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Archive for January, 2014


I’ve tried to become less reactionary in my blogging. I might have made some progress, or perhaps I’ve just been busier and don’t think about it very much. Sometimes there is an article or blog post that comes to my attention that is so annoying that I feel compelled to consider it for blog fodder. This morning I read one of them called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible. I suppose I am tempted to read too much into his Patheos post, but aware of this and will try my best to interpret his words well.

He is Roger Wolsey, a “progressive” United Methodist pastor. What he does is helpful because he does lay out his assumptions when he interprets the Bible. He doesn’t defend those assumptions, he just assumes they are superior to the assumptions held by “Fundamentalists”. By the way he articulates his argument you’d think there were only “Fundamentalists”, “Atheists” and “Progressives.” I am part of the great unknown (perhaps not to him but at least “Sir Not-Mentioned-in-this-Article”) that would fall under the category of Conservative and Confessional.

“All Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible (to interpret) literally, progressive Christians simply admit this and share how we discern.”

Not sure I’d agree with that statement. Most people I know admit this and talk about how they discern the difference. Progressives are not superior to anyone in this matter. They don’t have “interpretative righteousness” as a result. I am bringing my men’s study through the book Bible Study that addresses many of these issues and I often verbalize these things as I preach or teach SS (the Revelation series was not an exception). I suggest he doesn’t give those pesky Fundamentalists enough credit. So much for the love (or charity) he talks about later. He seems to always paint them in a most negative light.

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In the earlier chapters of his book, The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman builds a biblical case for the use of creeds. He interacted with some of the contemporary issues that often undermine the use and value of creeds and confessions exposing their folly and short-sightedness. He then examined some of the ecumenical creeds and Reformed Confessions, giving insight into their development. The latter chapters of the book focus on the usefulness and value of these creeds and confessions in the life of the church and the Christian.

In the congregation I serve as pastor, we have a Confession of Faith as part of our weekly liturgy. We don’t use the same creed each Sunday. Sometimes we go through the Heidelberg Catechism over the course of a year. Right now we read the Apostles’ Creed on 1st Sundays, the Nicene Creed on 3rd Sundays and the other weeks draw from a variety of sources (Scripture as well as various creeds, confessions and covenants). This is a regular part of our liturgy because we believe that confessing our faith should be a regular part of our worship (just as we regularly confess our sin and receive the Lord’s Table). Confessions like this, Trueman argues, are acts of praise. The praise is expressed in the church’s theology, but it is praise.

“This is a vital point, and we do well to remember that our creeds and confessions are not simply boundary markers but also that they arise out of a desire to praise God, the content of which praise should be the same as that of said creeds and confessions.”

He gives the example of 1 Timothy 1:15ff, which is one of my favorite passages. Paul offers a theology of the incarnation in terms of its purpose, and offers praise as well. The truth results in praise, and its itself intended to be praise by saying in what ways our God is great.

“Thus, the Trinitarian controversies of the early centuries are nothing if not heated debates about the nature of Christian worship and the nature of Christian belonging.”

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The first part of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is focused on apologetics: showing how Christianity has better and more complete answers regarding pain and suffering than any other way of looking at the world. The 2nd part of the book is called Facing the Furnace. It is about how Christianity looks at suffering, preparing us to enter the furnace. What does our theology say about suffering? That is an important thing.

“The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide into a neat pattern of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.”

He begins with the challenge to faith. Christianity does not look at suffering simplistically like Job’s counselors. There must be answers that satisfy the heart and not just the mind.

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Carl Trueman is an historian by trade (do you like the Anglicisation in his honour there?). After a chapter on the contemporary impulses against the uses of creeds and confessions and another on the foundations for using them, he returns to his trade. In the 3rd and 4th chapters of The Creedal Imperative Trueman looks at the early church and the Reformation & post-Reformation period respectively to trace the development and use of creeds and confessions at those times.

In the 3rd chapter most of the time is spent looking at what are commonly called the “ecumenical councils” and the documents they produced. But the use and development of creeds and confessions didn’t start there. As he mentions in the 2nd chapter, the New Testament has an expectation for “forms of doctrine”. We see some of those forms in places like Romans 10, Philippians 2 and others. Trueman forgot to include the OT shema from Deuteronomy 6. There is a long history among God’s people of using confessions of faith, one that pre-dates the creeds of Christendom by over a 1,000 years.

In the early church, Trueman shows the development of “the rule”. A number of authors talk about a rule known to the audience of their letters. We see said mention in the letters of Ignatius, Tertullian, Irenaeus and others. This Rule typically functioned as the method for catechizing converts prior to their baptism. The “spontaneous baptisms” that thrill Mark Driscoll did not happen in the early church. People were catechized before, not after baptism (I’m sure their instruction didn’t cease, you get my point, maybe).

