Some time back I was talking with church leadership about possible
opportunities for me to serve the church, including potential calling
to leadership. At the time I insisted that theological differences
between myself and the church disqualified me.
I still believe I have important theological differences with the
church, even if only in my own questioning and theological formation;
but I have felt a weight of consideration ever since, and I believe
that the Spirit is provoking me to action. What that means I do not
yet know, but I decided that, at the very least, I could formally put
my name in for consideration by the church, and leave it to the
church, rather than my own preemption, to disqualify me.
After applying I was asked to schedule a 30-minute conversation with
the church's trustees, elders, and deacons (TED) team. As part of the
conversation, I will be expected to share responses to the following
Please share a brief statement (3-5 minutes) about your faith in
Christ and how your personal relationship began and continues.
I have been raised in the church my entire life, my father a Christian
Rock Band Jesus Hippie and my mother proselytized by him early in
their relationship. I didn't appreciate the full impact of my
upbringing until adulthood; but my father always had an earnest heart
for God, and my mother a love for everyone around her. I grew up
assuming these characteristics, and I am so thankful that they are
encoded so deeply in who I am.
As a family we attended a Church of the Nazarene; but I also
exclusively attended a small private school, kindergarten through
highschool run by a fundamentalist Baptist church, followed by four
years at a Nazarene univeristy. Church, has been embedded in virtual
every aspect of my life for as long as I can remember; and more than
that, a pervasively diverse church context means that I have always
had to acknowledge and consider different, conflicting, and often
opposing views of God and the scripture, even within Christianity.
This much pervasive access to church can make the experience of God
somewhat mundane; so it wasn't until somewhere in my teens that I
really felt God alive in my life. It's somewhat cliché, but I attended
a weekend cursillo retreat run by local Methodist churches as part
of The Upper Room ministries. I shouldn't have needed it--I had
exactly the same kind of example at home already--but it was there
that I first recognized the difference between assumptively "going to
church" and living a life that is transformed by the Spirit and
oriented toward God. I continued to work (and speak) at the retreat
for years after, and my entire family attended successively afterward.
The next notable impact to my faith came as a result of my wife and I
living for three and a half years in the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia. Though we were only there professionally, the facts of being a
Christian in the nation of Isalm cannot be avoided--and why should
they? There our understanding of God and Christ was deepended through
comparison and contrast with the people around us. We met several
strong Christians, largely among the students, and gathered to worship
in our homes (eventually our home specifically) every week.
We have worshiped almost exclusively at Presbyterian churches since
returning to the States, first at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York
and now at First Pres in Boulder, an extension of our existing desire
to challenge our own theological background and assumptions through
comparison and contrast.
What is currently going on in your life spiritually? What is God
teaching you? What growth are you experiencing?
Fankly, this is something going on in my life spiritually: I am
trying to be ever more open to the leading of the Spirit, particularly
where I habitually resist Him. For example: when we were first asked
to open our home to our church in Saudi Arabia, I literally said, "OK;
as long as I'm not expected to lead." Of course, it was scarcely a
year later that I was preparing scripture readings, selecting songs
for us to sing together, and distributing communion, after our
previous leaders graduated from their respective academic programs and
I love theology, and I try to not let my esoteric interests get in the
way of ministry and community. Most recently I have been reading the
work of David Bentley Hart. I finished his defense of universal
salvation "That All Shall Be Saved" and found it a profound challenge
to what might be the last vestiges of my fundamentalist assumptions
about hell; but I am currently re-reading the New Testament with his
defense in mind to better discern my assumptions about scripture from
my actual reading of it. After and during that I am also reading his
defense of theism: "The Experience of God."
More personally, the Spirit is convicting me regarding how I respond
to disagreement in my marriage. I say this here only because my
comments so far have been largely academic, and I don't want to imply
that the Spirit doesn't affect me more intimately as well; but, while
I'm open to discussing such things, I tend to wait for them to be
asked explicitly as well.
