Friday is for Friends

The Third way knows the difference between essentials and non-essentials and lets the Way be shaped by the essentials. In the second chp of Adam Hamilton’s  Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics we hear an appeal for Christians to focus on essentials.

To permit non-essentials to shape our concerns, our relations, and our reputations is, to use the words of Jesus, to “strain gnats.” Hamilton here speaks of Matthew 23:34: “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” Whether we think of the Pope’s statement about non-RC churches being defective, the American Episcopal leaders forcing their own way, the neo-Fundamentalists elevating women in ministry to a central idea, and the neo-Reformed contending that only the Reformed are truly faithful … we could go on … each of these somehow makes non-essentials the essential thing and each makes the non-essential what divides Christians from Christians.

Question of the day: What would be your top <strike>give</strike> five “essential beliefs” of the Christian faith? Is the Apostles’ Creed enough for you? What else might you want to add? Anything to subtract?

Adam Hamilton asks this question: “What if all 224 million Christians in America were actually working together to shape a nation that looks like Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God, where poverty does not exist, where people practice justice, where love of neighbor is universally practiced? But this will never happen. We are too busy ‘straining gnats’.”

ApostlesCreed.jpgWhat we need is discernment to see again and again what is essential about our faith and to see what is non-essential. This requires a firm grip on the essentials and a loose grip on the non-essentials. Sure, we will argue at times on the essentials … but surely we can begin with the classic creeds and the core gospel we believe.

Hamilton’s plea is for humility, beginning with this: “the hope for the future of Christianity will be found, in part, in our willingness to accept that no one of us has all the truth” (13). What is needed, he explains, is humility — humility about our own claims, about the legitimacy of the claims of others, and about it being God who has the truth.

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  • James Petticrew

    I think perhaps for me Chalcedon is the irreducible minimum for Christian belief because it safeguards the Trinitarian uniqueness of Christian faith.
    I don’t know how to articulate it or define it but I think for me what is essential to true Christianity is some sort of commitment to reflecting the character of Christ. Its not enough to believe the right things if its doesn’t transform us in a way that expresses itself in our behaviour.
    Here in Scotland William Barclay was castigated and attacked in a most personal and horrid way by evangelicals who claimed his theology was deficient. Barclay whatever his belief about miracles etc responded with the attitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. I see the same scenario being played out with Brian Mclaren and his critics.

  • RJS

    This is a great question and post…and a new book on the growing list.
    I think that the Apostle’s creed is an excellent summary of beliefs – although I think the “descended into hell” line is perhaps unnecessary. And sometimes I wonder about the “virgin” part. The later creeds become deeply wrapped in arguments and philosophy and perhaps even politics – but the core “facts” remain with the Apostle’s creed. And the core facts, statements of the Apostle’s creed emerge in baptismal formulae in the writings of the early church Fathers.
    As I think – I would break the essentials into two pieces – the first is the I believe that then shapes and motivates mission.
    The second is the consequence of the “I believe,” which is to commit to the church and mission of God. Love the Lord our God; love our neighbors as ourselves; commit to servant leadership; never pay back evil for evil to anyone; associate with the lowly; show no partiality; so far as it depends on us be at peace with all men; feed the hungry; clothe the naked; house the alien; the care for the poor, the sick, the lonely, the widow, the orphan, those in prison; and on and on.
    Right belief with out consequence is wrong, a noisy gong or clanging cymbal – and doesn’t contribute to the church an mission of God.
    Right action – committing to the church and mission of God – can only flow through the Spirit with right belief.
    As a somewhat related aside – I would love to read the rest of what you have to say about the Nicean creed on the Out of Ur blog (Dec. 5) – except I refuse to sign up for their newsletter just to receive yet more junk in my inbox – so I’m out of luck I guess.

  • I am currently reading and watching everything I can find on Mother Teresa. She fascinates me because she actually DID change the world into a better place.
    Considering your question, I ask myself, “What was her core Christian beliefs?” What was it that made her so unique in her faith – that she could do what she did?
    I think her secret is this. She embraced the suffering of loneliness in her relationship with God. She struggled with a very deep sense of God not making his presence known to her. She pleaded for God to make her feel loved, but the God at the other end of these pleading prayers did not deliver. Sill, she knew there was no other place for her to put her love and her prayers.
    Feeling that poor in her own spiritual life she could identify with the physically poor in the streets. She saw herself in them. Therefore she could respect them. And therefore God honored her and blessed the work of her hands.
    But what does “embracing personal suffering” have to do with the Apostles Creed? I am not sure. But I think confessing the beliefs of our creed is a conscious act that realigns our minds and our commitments with God.
    Honestly, I do not always understand what I believe about God and I do not always understand how God can be who he tells me he is and whom I confess him to believe. But isn’t that why I need to keep realigning myself with something like a creed in the first place?
    I do not understand my own beliefs any more than I understand why God calls us to suffer.
    Of course, it also helped Mother Teresa a great deal that she was as stubborn as an ox.

