Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of AmericaWritten by
Evangelical Convictions is a product of the Evangelical Free Church of America’s (EFCA) Spiritual Heritage Committee—particularly Bill Kynes, senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, VA for the past twenty-five years, and Greg Strand, Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing for the EFCA. This theological exposition of the EFCA Statement of Faith (SOF) is intended primarily as a teaching resource for EFCA churches, but for reasons delineated below should certainly find a much broader readership.
One might fairly describe the book as a systematic theology of core evangelical Christian doctrine, though it is in some ways unfair to evaluate it as a systematic theology. After all, the authors were bound by the parameters of the EFCA SOF and therefore were not free to choose the topics covered nor the sequence in which they were covered (sequence is often telling in systematic theologies). These parameters create something of a tension between what the authors clearly want the book to be and what it actually must be (more on that below).
The framework of the book is simple and accessible. The introduction acquaints the reader with the SOF itself and explains that it is distinctively an EFCA SOF: “a Statement of Faith is a declaration of identity. Not only the affirmations made but also the choices of what to include or exclude locate a group on an ecclesiastical grid and define what it considers important. Our Statement of Faith reveals a great deal about who we are” (p. 19). That said, the introduction also makes clear that the book is intended for a wider audience than the EFCA because of the very nature of its SOF, which broadly speaking represents the core doctrinal convictions of evangelicalism as a whole: “We believe that our essential theological convictions are vitally connected to the gospel. . . . Our Statement of Faith is an expanded statement of the gospel” (pp. 20–21). Each of the ten chapters expounds an article of the SOF, in the following order: God, the Bible, the human condition, Jesus Christ, the work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Christian living, Christ’s return, and response and eternal destiny.
As a whole the book is masterfully done. Kynes and Strand are both exceptional pastor-theologians, and their work reads as such. Their writing is straightforward and clear without being insipid, precise without drowning the reader in unnecessary minutiae. Two other qualities of the book, in particular, deserve high praise. First, the authors effectively expound the tenets of the SOF itself while successfully avoiding tipping their hats on secondary matters that can produce more rancorous debate among evangelicals (e.g., dispensationalism vs. covenant theology; Calvinism vs. Arminianism; complementarianism vs. egalitarianism; paedobaptism vs. credobaptism). In other words, they have successfully kept the focus on the beliefs that unite evangelicals rather than on those that can sometimes divide. Their conscientiousness in this should ensure that the book is well-received by evangelicals of all stripes.
Second, the authors scrupulously avoid the lure so often set by systematic theology to lift Scripture texts from their context and bend their meanings slightly so as to give support to a doctrine that may not deserve it. Not only have the authors shown exegetical discipline in their citation of texts, but also quite often they actually quote the Scripture texts themselves so that readers (who rarely look up Scripture citations) can see exactly what the Bible says about the matter. This will ensure that the book not merely teaches doctrine, but rather will unfold the Bible’s teaching about doctrine.
Despite my enthusiasm for the book overall, three matters deserve critical attention—though perhaps only the first is really fair. If the primary purpose of this book is to help pastors in local churches instruct their congregations in core biblical doctrines, the authors would have done well to include a glossary as well as study/discussion questions so as to make it a more accessible tool for small groups and membership classes. This would be a useful addition to subsequent editions of the book.
Second, the book almost completely neglects discussion of the kingdom of God. This may not be an entirely fair critique because the EFCA SOF nowhere explicitly references the kingdom—an astonishing omission given the obvious centrality of the kingdom in Jesus’ own teaching ministry. The nature and meaning of the kingdom could usefully have been discussed in the chapter on Article 5: “The Work of Christ,” as the inauguration of the kingdom is certainly a central part of Christ’s work.
Third, the book claims (because the EFCA claims) to highly value unity in essentials and charity in non-essentials. The Free Church forebears “united around the essentials of the gospel and did not want minor issues of doctrine to divide” (p. 24). However, the continued inclusion of premillennialism in the SOF (even after the 2008 revision) creates a tension with this ethos. Millennial views are increasingly understood to be a minor issue and Bible-believing evangelicals hold to disparate positions. Kynes and Strand explain in several places that premillennialism is more of a denominational distinctive rather than a doctrine central to the gospel. Nevertheless, the authors are putting forth their SOF as “an expanded statement of the gospel” (p. 21), which fairly opens them to this critique.
On the whole this book is a marvelous achievement. It should certainly become a cornerstone text for EFCA churches and is well-suited to serve in the same way for all sorts of evangelical communities.
Bryan C. McWhite
Bryan C. McWhite
New Hope Church (EFCA)
New Hope, Minnesota, USA
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