From Statements of Faith to Theological Architecture…

Posted by on Mar 26, 2023 in Blog | 12 comments

architectural photography of brown wooden stairs

If you are a Christian, tell me what kind of a Christian you are? In a divisive age where faith is expressed in varied and sometimes incompatible ways, this has become a relevant question. While most of us feel a little uncomfortable asking it, it is a little naive to assume we all love Jesus, so everything is OK.

Ever since the 1054 Great Schism between the church in the East and West we have lived with the idea of a divided church. This was accelerated by the 1517 Protestant Reformation which went on to birth a plethora of new denominations. 500 years later, there is no sign of this abating. When a new denomination or church group is formed it is common for it to adopt its own “Confession” or “Statement of Faith” – a credal statement outlining what the group considers to be non-negotiable about their expression of the Christian faith.

In earlier years these focused on what was believed about God, Jesus, the Spirit, the Cross, the Church, the Trinity and the Bible – with perhaps some additional clauses on baptism, communion, eschatology and the final judgment. There is also often a clue about the groups position in the freewill – predestination juggle, and sometimes there are more exotic inclusions, for example, on the basis of Mark 16:18 some see efficient snake handling as a test of genuine faith, while the same verse sees others stress the importance of drinking poison without serious mishap. While there is usually a great deal of overlap with what other churches say, tucked away in at least one of the clauses you will find a rationale for why this groups seperate identity is justified. Sometimes it isn’t so much a particular clause but the overall configuration of faith that is seen to be different.

A statement of faith is often intended to define who is in and who is out. Agree with it, and you are part of the inner circle. Disagree, and the H word is not far away... yes the dreaded heresy accusation which today sees you being excluded but in an earlier era sometimes saw you burnt at the stake or beheaded – if you were more fortunate it might have meant mere imprisonment or house arrest.

In a post-denominational era, statements of faith have been slipping in prominence and a decade ago many wondered if they would have any role in the future. However with recent challenges to traditional understandings of gender, marriage and sexuality a fresh round of work has been taking place, and many statements of faith have now been updated with new clauses on these questions, some to affirm what is held to be a traditional position, others to embrace a more progressive one. Some now even specify if a group holds a complementarian or egalitarian view of gender roles, so fairly specific detail is sometimes added. I guess the additions will inform historians of the future what the church in the 2020’s was worried about.

Although some of the clients I work with at Avenir Leadership Institute claim no Christian faith, many do, and noting how many theologians we have on our team and at our disposal, we land up doing a fair amount of theological consultation. If anyone had asked me if there is a living to be made in theological consultation I would have smiled and said “sadly no”, but I have proved myself wrong – for we have had no shortage of work in this sphere. The first paid work Avenir was contracted for (we pull our weight in pro bono land) was to help a group review and refresh their statement of faith. It soon became clear that there was a significant gap between what the statement of faith claimed and what I knew to be the belief of many of the staff. It claimed, for example, to believe in the perpetual torment of the damned, but I knew that many, perhaps most, of the staff believed in annihilationism. They were, however, happily signing their affirmation of this statement, knowing that their continued employment depended on it. When I pointed this out I was told not to worry about it – it had been there for a very long time and no one bothered about it anymore. When I asked if it might be better to delete it, I was told that it wasn’t worth the fuss it would cause. Personally I would have thought that the potential eternal torment of the majority of the world’s people is worth a bit of a fuss, but the client is always right.

What did become clear from this contract and other similar ones is that many Christian groups are struggling to articulate what being a Christian organisation means for them, what they hold to, and how it shapes their practice. While statements of faith attempt to summarise the key beliefs of a group, we were being asked to provide language to describe how faith was lived out on a daily basis, and how it looked in action. In this context we started to advise groups to construct their theological architecture. Put differently that they embarked on the journey from statements of faith to theological architecture.

What’s the difference, you ask?

While statements of faith summarise what is believed and helps decide who is in and out, theological architecture focuses on the key beliefs that drive us and how they work their way out in daily practice. It’s as much about how faith looks and what it does as it is about what faith says. There is a strongly aesthetic element to theological architecture – a few evocative words helping to clarify what holds the group together. For example, after being consulted by a large Christian group who work in the hospitality arena we suggested they build their theological architecture around three words: Community, Place and Pilgrimage… because they are essentially trying to live out their faith by giving people a rich experience of Christian community, doing this by creating “thin” places where it is easier for people to sense the presence of God, and being alert to those on a pilgrimage – a journey of seeking and finding. While I don’t doubt those employed in that world believe in the humanity and divinity of Jesus, and probably hold some convictions about baptism, the Bible and the like, on a day by day basis their Christian faith is expressed as they build community, shape thin places and look out for the pilgrims in their midst. This is what unites them and keeps them focused on their mission. It is their theological architecture, shaping the contours of their interaction with the world.

