Apparently, this book is too cool for a subtitle. Carl Trueman has a market on cool by rebelling against cool. Especially skinny jeans. But I digress. I’m thinking something like, “The Indicatives are Imperative.” But that’s just me. Does your church catechize or teach with creeds? Sure it does. Trueman makes the case that all churches and all people have a creed, whether they admit it or not. “No creed but the Bible” just doesn’t exist, and is a creed in itself (maybe that’s a good subtitle).
He points out that as soon as you ask someone what the Bible is about, they answer with a summation of their belief, a creed. So when someone is insisting that they do not have a creed, they “are being unintentionally disingenuous: they still have their creed or confession; they just will not write it down and allow you to look at it and scrutinize it in the light of Scripture. They are in a sense more authoritarian than the papacy (161).”
Although that line may sting a bit, the tone of this book actually shows both Trueman’s passion for history and his pastoral side. He argues for the biblical imperative of the need for creeds and confessions. One of the main Scriptures he uses is 2 Tim. 1:13, “Follow the pattern of sound words you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” This is what the creeds and confessions help the church to do. They give us a tried and true vocabulary to help the church teach what is orthodox.
Many believe that creeds divide, or that they take away from the authority of Scripture. But Trueman aims to show that “Christians aren’t divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true” (15). Our expressed creeds give us a platform to sharpen one another’s biblical understanding.
For those of you who expect a not-so fetching critique of the evangelical culture from Trueman, you won’t be let down, especially in Chapter 1; “The Cultural Case Against Creeds and Confessions”. This is a great chapter that emphasizes the value of history, language, and the church. While the tone is more teacherly and pastoral in tone, Trueman’s Truemanisms do tend to seep out here and there. My favorite is when he gives us his response to a student in one of his classes on the ancient church when she questioned the value of her attendance. After all, “’some documents written in the seventh century seem to have very little to do with’ her ministry.” I can only imagine the tension that her classmates felt in the room following that brazen comment. But Trueman’s response is perfect…”I suggested with every ounce of gentleness and tact I could muster that she might perhaps better ask herself not so much what relevance they have to her ministry but what relevance her ministry had to the church” (25, 26). This interaction reveals much of the individualistic attitudes that our culture holds regarding the church.
The reader will get a lesson on “The Foundations of Creedalism”, “The Early Church”, and the “Classical Protestant Confessions” (chapters 2-4) that is worth the price of the book. I especially enjoyed Chapter 5, “Confession as Praise”. There are many gems in this chapter. Right in the beginning we read, “Historically, one could make the argument that Christian theology as a whole is one long, extended reflection upon the meaning and significance of that most basic doxological declaration, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ and thus an attempt to provide a framework for understanding Christian praise” (135). What we know about God affects our praise and worship. The last chapter before the conclusion is “On the Usefulness of Creeds and Confessions”. In it, Trueman proves his case of the creedal imperative.
Unfortunately, a lot of people I know who don’t like creeds also don’t like reading books. And that is a shame, because this one is excellent. It has certainly strengthened my resolve and enlarged my affection for the great creeds and confessions that have been faithfully handed down to the church.
Aimee Byrd is a housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV. She and her husband, Matt, have 3 children. She blogs at Housewife Theologian where this article first appeared; it is used with her permission.