Trueman notes, based on a letter from Ambrose who was Bishop of Milan, that by 389 the Apostles’ Creed was not only in use but seemed to have been in use for some time. He enters into a very brief discussion about “descended into hell” to instruct us that we should not abandon or criticize a creed too quickly. It may not mean what we initially think it means. In other words, beware the knee jerk reaction. Knee jerk reactions typically produce bad theology.

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There are not many contemporary books on the on-going persecution of Christians so when I had the opportunity to get a review copy of The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution I took it. This is an important book and I encourage American Christians to read it, but it is not without its weaknesses. It is helpful for American Christians to understand what their brothers and sisters in many parts of the world experience. This is not a book about what American Christians experience. It goes outside of our experience and this is important to do. This is why I think they should read it. They need to pray for their siblings in Christ, and also themselves because such persecution may not be too far away for us.

The author, John Allen Jr., is a senior news correspondence and has many connections around the world to gain access that others may not have. He also draws on the research of a number of government and private agencies that track these things. As a result he will talk about bigger picture systematic persecution as well as more personal stories. These stories are not pretty and they can be difficult to read. For instance, in the introduction he talks about the Me’eter military camp and prison in Eritrea ( a country I hadn’t even heard of before) that is pretty horrifying to consider. Here the one-party nation, ironically called the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, continues to imprison, torture and rape its citizens who are without legal representation and often without medical care in this desert prison. Though their actions are well-documented this has not been a matter of concern for the press, the UN or any nation.

The weaknesses of the book are obvious in some ways. It is hard to write a book like this. Due to the number of narratives it often feels disjointed. While they all follow a similar theme they aren’t connected by characters. This is not the author’s fault, but just the nature of the type of book he’s chosen to written. The reader can feel overwhelmed at times. At others confused as he will make mistakes in how he communicates this material. There are paragraphs in which he shifts from one event to another when there is no specific connection between the events except what all of them have in common.

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In the first chapter of The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman looked at the forces in society that are making it more difficult for Christians to use creeds and confessions to summarize and make their faith known. In his second chapter Trueman goes on the offensive and builds the case for creedalism and confessionalism.

He does not refute all the challenges in this chapter. He more clearly and expansively builds the case for the assumptions that he made to begin the book. These assumptions provide the foundation for seeing creeds and confessions as helpful and authoritative summaries of the faith for communities of faith.

He begins with the adequacy of words. Seems strange to have to do this since we read all the time: blogs, books, recipes, novels, school books etc. Words, oddly enough, reflect back to a biblical understanding of God’s nature: He is the God who speaks. We see this in Genesis 1 and that continues through the rest of the Scriptures. God speaks, and what he speaks are obviously words. He speaks to make himself known. He speaks to have communion within the Trinity and with creation. The use of language therefore is not incidental, but how God defines and sustains his relationship with humanity before and after the fall. It is “a means of his presence.”

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Since Carl Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative came out last year it has been on my unofficial list of books to read. With a week of study leave, I thought it was time to get started. This book, with a strange title, is an important book in defense of the use of creeds and confessions. As a Presbyterian, and a confessional one at that, (I was referring to myself, but Trueman is one as well) it may sound strange to defend the use of creeds and confessions. However, we do live in a culture in which the use of such things is suspect at best and often denigrated, even in the church. This would be why Trueman wrote the book, and this is the subject he picks to begin the book: those societal forces against creeds.

He begins with 3 assumptions:

  1. The past is important and has something to teach us. Cultural forces that diminish or reject the importance of the past for the present argue against the use of creeds and confessions.
  2. Language is an appropriate means for communicating truth across time. Cultural forces that minimize or undermine the use of language argue against the use of creeds and confessions.
  3. There must be a body or institution that can authoritatively compose and enforce creeds and confessions. Anti-institutionalism in its various forms militates against the use of creeds and confessions.

These are reasonable assumptions when you think about creeds and confessions, and they are assumptions that will guide his work in the first, and second chapters of the book. Trueman argues, briefly, that those evangelicals who hold to “no creed but Christ” are more in tune with the spirit of the age than the teaching of Scripture.

What societal forces diminish the value of the past? He begins with science. His beef is not with science itself but the attitudes that scientific development fosters in people. Scientific advancement means that the present is better than the past, and (hopefully) the future will be better than the present. Unfortunately this view neglects the fact that scientific discoveries are often used in dangerous and even nefarious ways. Think the Holocaust, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and the increase of identity theft. It is not all progress and joy. This view also forgets that this progress rests on the knowledge and developments of the past. Creeds and confessions form the foundation and boundaries for the church.

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