The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman
The mantra “No Creed but the Bible” has been common among pastors who seek to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching but remain misguided in their attempts. On the scene comes Carl Trueman, professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary, seeking to bring a breath of fresh air by writing a book on the importance of creeds. The unique aspect of this book is the way Trueman orders his writing on the creeds; one, he begins with the cultural case against the creeds, moves to the foundations and early church teaching on the creeds and then brings together concepts of usefulness and doxology in light of the classic Protestant creedal formulations. Why does he order the book this way? By focusing on the issues of the past, language and the authority of institutions (church), Trueman builds a bridge between the countercultural nature of these concepts in relationship to creeds and the voice of opposition that we find even in the church regarding these matters.
In writing about the disappearance of “human nature” linking one person from a prior age to this age, Trueman writes, “A world in which human nature is merely a construct put together by the individual or be the specific community in which the individual is placed is a world where historical documents, such as creeds, can have no transcendent significance but are doomed to be of merely local or antiquarian interest” (31). There is no reason for us to trust some dead white guy who rode on horses if we believe that human nature begins with the individual ‘today.’ What I enjoyed about Trueman’s forays into such subjects as language, technology and the disappearance of human nature is his return time and again to the force that beliefs have devastating consequences on how humans behave. If creeds are to have any foundation for Christian thought and reflection, they must begin with a trustworthy account of these things; language, history, and authority structures.
Dr. Trueman in the rest of the book lays the foundations for seeing creeds as necessary in the life of the church by explaining the early church’s interaction with creedal formulations, their use in Protestant circles and the practical impact of seeing creeds through the lens of praise. At one point in discussing the Heidelberg Catechism question 1 and 129, he laments the plight of many from Protestantism back into Rome. Yet, Trueman posits the one fundamental difference between the two faiths by writing, “Whatever the reasons, most Protestants would concede that Rome has certain attractions. Nevertheless, the one thing that every Protestant who converts to Rome loses is assurance of faith” (124). The assurance that our salvation is grounded upon the work of Christ and cannot be lost is a hallmark of the creeds, including the Heidelberg and Westminster confessions. There is a kind of emotional and spiritual profit from creeds which clearly indicate key doctrines like our assurance of faith before God (part of this stems from the Protestant emphasis on union with Christ).
Lastly, Dr. Trueman is careful to delineate the usefulness of creeds in the context of worship. He indicates that the creeds help the church focus on what is the main thing in a succinct manner that is palatable to our modern senses (167-168). Trueman goes on to indicate the usefulness of creeds in relationship to elders and their training. Not only is it important for the ministers to use creeds to help aid in understanding the biblical story, but by using creeds in drawing out the key features of the faith actually put elders in the role as better leaders and equippers of the faith.
This book was a great look into the impact that creeds have upon our theology and practice in the church. Rather than jumping into the creeds, Trueman provides a rationale for why they are often rejected and then goes onto provide a biblical case for their importance.
Much thanks to Crossway for the review copy of this book.