  • I like what Kevin Vanhoozer does in “Drama of Doctrine”. It brings out well the scriptural balance of belief and life. Of course that doesn’t answer just what it is that we must believe. But to deny the belief aspect is to deny the script from which we are to act, the story of which we have a part. We have to get the main point right, and points important to that main point.

  • joanne

    some of the seemingly gray areas i struggle with because they involve a gospel shaped community. I believe that the gospel shapes a community that reflects the kingdom and shatters the world system and its vision for how people ought to live.
    the place of women is one of those areas that is affected by a gospel shaped community. It is my view that a gospel shaped community will reflect the full personhood found in Christ. That includes women. I struggle with that being a gray area.

  • Scot,
    Do you mean “top five” and not “top give” in the question?
    I’ll be back with some thoughts on the question.

  • RJS

    Question of the day: What would be your top give “essential beliefs” of the Christian faith? Is the Apostles’ Creed enough for you? What else might you want to add? Anything to subtract?
    Ok, I’ll take the challenge. First – I assume that you mean five rather than give?
    But I couldn’t stick to five – so I’ll use the ambiguity as an excuse to make it eight:
    1. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.
    2. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: in his birth, life, death and resurrection.
    3. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    4. I believe in the Spirit-filled church as the body of Christ and people of God, and in the communion of saints.
    5. I believe that God calls us to total commitment: heart, mind, body, and soul – that this should impact everything we do and every decision we make.
    6. I believe that the purpose of the church is to begin to embody the kingdom of God, here, today, in all creation – it is not a refuge for a preserved, holy, remnant.
    7. I believe in forgiveness and judgment.
    8. I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

  • mick

    About 7 years ago I was in Romania with a group of mostly Baptists and Pentecostals and we were discussing this exact question. After about an hour of what we thought was essential vs. non essential, one of us finally recognized we were basically rewriting the Creed. It took all of us to piece it together as no one in the group had grown up in a church tradition that recited the Creed. That made me realize that, tho imperfect, it was certainly “good enough”.

  • Aaron

    I think this discussion is so needed today. I feel crushed so often by those who want to expand the essentials. I feel that the affirmation of the Apostles Creed and the Nicean Creed is enough as far as belief goes. (behavior is another issue) and that everthing else in regards to our beliefs needs to be held a bit loosley and with humility. Giving room for others to agree & disagree and still embrace them as brothers & sisters in Christ. If we cant do that then is unity ever going to happen?

  • ron

    What if the question of whether there are “essential beliefs” is itself a gnat?

  • RJS

    We can start at the top – is “I believe in God” a gnat that should be relaxed in the search for Christian unity? If this is not a gnat – then we all agree that there are essentials.

  • Mike H

    One thing that makes talking about the essentials and non-essentials more complicated is that there may be different essentials for becoming a Christian, for being a member of a church, and for being a leader in the church.
    I like the creeds. I think evangelicals could use them more.

  • Your Name

    Good stuff. What I would add, in a nutshell, is learning to “do everything [he] commanded,” or becoming his apprentice. This is an essential thing to trust. Perhaps that’s what the author is getting at (I’ve not read the book). I think we have all suffered from the fact that the “essential” teachings of Christianity, even the creeds, contain next to none of Jesus’ own repeated teachings or invitations. These are essential. Learning to live Jesus’ great commands is essential.

  • Your Name

    Robert Webber in “The Divine Embrace” lists four areas
    for essentials. They are belief, belonging, behavior,
    and experience. Outside of these he also is humble.
    Personally, the Apostle’s creed has anchored my life
    since catechism. The Jesus creed as written and blogged
    by Scot McNight has dominated my behavioral life for
    the past several years. I fully subscribe to needing many,
    many feedings like a hummingbird, as opposed to one feeding
    as other examples.
    “Catholic” is such a beautiful thing and it’s so true of
    the body to which I belong (and I am not RCC or EO). My
    experience is mystical, although not in the sense taken by
    contemporary culture. The leading of the Spirit is more
    as a sense of being the correct path.
    Are we in any different position than Jesus and the first
    century church? Stuck between empire and fundamenalists as
    NT Wright has observed. Notice his “Simply Christian” as
    an example in needed humility. There is one sense in which
    our position is different. The secular forces today are able
    to unite in new unique ways. It causes us to look for ways to
    respond which have no historic precedent.

  • T

    Sorry, #12 is me.

  • tscott

    Sorry, #13 is me.

