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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Technology is another societal force that diminishes the value of the past. Technology has been increasing at an astounding rate in the last 100 years as a trip to Epcot made clear to me when compared to my grandmother’s birth. In the past, the older generations passed on wisdom and expertise to the younger generations. With the rise of technology this has been reversed. When I was younger I was tech savvy. Then in the late ’90’s technology passed me by as I didn’t just have to figure out VCRs and CDs but cell phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, routers and the list goes on. The young are seen as in the know and older folks just aren’t.
He also includes consumerism, the idea that life is enhanced by acquiring more goods & services in the future. Manufacturers build in obsolescence into their products. Newer is better (as people wait in line for days for the newest iPhone) and older is just irrelevant. Creeds, being old, are seen as just that to many of today’s Christians.
Another great shift is the “disappearance of human nature.” With the rise of relativism and pluralism, people are seen increasingly more as products of their culture and time. Our culture (especially politicians) exaggerates the differences between people and minimizes or denies that which makes us distinctly human and not just a heterosexual Brit male living in Pennsylvania (like Trueman). Often our connection and similarities with the people who wrote the creeds and confessions is minimized so people can make them irrelevant.
“A world in which human nature is merely a construct put together by the individual or by the specific community in which the individual is placed is a world where historical documents, such as creeds, can have no transcendent significance but are doomed to be of merely local or antiquarian significance.”
There has also been a war on words in our culture. In the realm of literature there has been deconstruction in which the reader, instead of the author, determines the meaning. This means that our differing views are apparently equally valid so that the ancient documents don’t really mean much or at least can’t be authoritative. We also see the rise of spin, particularly in politics and media so that, again, words are not trustworthy. Since creeds and confessions are all about words they don’t mean much and can’t really teach us much.
Trueman argues a new mysticism has arisen in the church- that which I feel is true- as well as a new pragmatism. This means that truth is person relative, and it must be useful to be important. Both of these devalue creeds and confessions since they capture the what a community believes is objectively true and the use must be seen through contemplation since they are not instruction manuals. The rise of “how-to” or “5-step” Christianity illustrates this point.
Anti-authoritarianism continues to dominate our society, as long as those authorities are significantly older than us. It is as if our culture is filled with teenagers who are certain that their parents are stupid (forgetting the fact that they will discover that they really did know a few things). So while traditional forms of authority are rejected, there are new authorities in bloggers, boy bands and talk shows. Trueman really doesn’t like boy bands or bloggers by the way. But he has a point- wisdom is no longer gained by experience and hard work. It is granted to those fortunate enough gain celebrity status which is about as significant as staying in a Holiday Inn Express.
Lastly he talks about the fear of exclusion. The spirit of the age is both tolerant and inclusive, except of the people deemed intolerant due to their traditional views. Evangelicalism really struggles with this fearing that doctrine divides. Unfortunately the tent gets so big it becomes meaningless. Creeds and confessions are antithetical to this. Creeds and confessions define who is in, and who is out. They do this in an explicit way. Those against creeds and confessions still exclude people, but it is done implicitly because there is no clear standard. Or it is done on faulty grounds which often include political correctness or theological deviance.
This is a good first chapter that expounds helpfully on the presuppositions that are usually behind the rejection of creeds and confessions. If there is nothing else that is helpful this is enough. But since I’ve already read on, there is much more that is helpful, as we shall see.