What's Your Theology?
On numerous occasions I’ve had people ask me about my theological convictions, most likely because I appear to be an odd mix of views that cannot be found in any one confession of faith or reduced to a single label, system, or denomination.
Others have asked the same question when they see the variety of churches in which I’ve either served as senior pastor, associate pastor, board member, or simply member. This would include Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, independent Bible church (with a Plymouth Brethren orientation), Vineyard, Anglican, and charismatic. By now, I suspect many of you might be inclined to say, “Sam, you’re not so much eclectic in your theology as you are confused!”
So, I’ve decided to yield to the pressure of these repeated inquiries and briefly explain what I believe, with only a brief comment on why and a few references to material either in my books or on my website that will provide support. My aim has always been to be biblical. But, of course, everyone would say that about his or her beliefs. So here goes.
I am a Calvinistic, charismatic, complementarian, Christian hedonist. If that weren’t enough to confuse you, I am also amillennial and baptistic, though I believe in rule by a plurality of Elders and maintain a moderately sacramental perspective on the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist (there’s a word that reflects my four years in an Anglican church!).
Please understand that the issues below are not regarded as fundamental in the sense that one must believe them in order to be a Christian. I have not listed such foundational truths as Trinitarianism, the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, the virgin conception, sinless life, penal substitutionary sacrifice, and bodily resurrection of Christ, or the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
I’m focusing, rather, on issues that differentiate men and women who are all Christians. In other words, I trust you understand that I believe someone who is an Arminian-cessationist-egalitarian-dispensational-presbyterian (I dare say I’ve never heard of anyone being all those!), or some other odd mixture thereof can also be a Christian. I hope those who regard me as an even odder theological mixture will extend the same generosity.
So, let’s look briefly at each of these and a few related sub-points.
(1) I am a Calvinist (all five points, by the way). I hardly think this needs much explanation, and I refer you to my book, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Crossway, 2007). There are several related issues that bear mentioning:
a. On the issue of the order of the divine decrees, I am an Infralapsarian (see Chosen for Life, pp. 213-19).
b. I believe that all those dying in infancy are elect (on my website, http://www.samstorms.org/, a defense can be found in Theological Studies, Controversial Issues).
c. I believe that regeneration, or the new birth, precedes and is the cause/source of saving faith. In other words, we are born again in order that we may believe, not the other way around.
d. In view of the present controversy, it is important that I affirm my belief in the forensic nature of justification in which the righteousness of Christ (often called his active and passive obedience) is imputed to the believer through faith alone.
(2) I am a Charismatic. When asked if I am “charismatic” I typically respond by saying, “Tell me what you mean by the term and I’ll tell you if I’m one.” More times than not, what people have in mind is far and away different from what I believe. So let me simply identify several relevant issues.
a. I believe that all spiritual gifts are valid today and that nothing in Scripture suggests otherwise. My chapter in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan) is the most extensive answer I’ve given to this question. Also, my book The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Regal) provides an answer to the question of how such gifts operate in church life today.
b. I believe that baptism in the Spirit occurs at conversion for all Christians (again, check out the two articles on the website in Theological Studies, Controversial Issues). This sets me apart from classical Pentecostalism and much of the contemporary charismatic movement.
c. Although I do pray in tongues (daily), I do not believe that this or any other spiritual gift is designed by God for all Christians. Every Christian has at least one gift while no Christian (at least, none I know) has every gift (nor should they).
d. I believe healing is in the atonement in the same way I believe all spiritual and physical blessings are in the atonement. Were it not for the death and resurrection of Christ we would have nothing but the eternal damnation that we deserve. But not all such blessings are experienced in their fullness until the consummation of all things in the New Heaven and New Earth. This would certainly be true of the healing of the body.
d. Although I do believe God heals today, I do not believe that the so-called “Health and Wealth and/or Prosperity Gospel” is in any sense a “gospel” and I ask all Christians to cease referring to it in such terms. Call it a “movement” or “philosophy” or even a “theology”, but stop calling it a gospel! The same applies to what typically is called “The Word of Faith” movement, in much of which I struggle to find the presence of true, biblical “faith”.
e. I believe in both (1) the finality, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture, on the one hand, and (2) the validity of revelatory gifts such as prophecy and word of knowledge, on the other. And no, the latter (2) is not a threat to the former (1).