  • joanne

    I think it is enough to believe in the creed for orthodoxy, but i also think orthopraxy must reflect our orthodoxy. Belief is a good place to begin but unless that belief is translated into real practice, then it is only belief and perhaps a free ticket to heaven with our sins forgiven.
    The Creeds say something about God and who God is and the Creeds say something important about the kingdom of God.
    If the church is shaped by the Holy Spirit, by the body of Christ and by the Holy Trinity, it should have an impact on some of the disputible matters. And it should confront us culturally in some significant way.
    Praxis… matters because it demonstrates God;s character and justice and righteousness in the world!

  • “The Third way knows the difference between essentials and non-essentials and lets the Way be shaped by the essentials.”
    I think everyone knows that difference. The problem is the question of what is essential. Perhaps a less antagonizing way to express the “Third way” is as a committment to keep the list of essentials as small as possible?
    Anyway, on to the question of the day:
    In broad terms, I would hinge “essential” on the gospel — broadly defined but more focused on the saving work of Jesus Christ. The essentials are those things that undergird the gospel.
    First, we have to stand strong on those things that speak to the historicity of the gospel and the cross of Christ. I wouldn’t die of the field of the virgin birth, but I would on the field of the empty tomb, Pontius Pilate, and everything else in the story that tells us that this really happened in history, it’s not just a fable.
    Second, we have to stand strong on those theological points that explain the gospel and the gospel story. For example, though I think you can be saved without believing in the deity of Christ, as a community if we lose that it’s a short trip to losing the notion of sin and the gospel’s call to repentence.
    Similarly, anything that calls into question the second coming or the desire of God for relationship with, and among, His people cannot be tolerated. But women preachers, cessationism, creationism, these don’t effect the core of the gospel, and we should feel free to differ lovingly on these things.
    Of course, we’re going to argue over what is essential to the gospel, too, but that’s an argument worth having.

  • RJS

    I like what you say here. And I agree that discussion over what is essential to the gospel is a discussion worth having.
    But isn’t it perhaps the case that much of the argument in the church today hinges on how we know the gospel? In many cases arguments over nonessentials are viewed as indirect arguments over gospel – because they become arguments over authority, certainty, and revelation?

  • T

    Sorry, my previous comment was poorly worded. I’m with Joanne (16) and others. It’s not that the creeds or other ‘essential’ lists contain none of Jesus’ own teachings; it’s that if we studied the gospels asking the question, “What is this guy really about? What are his points of emphasis?” We’d get at least a few things that aren’t even mentioned in most essentials-of-Christianity lists, even the creeds. That should be cause for concern. Jesus’ own Creed is not included in our creeds.
    Unlike Jesus’ own points of emphasis, the creeds tend to be historical or future facts. The creeds don’t contain any commands. Affirming these facts was necessary when they were created and they are necessary now, but today I think the most damaging heresy isn’t that the resurrection is myth, as bad as that is. It’s the heresy dealt with in James, Corinthians & I John–that faith in facts (without accompanying deeds) is somehow valuable, that faith without love is something when it’s nothing. The command of love is essential to believe in.

  • Jon

    I would use the apostle’s creed as a starting point. I would remove the line about Jesus descending into hell, and replace it with an emphasis on the kingdom of God. Finally, we should add something about living appropriately as a result.

  • Ben Wheaton

    I think I would die on the field of the virgin birth, because I think that it is necessary for understanding the basic gospel.
    On another note, I am uncomfortable with Hamilton’s statement that the Church should be working to make the kingdom of God on earth. Now, in a certain sense that is right; the Church is the kingdom of God on earth, so we need to embody that reality. But what he says is that the 224 million Christians (really??! that many?!) in the U.S. should focus on politics–that is, eliminating poverty–as the embodiment of their mission. Is it our task to create the kingdom of God on earth? That is what some of the early puritans thought, (“City on the Hill,” anyone?) but they created theocracies that have no relation to the true kingdom. Hamilton seems to place “eliminating poverty” at the level of essential. How does that make any sense?

  • I think we’re seeing why calls to get to the “essentials” never take us very far — we can’t agree on what’s essential! 🙂
    It seems to me that when epistemological or authority issues move beyond basic questions of historicity, they tend to be among scholars and skeptics. I don’t see seekers or laymen getting that bent out of shape over those things.
    Joanne, T, and Jon,
    I think if you believe Jesus is “Lord” and will come to “judge the living and the dead” obeying His words takes care of itself.
    Of course, then interpretation gets involved. We don’t question whether we should obey but what He meant and to whom was He speaking.

