Are the creeds and confessions of the Christian church a thing of history, a thing of the past era in which they were created, and now essentially archaic and anachronistic in our day? Or are they something different? Are they statements of faith that were deliberately crafted to speak to the church at a particular time in its history and still speaking to it authoritatively today? Carl R. Trueman, writing in The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), answers the latter question with a resounding ‘Yes!’
Trueman’s target persona, as he writes, is the pastor standing in front of his congregation, open Bible held overhead, declaring “I hold to no creed except the Bible!” That may be the target as he writes, but what he writes is instructive for the church at large, including someone such as myself, who belongs to a denomination that holds to several creeds and confessions, something that I’m glad that we do.
He begins by addressing the cultural concerns of modern evangelicalism against creeds, laying out the case that to declare “no creed” is to implicitly declare a creed. Following this are chapters addressing the foundation of creedalism in the post-apostolic church; a brief review of the classic Protestant confessions found within the Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed and Baptist branches of the Protestant tree; a discussion of the aspect of praise that confessions bring to worship; and a final chapter on the multiple ways in which the classic creeds and confessions continue to strengthen the church today.
One of the things I was taught by through this book was how the early creeds that emerged from the ecumenical councils, specifically the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, and the Apostles Creed, to a lesser extent, each came about as aspects of Christian belief were worked out by the church at large. As the church wrestled with the idea of Jesus being fully divine, they then had to understand how he could be both fully human and divine simultaneously. These aspects of doctrine, and things such as the Trinity, are not specifically addressed by the Bible so the creeds, and the latter confessions, helped the church understand the connections and subsequent implications of things that the Bible suggests but does not clarify. Trueman states several times that while creeds and confessions establish the boundaries of what is orthodox belief, and what is not, they do so only under the guidance of Scripture.
Another gift of this book is the reminder of the ways in which the creeds and confessions glorify God. In using them purposefully in worship we not only are taught solid doctrine but also collectively participate with the church past and present in bringing glory to God.
In the conclusion Trueman responds to the hypothetical, ‘Bible only’ believing pastor (and Trueman and I both know these are not merely hypothetical persons) thusly: “It seems to me that, in the absence of any credible alternatives, creeds and confessions are imperatives for the church that takes the Bible seriously, not optional extras and certainly not something that can be decried as sinful, wrong, or unbiblical.” (188)
And this leads to his statement that “Creeds and confessions at their best present the church with beautiful summaries of biblical teaching, which are designed not simply to preserve the faith but also to be part of the very life of the worshipping community.” (189)
Carl Trueman has written a compact book on a topic that the modern church needs to hear and put into practice. I highly commend this book to anyone looking to strengthen their own faith, the worship life of their church, and consequently, the church eternal.