EVANGELICAL CONVICTIONS: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America is written clearly enough that any literate Christian can read it, yet with great depth and breadth. It’s obvious that the authors are well versed in the Bible, the original biblical languages, systematic theology, church history, and the historical foundations of the EFCA. I personally believe it is a must read for every Evangelical Free Church pastor, missionary, local church leader, and, dare I say, member and attender who truly wants to understand what the Evangelical Free Church of America believes and why.
Evangelical Convictions does not have a single author or two coauthors as most books. Rather it was written by the Spiritual Heritage Committee of the EFCA with vetting from many key people in our movement, including in our seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. This is important because it shows that its contents represent the best theological, biblical, ecclesiastical, and devotional thinking of our movement as a whole.
Each of the chapters begins with a thought provoking introduction, then an exposition of one of the ten articles of the SOF, with numerous Scriptural references and appropriate quotes from various theologians and secular writers through the centuries. The discussions of controversial theological issues are dealt with fairly, avoiding the straw man fallacy.
if you want to maximize your benefits of reading Evangelical Convictions be sure to read the footnotes. Numerous biblical references, as well as some of the best theological insights and most interesting nuances, are found in the small print. Also, be sure to read the historic Free Church statements of faith in the appendices.
What I most appreciate about our Statement of Faith is that it is GOSPEL CENTERED from beginning to end. The Good News is not just in one section, for example in a section on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Rather all ten articles of the SOF (God, the Bible, the Human Condition, Jesus Christ, the Work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Christian Living, Christ’s Return, and Response & Eternal Destiny) are held together by this theme and saturated with the gospel in its fullness.
The Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America is an exposition of the gospel – God’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And what is the gospel? It is the “evangel”, the good news that God has acted graciously to save a people for himself through his Son Jesus Christ. The gospel is the simple message that Jesus died for our sins and rose again so that we might have eternal life. This message of good news can be concisely stated as this: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Our Statement seeks to unpack this gospel by organizing the essential doctrines of our faith – our critical Evangelical convictions – around this central theme.
One of the hallmarks of the EFCA is that we can respectfully differ with our evangelical brothers and sisters on many points, yet be united in Christ. Therefore, another aspect of our SOF that I appreciate is that it is sound in the essentials of the biblical faith, but broad enough that Christians from various theological traditions can accept it. The authors of Evangelical Convictions painstakingly point this out in the phraseology of many of the doctrines expounded in the SOF.
The one point in our SOF with which I struggled the most in the past is the inclusion of the term “premillennial”. This is not because I’m not premillennial. (With a bit of uncertainty I lean towards historical premillennialism.) My discomfort is rather because its inclusion is inconsistent with our principle of majoring on majors and minoring on minors. However, a section in Article 9 “Christ’s Return” has somewhat helped me to come to peace with my internal struggle.
We in the EFCA often speak of our desire to “major on the majors and minor on the minors” in delineating our core doctrinal convictions, and our Statement of Faith largely reflects that. We have set forth those doctrines that are very closely connected to the gospel itself and which have been held by Bible-believing Christians through all ages. We deliberately do not take a position on such significant issues as whether the regenerating work of the Spirit occurs before or after faith, or the time and the mode of baptism – issues which have divided Christians through the centuries. And we recognize that Evangelical believers with strong convictions regarding the inerrant authority of the Scriptures have taken different positions on the millennium. In light of our distinctive ethos in the EFCA of uniting around the central doctrines of the faith, the inclusion of premillennialism in our Statement seems to many to be out of place.
In the period leading up to the revision of our Statement of Faith in 2008, we in the EFCA wrestled with whether to include premillennialism among our core theological convictions. In the end, the EFCA Board of Directors, after initially proposing three drafts without it, decided to present to our Conference a revised Statement that did include premillennialism. The Board determined that though many among us recognized that it was not a doctrine central to the gospel, it remained to many others a distinctive theological position of our movement that they would very strongly oppose changing. Consequently, the Board concluded that attempting to remove premillennialism at this time would create significant disunity and disruption. The General Conference agreed with that decision in voting to adopt the revised Statement of Faith. We expound it here with the understanding that we do not claim it an essential doctrine of Evangelical Faith, but it remains a distinctive theological position of the EFCA.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to affirm that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the men who labored over the SOF and this excellent exposition of each of its ten articles. Our prayer should be that this book deepen our theological understanding and nurture our walk with God.
I close with one of the many outstanding quotes in this 256 page book, this one by J I. Packer:
“If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both. If it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.”