  • T

    Chris, in theory, yes, calling him “lord” and “judge” should take care of obedience–in theory. Yet even Jesus felt the need to expressly connenct what others were already disconnecting–professing “lord” and actually doing what he said to do. He (and the apostles after him) taught much more than once on the difference between professing love or faith and living it out. They arguably emphasized it (essential?). I could say more but my previous comments probably say enough. I don’t think it’s good to say that the historical and future events are “essential” to trust and not the central commands of Jesus. We can trust both. They go together. Each informs what the other means.
    What would you say are the reasons for having even the love commands–thematic in the NT–not included as “essential” teachings of Christianity? Of course we may not agree on the precise meaning of love, but neither do Christians agree on the specifics regarding the judgment of “the living and the dead,” but it’s in there as essential. Why not include the commands to love God, neighbor and enemy, in your opinion? If we acknowledge that these were essential/central from Jesus’ and the apostles perspective (perhaps we won’t agree on that), what’s the justification for saying they’re not essential to Christianity?

  • Denise

    Question of the day: What would be your top give five “essential beliefs” of the Christian faith?
    My very humble answer: I agree with an earlier post about Mother Teresa’s ACTIONS making this world a phenomenally better place. Btw, Mother Teresa had her own struggles during her walk with God.
    If we people of all faiths would choose to disengage from the religious debates of “essentials” and go get our hands dirty like Jesus and Mother Teresa did, what an amazing world this would be!! I can’t help but think that God is somewhere woefully shaking His head in disappointment about mans’ religiously-based debates over what they think He wants. I believe He would rather us just see us do our best to fulfill a real humanitarian need like poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc. and do so with great love, respect, dignity, tolerance, patience. He doesn’t care what religion you are, just get out there and help and love His people — this is what I feel would best honor Him and what I feel is “essential”.
    With great love,

  • I grew up in an environment where a lot of things had been tacked on to the Christian faith and described as fundamentals. These included young earth creationism, Republicanism, exclusivism regarding salvation, limited roles for women in leadership, and a whole host of other things. When I started to doubt one or two of these teachings, I assumed I was doubting the entire Christian faith. That’s why I think long lists of fundamentals are so dangerous. They set us up for failure, and they almost cost me my faith.
    When a scribe asked Jesus what the most important commandments were, Jesus said: “…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might, and with all your strength….You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
    So, I suppose that in my dream church, the focus wouldn’t be as much on right belief, but on faith accompanied by works. I suppose my ideal doctrinal statement would be:
    “We follow the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
    Probably too simplistic…and a bit open to interpretation. But I like it. 🙂

  • Denise

    I like the way you think and I would join your “dream church” any day. 🙂
    With great love,

  • T

    Rachel (26), Yes! Thanks, also, for the backdrop of the “greatest commandments”–I had forgotten that was given in the context of an “essentials” type of question!

  • ChrisB

    “What would you say are the reasons for having even the love commands–thematic in the NT–not included as “essential” teachings of Christianity?”
    Primarily that we’re talking about the essential “beliefs” of Christianity. Creed comes from credo = “I believe.”
    One might say that a Christian is a person who subscribes to a certain set of beliefs and makes a sincere attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus. We’re only talking about the first half of that equation — the most important beliefs rather than the most important commandments.

  • RJS

    Ok – put it like this:
    I believe that the greatest commandments are to love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.
    Why is this essential? – because of course Jesus said these are the greatest commandments and because this teaching is reinforced time and time again in Paul and the other letters.

  • Pat

    RJS wrote “We can start at the top – is “I believe in God” a gnat that should be relaxed in the search for Christian unity?”
    I think it is a gnat. I have times when I don’t believe in God, and so do many of the Christians I know. Do we shift from being christian to not being christian during every moment of doubt?

  • I like RJS’ 8 points, with suggestions in parentheses:
    1. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth (perhaps sub in “Creator” for “Father”, not because masculine language bothers me, but if we’re really trying to trim down to essentials…)
    2. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: in his birth, life, death and resurrection. (I might add “teachings” after “life”)
    3. I believe in the Holy Spirit (maybe something about Pentecost here?),
    4. I believe in the Spirit-filled church as the body of Christ and people of God, and in the communion of saints.
    5. I believe that God calls us to total commitment: heart, mind, body, and soul – that this should impact everything we do and every decision we make.
    6. I believe that the purpose of the church is to begin to embody the kingdom of God, here, today, in all creation – it is not a refuge for a preserved, holy, remnant.
    7. I believe in forgiveness and judgment. (Can we swap the order of these?)
    8. I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
    Pat @ 31,
    Moments of doubt, which we all have, are not the same as declaring you don’t believe in God in the form of a creed. In fact, it’s in that moment that you most need your community to believe with and for you.

