The Quest for the Creed: What the Apostles Really Believed, and Why it Matters by Dwight Longenecker
First, I have to admit that I really enjoyed Dwight’s writing style. Early on in the book he breaks apart the country club and social interest group idea of faith by saying, “To believe in all things visible and invisible is to accept the whole realm of all that is natural and supernatural….It means being full of wonder at all things invisible, from atoms, memes and miracles to angels, molecules and monsters. It means that the visible and invisible realms are intermingled in marvel and mystery” (9). Dwight catches onto the radiant way God has made all of creation to reflect the character and purpose of the Creator himself. Yet, Dwight goes even further and inclines us to think that taking the ultimate risk of believing requires a cost. He writes, “We might be lead down a trail that demands “not less than everything. We may have to face even death itself….It is true that the way of belief requires both ecstasy and agony. To love requires the hatred of all that is not love. Joy can never be real without sorrow, and new life is only available to those who are willing to die” (12-13). So, the first step in the creed of ‘I believe’ brings ut to the real face of suffering, death, and joy all commingled and joined at the hip.
Dwight has a way of cutting to the grain of the issue in this book. After summarizing some beliefs about God as Father being outdated, outmoded and too patriarchal, he cuts to the issue. He writes, “For is God is “the Father Almighty,” then I am faced with someone who cannot be ignored. …but if the Force has a Face, then it may be looking for me…If God really is “Father,” then I am in a relationship with him whether I like it or not” (25). The weight of the personal nature of God comes front and center as we examine that God is Father to us. Dwight helpfully points out earlier in the chapter that if our concept of father starts with what we know of fathers, then we will woefully fall short of seeing how God is truly our Father. We may run away from our Father at times or shake our fist unflinchingly at Him but ‘we must first run away before we can really turn toward home’ (26). What is still fascinating about Dwight’s writing is that he is quick to cut through the smoke and mirrors of contemporary views of atheism and get to the heart of the issue.
Furthermore, Dwight has an uncanny knack for bringing together the thrill and delight of belief. He writes, “It is this full-blooded religion with a belief in other worlds and spiritual beings and a certain uncertainty that gives me a thrill in the mind and a chill of terror and delight, and makes me wonder by day and tremble by night” (28). Believing that God the Father is the maker of heaven and earth presupposes that one believes already in a spiritual and material realm. Yet, for Dwight, this belief in both realms is a rush of blood through the body and a jolt of energy to the mind. Casting aside the locative sense of heaven and hell, believing in the spiritual dimension is like a putting on a new pair of spectacles that opens up the world to you. The intersection between the spiritual and material is no longer segregated by a pseudo-scientific worldview, but is enhanced by seeing material things (even the Eucharist) as inundated with spiritual significance. I wonder at times if some people castigate and throw off any spiritual dimension because they think that if they do believe they will become some fringe loony. All along the way Dwight postures a man of Missouri who is always looking for the Show-Me way of the world rather than the interaction between spiritual and material.
Chapter 16 on the communion of the saints was one chapter in which I disagreed with much written here, frankly, because I am a Protestant. Yet, Dwight’s idea that “the Catholic expression of Christianity is that his communion with everything that is true, beautiful and holy is a reality. Take any tradition or belief at all from any religion, and if is beautiful and true, or even if it is just fun or fascinating or useful, it can be found within Catholicism” (179). This kind of thinking, I think, betrays even the nature of the Creed in which Dwight speaks in his book. One can go no further than Vatican II and some of the documents that came out of that meeting to see how the Catholic faith has become big tent even in its understanding of salvation (universalism). This kind of teaching is neither beautiful nor true. However, I think it speaks of the universal message that Catholicism wishes to spread, that the faith is for everyone.
I really enjoyed this book and think it will serve many well who read its pages. For Catholics, in particular, this book will serve to bolster their faith.
Thanks to SpeakEasy and Crossroad Publishing Company for the copy of this book in exchange for review.