“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.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Forget The Princess Diaries – here we have The Philosopher-King Diaries. I wonder why Disney hasn’t made a movie of this one yet? All kidding aside, Meditations really is a fascinating read, elegantly written and insightful. From a Christian perspective, it’s also remarkably empty: an elaborate house of morality and philosophy built on a sinking sandbank of pure humanism.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
I picked this up at the library the other day, mainly because I was in the mood for something noirish and this seemed to fit the bill. As I’ve already seen Scorsese’s film adaption, the story itself probably won’t have many surprises for me, but Lehane’s writing is so good I really could care less. Consider: “His small dark eyes sat far back in their sockets, and the shadows that leaked from them bled across the rest of his face.” That’s just brilliant.
Confessions by Augustine
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” If I had to pick one book to call the Most Beautiful Book I’ve Ever Read, this would be it. If you haven’t read it, you can’t imagine what you’re missing. Go buy a copy. Better yet, buy ten copies – one for yourself and nine to give away . Just one thing: don’t settle for any of those “modern English” translations, where the beauty of Augustine’s writing is dramatically lessened. “Updating” Augustine is like “updating” Shakespeare – not cool.
The Travels by Marco Polo
I just finished this, and my one word review would probably look something like this: Meh. The subject matter is (mostly) fascinating, but Polo’s writing isn’t half as colorful as the locales he’s describing. Here’s a warning to potential readers: whenever Polo says something like “What need have I to say more?”, don’t be fooled. He will inevitably say more anyway.
How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer
Marvin Olasky offers an excellent summary of what this book has to offer: “How Should We Then Live? was produced by a genius who cared about the battle of ideas. It’s also the book I still recommend to students for a quick overview of ‘the rise and decline of western thought and culture.’ Schaeffer brilliantly takes readers from ancient times through the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, then discusses the breakdown in philosophy and science and moves on to art, music, literature, film, and much else besides.”
Peter’s Angel by Aubrey Hansen
Almost a third of the way through this one and finding it quite enjoyable. I have a few quibbles, but these are fairly minor, and I think it’s safe to say that Aubrey has surpassed her debut effort (Red Rain) by leaps and bounds – the writing is better, the characters are deeper, and the alternate history is well done. Look for a more detailed review next week.
What’s on your bookshelf right now?