  • Denise

    Here is a list of creeds I humbly find “essential”:
    1. I believe God doesn’t care what religion you are.
    2. I believe God doesn’t care for religion at all.
    3. I believe God made us free-thinkers for a reason.
    4. I believe God will be most pleased when we finally stop wasting precious time and energy debating the religious/biblical particulars and…
    5. I believe He would like us to take that precious new-found time and energy and go and DO things that actually make our world, HIS world, a better place.
    So, let’s all get off our computers (unless of course, you are inventing some humanitarian computer software program) and go and DO SOMETHING to make this world better. I mean no disrespect, but these type of debates are time-wasters and futile (in my humble opinion). Mother Teresa, who many times did not even believe in God, did NOT let doubt stop her from DOING exactly what God wants us all to do: shower love, respect, tolerance, acceptance, patience and compassion for each other. She didn’t waste her time debating — she made a difference in the DOING!!

  • Rdy

    What impresses me in reading the comments is the emphasis on action flowing from what we believe. Joanne (5) spoke of gospel-shaped communities. RJS (7) spoke of total commitment of heart, mind, body and soul. Rachel (26) spoke of faith accompained by works. I have long been interested in the difference between Hebrew ways of knowing, that strove (Not always successfully if you read the Prophets) to keep belief and behavior together, and Greek notions of rational knowledge that shape our Enlightenment age.
    Our pastor once told us, and I have yet to pin him down on source, that 1) Paul and other Jews were taught to learn a trade even if they were scholars, which kept belief and behavior together. 2) Having toured both Greece and Turkey in following Paul’s journeys, he has noted how Greeks tended to build along with nature, while Romans tended, like Americans, to displace anything that got in the way of their building projects. I believe that these differences in how people and societies “know” is key to keeping our creeds meaningful.

  • T

    Doesn’t that distinction seem a little arbitrary, and also arbitrarily applied (as RJS pointed out)? We love, if and to the extent we do so, because we believe in it; we believe it is essential in cooperating with the God revealed by Christ; we believe it builds up the new creation and the old. Of course I could go on. Can we say that real belief in the primacy of love of God, neighbor and enemy isn’t essential to the Christian faith and to what God is doing in the world?
    Again, if we were asking Jesus, Paul or whichever disciple, which things people really need to trust, wouldn’t the commands of Jesus generally, and the love commands in particular, be at or near the top of the list? If not, why not?

  • T, “real belief in the primacy of love of God, neighbor and enemy” is essential to many faiths. That is the point. We’re not making a new religion here but trying to simplify ours.
    The question “what is essential to Christianity” is part and parcel of “what is essentially Christian.” What makes us Christians and not Jews? What makes us not deists?
    I am in no way espousing any kind of easy-believism Christianity. I’m just saying that the topic at hand is what beliefs are essential to being Christian.
    Which leads me to …
    God does care what religion you are. He went to a lot of trouble to create one way to know Him, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
    Doing good is important, but the ultimate good is “to know the one true God and Jesus Christ.”
    Knowing God is impossible if you don’t love your neighbor, but loving your neighbor is hopeless if you don’t know God through Christ Jesus.
    These discussions are not academic but very important and deeply personal, and what you believe about Jesus very much impacts how you live for Him.

  • Cam R

    This question is a great one. It is one I have thought a lot about. I have been serving on my church’s Elder team for a year and we have discussed these issues a lot.
    In recent weeks, the majority of our board decided to dissolve our statement of belief defining essentials and non-essentials and replaced them with a few value/belief statements like we believe in the God of the bible, we value action oriented Christianity, we value doing things to help us make a positive impact, we value God’s guidance, and our goal is to live like Christ in our world.
    This more relativistic approach to doctrine—you believe what works for you and I believe what works for me for virtually all beliefs and for all levels of leadership seems to really do damage to any sense of God’s truth or that Christianity is about something that happened and is happening.
    Where we ended up was teaching an incomplete version of God’s story. We have a gospel of loving people (which equates to loving God) and doing good works, a kingdom gospel, without making sense of the work God did through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for forgiveness of sins and new life through the Holy Spirit. It didn’t do justice to the teachings of the New Testament, the teachings of the apostles, or the creeds.
    A major issue we encountered with having very few essentials and a relativistic approach to all doctrine was what do you teach someone who wants to become Christian and get baptized? Do you give them a list of all the options of who Jesus was, what the gospel is, and what the core message of Christianity is about and then just let them decide what works for them?
    For me this approach made nonsense out of any sort of knowing about God or about our human condition and has essentially made our church all about getting people to do, about praxis instead about a faith/belief that produces justice and peace—God’s Kingdom coming to earth..
    So for what is essential? I would totally agree with RJS’s 8 points for essentials for the Christian Faith. But I might want to frame those points in God’s story of creation, fall, redemption, restoration. For example, these the story Rob Bell’s church uses for it’s framing story:

  • Puddleglum

    I find it odd and misleading that this blog now features Mormon ads (among others). I know it’s your blog and you did as seems best but the blog was better at the old place. Just my 2 cents.

