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Entries in Trueman (3)

Wednesday
Oct242012

Book Reflection - Creedal Imperative

A few years ago, I sat in a church service where I was presented with a badly acted, awkwardly done skit. It occurred right in the midst of the worship. Furthermore, its purpose was not to demonstrate a spiritual truth; it was to advertise a women's event coming up. The laughter which ensued was troubling to me. I chafed at the contradiction. If I was to ask why we don't repeat the Apostles Creed, or even acknowledge to be a useful tool (assuming that people in the congregation know what it is), I would be looked at with suspicion. To mention a formal creed is to be worldly. Those are the words of men, don't you know. My struggle came when I could not justify the welcome presentation of a ridiculous skit yet a reject of a creed. That is how things operate in my church. I love the people there, and I am committed to serving there, but that sentiment that it is more acceptable to do a skit than recite a creed has long bothered me.

When I saw that Carl Trueman was coming out with the book The Creedal Imperative which challenged the notion “no creed but the Bible,” I knew I would want to read it. And I did. And he articulated far better than I ever could why it is that I chafe at the contradiction of allowing skits but denying a creed. 

Trueman's purpose in the book is to demonstrate why creeds are not only important and useful, but that within the Bible itself, we see evidence of creedal language. I believe he accomplished what he set out to do. He begins with discussing why creedalism is so objected to in our culture. He points out the cultural bias against history, authority, and the sufficiency of words themselves. He returns often to those themes, especially the bias against history. Trueman, as a historian, is obviously in favour of giving weight to history, and as always, he demonstrates exactly why it is important. 

He spends two chapters discussing the history of creedalism beginning with the early church and moving into the years of the Reformation. In those chapters, he points out how the Reformers relied on he work done by the early church fathers. The language developed in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed gave a language that was taken into later confessions like the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Confession. If you are interested in church history, you will really enjoy those chapters. His last two chapters deal with the use of confessions as praise and the usefulness of creeds and confessions in other areas of church life.

I really enjoyed his chapter about using creeds as praise. In addition to looking askance at creeds, the church I attend would cringe at the word “liturgy.” To use such a word in general conversation would cause many people to assume one was returning to Rome. It's just too “popish.” Quite a few years ago, as I looked at the order of the service, and saw that the dismissal of Children's Church was always at the same point in the service, and that often the pastor opened his prayer with the same phrases, I realized that we do have a liturgy; it just isn't written down formally. It wasn't much of a leap for me to see that all churches have a creed, it just isn't formalized. And that is at the heart of Trueman's book. He introduces that point early:

I do want to make the point here that Christians are not 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. (p.15) 

Of course the objection with regard to creeds and confessions is that it can quickly become formalism. Well, so can the unwritten creeds that we say and do. Just think of the phrase, “a hedge of protection.” I don't know if your church uses that phrase or not, but that comes up often when we pray for missionaries on their way to the field, or to families traveling. It can become formalism just as easily.  Trueman points out that it is not the fault of the creeds if people don't use them well:

Thus, let us make sure that when we criticize the recitation of creeds for it formalism we lay the blame where it truly belongs. If such recitation is mere formalism, it is not the fault of the creeds themselves. They are no more to blame for being used in a merely formal manner than Shakespeare can be blamed if people use copies of his plays to blow heir noses. Nor is this formalism the fault of the church that establishes such use of the creeds in the worship services. Every church has its liturgy; that in itself does not determine whether the liturgy will be used well or badly. Any set form of words – from a hymn book to a prayer book to a creed – is vulnerable to formalism. (p.150) 

I would add that the Power Point can become formalism, too.

Some churches say that creeds don't allow for spontaneity. Trueman counters with the argument that the very act of picking out hymns and practicing them beforehand means there is no true spontaneity. He offers this aside from the observation that nowhere in Scripture do we see an exaltation of spontaneity. We do see, however, in Scripture, calls for order and sound words in our worship. It is Trueman's contention that in looking for sound words, one can find no better place than the creeds. 

When I began this book, I would say that Trueman was already singing to the choir. I have long thought that recitation of a creed would be a lot better than singing “Celebrate, Jesus, Celebrate” fifty times in a row. He articulated very well thoughts that were fuzzy shadows in my thinking, but had no structure for expression. 

One cannot get away from the importance of the church's history. That much is evident in this book. Trueman writes unapologetically as a historian; as a lover of history, I really appreciated this. In a day and age where it seems like anything goes in a worship service, this book provides a lot of food for thought about how we conduct worship and how we regard it. I could share a lot more about it, but you would be better served by reading the book yourself. At 197 pages, it is not a laborious read.

