In all its explorations, Blue Ocean Faith is built on the great Christian statements of faith, including the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Below are six defining characteristics of the Blue Ocean approach to faith. To read more in-depth about each of these distinctive, check out our book, Blue Ocean Faith.
We've been helped by an anthropological model of two kinds of sets. One, represented by a circle, is called "bounded set." In this view, you're either inside or outside of the circle. In a bounded set, a group's reason for existing is to encourage as many people as possible to cross into one's circle and to stay there. When churches are "bounded-set" it can lead to a rigid, rules-based expression of faith and an "Us vs. Them" mentality. The second kind of set is represented by a center figure and arrows indicating motion. In "centered set" the issue is not being inside our outside, but of movement towards or away from the center. When the center is Jesus, who we believe is alive and interactive, then spirituality becomes exciting and vibrant! We've found the implications of a centered-set faith to be profoundly helpful.
The story of Adam and Eve from Genesis 3 is central to our understanding of what it means to grow spiritually. 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, 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.
Where do we fit in the long tradition of faith in Jesus? A little history:
During the Reformation (16th Century) 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 and 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 an almost mechanical view of spirituality. Solus Jesus means we’re not banking on our interpretations of biblical texts, instead we’re banking on "Jesus alone." We believe that 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. Instead, it puts the Bible back into the category it claims for itself of being an invaluable guide as we develop our relationship with Jesus.
Religious controversies, like all controversies, encourage affirmation and condemnation. But we do not regard our role as affirming anyone or condemning anyone (as Jesus tells us never to judge). In his letter to the Romans, Paul addresses a hot-button issue that was being disputed at the time. He encourages followers of Jesus to bear with one another as they wrestle with these "disputable matters," but not to exclude as they do. So we aim to give space for each person to wrestle with controversial issues as best as they can. But we do not exclude anyone from full participation in our communities of faith, whether they disagree with us or not. This approach is often called the Third Way.
In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle suggests that there are four historic types of Christian churches: liturgical, evangelical, social justice, and renewalist. The center of these four quadrants is, of course, Jesus himself. While the backgrounds of Blue Ocean Faith pastors are evangelical and renewalist, we actively learn from all faith traditions. We have found, for instance, that some of our best teachers on spirituality have been Catholics (see Richard Rohr or Father James Martin) and social activists In Blue Ocean Faith we aim to be open-hearted and learn from anyone.
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. Protestant holiness movements have also emphasized the “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. “Appeasing” it is considered a great evil. However, in Jesus, rather than fearing infection by even small contact with the cultures around us, it will now be just the reverse—small contacts will bring his divine essence into these interactions.
So we joyfully engage culture, knowing that where there are people there is the image and love of God! In addition, 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 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.