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.”
If words are not adequate, we have little to no knowledge of God. We must all descend into agnosticism since God has not spoken to us truly and accurately. This does not mean that we know God exhaustively or completely. But we can understand that which he has said. If words are ‘only words’ and cannot be relied upon more than just creeds and confessions are at stake: we lose the ability to known and be known by God and one another.
“God’s saving actions are historical, but they need to be interpreted, to be explained by words, in order for the audience to grasp them.”
He then moves to “human nature as universal.” The question is about whether people from different times and different cultures have anything in common. Do we have anything in common with the authors of the Apostles’ or Nicean Creed? After all, we don’t dress like them, look like them, talk like them or have many of the same interests as them. We have slightly more in common with the Puritans who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith, but not much. Is there something called “human nature” or is it just a social construct dependent on history, society & culture?
Trueman returns to creation to remind us that there is “a distinction between Creator and creation.” Additionally, humans are “distinguished from all other creatures.” There is something that sets us apart from the rest of the creation beyond the ability to use words to communicate with one another beyond “help” or “food”. We alone were made in the image of God and given mandates regarding the rest of creation. We are the only creatures to whom He speaks.
Human nature is necessarily more basic than gender. It is not as if I am fundamentally different than my wife. What is alike is far greater than what is different. There is something that transcends “culture, location or time.” A dog is still a dog even if there are differences in breed, sex or color. People are still people though they differ in various ways. If not, then we lapse into the rhetoric of those who advocate genocide on the basis of they differences meaning that one group is less than human.
“Human nature is not simply a socio-linguistic construct. It has an ineradicable objective reality; and that reality provides the vital point of contact across cultures, times, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, skin colors, and whatever other particular we might care to think up.”
When we recognize that there is something called human nature, we regain our connection with those of other times and places before ours. We recognize that we occupy the same world that has the same basic problems even though we may have different jobs and diet. The fundamental questions they had are pretty much the same as ours. The theology they expressed does speak to our context because they are about the same God to people made in God’s image.
He them moves on to discuss the church as an institution. It is “a self-consciously organized body of people who identify with a cause and who acknowledge a structure of ministerial authority.” Most Christians at least recognize the authority of the Scriptures. Those Scriptures talk about church office which indicates there is some sort of institution of those committed to the message of Jesus Christ.
In places like Romans 10:9-10 we see that “credible Christian profession as involving a doctrinal belief and a public statement.” Early Christians believed something and confessed it to belong not only to Christ but to His Church. Our status cannot really be separated from what we believe in our hearts and what we confess with our lips. Confessions and creeds mere take those words and put them onto pages and authorize them as summarizing the faith of a group of Christians. As leaders and officers, they have the right and responsibility to do this so people inside and outside the community can know what they believe.
We see this in the pastoral epistles as well. They were to pass on the form of good doctrine to reliable men so they could pass it down to the next generation. They didn’t just hand them a copy of the Scriptures, but there is a pattern of teaching that is biblical and a pattern (or more) that is not. The officers were to learn, repeat and defend the pattern of teaching they learned, and refute the false patterns of teaching. This is the function that creeds and confession help us to do.
“An established, conventional vocabulary for orthodox teaching is thus of great help to the church in her task of educating her members and of establishing helpful and normative signposts of what is and is not orthodox.”
This is important for us to keep in mind. Too often people use idiosyncratic definitions of words which create controversy and a lack of clarity in discussion. I can think of a few groups and individuals that would do well to heed this need for conventional vocabulary in theological disputation.
Trueman has put forth some compelling reasons for contemporary Christians to re-think their views of creeds and confessions as unnecessary or dangerous. God has spoken to us his people and that can be summarized in authoritative ways for the good of his people.