Theological Distinctives

Blue Ocean Churches exist within the historic Christian tradition and so, like the vast majority of churches and people who have ever tried to follow Jesus, we believe in the Nicene Creed.

Along with that, we’ve put some time into considering six theological distinctives that we think encapsulate a good deal of what we have to offer congregants who join us and the communities around us.

Also, while Blue Ocean has become a network of churches, its history was as a conversation about the deepest things in life among both churchgoers and nonchurchgoers. The tab that follows this one, called “Perspectives,” details some talking points that we’ve found generative with our friends who don’t attend churches.

Each of the distinctives, below, can be expanded to get a short description along with a link to a robust article.

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.

This distinctive focuses on where we are in the middle of the long tradition of faith in Jesus.

During the Reformation, the reformers rejected what they saw as the increasingly godless and tyrannical use of authority by the hierarchy of the church. So they replaced the central authority of the pope by giving that space to the Bible in a formulation called Sola Scriptura—“Scripture alone.” This served many wonderful and needed purposes. It encouraged normal people to read and meditate on the Bible for themselves. It democratized scholarship about the Bible.

But, over centuries, downsides began to pop up. As the modern world developed, Sola Scriptura itself became “modernist” and increasingly encouraged what some found to be almost a mechanical view of following Jesus. The Bible was seen as a safe authority because it was unchanging and so it wouldn’t be whimsical as the popes so often seemed to the reformers. 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. Seeming to contradict Jesus’ main point in the Parable of the Sower, this made following Jesus something like 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 repeatedly showed us that God, being alive, always speaks in fresh ways. They pioneered the view that we’re not banking on our faulty interpretations of biblical texts. Instead, we’re banking on Jesus. Keeping our eyes on him and following where he leads is the heart of faith. This does not by any means minimize Bible reading and scholarship. Blue Ocean leaders typically 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 try to follow Jesus.

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

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

Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

begotten from the Father before all ages,

God from God,

Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made;

of the same essence as the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven;

he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried.

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son,

and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

He spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

More from Blue Ocean Faith

Dave Schmelzer shares his thoughts in the Blue Ocean Faith Blog.