Tuesday
Nov012011

Reformation begins in the pulpit

Carl Trueman in his book Reformation:  Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, discusses the place of the Word in the Reformation.  The chapter is aptly entitled, "The Oracles of God."  He asserts that church reformation begins in the pulpit:

The Word written and the Word poreached are both central to Christianity and are not simply cultural forms which can be shed when culture moves on.

I liked his observation here:

Whenever experts on communication might like to tell us about the best ways of communicating with modern/postmodern people, we would do well to bear in mind James Packer's point that preaching is not simply communication; it is far more than that, in that it actually brings Christ, God himself, to the congregation.  The sermon may be made up of words, but what takes place is far more than the mere transmission of information; the Holy Spirit uses those words to point to Christ, to create faith in Christ, and thus to unite individuals to Christ.  It is only as Word and Spirit work together that people are confronted with the claims of Chist in a way that truly challenges and changes them.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  It is no mere advertising pitch - which is what, it seem to me, so many of the postmodern evangelical gurus think it is.  Indeed, it has become almost commonplace to argue that the reason individuals do no become Christians is because the message is being communicated in the wrong way.  Thus, the problem is made to appear less the rebellious human heart and more the inadequacy of the communication method.  Such an attitude speaks volumes about the way in which the underlying philosophies of consumerism and western capitalism have infiltrated the theology of the evangelical church and found fertile ground in a theological climate which has largely repudiated the biblical, Pauline and Augustinian understand of God's grace and human nature for an insipid Pelagianism and a superficial undertanding of Christian conversion.

I think the idea of finding "alternate" methods of communicating the gospel is behind those cheesy, badly acted skits we sometimes see in church. I think skits can be powerful venues for communication, but I don't like to see them in a worship service.

Tuesday
Oct252011

Ramifications of the theology of the cross

In Carl Trueman's Reformation:  Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, we learn a little about what is called "the theology of the cross" as developed by Martin Luther.   Luther spoke out against the theologians of his day whose theology was a "theology of glory," as opposed to the cross:

What Luther is rebelling against here is the tendency that he perceived among theologians in his own day to create a picture of God which reflected merely humanity's own expectations of what God should be like.  That is what he had in mind when he referred to a theologian of glory.

The theologian of the cross began with God's revelation of himself, not with human expectations.  This teaching was a major part of Luther's theology, but Trueman believes it has been somewhat lost.  This focus on the cross leads us to see clearly the reality of suffering.  Trueman clarifies:

The theology of the cross is more than just a way of looking at God, however.  For Luther, it brings to the fore both the depth of God's love for sinful humanity, that God himself was willing to undergo such suffering, weakness and humiliation on behalf of helpless sinners, and also underlines that suffering and weakness is a central part of the Christian's strength experience here on earth.

This reality, the weakness and the suffering, is part and parcel of the Christian life:

True Christian experiences centre on the cross and involve an acceptance, if not the willing embrace, of the suffering, weakness and marginalisation which inevitably come to those who follow in the footsteps of the Master.

Society, however, has opposing values, and it is in this contrast that there is trouble.  Whereas society would rather have a gospel of self-fulfillment, the theology of the cross seeks to identify with the suffering servant.  Churches ought to be influenced by suffering, not the self-fulfillment.  Trueman outlines a number of consequences for this thinking.  I liked what he had to say here:

In addition, let our churches be places where those who have made themselves weak for Christ's sake can find support and comfort.  Churches are full of a variety of weak people, be they parents who have given up an extra income to provide their pre-school children with a Christian home evironment or those who have chosen a life of celibacy in order to fight same-sex temptations.  Yet our pulpits are often silent on these issues, quietly projecting an image of Christianity as one long street party.  But those who choose the difficult path of obedience in any walk of life, be it in terms of work or sexuality or whatever, need to be supported pastorally, need to be reminded that their sacrifice is worthwhile, that the weakness they feel and experience as part of a principled stand is both inevitable and will reap God's ultimate blessing, if not in the way we might humanly expect.

I liked his encouragement to support those who have chosen to walk in ways that demonstrate their weakness.  We don't like to admit that we're weak.  Everyone likes to look as if everything is always going swimmingly, because if they aren't, we begin to think we're doing something wrong.  Especially here in the West where we are so well-off, it's hard to accept suffering as anything but bad.  There is much more in this chapter that I would love to share, but I think you just need to read the book!