Many people ask what we at RUF believe.

Sometimes the questions are asked in these ways: What are the theological distinctives? What does "Reformed" mean? What denomination are you a part of? Are those issues even important? Do we, in our theological tradition, care about evangelism and discipleship? While this page may not answer every question, the staff and members of RUF want to answer every question and help people learn about RUF and its mission and distinctives. We are convinced that RUF must not be so broadly open that it fails to make vitally important distinctives, which the Bible itself makes; nor are we to insist that every member share the same precise set of theological convictions.

RUF is and will be characterized accurately with the following terms:

We are Evangelical

To say that we are evangelical means that we take our stand with all those who believe in what used to be called the “fundamentals”: the existence of the triune God, the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement and the vicarious atonement of Christ, the physical resurrection of Christ, the sure return of Christ and the divine authority of the Bible which is a faithful and true guide to what we are to believe and how we are to live. We joyfully affirm our unity with those from every tradition and denomination who hold to these fundamentals, and the other various campus ministries in which we joyfully agree with on the essential issues.

We are Evangelistic

This means that we take seriously the call to preach the gospel, namely the good news (in Greek: evangelion) that we are more sinful than we could ever dare imagine but because of the person and work of Jesus, we are more loved than we could ever dare dream.  Packed into this wonderful news flash is the "power of God" (Romans 1:16-17), and therefore we seek to proclaim and live out the implications of this reality.  And because the gospel informs us that we are sinful enough that Jesus had to die for us, we are emptied of any self-righteousness.  And simultaneously, the gospel informs us that Jesus was glad to die for us, which provides us with the resources to be deeply transformed as well as move out into a hurting and sinful world that we can personally identify with with love, charity, compassion, and grace.

We are Reformed

The word “reformed” identifies us with the theological tradition of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  Specifically, this theological tradition can be described with the following faith distinctives: 1) the divine authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible, 2) the absolute sovereignty of God over creation and history, 3) the election of believers apart from any merit of their own, 4) the irresistible grace of God provided for and preceding the faith of the individual, 5) the sufficiency of God’s grace apart from which man is dead in sin and wholly defiled in all his faculties of soul and body, 6) the efficacy of Christ’s death for all those who believe in Him by grace, 7) the life-guarding of all those whom Christ died for eternal life.

We are Reforming

We strongly believe that sanctification is a process, that we as Christians are all "under construction."  As the Holy Spirit continues to refine, repair, and restore us into the image of Jesus over the course of our lifetime, we realize that there will be several bumps along the way.  Therefore, we believe that living out this tension of being both sinner and saint involves regular confession and repentance for ourselves as well as patience and humility with others.  And we trust that as we seek after God Himself, that He will continue to shape and fashion us into the image of His Son.

We are Kingdom-Centered

We believe that the Kingdom of God is both a future hope and a present reality, that it is "already" and simultaneously "not yet."  We affirm that the risen and ascended Christ is King over all creation, presently reigning from Heaven, and therefore has a claim to every crack and crevice of our lives, of culture, and of every human endeavor.  There is not a square inch of creation that He doesn't look and say, "Mine!"  Furthermore, we believe that the church is the institution through which God is building His kingdom and is renewing every aspect of life. Every Christian has a unique calling and a unique giftedness to serve others in his or her community.  Therefore, we seek to see Christians demonstrating the ethics of the kingdom by sacrificially serving others, by moving towards those that we would otherwise have avoided, by working with excellence in all things, and by making daily decisions for God’s glory.

We are Confessional


This means that we have a written confession of faith which our campus minister, Matt Howell, and the PCA (the Presbyterian Church in America, the denomination which RUF comes from and in which Matt is ordained) believes to be a good and accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching. Our confession consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. They are in no way considered infallible; yet we believe they do contain carefully worded summaries of the Bible’s teaching in a systematic way. All ruling and teaching elders in the PCA must vow that they hold to these standards and are required to indicate to their presbyteries or sessions where they take exceptions. It is important to note that every church and campus ministry has a confession, formal or informal, even though some claim they have “no confession but Christ” or “no creed but the Bible” or are “non-doctrinal.” Every church and campus ministry summarizes its convictions in some form in order to distinguish its members from those who are not believers or who do not believe in its distinctives. 

We are Presbyterian

This word refers to our form of government, though you won’t see it much affect RUF meetings or your involvement. You should know, however, that we believe that the most clear biblical pattern is for churches to be governed by presbyters (elders) who rule jointly in what are called “church courts”: sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly.

We are a Community

RUF seeks to be both a safe place and not a safe place.  We seek to be safe in the sense that we desire to cultivate a friendly, welcoming environment for both Christians and non-Christians.  We long to create an atmosphere of honesty and authenticity, where people can bring their wounds, their shame, their doubts, and their sin and be treated with love and compassion.  And on the other hand, we are not seeking to create a safe place where Christians can retreat from the "culture" of UT and be insulated.  We see ourselves as the church moving in mission to the campus, meeting students in their given context, and forming a counter-culture to transform both UT and Knoxville.

This is important because...

It is important to know that these distinctives are good ones; that is to say, it is profitable and health-producing for Christians to believe these things. We believe that as we come to appreciate them, we will grow to love and honor the Lord Jesus more fully and understand more richly what it means to live by grace. Nevertheless, acceptance of all these distinctives is in no way required for participation in RUF or in membership with any PCA church. One can be involved with RUF without holding to any.  We are here for the "convinced" and the "unconvinced."

And a "historic" conclusion...

In the Reformation era, Martin Luther had a sponsor whose name was Fredrick of Saxony. Fredrick was a prince and a 16th century entrepreneur who funded many of Luther’s projects. He was a man of warm heart and deep conviction. On his coach, he had emblazoned these Latin words: suaviter in modo, fortiter in re, which means, “gentle in manner, strong in truth.” This is what RUF at UT desires to be: warm, gracious, inviting, open and non-judgmental; yet holding strong convictions that always come directly from the Bible. It is our absolute and unwavering conviction that to be strong in truth without being gentle in manner is unbiblical. It is also our profound conviction that to be gentle in manner while not adhering to scriptural truth is also unbiblical. By God’s grace we will be both as we press on in the Lord’s grand design for RUF at UT to be used here on this campus, in Knoxville and to the world.