  • Scot McKnight

    Thanks puddleglum … I’ve complained about the Mormon ads.

  • Your Name

    Five essentials:
    1. The Trinitarian God
    2. The imago dei in human beings
    3. The reality and wreckage of human rebellion
    4. The wholistic salvation in Jesus the Christ
    5. No salvation outside the church–salvation is from a community, through a community and into a community

  • Your Name in #40 is John Frye

  • T

    I’m with you that beliefs matter. And I appreciate your patience on this. Do I hear you correctly that the reason not to include “love of God, neighbor and enemy” as essential to Christian faith is because these are not unique to Christian faith?
    If so, we could say that God as creator and judge, and “life everlasting” and probably a few other things aren’t essential, since they’re not unique or different from various other religions. Of course, we could say that our “life everlasting” is different from their “life everlasting”, etc., but we could say the same for our “love God” and “love enemies” too. But I don’t think distinctive is really the same thing as essential anyway. An engine is essential to a car, it does not make a car distinctive by itself.
    Again, I appreciate your patience. I just get the impression that there’s some other reason–besides the definition of creed, or equating essential with distinctive–maybe you just can’t put your finger on it, as to why you don’t think a belief in the love commands are essential for the Christian, and I’m really interested to hear why, especially in light of the NT emphasis.

  • Rick

    Who is this God that we are discussing?
    Who is this God that invites us into fellowship?
    Who is this God that asks us for obedience?
    Who is this God that takes time to reveal Himself to us through Word and Spirit?
    Who is this God that asks us to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and stength?
    Who is this God that we worship?
    Who is this God that asks us to believe and trust in Him alone?
    Who is this God that provides a “Helper” so that we can practice orthopraxy?
    Who is this God that warns against false gods and idols?
    Orthodoxy, the creeds, the essentials, are short and simple expressions that help us answer those questions so that our faith is not off track and in vain.

  • Dana Ames

    John Frye 40/41,
    your list sounds quite Orthodox 🙂

  • Tony Hunt

    The Apostles Creed is good enough for me. I too agree – as I often find myself doing these days – with RJS, I have problems with the “decent into hell” and the virgin birth. But it’s bigger than me and my doubts right?

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Many great comments here.
    I like John Frye’s list- #40. I think that covers the essentials for me.

  • Tony Hunt

    John Frye,
    You realize all that is in the Apostles Creed right?

  • Patrick

    A belated response to #4 (Ted): I liked Vanhoozer’s book too, except that he wasn’t clear how much “improvisation” he would allow based on the “script” of Scripture. As I read him, it would be possible to adopting a positive view of same-sex relationships (but look what happened to poor Cizik!) and still be faithful to the script, but I wonder if he would agree–or what specific application criteria he would use to say no without losing what was valuable in his thesis. I would say one has to live with the ambiguity–as we have about pacifism all these years.
    I agree on the Creed as the basis of faith (though I note that the Apostles’ Creed is not used in EO): it presupposes the Bible, although we Episcopalians like to cite the Chicago Quadrilateral as the basis for ecumenical faith…i.e. *some* church order has to be part of the mix.

  • Dianne P

    I like RJS’ list and find Travis’ parentheses interesting. I would like to add the Jesus Creed to #5, where it seems to be implied. I also like John Frye’s pithy list (so WELL written) but I think that we need to add the Jesus Creed. If one simply believes in a list of things about God (yes, I understand that belief implies action, but that’s just not strong enough for me), then that leaves us in that strange empty place of too many ECs – “I believe in God and my personal salvation – now back to my normal life – c u in heaven!” IMO, we need to overtly state the belief in the Jesus Creed as an essential of our faith.

  • Dianne P

    BTW, in this season of gifts and gratitude, !Gracias a Dios por Amazon! And especially for 2-day prime shipping! Is life good or what……….
    I already have this book and see it as a valuable resource for having conversations about these issues – Hamilton has done a graciously articulate job of putting my feelings into frustrations into words.
    Sooooo looking forward to working our way through this book.

  • ChrisB

    T, I may be bordering on inconsistency, but I don’t think I’m crossing that line. Eternal life etc is an inseparable part of the gospel.
    Again, creeds — “I believes” — aren’t lists of rules but beliefs.

