When we distributed a draft version of our ‘Gospel Convictions’ statement in our 21st birthday issue (in April this year), we hoped that our sharp-eyed, Bible-tuned Briefing community would help us improve the statement with their feedback. We haven’t been disappointed! Our sincere thanks to all who took the time and trouble to respond. (We’ve published all the responses on our website if you’re interested in wading through them 1)
Thank you, first of all, for the overwhelmingly positive and encouraging tone of your responses. We were buoyed by this. Thank you too for the many useful perceptions and suggestions about how to make improvements. For example, a number of you thought that the divinity of Jesus and the foundational truth of the Trinity, while being present in the first draft, could have been more clearly affirmed. Others suggested that in the description of the Christian life, there needed to be more about love and service of others, and about our fellowship in church. We’ve made some changes on both of these counts.
There were also numerous comments on point 2 about the work of the Spirit, and we’ve redrafted much of this section to attempt to communicate the key ideas more clearly. Our goal was both to express positively an evangelical view of the work of the Spirit in the Christian life, as well as to highlight those aspects of the charismatic movement that run counter to that theology. I say ‘aspects’ quite deliberately because evangelicals and charismatics share much theologically, and differ over some things that are secondary. However, there are also significant differences of conviction. The key difference, as the statement now articulates more clearly, is not the miraculous activity of God, nor that some Christians may walk with the Spirit more faithfully than others, but the positing of ‘levels’ of spiritual experience (corresponding to the ‘baptism in the Spirit’ or some other indicator) that serve to divide Christians. This has been one of the distinguishing marks of Pentecostal or charismatic theology ever since its genesis in the ‘higher life’ teachings of the 19th century. And it is this tendency, so contrary to an evangelical theology of the Spirit, that the statement seeks to repudiate.
Point 3 on assurance of salvation also drew some significant comment, and has been worked over carefully. Its main purpose is to affirm the truth of justification by faith, especially in terms of its pastoral consequences. When justification by faith is undermined (as it is in Roman Catholicism and in approaches associated with the ‘New Perspective’), the result is a loss of assurance and a drift towards ‘worksy’ Christianity. This is what point 3 seeks to address.
Overall, we’ve made around 30 separate changes to that original draft. (For those who are interested in such things, we’ve provided a file that tracks all the changes on our website.2)
We think the result is an even clearer statement of basic evangelical belief—shaped by the gospel itself, but also responding to the challenges and debates of our current context. We hope that this Gospel Convictions statement will be a useful resource and rallying point for evangelicals—a statement of foundational convictions that we can agree on and that can form the basis for cooperation and teamwork in gospel ministry. Our prayer is that it will not only serve to unite evangelicals in common convictions, but also to galvanize them to common commitment and action for the gospel.
Please feel free to link to the Gospel Convictions statement online, to ‘sign’ it online, and to adopt it as a personal statement of conviction, or a corporate statement for your church or fellowship or ministry.