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.

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Forty Years of Slaughter

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R.C. Sproul, Jr. writes of A Generation Lost:

It is not my intent to challenge the effectiveness of any organization, any strategy, or any party. I have, in one way or another, been deeply involved in them all. Rather my intent is to highlight the deep gap between how we think about abortion forty years later, and the reality. We think in terms of strategies, movements, parties, and avert our eyes from the body parts. Strategies, movements, parties are all abstractions. The babies are real, and they are really dead. The anniversary is just a date on the calendar. The babies are dead, not fifty million of them, but one of them, fifty million times.

Matt Rodgers has compiled a great list of Outstanding Pro-Life Articles, including a few he wrote himself. I particularly recommend you read this overview of abortion methods:

In the political realm, abortion is debated as an abstract concept. It’s dehumanized. For many, the word evokes only a vague understanding that a “clump of cells” is being removed from a woman’s uterus. Even the word “abortion” is being abandoned in favor of euphemisms like “women’s reproductive rights”.

In this post, my goal is simply to present the various methods used to carry out abortions. I’ll be relying mostly on diagrams, testimonies, and excerpts from medical resources. I’ve intentionally avoided using gory photographs for shock value, but be forewarned that some content is, nonetheless, quite graphic.

If you believe there’s nothing morally or ethically wrong with abortion, then none of what follows should be troubling.

“We have killed fifty million babies,” says John Piper. “And what increases our guilt as a nation is that we know what we are doing.” You can read the evidence here. The aim of Piper’s post is threefold:

1. To make clear that we will not be able to defend ourselves with the claim of ignorance. We knew. All of us.

2. To solidify our conviction to resist this horrific evil.

3. To intensify our prayer and our preaching toward gospel-based soul-renovation in our land, because hardness of heart, not ignorance, is at the root of this carnage.

Flotsam & Jetsam (1/22)

“Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen’s famous song… with biblically theologized lyrics by Marvin Olasky. Thumbs up all the way.

Promised Land – An excellent review of Matt Damon’s latest film: “Was I entertained? Yes. Was I convinced? No. So the movie fails in its mission. When a soapbox movie can’t convince you the moral of the story is true, then it fails to achieve a very basic purpose of storytelling.”

Horton’s Inglorious “Two Kingdoms” Theology – Long, but well worth reading.

Loving the Church – Persis reviews John Crott’s book. “Through the conversations of believers wrestling with these issues, Pastor Crotts uses their interaction to expose misconceptions about the church in the light of Scripture. He discusses the value of the church, Jesus’ role as its builder, savior, and foundation, the church universal and local, elders, deacons, spiritual gifts, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

16 Trill, And What Do You Get? – Douglas Wilson + fighting national debt + songwriting.

“The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.” – Luther

Death by TBR

Readers die of many causes, no doubt – I speak of disease, old age, car accidents and the like – but I am convinced that for most of them, the heart-stopper comes by way of a tragic and overwhelming realization: the realization that no matter how long you live, you’ll never be able to read everything you want to read.

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The majority of the reader’s life is spent in denial of this fact. In practice, if not in theory, he fancies himself immortal. He stays up late to read, and rises early to do the same. He reads during meals, during work, during play. He forges ahead, page after page after page, an insatiable devourer of literature. He swallows worlds, digests characters, savors language, gets drunk on storytelling. “For surely,” he reasons, “if I read hard enough, well enough, fast enough, surely then will I conquer my reading pile.”

But he is deceived, like the man who thinks he can empty the ocean with a spoon, if only he expends enough time and effort. He will begin to realize this as he grows older, but he will fight it. More books, more lists, more trips to the library – a mad struggle against the inevitable.

But it is a struggle that can only go on for so long, and at last, the truth will hit him – hard, like a semi-truck barreling forward on I-90. In that moment, he will come face-to-face with his own mortality and will tremble before it, crying, “One page more, let me read but one page more!”

And then he will give up the ghost. His relatives will search for a last will and testament, but to no avail. He could never stop reading long enough to write one.

So I leave you with this thought from Joe Queenan:

A friend once told me that the real message Bram Stoker sought to convey in Dracula is that a human being needs to live hundreds and hundreds of years to get all his reading done; that Count Dracula, basically nothing more than a misunderstood bookworm, was draining blood from the necks of 10,000 hapless virgins not because he was the apotheosis of pure evil but because it was the only way he could live long enough to polish off his extensive reading list. But I have no way of knowing if this is true, as I have not yet found time to read Dracula.

Respond to the Challenge

“New Testament teaching on the church is opposed to so many of the currents of modern culture: it places a premium on age and experience; it is doctrinal in that it connects to notions of truth and to the teaching of the truth; and it articulates a hierarchal structuring of the church as an institution. Of course, a careful study of all of New Testament teaching on church leadership would reveal that leadership and authority in the church are not to be conceived of in quite the same way as we find in the world around us. Church leadership is to be marked by service to others, by suffering, by a distinct lack of glory and prestige as the world understands it. It is the church’s failure to embody these ideals that has given some traction to those who place organized religion and its institutions under the same cloud of suspicion as secular institutions such as governments and big businesses. But abuse of church office does not mean that church office ceases to be a biblical idea, and it behooves the church to respond to the challenge of her cultural despisers not by capitulation to the culture or repudiation of the Bible’s teaching but by repentance, reformation, and a renewed commitment to the biblical notion of church government and authority.”

– Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (p. 71)