the ministry of Jesus the Kingdom of God and the Age of Fulfillment began. Another step forward was made at Jesus’ resurrection and the bestowal of the Spirit. Early Christians understood that Jesus’ resurrection was not just a resuscitation to normal human life, but the beginning of the great eschatological resurrection. Similarly, the outpouring of the Spirit was understood as an eschatological blessing of the Age to Come. This means that instead of a neat dividing line between This Age and The Age to Come (as in normal Jewish thinking), The Age to Come has begun and overlapped with the continuation of This Age.
This eschatological tension accounts for the tension we experience as Christians, as well as the tensions in what is said of salvation. We have been saved, redeemed, adopted, justified, raised, and given the Spirit—yet we await our salvation, redemption, adoption, final justification, full bestowal of the Spirit, and resurrection. The struggle between the Spirit and the Flesh is thus part of this tension—on one hand we have been given the Spirit and participate in the Age of Fulfillment, but on the other hand we remain unavoidably within this fallen age.
I believe that one day final fulfillment will come, as God sends Jesus to return personally and bodily to bring the Kingdom in fullness and to judge the living and the dead. God will restore the physical created order in a New Heavens and New Earth. The Christian hope is thus not “going to heaven when we die,” but rather the great and final resurrection. We long and pray for that day. In the meantime, Christians are to live faithfully, obediently, and sacrificially as we aspire to holiness and fruitfulness in service to our Lord.
The Church and Churches
I believe that the true church consists of all true believers in Jesus, regardless of denominational commitment. The church as such began at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit. The Christian is to participate in a local church as part of the larger church, serving with his or her gifts and living harmoniously with other believers and the ordained leadership. The church is given the mandate to make disciples of all nations, and is especially to practice the ordinances (or sacraments) of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Ten Hot Button Issues
I believe that God created the universe and everything in it. Yet I believe it is an open question as to how God created. There are a variety of legitimate Christian positions on how to understand the various creation stories in the Bible, and I think we should not be too dogmatic here. I think that the creation stories’ usage of some features of ancient cosmic geography (e.g., a solid sky and a heavenly ocean above the sky) is evidence that these accounts were written to answer ancient religious questions, not modern scientific questions. If we are asking different questions than these stories were written to answer, we will probably end up with problems. I do believe in a literal Adam and Eve, though I realize this might raise some scientific tensions. On this issue of creation, I believe we Christians need to be humble and charitable to one another (and outsiders), and to recognize that the answers to these issues are not easy to find, and we all have problems reconciling some of the biblical data. Once again: faith seeking understanding.
I have been on both sides of this debate, first as a committed Arminian, then as a die-hard Calvinist. Since then I have adopted a moderate, middle position. I believe that the Scriptures point both directions on this issue, so we need to try to hold both strands of evidence and allow the tensions to stand. God is somehow sovereign in salvation, but humans are also somehow responsible, and make deliberate choices, even for salvation. I believe we overemphasize either side of this tension to our peril. Beyond this, I specifically reject limited atonement. Here is an example of how a desire for logical consistency in theology can push well beyond what the biblical evidence supports.
Probably the most important practical issue is the security of a believer’s salvation. This is really where the rubber meets the road in the debate. Can a true believer lose his salvation? I believe the issue is often confused because, while there are actually three different positions in play, the debate often gets collapsed into only two positions: conditional security versus eternal security. This is problematic, because there are actually two very different subdivisions of what can be called “eternal security.”
First, we need to articulate the three possible positions. On one hand we have conditional security, where a true believer can lose their salvation if they abandon the faith or are radically unfaithful. This makes sense, because a good chunk of biblical evidence seems to point this way.
On the extreme other hand, we have a “free grace,” “once saved always saved” position. This position argues that if a person has a moment of faith in Jesus, they will be saved no matter what—even if they abandon the faith completely. This almost makes sense, because there is also a good chunk of biblical evidence that seems to say salvation is secure and eternal.
Both of these opposite positions do a good job of explaining part of the biblical evidence, but struggle to explain the other side of the data. In my judgment what is needed is a middle position that can account for both sides of the evidence, a position which includes the threat of damnation if a believer abandons the faith, but also the promise and assurance that salvation is secure.
I believe the best position here is thus perseverance of the saints. This position holds that: (1) a believer’s salvation is absolutely secure and cannot be lost; but also (2) all true believers will persevere in the faith and in some measure of faithfulness. To put it another way, future perseverance is evidence of prior participation with Christ (see Heb 3:14). This allows me to account nicely for both sides of the evidence, and I believe it is also the most pastorally satisfying, since it holds forth both the danger of unfaithfulness, as well as the assurance and comfort of God’s security. Does this resolve all the tensions? No. But I believe it comes closer to doing so than any other position.
I call myself a “soft cessationist.” I am not convinced that tongues or prophecy as practiced by the contemporary charismatic churches are what is envisioned in the New Testament—though I recognize I might be wrong. I am particularly unhappy with fallible prophecy as practiced by many modern charismatic churches. On the other hand, I do not think there is a convincing biblical argument that the so-called “sign gifts” were expected to stop (though there may be a historical argument for this in church history). I believe God is free to give gifts as He desires, and I am unwilling to put Him in a box and dogmatically say what He may or may not do. A great humility should be demonstrated here. I believe that God still grants miracles and healings, and that such events are especially likely to take place where the gospel is advancing in spiritually dark places, such as certain mission fields. I believe in praying for healing and miracles, but the answers to those prayers are always God’s prerogative. In terms of charismatic or Pentecostal theology, I am unpersuaded by the case for a “second blessing” or Spirit-baptism secondary to conversion.
