Been reading Carl R. Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative. I love Trueman… even when I totally and completely disagree with him (which seems like 50% of the time). He makes so many wonderful points that are historically informed and hilariously obvious, especially related to ecclesiology.
Every so often I hear people, often those who I’d call “radical postmoderns,” say that the Church should do away with creeds, confessions, or statements of faith. Since there are significant epistemological problems (challenges?) with foundationalism (no argument here), we should just assume that there is no way to properly construct or maintain doctrinal statements… or so the argument goes. These types often give the impression that they have no need for doctrinal statements and dismiss them wholesale.
But the fact of the matter is that everyone has statements of belief, either out in the open or under the radar. Those that say they have no creeds or need for creeds do, in fact, have them. This in no way, shape, or form overlooks the need for the Church to consider the function of these creeds or how creeds should be questioned and/or developed. My point is simply that everyone has them. And, I think, the Church should have them. As Trueman writes:
“I want to argue that creeds and confessions are thoroughly consistent with the belief that Scripture alone is the unique source of revelation and authority. Indeed, I want to go somewhat further: I want to argue that creeds and confessions are, in fact, necessary for the well-being of the church, and that churches that claim not to have them place themselves at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to holding fast to that form of sound words which was so precious to the aging Paul as he advised his young protégé, Timothy. Linked to this latter point, I want to make the case that it is at least arguable, based on Scripture, that the need for creeds and confessions is not just a practical imperative for the church but is also a biblical imperative.”
Besides the biblical and theological reasons for creeds, not to mention the historical reasons, I see many practical reasons too. I have yet to see a healthy expression of a “doctrineless” church. In fact, it’s often just the opposite.
At any rate, The Creedal Imperative is a really thoughtful book in regards to the importance of doctrinal statements. While it is all the rage to deconstruct creeds and to point out either their epistemological challenges, Trueman has some excellent insights for churches and denominations to consider.
The challenges, as I’ve hinted at, are related to how these statements of faith should function and how they are to be ongoing expressions. If someone disagrees with aspects of a statement of faith, what is their standing? As we learn or discover historical facts, shouldn’t there be a way to “update” or “improve” our theological expressions? And what if the language that we use now changes enough in the next hundred years that our doctrinal statement becomes useless? There’s a huge difference between the timeliness of God’s authoritative Scriptures and our attempt at summarizing biblical truth.
So here are my questions:
- How important are doctrinal statements?
- What should the function of a creed be?
- Are there differences between the ancient ecumenical creeds and those of modern denominations? If so, what are they?
- How should creeds be improved? What’s the process?
As always, I’d love your thoughts and opinions! By the way, if you haven’t already read Andrew Williams’ piece on the role of the Holy Spirit in postmodern hermeneutics, you need to do that!