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.”
The creeds and confessions help us to re-integrate Christian theology and Christian experience. They begin to shape our thinking, helping us to put the pieces of Scripture together as summaries of the great narrative. They also help us maintain Trinitarian worship. This is more important than we often realize. Churches can struggle to maintain a Trinitarian focus in worship. The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds stress the Trinity (this is my one frustration with the Westminster Confession used in my current denomination, there is no separate chapter on the Holy Spirit. He deserves one.) We need regular reminders that we worship the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
Trueman then defends their use against the charges of formalism. Formalism is in the heart and mind of the individual Christian, not in the liturgy or confession. Regular patterns are good (didn’t God establish patterns in 24-hour days, 7-day weeks, 4 seasons in a year) while chaos in worship is not beneficial to anyone. Yes, there is always the risk of formalism due to the sinfulness of human hearts, as Scripture warns.
The Confession of Faith serve as regular summaries of the church’s doctrine. They help us to avoid extremes. They also help us to grasp the plot line of the Scriptures.
“When the Word is read in the congregation, the claims of the world are repudiated and the claims of God are asserted in opposition to them. … Singing praise to God is denying praise to the world and thus denying the world’s claims upon us.”
The final chapter is on the usefulness of creeds and confessions. They are subordinate to Scripture, but we can recognize that some put them on equal footing with Scripture. Since our hearts are idol factories, we can easily make them into an idol such that no deviation is allowed (this is the problem, in my mind, of strict subscriptionism). As human documents which are to summarize Scripture they are always subject to revision as our understanding of Scripture grows.
Having a confession “delimits the power of the church.” The pastor is now accountable for all that he teaches (as are other teachers in the church). They are not free to change their minds from week to week or month to month. The creed sets to boundaries for what we are to teach people. If we go off on personal passions, we exceed our authority.
Overall Trueman’s book is excellent and helpful. At times it is a bit repetitive, but that is to be expected (I’ve noticed it in my own manuscript) as a pedagogical tool. He has a few rants (particularly bloggers and boy bands), but they don’t distract from the strength of the book. This book would benefit confessional Calvinists like myself and those who struggle to understand why we should use creeds and confessions.