“Modern culture has not really rendered creeds and confessions untrue; far less has it rendered them unbiblical. But it has rendered them implausible and distasteful. They are implausible because they are built on old-fashioned notions of truth and language. They make the claim that a linguistic formulation of a state of affairs can have a binding authority beyond the mere text on the page, that creeds actually refer to something, and that that something has a significance for all of humanity. They thus demand that individuals submit, intellectually and morally, to something out- side of themselves, that they listen to the voices from the church from other times and other places. They go directly against the grain of an antihistorical, antiauthoritarian age. Creeds strike hard at the cherished notion of human autonomy and of the notion that I am exceptional, that the normal rules do not apply to me in the way they do to others.
They are distasteful for the same reason: because they make old-fashioned truth claims; and to claim that one position is true is automatically to claim that its opposite is false. God cannot exist and not exist at the same time; he cannot be three persons and one person at the same time, at least not without unhelpful and hopeless equivocation (despite the claims of some Reformed theologians to the contrary). Truth claims thus imply a hierarchy whereby one position is better than another and where some beliefs, and thus those who hold those beliefs, are excluded. That may not be a very tasteful option in today’s society but, as noted above, even the modern pluralist West still excludes those that it considers, if not wrong, then at least distasteful and unpleasant.
We are naïve as Christians if we think that our thinking is not shaped by the cultural currents that surround us. Of course, we cannot abstract ourselves from our context; we cannot cease to be embodied individuals, each with our own personal biographies, who live within a complex network of social relations that influence the way we live and think and speak. Yet to know something of our context is to make ourselves aware of some of the invisible forces that have such an unconscious influence on us. Once we know they are there, we at least have the possibility of engaging in critical reflection, which will allow us to some extent to liberate ourselves from them—or, if not to liberate ourselves, at least to make us more aware of why we think the way we do.” (Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 48-49.)
Among the various Christian “2012 Books of the Year” lists, I think Carl Trueman’s, The Creedal Imperative, should have had greater prominence. Many are familiar with Trueman’s exhortation to see the historic creeds and confessions as a means of preventing us from reinventing the faith in very successive generation of the church. Instead of reinventing, we can contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and prevent ourselves from creating and embracing false teachings and heresies as we pass the truth to the three and four generations below us.
Some familiar with Trueman’s writing style might be turned off by the cultured wit and sagacious drollness of his previous works. Certainly Trueman’s tongue is carved in the mold of his Wittenberg hero; unquestionably he has the mind of his Puritan champion. Yet the sophisticated from-across-the-pond-humor is toned down in this work. Trueman writes with great accessibility for the average reading believer humbly seeking the truth in a walk with the Lord.
I would encourage the many in pulpits and pews to ponder deeply Truman’s arguments for a recovery of the creeds in the use of church (and family) life. Having used the Westminster Shorter Catechism with my own children, and the Heidleberg with my Baptist (!) congregation and my family, I certainly understand the case for the creeds. My children have a bedrock of theology from which they can judge all other claims of truth. Our discussions of theology have been rich, from prior to their teen years throughout their young adult years. I hope this will mean each of the churches of their adult attendance will have a family in membership that understands the truth of the Gospel. With Trueman’s work, in the Lord’s grace, might many churches experience this joy as the norm among their memberships.
Trueman, “T-t-t-talkin’ Bout My Generation (But Thinking About the One After Next),” reformation 21
Trueman, “A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished,” reformation 21
Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos: Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe).
J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way.