(3) I am a Complementarian. I’ve written briefly on this issue at my website. The relevant material can be found in Theological Studies. A few words of clarification are in order.
a. If I am to err, I choose to err on the side of flexibility and freedom. In other words, I hesitate to restrict women from any form of ministry that does not have explicit biblical sanction.
b. As I read the New Testament, it appears that Paul and others restrict women from serving in what I call senior governmental authority, which would include the office of Senior Pastor (i.e., that individual or pastoral office responsible for the regular, authoritative exposition of Scripture) and Elder (or Bishop, depending on which term you prefer). Therefore, I believe a woman can serve as a deacon or worship leader or counselor or any other expression of Christian ministry that does not violate Paul’s injunction against women exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
(4) I am a Christian Hedonist. Simply put, I believe it is impossible for us to desire pleasure too much, and that the pleasure we cannot desire too much is pleasure in God and all that he is for us in Jesus. For more on this, I direct you to my books, Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God (NavPress) and One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God (Christian Focus). If you want a shorter explanation, visit my website and you will see a brief article on the Home page titled, “What is Christian Hedonism?”
(5) I am an Amillennialist. This is a huge topic on which I am currently writing a book. So I’ll limit myself here to only a few specifics.
a. One of the primary reasons I am not a Premillennialist (neither Historic nor Dispensational) is because of what I read in the NT concerning the Second Coming of Christ.
To be a Premillennialist of any sort, you must believe that physical death and the curse on the natural creation will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s return. You must believe that the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ. You must believe that unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return. To be a Premillennialist, you must believe that unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to Christ’s return and that unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to Christ’s return.
But my reading of what happens at the Second Coming of Christ indicates that then, and not 1,000 years later, physical death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ, never again to exert its power; the natural creation is delivered fully and finally from its bondage to sin; the New Heavens and New Earth are inaugurated; all opportunity for salvation of the lost comes to an end; and both the final resurrection and final judgment of all mankind occur.
b. I find no biblical support for a pre-tribulation rapture, Christian Zionism, a distinction between Israel and the Church, or a future seven year period known as the Great Tribulation.
c. I believe Matthew 24:1-35; Mark 13:1-31; and Luke 21:5-33 (otherwise known as the Olivet Discourse) refer to events that transpired in the first century, beginning with the exaltation of Christ and consummating with the destruction in 70 a.d. of both the city of Jerusalem and its Temple.
As I said, I hope to finish a book on eschatology sometime in 2008, but in the meantime you may read several articles in defense of these beliefs, available on my website under Theological Studies, Eschatology.
(6) I am a Baptist (or, “baptistic”, as some prefer). If you’ve recovered from (5), and I suspect many of you haven’t, let me turn briefly to another broad subject and focus on several important items (rest assured, of course, that being baptistic would entail far more than simply what I mention below).
a. I believe only those who are able to provide a credible testimony of personal faith in Jesus Christ should be baptized (immersed) in water.
b. I believe that a local church should be governed by a plurality of Elders, of which the Senior Pastor is one. I see no biblical basis for a church being led by a single Elder or Pastor. (No, this does not make me a Presbyterian, although I once served as interim pastor for three years in such a church.)
c. I believe that Jesus Christ is spiritually (and therefore, really, but not physically) present in the elements of the Eucharist and that the elements are more than merely a symbol of his body and blood. They are (one of) the sacramental means by which the sanctifying (but not saving) grace of Christ is mediated to the believer. For more on this, check out the two articles titled, “What Happens in the Eucharist?” on my website, Theological Studies, Miscellaneous Topics.
(7) I am a . . . I needed a seventh point to satisfy those who are obsessed with biblical numerology (“6” will never do, or so they tell me), so here is a brief list of other, often contentious, issues. (You can find articles on each of these issues on my website under Theological Studies, Controversial Issues.)
a. I believe that Open Theism is heretical.
b. I believe that eternal punishment in Hell is conscious and unending.
c. I believe that the NT leaves open the possibility for some form of apostolic ministry today (although without the Scripture-writing authority of the original company).
d. I believe Christians can be demonized (note, I did not say demon-possessed).
e. I do not believe the NT mandates that Christians “tithe” 10% of their income but I do believe in generous, sacrificial, proportionate giving that often times, depending on one’s wealth, ought to exceed 10%.
f. While affirming the historicity of Adam and Eve as the first humans and parents of our race, I tentatively embrace the theory of an old earth and old universe. (I’ve not written anything on this, but may have to.)
I think that’s enough to get myself into trouble with just about everyone! I must confess, however, that I’m not in the least bothered by that. My only concern is that these beliefs be grounded in Scripture and not merely experience or personal preference or an emotional wound or ambition or something that I’m required to believe in order to keep my job or because some hero of mine in centuries past happened to believe it. Isn’t that something for which we all should strive?