SPU’s Statement of Faith with its four pillars–historically orthodox, clearly evangelical, distinctly Wesleyan, and genuinely ecumenical–has been central to shaping the character of the university since it was approved by the Board in 2004. The roots of the SoF go back even further (see its 1998 precursor), suggesting that these principles are woven deeply into SPU’s DNA, even as they are held in constantly negotiated tension with one another.
All prospective employees–staff and faculty–are asked to affirm and interact with the statement as part of the application process. Faculty continue to engage with the statement in the New Faculty Seminar in their first year and at various stages of promotion throughout their career, exploring how it connects to their vocation and their work at SPU; these faculty essays on the Statement of Faith are part of all tenure and promotion files reviewed by the Board of Trustees.
For a detailed discussion of the original intentions, continued purposes, and current debate over the pillars of the Statement of Faith, see the “Primer” written by Professor of Moral and Historical Theology Richard Steele and presented to the Board of Trustees on May 19, 2022. For an argument as to how keeping the employee conduct policy violates the spirit and substance of SPU’s Statement of Faith, see the message to the Board from two professors in the School of Theology.
July 2022: Original Preamble Restored
The description of the four pillars in the current version of the SPU Statement of Faith on the SPU website (as of July 2022) remains identical to the 2004 version. The original preamble, which had been altered in recent years, has been restored, except that it no longer alludes to SPU’s mission statement (see 2004 version).
February 2022: “Faith for the Future” Preamble
At some point after SPU marketing began in 2018 to refer to “faith for the future,” the original preamble to the Statement of Faith was altered to emphasize that SPU practices a “generous faith” and “celebrates the Church’s rich diversity worldwide.” The description of the four pillars remains identical to the 2004 version.
April 2004: President Philip Eaton Introduces the Statement of Faith
On April 19, 2004, President Philip Eaton introduced the SPU Statement of Faith that would be ratified by the Board of Trustees at their May 21, 2004, meeting. Eaton noted that one of SPU’s long-standing distinctives has been its “willingness and eagerness to draw our people from a wide range of Christian traditions” which needs to be complemented by “clarity at the center.” Eaton, and by extension the statement, is “less interested in defining the boundaries than . . . in being clear about the center.”
1998 Precursor to the Four-Pillared Statement of Faith
The 1998-99 Undergraduate Catalog marks the first emergence of the four pillars that eventually defined the 2004 Statement of Faith (see pp 3-4). Some notable passages that did not make it into the 2004 SoF include the assertion that Wesleyan “radical spiritual renewal was intended to result in radical social renewal as well” and the discussion of the “Wesleyan quadrilateral” (scripture, tradition, reason, & experience).
“Six Tenets” Statement of Faith
Prior to 1998, SPU’s Undergraduate Catalog outlined six tenets that SPU stands for “unequivocally”: “1) the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, 2) the deity of Christ [this was eventually moved to #1], 3) the need and efficacy of the atonement, 4) the new birth as a divine work carried out in the repentant heart by the Holy Spirit, 5) the necessity and glorious possibility for the Spirit-filled Christian to live a life of victory over sin, and 6) the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 2).