Assumptions of Creedalism

Apostle's Creed (taken from pathsofreturn.com)
Apostle’s Creed (taken from pathsofreturn.com)

I have been reading Carl Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative, a book written in response to the opposition against the use of traditional creeds in light of postmodernism and the Bible-Only biblicist view. I have read the first few chapters, in which Trueman outlined the reasons why creeds are not only important but essential.

Trueman made his argument through his three basic presuppositions.

  1. The past is important, and has things of positive relevance to teach us.

This is upholding the value of tradition of the ancient faith communities. The church as an authoritative institution endorsed the creeds and confessions because of the heated debates, discussions, and controversies in the past. Trueman spent a few chapters regarding the the development of Christology during the early church.

John Polkinghorne, an Anglican bishop and a former theoretical physicist, outlined the development of the concept of Trinity in the early church history. He compared this development with that of the grand unified theory (GUT) in high-energy physics. I didn’t appreciate the neatness and comprehensiveness of Trinity until I read Polkinghorne comparing it with the history of GUT.

Biblicists have to recognize that if they need to form their own creeds (probably by copying from ancient creeds) or teach their community to form these basic Christology, a big risk to take as creeds had formed over centuries in the early church history. Biblicism is one of the main sources of heresies. Members of some cults, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Living Stream Ministry, are very familiar with the Scripture too.

The formation of creeds and confessions is highly situational. I agree with the professor with the rejection of tabula rasa that regards creeds as “ahistorical and ‘unmarked’ expressions of teaching of Scriptures.”

2. Language must be an appropriate vehicle for the stable transmission of truth across time and geographical space.

This assumption is the one under the most attack. The changes in languages, the ambiguity, the method of interpretations… and the authority of creeds, conveyed in words, are something a lot of postmodernists do not like about.

John Frame tackled a lot of concerns regarding the use of words or languages in his The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. The vagueness in language, used in daily life and in Scripture, is unavoidable, but it suffices for the communications. Sometimes we argued because we “cut the pie differently,” and thus talk past each other. Trueman made a great deal about the use of words by citing a few biblical references, about the sufficiency of words (John 1:1-3, Genesis 1:1-4; words have power, and are used by God), the human use of languages (Genesis 2, Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15; use of language by men who bear God’s image), and a form of sound words as commanded by Apostle Paul. (2 Timothy 1:9-10; Timothy, as a preacher and a teacher, should communicate the Scripture in “a form of sound words,” especially after all apostles passed away) Language was chosen by God to communicate the faith to later generations, and to protect the faith community from heresies. This is also the reasons why pastors, deacons, and elders should be able to teach in a form of sound words.

This is also highly situational.

3. There must be a body or an institution that can authoritatively compose and enforce creeds and confessions.

A creed is nothing if it is not enforced or endorsed by an authority. One of the characteristics of postmodernism is antiauthoritarianism, in which classical traditions are rejected. It is because the postmodernists feel that the written creeds are tools for the authority to oppress the weak and the underprivileged. Church disciplines are despised and deemed old-fashioned.

If one is a biblicist, he has to recognize that church traditions have such a rich history that they should submit to it. It is probably a matter of ecclesiology.

This is also highly situational.

Lastly, creeds and confessions are also highly normative, because faith is formulated in a form of sound words that people can follow easily.

  • C. R. Trueman, “The Creedal Imperative”, Crossway (2012). [Amazon]
  • J. Polkinghorne, “Quantum Physics and Theology”, Yale (2008). [Amazon]
  • J. M. Frame, “The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God: A Theology of Lordship”, P & R Publishing (1987). [Amazon]
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