I just read a very long, well-written review and critique of Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins, by Kevin DeYoung. I have to admit that his arguments are very strong, and makes Bell’s argument and position seem weak and biblically fragile. I will withhold judgment until I read Bell’s book for myself, but I think I will be frustrated with Bell’s lack of exegetical rigor to support his untraditional views on heaven, hell, salvation and so on.
But I’m not here to weigh in on who I think is more biblically grounded. I’m not here to choose sides. I’m hear to say that I don’t believe we need to see eye to eye on all of these more secondary, speculative issues. I am part of an evangelical tradition, The Evangelical Covenant Church, that recognizes a wide spectrum of biblically defensible positions — yes, some stronger than others, some older than others, some more popular than others — and we can remain in fellowship and united in Christ if we adhere to some basic core affirmations. As the sixth affirmation of the ECC claims (see below): “United in Christ, we offer freedom to one another to differ on issues of belief or practice where the biblical and historical record seems to allow for a variety of interpretations of the will and purposes of God. We in the Covenant Church seek to focus on what unites us as followers of Christ, rather than on what divides us.”
The ECC is non-creedal, viewing the entire Bible as our creed to confess, build our beliefs upon and wrestle with together in search of the truth and biblical faithfulness. Therefore, while I will certainly draw my own conclusions in the DeYoung v. Bell debate, I don’t need to label one orthodox and say “farewell” to the other. For me, we can agree to disagree, and remain unified around the larger mission of the church to reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ IF we can both affirm the following:
For Covenant people, our essential beliefs are summed up in what we call Covenant Affirmations. They include:
We affirm the centrality of the word of God. We believe the Bible is the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct. The dynamic, transforming power of the word of God directs the church and the life of each Christian. This reliance on the Bible leads us to affirm both men and women as ordained ministers and at every level of leadership. It is the reason we pursue ethnic diversity in our church and is the inspiration for every act of compassion, mercy, and justice.
We affirm the necessity of the new birth. The Apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come” (2 Cor- inthians 5:17, TNIV). New birth in Christ means committing our- selves to him and receiving forgiveness, acceptance, and eternal life. It means being alive in Christ, and this life has the qualities of love and righteousness, joy and peace. New birth is only the beginning. Growing to maturity in Christ is a lifelong process for both indi- viduals and communities of believers. God forms and transforms us—and it is through people transformed by Christ that God trans- forms the world.
We affirm a commitment to the whole mission of the Church. The early Covenanters were known as “Mission Friends”— people of shared faith who came together to carry out God’s mission both far and near. Mission for them and for us includes evangelism, Christian formation, and ministries of compassion, mercy, and jus- tice. We follow Christ’s two central calls. The Great Commission sends us out into all the world to make disciples. The Great Com- mandment calls us to love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves.
We affirm the Church as a fellowship of believers. Membership in the Covenant Church is by confession of personal faith in Jesus Christ and is open to all believers. We observe baptism and Holy Communion as sacraments commanded by Jesus. We practice both infant and believer baptism. We believe in the priesthood of all believers—that is, we all share in the ministry of the church. We also affirm that God calls some men and women into professional, full-time ministry. The church is not an institution, organization, or building. It is a grace-filled fellowship of believers who participate in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. It is a family of equals: as the New Testament teaches that within Christian community there is to be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
We affirm a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Covenant Church affirms the Trinitarian understanding of one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The New Testament tells us that the Holy Spirit works both within individuals and among them. We believe it is the Holy Spirit who instills in our hearts a desire to turn to Christ, and who assures us that Christ dwells within us. It is the Holy Spirit who enables our obedience to Christ and conforms us to his image, and it is the Spirit in us that enables us to continue Christ’s mission in the world. The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to us as individuals and binds us together as Christ’s body.
We affirm the reality of freedom in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1, TNIV). This freedom is a gift of God in Christ, and it manifests itself in a right relationship with God and others. It is not a private gift to be used selfishly, but is given to serve the community and the world. For Paul, this freedom means that we are set free from the power of those things that on their own tend to divide. United in Christ, we offer freedom to one another to differ on issues of belief or practice where the biblical and historical record seems to allow for a variety of interpretations of the will and purposes of God. We in the Covenant Church seek to focus on what unites us as followers of Christ, rather than on what divides us.
What do you think about these 6 affirmations? Is this enough? Or must we make a longer list of doctrinal positions and insist we agree on all of it to be “orthodox”? I believe in the maxim: “In essentials, unity; non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
What are the non-negotiable, essentials for you?