How did you come to be a part of First Pres? What experiences have
you had as a part of our church family? What excites you about the
We came to Boulder largely chasing my wife's family (in Greeley) and
the church family that we had had in Saudi: themselves largely from
the Boulder area. When we surveyed the churches in the area we found
mostly a certain type of closed conservatism, a certain type of loose
liberalism, or a certain type of seeker congregation: none of these
seemed to fulfill our expectations to be challenged toward growth in
the faith. But we found First Pres, supported by our previous
experiences at Redeemer, and encouraged by what we heard in sermon
recordings online. We attended and, in our first services we
encountered academic theology (led by Carl); passionate tradition
(bagpipes); and earnest community (in coffee with Erik).
We showed up to Family Small Groups without prior arrangement; and,
though there was no group for us to join on the spot, our chidren were
cared for and we were told to enjoy the evening together.
At First Pres I feel at home, in a way that I have not felt since I
left my childhood church.
How do you seek to discern God's will for you personally? How might
you discern God's will in a group setting?
I seek God's will for me personally through prayer and study; but I
cannot ignore the transforming work of the Spirit in my life as
well. I can scarcely believe my life, and I am excited by the prospect
of even deeper relationship with God.
In a group setting, if my self-assessment is accurate, I have a
tendency and aptitude for listening to all perspectives and helping to
bring parties to at least a common understanding. I consider what is
said long after a group meeting, and often follow-up off-cycle to ask
questions or assert possibilities. I pray, but more generally I
believe that I feel the Spirit leading throughout the day, and I hope
that I would be able to discern that leading in a more formal group as
Perhaps more technically, I argue. And I hope that that is not
understood as argumentative; but I try what I believe to be Truth by
presenting it for scruitiny. I am strong in my beliefs, but I am also
quick to abandon my own misunderstandings. When I argue, I argue from
scripture and (where it is a help and not a distraction)
well-established shared belief.
I was also pointed to the Essential Tenents of ECO ; and it is here
that I am afraid I will have the most trouble. As above, I don't
intend to be argumentative; but I also do not want to conceal
anything, so I will do my best to enumerate my concerns here.
I want to be clear: I do not begrudge ECO or First Pres these
essential tenents. I recognize the importance of common doctrine, and
I value the diversity of Christianity as expressed in the diversity
among congregations: that diversity does not necessarily need to be
expressed within each congregation. Still, First Pres is my home;
and if I am to serve here, I have to be honest about what I believe as
Regarding "God’s Word: The Authority for Our Confession"
I have serious concerns regarding the common definition of the Word of
God. Even today, Carl preached in his sermon that God's word is
incarnate, proclaimed, and written; but the essential tenents omit
acknowledgement of God's word as proclaimed altogether.
I further fear, and have for many years, that the veneration of the
so-called "written Word of God" is a form of idolatry: the Bible
serves as an image of God's Word, and its worship (in everything but
name) is troubling to me. More striclty, I consider the scripture a
testament to the Word of God, not the Word itself (as opposed to
Christ, the Word Incarnate.)
I do acknowledge, as Paul taught Timothy, that "All Scripture is
breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may
be complete, equipped for every good work." But I'll still point out
that Paul certainly was not talking about the gospels, the revelation,
or much less the epistles (particularly that he was contemporaneously
writing), but "the sacred writings" that Timothy had been acquanted
with "from childhood." This is not to say that the Christian
scriptures are not themselves "Breathed out by God," and I have faith
in the work of the Spirit in preserving the Scripture through church
tradition and study; but I believe the true nature of the scripture is
more complex than is often exhorted in such essential tenents, and the
true nature of the Word of God more complex still.
We confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience, but this
freedom is for the purpose of allowing us to be subject always and
primarily to God’s Word.
We are happy to confess ourselves captive to the Word of God
Perhaps there is some scriptural basis for this imagery that I am
missing; but without it I am troubled by this imagery. Life in Christ
is denotatively freedom; we are not captives, but heirs, ransomed from
sin and death. I do not deny that "the Spirit will never prompt our
conscience to conclusions that are at odds with the Scriptures that He
has inspired"--perhaps this is an unnecessary complaint; but the heart
with which we approach the Word matters to me, and I find it important
to recognize that the Spirit changes our desires to be those of God;
we are not captive to the Word, but freed by it.
Regarding "secondary authority"
[W]e affirm the secondary authority of the following ECO
Confessional Standards as faithful expositions of the Word of God:
Nicene Creed, Apostles’ Creed, Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster
Confession, Westminster Shorter Catechism, Westminster Larger
Catechism and the Theological Declaration of Barmen.
