THEOLOGICAL DISTINCTIVES

Our Approach to Faith

At Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor we like to say that we need connection more than we need answers. That there is space for doubt and questioning and mystery in all things related to God, and so we don’t require anyone to swallow the whole package, so to speak, to belong and journey with us. In that spirit we embrace the traditional Apostles’ creed as it’s been passed down to us since the 4th century CE (see bottom of the page), and we’ve articulated six defining characteristics of the Blue Ocean approach to faith.

Blue Ocean Theological Distinctives
These six defining characteristics of the Blue Ocean approach to faith give our communities a unique feel:
1. Solus Jesus is our framework.

The Protestant Reformation was shaped by reaction to the centralization of authority in the Pope. The Reformers replaced this by locating sole authority in Holy Scripture, a formulation dubbed “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone.” This served many wonderful and needed purposes. It encouraged normal Christians to read and meditate on the Bible for themselves. It democratized biblical scholarship.

But this also ultimately fed into a modernist, context-free, mechanistic view of following Jesus. The Bible was regarded as a safe authority because it was unchanging and therefore wouldn’t be capricious as the popes so often were. But modernism then defined the Bible against the Bible’s own definition by saying that it was God’s only meaningful expression of what he wanted from us. Contrary to Jesus’ whole point in the Parable of the Sower, this made following Jesus equate to mastering a user’s manual rather than going to the very-much-alive Giver of the Bible and following him. Jesus and Paul and Peter and Barnabas repeatedly showed us that God, being alive, always speaks in fresh ways. They pioneered the view that our Lord isn’t our faulty interpretations of biblical texts. Instead, our Lord is Jesus. Keeping our eyes on him and following where he leads is the heart of Christian faith. This does not by any means negate Bible reading and scholarship. Blue Ocean leaders customarily are the most-passionate and informed Bible readers in their circles! Instead, it puts the Bible back into the category it claims for itself of being an invaluable guide as we follow Jesus and as we interpret it in light of the cross.

Read Dave Schmelzer’s essay on Solus Jesus

2. Centered Set is our primary metaphor.

We’ve been helped by an anthropological model of two kinds of sets. One, represented by a circle, we call “bounded set.” In this view, you’re either inside or outside of our circle for any number of reasons. In a bounded set, one’s reason for existing is to encourage as many people as possible to cross into one’s circle. When churches are bounded-set, our experience is that they undervalue the ways in which their set is not just theological, but cultural.

Bounded vs Centered Set

The second kind of set, represented by a large dot on a page that’s surrounded by many small dots, we call “centered set.” Here the issue is not being inside or outside, but of movement towards or away from the center. When the center is Jesus, who, again, is alive and interactive, spirituality becomes alive. We’ve found the implications of a centered-set faith to be profound, and—because this is our primary metaphor—each of the distinctives in this document reflects our understanding of those implications.

But a central implication is that our measures for discipleship towards Jesus become pragmatic (is the person in question appearing to actually connect with the living Jesus [and with others and with themselves] or not?) rather than being abstract (are they obeying a lengthy list of religious rules?).

Read Dave Schmelzer’s essay on Centered-Set Faith

3. Child-like faith is our path to spiritual development.

Genesis 3 is central to our understanding of spiritual growth. Do we “eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and thereby take on the crushing burden of running our own lives apart from God (and judging ourselves and others as a result)? Or do we embrace the way of the cross (and the way of the tree of life) and regard ourselves, as Jesus encourages us to do, as a child accompanied by a loving parent? As we learn to turn to God for all things and to give all our burdens to Jesus and to trust in the guidance and care of a good and loving Father, all things get better. A good deal of our spirituality focuses on the ins and outs of doing this for a lifetime.

Read Dave Schmelzer’s essay on Childlike Faith

4. Third Way is our approach to controversial issues.

Religious controversies, like all controversies, encourage affirmation and condemnation. We do not regard our role as affirming anyone (Jesus, for instance, tells us “no one is good but God alone”) or condemning anyone (as Jesus tells us never to judge). We also recognize that genuine religious controversies are often not at all obvious and deal with questions that are suddenly very important—questions that previous ages and/or cultures didn’t need to deal with. As such, though they do ultimately resolve, most hot-button religious issues are, for a time, “disputable” in the sense that Paul describes in Romans 14. Paul encourages us to bear with one another during those times of dispute, but not to exclude as we do. This Pauline way is the Third Way we take at these times. We give space for each person to wrestle with the issues as best as they can. But we do not exclude earnest seekers after truth from full participation in our communities of faith, whether they disagree with us or not.

Read Dave Schmelzer’s essay on The Third Way

Read more about the Third Way on A2Blue.org.

5. Ecumenical is our connection to other faith communities.

While the backgrounds of the earliest Blue Ocean Faith pastors has largely been evangelical and renewalist, we learn from all Christendom (and beyond). Many of us, for instance, have found that our best teachers on spirituality have been Catholics. We recognize that there have been four historic types of churches as described by Phyllis Tickle in The Great Emergence: liturgical, evangelical, social justice and renewalist. We see room for churches that are situated in different places on these quadrants within the Blue Ocean, and we believe that the Spirit is calling churches to circle toward the center where the treasures in each sector of the quadrant are most concentrated. The center of this quadrant, of course, is Jesus himself.

Read Dave Schmelzer’s essay This Is How Jesus Saves the World (Via Us)

6. Joyful Engagement is our interaction with culture.

Among the oldest questions for people of faith is how to think about engaging with the culture around us. This is a primary question of the Hebrew Bible, where the answer largely is to avoid being infected by the evils of surrounding cultures. The New Testament changes this perspective substantially. Now faithful people are encouraged to obey godless authorities as if they’ve been instituted by God. We’re to continue the Hebrew Bible’s mandate to “be salt and light to all nations” rather than to withdraw from them. Jesus argues that, in him, rather than fearing infection by even small contact with the cultures around us, it now will be just the reverse—small contacts will bring his divine essence into these interactions. Protestant holiness movements have emphasized the earlier “be separate” ethos (the Amish perhaps are the most stark picture of this). Culture, in this view, is only corrupting. It must be resisted and opposed and “appeasing” it is considered a great evil. Blue Ocean churches joyfully engage culture, knowing that, where there are people, there is the image of God. Culture often “gets there first” in terms of deep, godly insights, as has often been true not only in the arts, but in social issues. Because we know the living Jesus, we’re less concerned about Hebrew-Bible-style “infection” from culture. Instead, we’re hopeful and childlike in our belief that, as people of faith called to “be salt and light,” good things will happen as we meet, love, talk with, learn from, and experience life alongside our friends and neighbors in the larger culture.

Read Dave Schmelzer’s essay on Engaging the Secular World

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.