Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Defending the Historic Creeds

Over at Into the Expectation, Fr. Matt Gunter has posted an outstanding apologetic essay on the normative character of the Creed (by which he means both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed). It's entitled "Centered in the Creed." Here are some excerpts:

To say "Just love God with your whole heart mind and soul" only begs the question "Who, or what, is this 'god' I am to love and what does it mean to love this 'god'?” As for loving neighbors (let alone enemies), why should I? And in what way? Why is it so hard to do? And, for that matter, what does it mean to be human? And what kind of a world do we live in? Any answer to those questions takes us into the realm of belief and doctrine. ...

It is inadequate to appeal to a simplistic pietism, whether in its more conservative or more liberal versions, that says "Don't bother me with doctrine, just give me Jesus". We have no access to Jesus other than the Gospels which are soaked in interpretation (doctrine) of who Jesus is and why it matters. And the creeds are the Christian guide to understanding God in light of Jesus. ...

Because it is about God, much of the Creed is metaphorical. Because it is about the God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus much of it is not metaphorical, but historical (i.e., everything between “became incarnate” and “he rose again”). That has always been the scandal of Christianity to the philosophers and Gnostics (ancient and contemporary) who want to keep God safely on the side of the metaphorical (protecting God or themselves?). But, Christians confess an historical virgin birth to an historical Mary of an historical infleshment of God who died an historical death under an historical Pontius Pilate, but lives again through an historical resurrection leaving behind an historical empty tomb – all "for us and for our salvation". ...

To say that all language about God acting in history, e.g., the virginal conception, the incarnation, and the bodily resurrection as historical, physical events, is metaphorical and only true in some spiritual sense is to try to be more spiritual than the God we know though Jesus has deigned to be. The God we know through Jesus and the creeds is a God who is prepared to get down and dirty in the material world to address the very literal, tragic mess we have made of ourselves, others, and the world. ...

Continuing to say the words of the creeds without intellectual assent and meaning them in the common sense warps language. Either we mean it or we don’t. Or we stretch the meaning of words beyond all logic. What if we used the same approach to language with the marriage vows? Can I have an affair and then tell my wife she needs to get over her unsophisticated, literalistic interpretation of “forsaking all others”? ...

Why should anyone consider us credible (a related word) if our preaching and teaching contradict the rest of what we say in worship? Or if all we have to offer is doubt and more questions? The latter is almost always a power move that hides the real answers those who claim to be about questions are actually peddling. ...

Thankfully it is not up to us to believe this or that bit of the Creed on our own - as we sometimes pray, "regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church" (1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 395). Sometimes others believe for us. In spite of any personal struggle, the Creed is the standard of Church teaching. At the very least, it is what Christians aspire to believe and conform their lives to – however inadequately.

Fr. Matt's essay goes a long way towards answering the kinds of questions and criticisms of the historic creeds that sometimes get translated into dumping the Nicene Creed from the Eucharistic liturgy, charging the creeds with being theologically defective, banning the creeds from worship in order to be more "inclusive", and other ways of rejecting the normative character of creedally orthodox Christianity.

Read it all.

2 comments:

Rick said...

This is a "keeper". Thanks for discussing it.

C. Wingate said...

I have a few comment here if you are interested. All in all an article I can wholeheartedly endorse.