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Statements of faith

RELIGION | Evangelicals concerned with keeping the whole counsel of God are driving a renewal of interest in confessions

Pastor Justin Perdue leads Theology Night at Covenant Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C. Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey / Genesis

Statements of faith
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MEN AND WOMEN come casually dressed and carrying Bibles as they enter the spacious office of Covenant Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C. Once conversations get going, voices echo off the concrete floors, creating what one church member calls the “happy buzz of fellowship.” This isn’t your typical midweek service, though. Twice a month, the office is transformed into a classroom for learning deep theology.

Folding chairs screech against the bare floor as everyone finds a seat. Pastor Justin Perdue, in jeans, T-shirt, and ball cap, stands behind a burnished café chair that doubles as his podium. He’s speaking from notes on a laptop, flanked by a water bottle emblazoned with Theocast, the name of his podcast.

Despite the hipster vibe in this 9-year-old church plant, Wednesdays are about something ancient. Perdue will spend the next 75 minutes digging into the threefold division of the law as part of a robust series for lay Christians. Two years in, he’s covered doctrine, church history, and what it means to be confessional. Welcome to Theology Night.

With shrinking congregations and the growth of the “nones” (those unaffiliated with any religion), some churches try to draw people in by adding more entertainment. By contrast, Perdue invites his congregants to apply themselves rigorously to the faith Jude 3 describes as “once for all delivered to the saints.” He’s one of several pastors or Christian leaders pushing for a return to the teaching of confessions—­written summaries of essential Biblical truth. Examples of confessions include the Heidelberg Catechism and the Apostles’ Creed.

Perdue launched Theology Night in 2022, believing that “under the shag carpet of contemporary evangelical teaching lies a beautiful hardwood floor of confessional doctrine and the ancient creeds of the church.” He says the church movements of the 20th century have produced a generation of people who are “frustrated and disenchanted with the fluffiness and the shallowness” and want something “more robust.”

Kymberly Riley is among those taking notes at the Wednesday gathering. Perdue is talking about the difference between law and gospel. “When it comes to our salvation and our justification, the law cannot save,” he says. “It can only kill; only the gospel saves. Only Jesus saves.”

Participants listen and take notes at Theology Night.

Participants listen and take notes at Theology Night. Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey/Genesis

This reality was foreign to Riley as she grew up in a nondenominational, charismatic church. Now in her late 30s, she’s hungry for theological instruction.

Riley says she spent her life striving to have enough faith to produce the fruit that was supposed to prove she was spiritual. In December 2019, her husband, Jason, was diagnosed with cancer. They searched the Scriptures for evidence that Jesus still heals today. “Through the charismatic beliefs that we had, it got to a point where my husband believed that he was healed by God after a couple of rounds of chemo.”

Jason decided to stop treatment. “He just stopped going to the doctor altogether,” Riley says. “That was really hard.” Then Jason’s cancer came back. Her husband—who claimed God had promised to heal him—died in February 2023.

“I felt betrayed, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

After Jason’s death she went to Biblical counseling, wanting someone to challenge her beliefs. During that time she stumbled upon Perdue’s podcast, then visited the church he’d planted. A year later, Riley is grieving, studying theology, and finding hope.

In February, professor and theologian Carl Trueman rereleased his 2012 book The Creedal Imperative under the title Crisis of Confidence. He’s making the case for returning to “clear and succinct statements of faith.” Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, says churches that reject written confessions have, historically, fallen into “unbelief or heterodoxy.” In an interview at The Gospel Coalition’s website, he noted confessions aren’t equal to the Bible, but “they point to the final authority of God’s Word.” And they keep pastors accountable for what they preach.

Churches that reject written confessions have, historically, fallen into unbelief or heterodoxy.

Confessional conversations are also a trend among podcasters. Besides Theocast, podcasts like The Pactum, The Baptist Broadcast, Modern Marrow Men, and theologian Michael Horton’s White Horse Inn are also popular for their theological content.

Riley says that while she and her husband were “very private” and “isolated” throughout their cancer ordeal, she no longer reads the Bible in isolation. Now, with the help of Theology Night, she’s studying Scripture in community along with believers who hold to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Learning about God’s sovereignty has changed how she thinks about her husband’s death. Had they known then what she’s learning now, Riley says, she and her husband would have been free to “trust that God has ordained our days.”

It still would have been hard, she says, but they could have rested in the fact that “no matter what happens, it is well with our souls.”

Candice Watters

Candice Watters is a writer based in Kentucky and a graduate of 2024 World Journalism Institute mid-career course.


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