  • Scott Lyons

    My vote is for the ancient creeds being enough for belief (rightly understood) and that they are essential (depending on what one means by “essential” and for what they might be essential) – the Apostles and Nicene (with or without the filioque) creeds, both. Enter sermonette:
    We have our creeds because we receive our faith, we do not create it. I join the community of faith. And I affirm that faith in my confession. We have phrases in the Apostles Creed, ideas like the Virgin birth and the Descent into hell, that we may not entirely understand and yet they remain paramount to our faith. Ask an Orthodox priest about the importance of Christ’s descent into hell – it is, in Orthodox theology, the atonement – not a theory or metaphor of our atonement, but the mystery of Christ rescuing us from hell, of the emptying of hell.
    As a note of interest, perhaps, concerning the Nicene Creed’s place in the liturgy – the Nicene Creed is recited/chanted after the sacrament of the Word, after the Scriptures are read, for at least one reason, in my poor thinking, because the creeds define, shape, and balance our belief – keep it on the rails, as it were. They keep us intellectually and theologically humble, so that we may hear and understand the Scriptures properly.

  • Tony Hunt

    Great comments Scott Lyons,
    All of those are reasons why when I speak of my doubts, and muse on them over and over, I ultimately submit my thoughts to the historic church. In praying the Creeds, I am allowing myself to be brought up into the whole Church. Though, oddly enough, that is also why I am not so terrified as I once was to question, the creed says WE believe, not “I do at this very moment”

  • Pat

    Travis wrote; “Moments of doubt, which we all have, are not the same as declaring you don’t believe in God in the form of a creed. ”
    Now I’m confused. Is the discussion about what we have to *claim* to believe in order to be christian, or what we have to actually believe?

  • RJS

    Scott Lyons (#52)
    You are right, of course. And this is the value of the ancient creeds and Baptismal formulae as we enter into the received faith and the community and communion.
    But the received faith in every generation includes tag-alongs, even the creedal statements. It seems to me that the longer and more specific the statement, the more likely it includes diversions. I picked on two points – virgin birth and descent into Hell – in comment #2 because these two seem to have a “political” background beyond statement of essential belief, not because I doubt them from a modern perspective. But I am no expert on the historical development, so someone may set me straight here.
    Creeds are sets of “I believes” but I guess the point is that the God who is behind these statements is not a God who is satisfied with mere belief. And it has become important in our cultural context to add to the formulae an explicit statement to that effect to answer a major issue and trend in some parts of our church.
    I believe that God demands our whole life in obedience. And I believe that this belief is an essential part of orthodox Christianity.

  • T

    RJS, well said.
    Thanks again, ChrisB, for your interaction on this. You’ve been both patient and gracious. And, I imagine you’re in the majority view here: Creeds are about events and attributes we affirm, not those things in the scriptures that talk about what we need to actually be doing–with God or otherwise. In this way, in my view, the historic creeds are–in our day–a perfect set up for the current western epidemic of faith (which is deemed essential) apart from works (deemed non-essential); of calling him lord (essential), while not doing what he says (non-essential); thereby making discipleship a non-essential of the faith, and therefore, unpursued by the masses who affirm the creeds. This is the message so much of the church continues to give, I believe, to the whole world’s loss.
    I’ve often thought that to the extent Romans was needed to be heard in Luther’s day, James and its gospel counterparts need to be heard in ours. Trusting Jesus means doing what he says (or, more accurately, learning to do it, i.e., discipleship). I believe this is essential in the sense that if our ‘faith’ doesn’t do this, that death in a variety of forms is the result. In any event, thanks for the thoughtful interaction.
    Scot, any plans on that ‘orthodoxy’ conversation you mentioned with Tony Jones anytime soon?

  • Scott Lyons

    RJS, I agree that we individuals have our tag-alongs. I don’t agree that those tag-alongs show up in the creeds of the Church. But that may be me misunderstanding what you mean. These creeds are the confession of our faith, and not just of “ours” (as if ours can be perceived as distinct from theirs) but of our fathers and mothers in every age and place.
    I would be interested to hear how you find the Virgin birth and the Descent into hell as “political.” From my Catholic understanding and personal study the development of Marian doctrines preserve us from heresy; they are for the safeguarding of Christ’s humanity and deity. (As well as providing the honor due the Mother of God.) The Descent shows us of our atonement and Christ’s victory. In what sense are these political, ecclesiologically or otherwise? Or, in what sense ought I to describe them as “political” with the word’s bent toward negativity? Please understand, I’m asking these questions honestly. I’m unsure of how or why you chose those particular words. I don’t find in the creeds any hint of agenda, but only a statement of what is our faith.
    Furthermore, I think it is imperative that we define what we mean by “essential.” I think the creeds are essential beliefs for orthodoxy. And yet I don’t think that “our faith” is essential for salvation unless we speak of essentiality in its normative sense. For instance, I think there are and will be Muslims and Buddhists who stand before Christ saved – not because of their baptism or doctrinal affirmations, but because of the intentions of their hearts, their milieus, their desire (whether conscious or not) for that Divine Other – because the gift of Christ is for all people and because of His great mercy. And yet what I believe is normatively essential belief for our for salvation would include all of these creedal statements because salvation is found in Christ within the Church and these statements are summaries of the Church’s faith. In other words, it’s not my intention to say that one must ascribe to the Nicene Creed’s statement, “I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” or one burns in hell. But only that this is the normative expression of the Christian faith and ought to be guarded and honored as such. Anything less, such as a rejection of the Virgin birth, can no longer be thought of as orthodox Christianity.

