Critiquing a Statement of Faith – part 1 of 2
Somehow, I came across the statement of faith of the New Life Mission recently. While I am sure many earnest and precious Christians affirm it, and while I am sure many of them love the Lord Jesus and follow him far better than I, criticism is necessary, in my view. Below I have dashed off some critical annotations on its propositions, a venture especially worthwhile as many other 'statement of faiths' are sadly like it.
"We believe that the Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments only, is verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit, is inerrant in the original manuscripts, and is the infallible and authoritative Word of God"
The first problem I have with this statement it is that declaration about the bible is first. Bible before God, huh? That suggests priorities are already out of key. It also wants to affirm something about manuscripts that no longer exists, manuscripts that cannot be accessed or used. Actually, as I argued here, such declarations about original manuscripts is a self-defeating position, even if the intentions are laudible. More could be said in criticism about the phrase 'verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit', but I leave that pass for now. Others will want to challenge the proposition that 'the ... Word of God' is a text, and not Christ, but I leave that too aside for now.
A more general issue strikes me about the Statement, one that is typical of many like it. It is entirely 'We believe that'. The statement thus fails to grasp the full colour of biblical notions of belief, which are mostly about a self-involving and relational commitment. 'We believe that' has its place, but what about 'We believe in'? Contrast this with the Apostles' Creed. This statement's first proposition is not a good start.
"We believe that the one triune God exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
I am convinced that the trinity belongs at the heart and centre of anything that today wishes to call itself 'Christian'. But more could have been said, and the lack of detail contrasts rather conspicuously with the previous statement. Here, also, was a good chance for a 'We believe in'!
"We believe that Adam, created in the image of God, was tempted by Satan, the ruler of this world, and fell. Because of Adam's sin, all men have guilt imputed, are totally depraved, and need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit for Salvation"
This arbitrarily mashes together a number of texts from at least 2 Corinthians and Genesis 1-3, and then, for good measure, imputes some questionable leaps of biblically external logic. Where does it say in Genesis that a personal being called 'Satan' tempted Adam? Where is the specific idea that guilt is 'imputed' to all? Further, where is the specific idea that 'guilt' is imputed to all? Besides, I am unconvinced 'total depravity' is the best language, but that is a well trodden debate, of course. I am also a little cautious about the language of 'regeneration', but I will leave that issue for now as my critique would not be very significant. However, that the statement speaks only of 'all men' is simply not helpful. This isn't about being 'politically correct'; it is just about living in the real world. Most importantly, to speak of 'guilt' and 'imputation' like this sets 'the gospel' in an impoverished direction, as shall become clear as the statement develops.
"We believe that Jesus Christ is God, was born of a virgin, baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, crucified as the Lamb of God, rose again from the dead, and ascended to heaven, where He is presently exalted at the Father's right hand."
I like this one more, but I wonder if our statements of faith should also say something about the faithful life of Jesus. Furthermore, and perhaps I am being too hard here, but 'Jesus Christ is God' is perhaps a statement that can lead to all kinds of heretical christologies. Christ is not God (the Father), and Paul, for example, avoids speaking of Christ as 'God' entirely (as recently maintained by Fee in his Pauline Christology). While I am orthodox and believe in the full divinity of Christ, 'Jesus Christ is God' strikes me as too blunt a sentence to capture the slippery and glorious truth, as the church has perceived it, of Christ's identity vis-a-vis God. Paul had a different way of expressing the intuition that this statement seeks to articulate. Again, perhaps I am being too hard. The Nicene Creed of course states: 'God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father', but the creed as a whole is much more careful in relating the nature of Christ in relation to God than this statement.
I'll complete my critical sweep through this statement in part 2. Until then, any thoughts?