The Creedal Imperative
Great Intro to Importance of Creeds & Confessions
Within the world of evangelical Protestantism, creeds have fallen on hard times. They are old, irrelevant, and go into way too much detail about non-essential doctrinal points that just cause conflict. Ã¢ÂÂDoctrine divides, mission unites,Ã¢ÂÂ as they say.
Therefore, it is a massively difficult task that Carl Trueman has taken on in Ã¢ÂÂThe Creedal ImperativeÃ¢ÂÂ, making the case that not only are creeds helpful, but also essential to the life of the church. For many people, the whole idea of creeds conjures up words like Ã¢ÂÂdry,Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂdusty,Ã¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂacademicÃ¢ÂÂ but Trueman does a brilliant job of making his case for creeds readable and understandable for those who are not familiar with them, and are not sure whether they should be.
From the very first page, Trueman addresses himself to the popular objections to creeds. His leading example is a pastor who claimed that his church had no creed but the Bible, yet at the same time taught the five points of Calvinism, dispensationalism, and form of church government drawn from the Plymouth Brethren. Trueman points out that while this pastorÃ¢ÂÂs church claimed Ã¢ÂÂits only creed was the Bible, it actually connected in terms of the details of its life and teaching to almost no other congregation in the history of the church. Clearly, the church did have a creed, a summary view of what the Bible taught on grace, eschatology, and ecclesiology; it was just that nobody ever wrote it down and set it out in public.Ã¢ÂÂ (Kindle Locations 119-122)
The example of this unique church and its unwritten creed, which Trueman refers back to many times, highlights a key point of the book: Every church has a creed, but not every church acknowledges it. Trueman writes:
Ã¢ÂÂI do want to make the point here that Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true.Ã¢ÂÂ (Kindle Locations 165-169).
This single point alone is pure gold in terms of highlighting the need for creeds and confessions. Although I wish Trueman spent more time fleshing out the practical consequences of a church not having a public creed, we can easily see the results in countless churches around the world. When you donÃ¢ÂÂt have a public, written standard (or at least one that people actually pay attention to), then the eventual disagreements in doctrine and practice among church leaders and members end up creating chaos. Who is to say who is right? Whoever is in power, or able to rally the most people to their side. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs who. Might makes right when there is nothing external to the personalities involved, or at least nothing authoritative. Yes, there is the Bible, but whose interpretation are we to go with? Having a previously agreed upon creed, confession, or statement of faith that is learned and used in the regular course of church life can go a long way towards resolving conflict. A written confession of faith takes many disagreements out of the realm of personality and whim, and puts them in the realm of agreed upon norms and accountability.
Even though this observation alone should be enough to convince a church to seriously consider using a public creed or confession of faith, Trueman continues on from this point to make his case to the unconvinced in three ways:
1) First, he spends the introduction and the chapters 1 and 2 discussing the reasons why the contemporary world doesnÃ¢ÂÂt like creeds, and then responds to those objections by positively stating the value of history, the stability of linguistic meaning, and the validity and authority of institutions. Those who question the biblical precedent for creeds will be interested to follow TruemanÃ¢ÂÂs argument in Chapter 2 as he comments on various biblical passages that suggest creedal formation. Thus, he assures the reader that creeds are not alien to Scripture, but in fact necessitated by Scripture. The necessity of creeds is seen in passages such as, Ã¢ÂÂFollow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.Ã¢ÂÂ (2 Tim 1:13)
2) Secondly, he briefly surveys the history of creeds and confessions in chapters 4-5. These historical chapters are particularly valuable in giving a broad overview of the development of creeds from the time of the early church to the Reformation. Trueman discusses the immediate causes that prompted the writing of each creed or confession, and its significance for the church today. He doesnÃ¢ÂÂt cover every creed, but just hits the major ones in the Protestant tradition. Readers who find themselves confused about which confession is which and how they are different will be helped by TruemanÃ¢ÂÂs overview in these chapters.