A major Christian media group asked us for similar guidance. In their case we suggested that they adopt the three commonly embraced transcendental virtues of truth, goodness and beauty, all understood in the light of the hope provided by the resurrection of Jesus. Imagine if media everywhere filtered what they reported in the light of truth, goodness and beauty – and imagine if this was informed by the resurrection of Jesus. Well many in Christian media now adopt this as their theological architecture, a lens which helps them to decide what to include in programming and what to exclude.

I could go on, but perhaps this gives a feel for theological architecture – and it is indeed a more intuitive form of theology. Don’t read me as knocking statements of faith, but I do think we need something more than a series of propositions woven together decades (sometimes centuries) back. While statements of faith erect fences to hold some in and keep others out, theological architecture is essentially invitational. It clarifies the big things we are on about, and invites others to join us on the journey.

So tell me, what kind of a Christian are you? Ouch… that’s a little too in your face. Tell me instead what images of the Christian faith move and inspire you. What nurtures you and keeps you moving in your faith journey? Dig into those, and you could come up with your theological architecture.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Akwice on

Reproduce with acknowledgement of source. Please forward to any who might find this helpful.


  1. Thank you Brian. I really appreciated reading this post. It provides valuable insights that most of us would not have access too. Very worthwhile work. Ann

    • Thanks Ann. Hope it helps people to clarify what motivates and moves them in their faith, and to shape it into something beautiful.

  2. Comment *wow what a lot to take in ????????Brian thank you for the thoughts and wise words????????I really enjoy the way you stretch my christen thinking????????????????

    • Thanks Karen. Glad you enjoy having your thinking stretched.

  3. Thanks Brian. We are reviewing our statement of faith and adding in a lifestyle component to show what living this statement out might look look. I like your idea of theological architecture but perhaps prefer to have both rather than either.

    • It certainly doesn’t have to be either or. In the end it’s about something that provides meaningful and helpful guidance.

  4. Oh dear…

    Jesus did not say that the person who believes the right things will enter the kingdom of heaven. He said that the person who obeys God will enter the kingdom of heaven.

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21-23. See also Luke 13:23-27)

    Jesus then tells the parable of the wise and foolish builders, illustrating and reinforcing his teaching about the importance of not just hearing his words, but acting on them.

    “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7:24-27. See also Luke 6:47-49)

    Other examples of Jesus teaching on the importance of doing the will of God include:

    “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35: Luke 8:21)

    “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)

    “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14)

    “If you hold to my teaching, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

    “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

    So, it is very important that we do the will of God. If we rely on our faith, our beliefs, our creeds or our doctrines to save us, but do not do the will of God, then we may be risking hearing Jesus say: “I never knew you”.

    • I like your strong emphasis on living out faith though my observation is that thoughts become actions over time, so it’s important to think carefully and well.

  5. Thought provoking Brian, thanks.

  6. I guess what is needed entirely depends on what one is hoping to be and do through forming or maintaining an institution.

    Perhaps the simpler your purpose the simpler your statement can be. If your purpose is to be a community that pursues God and welcomes friends on the journey then not much more needs to be said.

    “There is a strongly aesthetic element to theological architecture – a few evocative words helping to clarify what holds the group together.” I like the focus on a few. The more definition you have around what holds us together the more exclusive your community becomes, which may be what some want though I would be inclined to keep asking them “Why?”

    Theological architecture whilst being the design idea (and not the actual engineering plans that must be complied with) might offer more flexibility, but it still can potentially foster creative differences that result in keeping others out. Again, some organisations may desire this…it is why we have hundreds of denominations around the world to choose from. One can just move on to a better fit I guess but I very much like the idea of there being enough room for all …that in our diversity, our understanding of God gets bigger; and I don’t sit comfortably with people needing to break relationship or leave community in order to pursue God. “While statements of faith erect fences to hold some in and keep others out” it means that those who are already in the boundary line can only grow and change to a point and they are pushed out (sometimes without the H word being mentioned), unlikely being asked to leave but certainly no longer able to live within the boundary line and concurrently maintain their spirituality.

    It reminds me a conversation my 10 year old daughter struck with me in the weekend ” Mum will you be angry or like upset if we don’t believe in God? Because I’m just not sure right now if I really do believe or have enough belief”.
    My response “No not at all sweetheart. Discovering God is a life long journey and must be yours not mine. My beliefs have certainly changed, sometimes a little and other times a lot as I have grown into the world. You will need to discover your own faith for yourself in your time, and what you discover might not be the same as what I discovered, and that is ok”
    Imagine if our family’s theological architecture was designed in such a way that she no longer felt welcome and at home. At the risk of taking the analogy too far, I like the idea of theological architecture embracing a fully accessible design.

    • Thanks Ruth. Great thoughts. I guess in your own way you have articulated your theological architecture, highlighting the things that are important for you and which shape your responses. I think clarifying that is helpful so long as it doesn’t mean we stop being curious and interested in how and why others shape their focus differently. And from the conversations we’ve had I have always appreciated your curiosity and willingness to interact meaningfully with deep ideas- which is part of the thoughtful way you live out faith in the world. I guess that’s a long way of saying that I think you have a considered theological architecture that is genuinely winsome.

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