Women in Ministry
I call myself an “unsettled, soft complementarian.” I greatly value the presence and ministry of women in the church and outside of the church, and I believe that God has gifted all believers for service in ministry. Because women in our churches typically outnumber men, we would be in big trouble without their contributions! Nonetheless, the NT evidence does seem to limit the office of elder to men. The way I put this together in the end is that I am happy for my sisters to serve in any capacity other than elder or senior pastor. I think this allows for the greatest ministry contribution by women, while still attempting to follow the norm set in the New Testament. I add the “unsettled” part, because I am aware that this restriction in the New Testament could possibly be due to a cultural issue of the day, similar to how Paul treats slavery or head-coverings. We need to proceed with humility and gentleness on this issue, and to try to be faithful to all the evidence. Here is an area in which I am rather flexible and could probably adapt to a church’s position.
Unifying God’s Work in the Old Testament and New Testament
This is essentially the debate between a Covenantal approach, which tends to emphasize unity between the Old Testament and New Testament, and a Dispensational approach, which tends to emphasize distinctions between the Old Testament and New Testament. Characteristically, I prefer a position in the middle of both extremes, known as Progressive Dispensationalism. Here is how I put it together.
I believe that the essential structure of God’s working can be derived from the eschatology of Luke-Acts (here I am generally indebted to Darrell Bock). This is an essential two-part structure of promise/fulfillment, with three subdivisions within the second part (fulfillment). The first of the two essential structures is the Age of Promise, which includes the Old Testament up through the ministry of John the Baptist, who stands as something of a bridge figure.
The second part of this structure is the Age of Fulfillment, which begins with Jesus. This Age of Fulfillment has three stages, in which the Kingdom of God and the plan of God advance: (1) Jesus’ ministry, where the Kingdom of God was present and working in a new way; (2) the period after Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation, where the Spirit is bestowed and the New Covenant and Kingdom present and inaugurated; and (3) the period of final consummation, when Jesus returns and fully implements the Kingdom and all other promises of God that remain unfulfilled.
As part of these as-of-yet unfulfilled promises, I believe that when Jesus returns, there will be a mass revival in Israel, and that the expectations of the prophets will be finally fulfilled for God’s chosen people.
Divorce and Remarriage
First of all, I believe that marriage should be honored by all and divorce abhorred by all, and that we must strive for grace and reconciliation in all matters. I used to hold a more strict view, yet now I believe that marital unfaithfulness and abandonment are legitimate, biblical, grounds for divorce. By inference, my opinion is that spousal abuse also forms grounds for divorce. I believe that a legitimate divorce, by definition, allows for remarriage. I tend to be especially gracious concerning divorce that took place before someone was a believer. In the end, I would wish to consider each potential marriage on a case-by-case basis.
The Lord’s Supper
I believe that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated every week as part of the worship service. Alongside the proclamation of the Scriptures, it should be a high point of the service. I understand churches differ on this, so I am somewhat flexible. Yet I would eventually like to move toward a weekly observance. In terms of views on the Lord’s Supper, I am torn between a representative view and a spiritual presence view.
I believe that baptism is part of the outward response to the gospel, and my preferred view is “believer’s baptism,” with a preferred mode of immersion. I do not necessarily think infant baptism is illegitimate, but I do not think it is the best practice. I think too many of our evangelical churches downplay the role of baptism, and I think it is important to emphasize. I do not think it is necessary for salvation per se, nor the moment when a person is “saved.” Yet the New Testament knows nothing of an unbaptized believer, and I would have serious questions for someone who claimed to be a Christian without having been baptized. It is clearly the rite of entry into the church, and we neglect it at our own peril.
Details of Eschatology
As noted above, I believe that eschatology, and particularly the eschatological tension of the “already but not yet” nature of fulfillment, is central to New Testament theology. Things get much fuzzier when we consider such precise issues like the millennium, tribulation, and rapture. For the most part, I think it is wise for us to focus on the “big picture” of Jesus’ return and not get sidetracked by the details. If pressed, I would say that I think there is fairly strong evidence for some kind of literal millennium, though this is certainly not incontrovertible. I think there is less biblical evidence for a pre-tribulational rapture, though the great strength of the position is that it accounts for both an imminent return of Christ as well as signs that must be fulfilled first. This is an area in which I am rather flexible and can probably adopt a church’s official position.
This is in many ways the pressing social issue of our day. I think the most important thing to stress in our approach is love, humility, and a realization that all sin is serious, and none of us are untouched either by temptation or guilt. Yet I remain unconvinced by biblical or theological arguments to justify homosexual behavior or marriage. I would counsel a Christian with same-sex attraction to—as difficult as it would be—seek a life of celibacy. We would need to come alongside such a believer with an especially strong support, friendship, and inclusion, because it would indeed be a difficult road to walk.
Though not comprehensive, hopefully this document provides insight into my thinking on most of the important doctrines and issues that might come up. Again, if you wish to know more detail on any given point, or if there is something I did not address that you would like to ask me about, please do not hesitate to ask.