I don't know how I missed this before; but this greatly expands the
scope of the so-called "essential" tenents. I have studied some of
these; but certainly not all, and I would be loathe to assumptively
confirm their authority in my theology, or my adherence to them,
without further study (and given the differences raised by the
primarily-stated essential tenents, I can only expect there would be
further differences in a greater body of confessions).
regarding "Trinity and Incarnation: The Two Central Christian
I have strong, fundamental concerns regarding the doctrine of the
But first let me be clear: I believe in God, non-contingent,
transcendent, Father and creator of all. I believe that Jesus, the
Christ, is the incarnate Word of God, one with the Father, in the
Father and in whom the Father is. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the
paraclete, the helper and advocate, who comes in the name of Christ
and is sent by the Father, the Spirit of Christ and, thus, the Father.
But there is a great deal of distance between that and bold claims
about God as having a fundamentally "trinitarian" nature. This is not
quite idolatry; but it is seeking to define God by our experience of
him, where he is more accurately transcendent. God has revealed
himself freqntly through social terms, but it is eisegesis to read
this as emphatically trinitarian. God did not direct Israel, for
example, to worship "God the Creator; God the Fire of the Bush; and
God the Pillar of Cloud"; but God. And if God did not direct worship
to a plurality, but a unity God, then we should not break from that
And what of the Word of God? Surely the Word of God is God, as John
proclaimed. But if Christ is one part of a trinity God, then surely
the Word is a person of God, existing before "the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us." So perhaps the trinity is more accurately "the
Father, the Word, and the Spirit"?
But I am particularly troubled by extra-Biblical habits I have
observed recently of praying to individual "members of the trinity";
we are to pray to God, the Father, as Christ did and directed us to.
affirmed by all Christians everywhere
This is simply not true: there have been many Christians that have had
different interpretations and understandings of the being of Christ. I
may not agree with them, but to ignore them is distracting and
like us in having both a human soul and a human body
This anthropology isn't Biblical, so far as I can tell. Maybe it is
technically true to say that Christ had a human soul; but this
statement does not mean what a western mind will infer from it. God
did not make a human body and then put a human soul into it; man
became a living soul when God breathed into it. As such, to say that
Christ is "like us in every way but sin" but then say that he has a
"human soul" is both non-sensical and contradictory.
Regarding "God’s grace in Christ"
Our desires are no longer trustworthy guides to goodness, and what
seems natural to us no longer corresponds to God’s design.
I hope that these tenents do not mean to indicate that we who are
alive in the Spirit are unable to discern good. "We have received
[...] the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things
freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by
human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths
to those who are spiritual." It is the promise of life in the Spirit
that our hearts are turned towards the things of God; that our desires
are made trustworthy, being those of the Spirit.
Jesus takes our place both in bearing the weight of condemnation
against our sin on the cross
I require further study here; but I believe this to be incorrect
theology. Christ did not "bear the weight of [presumably God's]
condemnation against our sin"; in stead, his death paid the ransom to
free us from our slavery to death.
Regarding "Election for salvation and service"
I am thankful that ECO does not, at least here, go so far as to
proclaim limited atonement an essential tenent. (Perhaps it does
implicitly by extension through one of the "secondary" authorities.)
But I must say that the language of atonement does not appear, to me,
to be concerned with eternal salvation or the church in general, but
of specifically the work of the Spirit in Israel in the church
age. "Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained
it, but the rest were hardened." But later "a partial hardening has
come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And
in this way all Israel will be saved."
"just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received
mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been
disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now
receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may
have mercy on all."
Therefore I hold that, at the very least, the concept of election as
expressed by Paul does not reflect eternal salvation, or its absence;
but the work of God in the lives of some for the age towards an
ultimately redemptive purpose for all.
One last thing: Paul explicitly doesn't use the word "elect" to refer to
Gentiles; only Israel.
Regarding "Living in obedience to the Word of God"
I note here only to claim this commandment as expressed:
pursue truth, even when such pursuit is costly, and defend truth
when it is challenged, recognizing that truth is in order to
goodness and that its preservation matters;