3) The last two chapters round out the book with a discussion of the contemporary usefulness of confessions. In chapter 5, we see how creeds and confessions can shape the direction and orthodoxy of the churchÃ¢ÂÂs worship, protecting it from trendiness and errant doctrinal forces. Chapter 6 wraps up the book by restating some of the previous arguments and pointing out how creeds aid Christians in expressing their faith and ensuring Ã¢ÂÂthe stable transmission of the gospel from one generation to anotherÃ¢ÂÂ (Kindle Location 2678).
In the concluding chapter we also see Trueman making a more direct critique of those who donÃ¢ÂÂt have written confessions, asserting that
Ã¢ÂÂ[I]f you take the Bible seriously, you will either have a creed or a confession or something that fulfills the same basic role, such as a statement of faith. Here, I want to make the point that those who repudiate such ideas are being unintentionally disingenuous: they still have their creed or confession; they just will not write it down and allow you to look at it and scrutinize it in the light of Scripture. They are in a sense more authoritarian than the papacy.Ã¢ÂÂ (Kindle Locations 2680-2683)
A statement like that may sting, but thatÃ¢ÂÂs because truth hurts. Trueman knows how to speak diplomatically, but he also knows how to call it like it is. If you combine those qualities with his characteristic wit and mastery of words (and befuddled disdain for technology), Trueman is real delight to read.
In summary, Trueman makes a solid case for the necessity of creeds and confessions and this book should prove both enlightening and useful for those who are either on the fence about the validity of creeds, or are just becoming interested in the topic. As a confessional Presbyterian, I hold to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms yet as a latecomer to the whole world of confessional Christianity, I have not been as familiar with the case for creeds as I should be, nor am I very well acquainted with the confessions of other Protestant traditions. For those reasons, I found Ã¢ÂÂThe Creedal ImperativeÃ¢ÂÂ to be a great overview of the topic, and TruemanÃ¢ÂÂs suggestions Ã¢ÂÂFor Further ReadingÃ¢ÂÂ should prove to be a handy guide when I want to learn more about the various creeds and confessions.
If you want a substantial, yet succinct and readable overview of creeds and confessions, Ã¢ÂÂThe Creedal ImperativeÃ¢ÂÂ is a great place to start.
December 3, 2012
The Creedal Imperative
Carl Trueman has written a potent defense of creeds in his latest book, The Creedal Imperative. This is a work that is both challenging and helpful, one which is well worth wrestling with. And, that said, one that I would recommend. Why? Let me list the reasonsÃ¢ÂÂ¦
First, Trueman outlines the point and purpose of his book: primarily, his writing is aimed at those who would claim Ã¢ÂÂno creed but the Bible.Ã¢ÂÂ If you have glanced over the back cover of this book then youÃ¢ÂÂll also know that Trueman considers this statement to Ã¢ÂÂ shockingly Ã¢ÂÂ be unbiblical. Ã¢ÂÂBut how can that be?!Ã¢ÂÂ you might ask in alarm. TruemanÃ¢ÂÂs argument is that a creed is simply stating our understanding of the Bible for everyone to read, agree with, and critique. In short, TruemanÃ¢ÂÂs idea is that everyone has a creed, itÃ¢ÂÂs just that some folks are unwilling to admit it. The question is whether that Ã¢ÂÂcreedÃ¢ÂÂ is public and available for everyone to wrestle with, or not. As a pastor, I agree with Trueman in large part Ã¢ÂÂ we have a doctrinal statement that we publicly defend. This statement is the basis for membership in our church as well as for our churchÃ¢ÂÂs fellowship with other congregations in our denomination. Without this statement of beliefs, there canÃ¢ÂÂt be real unity around the breadth and depth of the Scriptures.
