Book Review: The Creedal Imperative

creedal-imperative-carl-r-trueman-paperback-cover-art“No creed but the Bible.” Few slogans have a stronger foothold in today’s evangelical vocabulary. It’s catchy, sounds pious, and appears to set forth a high view of Scripture. For many, it’s just another way of affirming sola scriptura.

But it isn’t – not really. It is, in fact, a remarkably incoherent thing to say. It’s also ironic, given the fact that the Bible itself teaches the need for creeds. Such is Carl Trueman’s position in The Creedal Imperative, and I must say, he argues it brilliantly.

The book opens with an examination of “the cultural case against creeds and confessions,” and then moves on to explore the foundations of creedalism, the classical Protestant confessions, the centrality of creeds to Christian doxology, and the usefulness of creeds and confessions within the church.

Tried and tested over the years, the best creeds contain solid theology clearly expressed in appropriate language. The question is not so much ‘Should we use them’ as ‘Why would we not use them?’ They do nothing but ensure that biblical content and priorities are kept uppermost in the worship of the church.

As Trueman points out, every Christian and every church has a creed – even if their creed is to have no creed. There is no division between the haves and the have-nots. The only division is between those who have creeds and confessions that are written down and available for public scrutiny, and those who have creeds and confessions that are private, unwritten, unavailable for public scrutiny, and therefore not subject to testing by Scripture to see if they are true. And that, says Trueman, is a serious problem.

I want to argue that creeds and confessions are thoroughly consistent with the belief that Scripture alone is the unique source of revelation and authority. Indeed, I want to go somewhat further:  I want to argue that creeds and confessions are, in fact, necessary for the well-being of the church, and that churches that claim not to have them place themselves at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to holding fast to that form of sound words which was so precious to the aging Paul as he advised his young protege, Timothy. Linked to the latter point, I want to make the case that it is at least arguable, based on Scripture, that the need for creeds and confessions is not just a practical imperative for the church but also a biblical imperative.

This is Trueman at his finest: passionate, eloquent, erudite, and challenging. His arguments are strongly and cogently presented, but he avoids the “distasteful, not to mention sinful, tendency among many confessional writers to look down with scorn and derision on those who are not confessional.

I trust I have not written in that spirit; rather, I hope that this book will go some way to persuading nonconfessional Christians who love the Bible and seek to follow Christ that confessionalism, far from being something to fear, can actually help them to better protect that which is so dear to them.

I will warn you that despite the book’s comparatively short length, it is not light reading. To offer a slightly modified version of Boromir’s famous phrase, “One does not simply read a Trueman book.” This is a book to study and re-study – so grab your highlighter, pen, and notebook and get down to business.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Creedal Imperative”

  1. Excellent review, this book sounds fascinating. It reminds me of a similar book, “Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed” By Dr. Jackson. Anyways, my book list is even closer to falling on me, am I required to thank you for that? ;)

  2. My problem with creeds is their history of exclusion. Christianity is a community of Christ-followers, not a bunch of people who merely believe certain facts. So as long as a creed is simple and excludes arcane concepts, I’m fine with it.

    That said, the communal confession of a creed can be a powerful experience and one worth having. So you could say I’m of two minds about this.

    1. “Christianity is a community of Christ-followers, not a bunch of people who merely believe certain facts.”

      Christianity is more than a set of beliefs, I agree, but it is certainly not less. As Trueman puts it,

      While Christianity cannot be reduced to doctrine, to mere teaching, it cannot be meaningfully separated from it either. Even the most basic claims, such as “Jesus is Lord,” carry clear doctrinal content that needs to be explicated in a world where, as we have noted before, every heretic has his text and not all who cry “Lord! Lord!” actually have any real saving knowledge of God. That that will inevitably involve exclusion is indisputable.

      Trueman addresses the “question of exclusion” rather extensively, and does a very good job of it. The book is worth reading regardless of which side of the issue you’re on. Besides, I think you’d appreciate his writing style. :)

  3. I’ve attended Anglican churches in the past and one of the things I loved was that every week they would declare as a congregation either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. It felt good to be a part of somehting like that. I wish more churches would do that.

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