“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.
“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)
“In today’s topsy-turvy world, youth has status. That is why so many old-timers spend large amounts of money and time trying to hold on to, or even win back, some of its accoutrements, whether by purchasing a pair of jeans from Aeropostale, buying a male grooming kit, or even undergoing drastic plastic surgery. Harmless as these phenomena are at one level, at another they are part of the larger cultural impulse toward disdain for the past and for old age. We see this not just in fashion, of course, but also in the ‘wisdom’ now invested in young people who are considered competent to opine on complex matters, not despite the fact of their relative youth and inexperience but precisely because of it. Pop music, a function of youth culture if there ever was one, is perhaps responsible for this. In the last few decades, we have had the pleasure of hearing all manner of people, from Hall & Oates in the eighties to Lady Gaga in the present, telling the world what to do about everything from apartheid to third world debt to gay marriage. Apparently, the lack of ‘baggage’ (to use the standard pejorative) is an advantage to being able to speak with authority on complex subjects. In other professions, of course – from plumbing to brain surgery and beyond – ‘baggage’ is generally referred to as ‘appropriate training,’ but, such is the power of a youthful smile, a full head of hair, and a trim waistline that such does not apply to matters of morality, economics, or the meaning of life in general.”
– Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (p. 29)
One Shot by Lee Child
This is actually the ninth Jack Reacher book, but I’ve been told it’s one of the best, and serves as a good introduction to the character. It’s excellent so far: better-than-average writing, smart storytelling, and a very cool protagonist in Mr. Reacher. I’ll be interested to see how the recent film adaption compares.
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
“The pious mind does not dream up for itself any god it pleases, but contemplates the one and only true God. And it does not attach to him whatever it pleases, but is content to hold him to be as he manifests himself.” Currently number one contender for best non-fiction book I will read in 2013. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s only January. But still… I’ll be surprised if anything tops it.
The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman
I love this guy. Thirty five pages in, and I’ve already lost count of the passages I’ve highlighted. Terrific, terrific stuff. C.J. Mahaney’s endorsement is spot-on: “If the title of this book sounds boring to you, then it probably means you need it!”
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Famous Tales by R.L. Stevenson
I’ve already read Jekyll and Hyde, so my focus is on the “other famous tales.” The Suicide Club sounds especially interesting. C’mon… you can’t tell me the title doesn’t intrigue you.
How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart
“Understanding the Bible isn’t for the few, the gifted, the scholarly. The Bible is accessible. It’s meant to be read and comprehended by everyone from armchair readers to seminary students.” Very good so far, though I remain unimpressed by Fee’s arguments against using the KJV for study.
What’s on your bookshelf right now?