One of the arguments that Trueman makes quite well is that the current Ã¢ÂÂanti-creedÃ¢ÂÂ position of the vast majority of Evangelicalism isnÃ¢ÂÂt really due to any particular desire to be Biblical, but rather it is a direct result of drinking too much of our societyÃ¢ÂÂs Kool-Aid (my words, not his). One of his best arguments comes in the early part of the book when Trueman notes that we as a culture tend to devalue the past. This is done through numerous means, but always seems to boil down to seeing the past as inferior to the present. Trueman states it well, speaking of how science has become almost a religion in itself: Ã¢ÂÂThe problem is that science also comes loaded with a certain philosophical bias, and that is, as stated above, that the past is inferior to the present (p.25).Ã¢ÂÂ He goes on to note similar sorts of ideas that come with our embracing of technology and consumerism (and I love his definition here Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂ¦consumerism is predicated on the idea that life can be fulfilling through acquiring something in the future that one does not have in the presentÃ¢ÂÂ [p.27]). In another classic Trueman moment, he notes how our society has problems with authority, and yet we turn to those Ã¢ÂÂ ironically Ã¢ÂÂ who are least qualified to comment on serious social issues (why do we see Lady Gaga as having any qualifications to speak to such complex social issues as gay marriage? [p.29]).
From this point, the book rapidly moves through the long and rich history of creeds in the Christian church. Trueman traces what he would argue are the earliest forms of creeds even in the Bible by latching on to PaulÃ¢ÂÂs comments to Timothy of teaching the pattern of sound words found in 2 Timothy 1:13, which is exampled in such statements as those seen in Romans 10:9-10. A wonderful history of creedal formulations (especially the ApostlesÃ¢ÂÂ Creed) is then outlined followed by brief but helpful sketches of many of the Reformation era creeds. The book then ends with a number of practical notes which read much along the lines of an apologetic (defense) against common objections that might come up in using creeds in our contemporary society. Ã¢ÂÂBut they donÃ¢ÂÂt leave any room for spontaneity!Ã¢ÂÂ is the cry that might come up. Trueman responds Ã¢ÂÂ ably so Ã¢ÂÂ by dismantling the idea that any church is really all that spontaneous and that, even if one were, nowhere does the Bible tell us that spontaneity is a value to be cultivated (p.148-149). Ã¢ÂÂBut it will just become a rote recitation of a creed Ã¢ÂÂ something that is all tradition and not really belief.Ã¢ÂÂ While that is a danger, Trueman responds by saying that the same can be said for singing our favorite praise songs (p.149).
The book closes by positively stating a number of the benefits of utilizing the creeds wisely. One is to combat Biblical illiteracy Ã¢ÂÂ both in the understanding of the particulars of what the Bible teaches as well as in giving the entire sweep of the BibleÃ¢ÂÂs grand storyline. A second point is that creedal statements are radically at odds with our culture and thus help enable a church and individual Christians to be Ã¢ÂÂsalt and lightÃ¢ÂÂ to the world around them by this countercultural Ã¢ÂÂ and yet thoroughly Biblical Ã¢ÂÂ act. Ã¢ÂÂAs soon as the congregation says Ã¢ÂÂWe believe in one GodÃ¢ÂÂ¦Ã¢ÂÂ all other pretenders to the divine throne have been put well and truly in their place. Neither sex nor money nor power is God; there is only one God, the God whom the creed proceeds to describe (p.156).Ã¢ÂÂ Numerous other benefits are listed in TruemanÃ¢ÂÂs last chapter, a few of which I reproduce here: (1) all churches and all Christians have creeds and confessions, (2) creeds and confessions offer succinct and thorough summaries of the faith, (3) creeds and confessions help to define one church in relation to another, (4) creeds and confessions are necessary for maintaining corporate unity.
All in all I found this to be a helpful book. There are a few points where I think that Trueman pushes his case to the extremes. And sadly, it lacks a lot of TruemanÃ¢ÂÂs famous U.K. wit that he is well-known for and so the book can be dry at times. But where it is fresh and helpful is in its insightful challenges to do church Biblically rather than simply to take what the culture has said and Ã¢ÂÂbaptizeÃ¢ÂÂ it for use in our worship. A crucial part of doing church faithfully is clearly saying exactly what we believe the Bible to say. That is the useful and faithful purpose of creeds.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I wish to note that the publisher of this book, Crossway, provided it to me at no cost as a review sample. That said, my review is in no way influenced or controlled by them and thus I write my review of this book with honesty and integrity.)
October 26, 2012