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Some thoughts on the recent EFCA doctrinal survey

I was fascinated to last week stumble upon the results of a 2013 doctrinal survey of more than 1000 credentialed Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) pastors. I’ve been a member of an EFCA church for just more than 5 years, and while I have a reasonable feel for where my own congregation stands on many doctrinal issues, it’s very interesting to get a feel for where the denomination is as a greater whole.

Some thoughts on various survey topics:

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Creation / Evolution

Q8: “Which of these best characterizes your view on the creation account in Genesis 1?”

I was a little bit surprised that almost 60% of respondents held the “six literal days” view. (I would’ve expected that view to be predominant, but maybe not quite so high.) Another 20% opted for some older-earth view, with the remaining 20% responding ‘unsettled’ or ‘other’.

The results of Q9, then, come as no surprise: “How important is your view of the age of the earth to your theological framework?” 65% answered either very or somewhat important. My guess is that the overlap between the “six literal days” folks and the very or somewhat important folks is very great, and that they also largely overlap with the 57% who either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the Q10 proposition that “some forms of theistic evolution are compatible with biblical teaching”.

biology

Science

I was very disappointed with the wording of Q13; its wording seems to bias the respondent toward a specific answer. “The Bible is not authoritative in matters in which it touches on history or science.” More than 90% of responses disagreed with this statement.

Surely the phrase “not authoritative” set off immediate red flags for most survey-takers. If the EFCA leadership was trying to ascertain the view of their pastors in regard to issues of science and history as addressed, say, in Peter Enns’ recent Inspiration and Incarnation, they could’ve worded the question more neutrally.

Eternal Subordination of the Son

This topic, on its own, is perhaps more esoteric than most on the survey; we don’t typically argue it as an individual doctrine. Where we do see its impact, though, is in the subordination / complementarian view of men’s and women’s roles in the church. Nearly 70% of all respondents agreed with the Q11 statement that “The Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in the eternal relations in the Trinity.”

I did a little additional reading for my own benefit and quickly ran across a summary of a debate on this topic held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (which is associated with the EFCA) back in 2008. Interestingly enough, a professor of systematic theology at Trinity was arguing against the eternal subordination position in that debate. Former Trinity professors Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware argued the affirmative side. My guess is that the immense popularity of Grudem’s Systematic Theology has helped bring about this majority on the side of eternal subordination.

Aligning with this was the 85% affirming the complementarian position on the topic of women in ministry (Q21).

The Bible

The answer to Q20 interests me a bit, if only because it runs very contrary to a lot of the Reformed blog chatter from the past several months. “Should we expect to hear the Spirit speak to us apart from illuminating our understanding and application of the Scripture?” 60% said yes.

Eschatology

This one is curious to me. Q35 asked “What would best desrcibe your eschatological position?”, and the four options were three varieties of premillennial and then “other”. 84% of respondents went with some sort of pre-mil position, and 75% of respondents said that premillennialism is somewhat or very important in their theological framework (Q36). However, when asked whether “premillennialism” should be retained in a future revision to the EFCA statement of faith, the response was nearly 50/50, with a slim majority (45%) actually saying it should not be retained.

Topics that didn’t surprise me so much:

  • Penal Substitutionary Atonement (95% agree it is an “essential understanding”)
  • Eternal security of the believer (94% agree)
  • “Open but cautious” approach to the miraculous gifts (71%)
  • Church membership is important (95%)
  • Church leadership via corporate congregational discernment, led largely by a team of pastor/elders. (88%)
  • Compassion and justice are not the gospel but a necessary outworking of it (70%)
  • “Eternal conscious punishment” – very important (80%)
  • Divorce/remarriage acceptable in cases of infidelity or desertion (93% affirm this or a more open position)

The Significance of Silence

Question 45 asked whether or not the EFCA commitment to live and minister within the “significance of silence” framework is a strength. 94% of respondents agreed that it was. I have some more thoughts about this “significance of silence” that I’ll save for a future post.

Conclusion

On the whole, I was very encouraged to see the broad responses from my denomination, and I think they line up pretty well with the positions of our local congregation. I’m encouraged by what I see here, and look forward, as the Lord wills, to many more years of being a part of this church.

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