Friday, May 30, 2014

No Creed But Christ?

Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012). 205pp. Paperback. $12.75

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan M. McGraw

Many today regard it as a virtue to have “no creed but the Bible.” While appearing to reflect a high view of Scripture, this trend has devastating consequences that threaten both the well-being and, in many cases, the very being of the church.

Carl Trueman’s primary assertion in The Creedal Imperative is that all Christians have a creed or confession, though many refuse to write theirs down. Ten people in a room may state that they believe in the Bible alone, yet when questioned, they may give us ten different versions of what they believe that the Bible says. Rejecting creeds and confessions renders the faith of the church undefinable and leaves ministers without any tangible standard of doctrinal accountability. Trueman makes a simple yet profound case from Scripture for the necessity of extra-biblical creeds. The book bears his characteristically gripping style and witty observations.

In this book, Trueman makes good use of his talent for showing the influence of culture on contemporary Christianity. Among other things, he demonstrates how culture has created a bias against drawing lessons from history and recognizing authority. While older treatments on creeds and confessions are readily accessible and biblically satisfying, this feature makes Trueman’s work stand out.

However, in one place, Trueman overstates the role of confessions. He asserts that it is difficult to argue that items excluded from the confession of a church are “of any importance” and that “the church has no more need to have an opinion on this matter than what color wallpaper is best for the fellowship hall” (179). This argument proves too much. Ministers frequently hold views that are much more important than church wallpaper while being much less important than confessional matters, such as baptism. For example, it is wise for churches not to require that their pastors be exclusively amillennial or postmillennial, or to mandate a position on head coverings in worship. Yet the Bible has something to say about both of these subjects. Everything that the Bible teaches is important, but not all that the Bible teaches should become part of a confession of faith, which is designed to unite Christians in common faith and practice.

No creed in itself can sustain the orthodoxy of a church. Only the Holy Spirit can do so by maintaining the spiritual vitality of her ministers and members. However, rejecting creeds and confessions may unintentionally denigrate the Bible that we are so eager to protect. May the triune God use this book to restore a more stable, clear, and vibrant faith in His church.