  • My problem with the Apostles Creed is that it is both incomplete and elevates non-essentials to being essential. Does it matter that Pontius Pilate was in charge? Did Jesus descend into hell? Moreover, it doesn’t discuss the atonement at all. It doesn’t talk about why Jesus died or what the point of it all is. I think if we limited our focus to this statement we would have an anemic ineffective gospel.

  • Tony Hunt

    The part about Pontius Pilate was to emphasize the historicity of Jesus. It makes Jesus a real human who was in Judea when Pilate, a real person was ruling. It is sort of like a date.
    And I would argue that the Atonement is implicit in the Jesus being crucified, going down to hell, and rising again. As well as where it says that we too will rise. Keep in mind that a strict “penal substitutionary atonement,” though present in the message of Jesus, and likely among his first followers, did not enter the mainstream mind of the Church until Anselm of Canterbury. Look up “Christus Victor” to get an idea of how the early church thought of the atonement. The true victory was not in the Cross (alone anyway) but in the Resurrection.

  • Tony,
    I agree with the point about the resurrection. That is an area where contemporary preaching is incredibly weak. Yet, doesn’t the fact that there are implicit arguments in the statement an argument for its weakness as a foundational piece? I still maintain that the creed as is is incomplete.
    Also the statement that Jesus descended into hell is exegetically suspect.

  • Adam Hamilton

    Scott, thank you for discussing my book, Seeing Gray, in your Friday blog. Great question you’ve asked about essentials. It would have been interesting to ask Jesus what the essentials were. He never seemed to emphasize a credal formation – his emphasis was clearly focused on orthopraxy. The most comprehensive teaching we have of his, the Sermon on the Mount, was not a lecture in systematics but an invitation to a way of life. That’s not to say that beliefs are not important – our beliefs shape our actions.
    When we come to Paul we find the earliest creed: Jesus is Lord. Romans 10:9 is amazing for its sweeping simplicity – If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
    Again, it would be fascinating to have spoken to Paul in his day to ask, “What are the essentials – those doctrines that, if not believed, leaves one outside the Christian faith?
    The Greek ICHTHUS might be taken to be a creed that pre-dates the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It, too, is quite simple.
    Typically I fall back on the Nicene Creed as a statement of the “catholic” (i.e. universal) faith. All creedal denominations affirm it, and most non-creedal churches accept it. It was the first creed to be formally adopted by an ecumenical council representing bishops of both the east and the west. When I think of essentials I think of Nicea.
    It is interesting to me that in most “statements of faith” of conservative churches and parachurch organizations the first, and presumably most important, statement of faith is not something that was included in any of the early creeds of the church, nor taught by Paul nor Jesus: biblical inerrancy.
    As many have noted, even creeds like Nicea have their challenges. I’m never quite sure what to do with the “resurrection of the body.” But in the end it is the most universally accepted of the creeds, it fleshes out the two natures of Christ, and it is the earliest creed that received the affirmation of the church across world.
    Thanks for the great discussion, Scott!

  • Adam Hamilton,
    Great to hear from the author. Thanks for your perspective. If I may, though, I feel that you are forcing both binary and anachronistic thinking onto the New Testament material you quoted.
    For one, to use the word “orthopraxy” to describe what Jesus was “doing” seems historically naive. There is an implicit worldview and agenda Jesus is enacting when he does this “Sermon on the Mount” (leaving aside for the moment the collective redaction of the Evangelists). Jesus, in announcing the coming of YHWH’s kingdom was saying that this and only this is the way to be Israel, reconstituted around himself. So Jesus wasn’t emphasising “orthopraxy,” he was emphasizing himself! Without the whole 1st century eschatological background, the sermon is nothing but a list of nice things. But, I recognize you did say that beliefs are important; I’m not trying to say that you split the two, merely pointing out that I feel you are parsing the details into 21st C models of thought where they do not always work so well.
    It’s the same with Paul. “Jesus is Lord,” while certainly one of our earliest and most profound creeds, also has the eschatological background. That is to say, the theology must be correct, which holds up the creed.
    I’m not trying to sound smart. Anything I say I ripped off of Scot and N.T. Wright. I simply feel that your way of arguing with Scripture isn’t totally convincing (to me)
    Thank you for contributing writing and thought to the Church,

  • Tony Hunt

    It has been pointed out that my language, the use of words like “forced” and “naive” are pretty boastful and too harsh. Forgive me if I offend. I’m not the one writing books, you are!