EFCA Theology Preconference: Soteriological Essentials and the “Significance of Silence” (5): Doctrinal Survey

Greg Strand – December 8, 2014 4 Comments

The EFCA Conference adopted our present Statement of Faith in 2008. In conjunction with this discussion the EFCA Board of Directors affirmed a “process for safeguarding our spiritual heritage.” One aspect of this process was to conduct a theological survey every five years. It was a way the Board sought intentionally to value and safeguard the vital role of the Bible, theology and doctrine in the EFCA.

As we learned in the previous post, one of the doctrinal issues addressed in the 2008 SOF was soteriology. The 1950 SOF was more explicitly Arminian in its doctrinal perspective of soteriology – the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to “regenerate the believing sinner.” The intent in the 2008 SOF was to affirm the essential of soteriology that was consistent with Arminian, Calvinist and Lutheran soteriology, but which did not require or mandate any one position exclusively.

One of the questions/concerns raised during this aspect of the revision was that this was an intentional shift to become more Calvinist/Reformed in theology. My response, in brief, was that the reason one may sense this statement is more Calvinist/Reformed could be because it is less explicitly Arminian.  But one must be assured, that neither is it explicitly Calvinist. More specifically, the change from “regenerate the believing sinner” to “He [the Holy Spirit] regenerates sinners . . .”, is neither an attempt to accommodate Calvinism nor is it an attempt to move away from Arminianism.

The EFCA provides a home to both Arminians and Calvinists.  In fact, we believe this is one of our strengths, and serves as an identity marker of the EFCA.  This is one of the ways we manifest in practice that we do find our unity in the essentials of the gospel.  In all that we have done, our attempt is to craft a SOF that was compatible with both views, but which at no point required one or the other.  This is an appropriate correction that is consistent with the intent of our original framers of the 1950 SOF, which is more explicitly Arminian.

Last year we conducted our five-year EFCA Doctrinal Survey. All senior pastors of EFC churches (not all are credentialed in the EFCA), and everyone credentialed by the EFCA (not all are in EFCA ministries) were part of the survey. The Survey was sent to 1928 individuals, with 1074 responding, a 55.7% response. For any who conduct surveys, they grasp the significance of that high percentage of respondents. Not only is the response rate significant, but it was a response to a 46 question survey that took approximately 20-25 minutes to complete. What does this tell us? Doctrine matters to the EFCA! (Two other important assessments of our Survey that are relevant to our Preconference and Conference: (1) there is a strong agreement on essential doctrinal truths; (2) there is breadth represented in the areas of the “significance of silence.”)

In relation to the question/concern noted above, under Article 6 on The Holy Spirit, two questions were asked in the Survey about soteriology, the doctrine of salvation.

Q17. As you consider the logical order of a believer’s exercise of saving faith and the Spirit’s work of regeneration, which best describes your belief?

Assessment: Lean slightly in a Calvinist/Reformed direction on matters of salvation (38%; 35% Arminian/Wesleyan; 28% did not list any logical order)

Q18. Do you believe that those who have truly put their faith in Christ and have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit can lose their salvation?

Assessment: Strongly affirm (94%) that “those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit” cannot lose their salvation (3.4% believe you can; 2.6% don’t know)

In light of our forthcoming Theology Preconference, I include four observations.

First, we are truly committed to the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and living with charity on the non-essentials. This is not a lowest-common-denominator theology but is grounded in and driven by our commitment to the gospel.

Second, the responses to the first question reflect that the soteriological views are quite evenly represented in the EFCA. This, at least for this group, validates my first point.

Third, the responses to the second question are more reflective of the Calvinist/Reformed view, not the Arminian/Wesleyan view. What this means is that Arminianism in the EFCA is nuanced, at least based on this Survey. Traditionally Arminians have affirmed one can lose their salvation.

Fourth, in our EFCA history, the doctrinal issue was about assurance and whether one can apostasize and lose one’s salvation. In our more recent history, until the present day, the major issue has been around the notion of the ordo salutis and the connection between faith/belief and regeneration. In the latter, the focus is on the beginning point of salvation (faith and regeneration), while with the former, the focus is on the end of salvation (final preservation/perseverance to glorification).

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

4 responses to EFCA Theology Preconference: Soteriological Essentials and the “Significance of Silence” (5): Doctrinal Survey

  1. I’m just a layman, but it is clear that the Bible teaches that faith and repentance are gifts from God, thus fruit of regeneration. So the 1950s SOF was actually unbiblical.
    It is good to see that a denomination is trying to become more biblical. Most seem to be heading in the other direction.

    • Thank you for your comment, Eric. Three statements in reply.

      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 SOFs 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 SOFs 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 SOFs 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 do affirm an unbiblical position, but the same thing could be said for the Calvinist/Reformed proponents.)

      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).

  2. Thanks for the detail in this series of postings, Greg. I’m looking forward to hearing about these issues in more detail at the conference. You’ve done a great job o laying the groundwork and giving some insight to how the EFCA has arrived at our current position. It’s most encouraging to read and hear such an objective and balanced perspective on what’s essential and what is secondary.

    • John, I am grateful you found these numerous posts helpful. May you have a Blessed New Year. Lord willing, I will see you at the Theology Conference.

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