I have developed somewhat of a longing for more of the rich Tradition of the Christian faith. I was raised in a low Pentecostal denomination and no church I’ve attended with any frequency has utilized much of the deep symbols, smells or creeds of the faith. The only possible exception is my current church which has the Apostles Creed in our Sunday morning bulletin.
In The Creedal Imperative, Carl R. Trueman has set out to make a case for why Christians should pick up and begin using the Creeds again.
Trueman begins by attempting to analyze the cultural trends that he believes have created an anti-creedal environment. These include a devaluing of the past, a suspicion of words as a trustworthy form of communication, antiauthoritarianism and the fear of exclusivism.
Trueman believes that churches which are anti-creedal and which claim to believe that they are “Bible churches” and “Bible Christians,” have actually been influenced by the cultural trends he analyzed above (one objection he claims to hear all of the time is that the Bible does not contain any creeds).
The rest of the book is designed to 1) show that the Bible does contain creeds and that words are God’s way of revealing himself and his presence; 2) creeds played a large role in the early church; 3) doctrines unite, they only divide when some defect from them; 4) creeds are created by institutional church authority; 5) and they are very useful for today.
ASSESSMENT AND CRITIQUE
Sadly, the book is heavy, in the sense that it is heavy-handed.
The first chapter I found to be rather pithily, judging too harshly, too quickly, and in my option, too cavalierly, some of the factors involved. For example, one of the reasons he believes the Creeds are frowned upon today is because of an antiauthoritarian ethos in our society. Fair enough. There probably is a lot of truth to that. Unfortunately, it is when reaching for specifics that Trueman lays down his misguided hand.
For example, he lays a great deal of antiauthoritarian blame on the door steps of the blogosphere. Again, there may be a grain of truth in that too. But Trueman goes on to blame the very ability and allowance of blog comments for the problem. He justifies his own use of a blog, reformantion21, on the grounds that, for him, it is simply an online professional journal which does not allow people to leave comments. He ridicules someone who would leave a comment like “Fantastic stuff guys !!! ”
He also targets Wikipedia by ridiculing a blogger who commented, after learning something there, that “it had completely changed his life.” Trueman mocks the idea: “The point was ridiculous… a most unlikely scenario, methinks.” The is a very ungenerous reading of the social media world. Clearly the blogger was expressing his intense excitement for having learned something (Wikipedia is said to be as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica) and his statement was not meant to be read literally. Even if it were, such an example hardly deserved being in this book. In a word, The Creedal Imperative stoops to the level of petty.
From reading the first chapter, one gets the impression that Trueman longs for the golden years of 1990, before the internet enabled common folk such a reaching and expressive platform.
I also question his claim that Christians who reject creeds do so on the grounds that they are not found in the Bible. I’ve grown up in non-creedal churches and I’ve never heard that objection. Rather they would say that the Bible contains some creeds, and it is for that reason that those specific creeds are authoritative. The creeds in the Bible are authoritative precisely because they are in the Bible; having creeds in the Bible does not make all creeds authoritative, as Trueman seems to imply. That would be the argument to address. Instead it seems Trueman has set up a straw man to blow over.
I also question Trueman’s claim that a church hierarchy, authority, institution is required to make creeds that are authoritative. This claim is made on the heel of him showing that the Bible – in particular the New Testament – contains creeds. This analysis fails to pay due respect to the fact that the church was not an institution at the time of the writing of most (probably all) of the New Testament. Trueman fails to appreciate the organic nature of the first century context. A creed – like the oral gospels and other word-of-mouth traditions that helped sustain the fledgling church – were authoritative because they were organically received and passed around, not because a group of church leaders, men of authority or an institution called “The Church” gathered around a large table and scribed them out twenty years after the ascension.
Finally – for the sake of brevity – I take issue with one of his main premises. Trueman believes that the church is becoming more anticreedal. I’m not sure that is the case. For sure Christians in North America are growing in their suspicion of institutional church, and for good reason (Trueman’s defence of the institutional church including his defence of pulpit preaching fails to address the arguments raised by Frank Viola and others). But that does not mean that Christians are growing in hostility toward the great Tradition of the church and her creeds. In fact there is a trend today of young Christians joining liturgically high churches – especially Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Others may not be taking that route, but are still growing in appreciation of liturgical traditions. One thinks of Shane Claiborne’s book, Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals or of the Ancient Practices Series that includes progressive and emergent authors such as Scot McKnight, Brian McLaren and Philis Tickle and others.
In the end this book could have been written in such a way that did not take repeated cheap-shots at every practice (Christian or otherwise) that the author finds personally distasteful. I also found it a dry chore of a read with a lot of unnecessary rambling.
It should be noted that I agree with the author’s overall intent. Personally, I would like to incorporate more traditions of the Church into my church, family and personal life, including the creeds. Perhaps at the end of the day I am simply disappointed that this book failed to live up to my expectations.