The Creedal Imperative, by Carl R. Trueman. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. 208 pp. $16.99.
Carl Trueman is the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and serves as pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania. These two positions make him eminently qualified to discuss the topic of the role of confessions and creeds in the life of the church. The Creedal Imperative is a keenly written work that seeks to provide the rationale for the normative use of creeds within the worshiping community and proactively address many of the traditional arguments against such practices.
The primary target of Trueman’s ire is the frequent cry of many evangelical pastors and ministers, “We have no creed but the Bible.” He addresses this argument on numerous levels, including an exegesis of several biblical texts that imply the early church had a common core of belief statements that were propagated throughout the church. Trueman purports that those who hold to “no creed but the Bible” do in fact hold to an unwritten creed, and through denying its existence, do not allow for it to openly guide ecclesiastical practice and withstand public scrutiny. Trueman attempts to connect the aversion to the use of creeds by some in the church with such secular cultural ideals as consumerism and the strong influence that evolution holds throughout society—most notably in the preference for the new over the old. He particularly addresses churches that reject historical patterns of worship in an attempt to convey relevance to contemporary society.
In the second chapter the focus shifts away from the cultural reasons for the rejection of creedalism and attempts to demonstrate the biblical and traditional foundations for the use of creeds in Christian life and worship. While the author makes numerous salient points concerning the value of the creeds, perhaps his strongest justification is that “an established, conventional vocabulary for orthodox teaching is . . . of great help to the church in her task of educating her members and of establishing helpful and normative signposts of what is and is not orthodox” (75). Although his arguments from biblical exegesis may not be overwhelmingly convincing, he succeeds in justifying the use of creeds through a layering of several types of evidence and benefits.
Trueman proceeds to supply a historical survey of the historic creeds of Christianity beginning with the Apostles Creed, through Nicea and Chalcedon, and finally highlighting the major Reformed doctrinal statements, including the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Confession. It is within this discussion that his historical and pastoral experience is most evident. He believes the pastor’s identity and calling is inextricably connected to the orthodox statement of faith the person identifies with at his or her call to ministry. Trueman goes so far to say that the authority of any pastor is intimately connected with a formalized belief system.
The role of the creeds and corporate confessional statements as acts of worship serves as the primary emphasis of the fifth chapter. The author demonstrates that all theological development derives from the reflection upon the doxological statement that “Jesus is Lord!” and is therefore related to worship (135). The public confession of Christ’s lordship and the liturgical action of baptism form an experience whereby the individual joins belief with belonging in the Christian community. The public rehearsal of statements of beliefs, creeds, and confession serves as a vehicle for spiritual formation and church renewal.
Carl Trueman has offered a volume that is worthy of study and application for individual believers, worship leaders, and congregations. While he at times can come across as dismissive toward those who hold differing attitudes, Trueman’s arguments for the use of creeds and confession within the doxological life of the congregation are compelling. The resurgence of traditional forms and elements of worship such as liturgies and confessional statements necessitates careful theological and historical reflection on their continued usefulness to the worshiping community. The author argues that the cry of “No creed but the Bible” be replaced with the adherence to the “faith once handed down to the saints.” These traditional formulations of belief statements serve as a source of identity, unity, praise to God, and an enduring foundation throughout tumultuous societal change and theological discourse.
David M. Toledo
First Baptist Church