should church creeds and confessions change with advances in human knowledge?

…while the reality of God and God’s acts for human salvation in Christ remain constant, human apprehension of their truth and significance changes and develops. Our access to the truths is through historically, culturally and socially conditioned interpretations.

Credal statements do not escape this and are therefore not immutable. That we live in different, and equally limited and partial, historical, cultural and social conditions entails…that, even when we repeat the same words as the writers of Scripture or the formulators of the creeds, their meaning for us is not guaranteed to be the same as it was for them.

The consequence is not that all doctrinal truth becomes relative but that the Church in succeeding generations through it theologians and teachers, through its worship and practice, is inevitably involved in the hard work of interpretation of the truths that shape its life. It should not be surprising that advances in knowledge throw up problems that require rethinking the tradition. After all, one of the tasks of theologians is to explore and restate central doctrines in the light of developments in human knowledge.

The doctrine of creation is now rethought in the light of what is taken to be the case in respect to cosmology or evolution or genetics but nevertheless it is still a doctrine of creation when it affirms that the universe and its life as we know them depend for their existence on a divine Creator. 

The quote, like last post, is taken from Andrew T. Linclon’s recent book on the virginal conception of Jesus and the incarnation, Born of a Virgin?: Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theologypp. 293-94.

Here again, Lincoln thoughtfully and clearly articulates the responsibility of theologians and teachers to reflect on ancient creeds in terms of present states of knowledge. Frankly, I’m not sure a good argument can be made for not doing so.

To think otherwise invariable leads to the bizarre thought that the Creator needs to be protected from the wonders of his own creation.

In light of our current understanding of the cosmos, the creedal claim “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” is not diminished but magnified beyond comprehension.

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  • mark

    “should church creeds and confessions change with advances in human knowledge?”

    I wonder whether this is a somewhat skewed perspective? Maybe it would be better to ask whether the Church has in the past been imprudent in advancing as doctrine matters which are in reality the traditions of men. Oh, I think Jesus said something like that: Mt 15:9. IMO, advances in human knowledge haven’t and shouldn’t change the true nature of Christian faith, but they have shed light on the human motivations for certain teachings that were incorrectly advanced as doctrine.

    • peteenns

      I think that is largely Lincoln’s point, too, Mark.

      • mark

        It’s not that I’m disagreeing with him–by and large I agree–but that I’m coming at it from my own concerns. For example, you won’t find the “doctrine” of original sin in the creeds, but it has become a traditional “doctrine” of Christianity–and has caused no end of trouble in the realm of grace, nature and human freedom. That’s the sort of thing I had in mind. Everyone knows, or should know, that Genesis doesn’t teach such a doctrine and that Paul doesn’t, either. The problem becomes one of ecclesiology, in an important sense. If the Church was instituted by Christ to teach, and he promised to be with us to the end, what happened here? Are we moderns rejecting a “doctrine,” or simply realizing that it never actually was a doctrine to begin with–we have a better understanding of what doctrine is, but one which Augustine should have been able to come to as well. Part of it all is that the Church lost control of the theological class at a fairly early stage.

        Well, I could go on …

        • Brian P.

          FWIW original sin of Eastern Christianity is quite distinctive from original sin of Western Christianity. Yet also related to themes of Dr Enns, I can’t help but recommend Daryl Domning’s Original Selfishness: Original Sin and Evil in the Light of Evolution. Should creeds change, should doctrines change, should beliefs change based upon what we’ve come to learn. Heck, should we even change beliefs based upon encounter or revelation (and how does one identify that in self never mind in another)?

  • archidude

    My problem is that the very nature of miracle, in the biblical sense, is an event that occurs outside physical (scientific) realities. Virgin conception, prophetic insight in the temple, wilderness experiences, ministering spirit-beings, blind eyes seeing, the lame walking, the deaf hearing, the dead raising, all theses events and more would occur outside the normal rules of science or daily experience. My question would be: what knowledge of the physical world in which we now live differs from the understanding the ancients would have had that in anyway explains the reported mighty works in the scripture as less miraculous or significant? If there is no new understanding of the miraculous, how do we go about deciding what biblical (miraculous) events need reinterpretation?

  • Brian P.

    I do so much meaning-bending of words when saying the Creed it hardly matters.

  • unkleE

    Of course they should change. Otherwise we are saying the the Holy Spirit isn’t teaching any of us anything new, nor correcting anything we have wrong now. (But I don’t think I’d throw out the virgin birth just yet!)

    • I think that innerancy and brittle commitment to creeds often go hand-in-hand with cessationism, and for good reason. Many trust the Holy Spirit to influence churches and vocations but draw a hard line at anything that God might inspire in the future which touches upon doctrine. People also cite Revelation 22:19 as though it were referring to the 66 books of the Bible and believe the closed canon and creeds are the only bulwark against spiritual anarchy. But I think that frame of mind, while containing some wisdom, can also lead to a defensive, hobbled form of faith which quarantines God’s power to the distant past.

  • Michael Thomson

    Why should we change the scripture, the tradition, or the creeds? I find it audacious to suggest that 20 centuries of confession should be done away with because of an exegetical nuance or scientific discovery hits the shelves. The fact that we may in cases not relate to the tradition the way the did in the middle ages because worldview has changed on this or that does not mean the power of the theological tradition is vacuous. May as well toss the entire Western and non-western Canon’s then…forget the creeds and forget Homer and Shakespeare as well. I can say the Creed and yet be in tension with a phrase just as I can read part of the Psalms or Exodus, or even the Apostle Paul, and live in tension with this being part of my tradition and yet read in light of the greater tradition it can exist and speak as a voice among voices within a scriptural and theological tradition that respects its past.

    • AHH

      I didn’t see any suggestion in the post of changing the Scripture, or of “doing away with” past confessions.

      The historical creeds and confessions deserve a lot of respect as we follow Jesus today. But, since they are all products of fallible humans who were situated in contexts other than ours, we are fools if we think there could never be any room for improvement. I have seen situations where certain expressions (like the “Westminster standards”, or the “Essential Tenets” in the new ECO denomination) are in effect treated like Scripture, which is equivalent to assuming that the humans who produced them were perfect in their knowledge and in their Biblical interpretation.

  • Ross

    On looking at my own thoughts of what this thing called “Christianity” is and how I understand God, others, myself and the interplay (or not!) between us, I often tend to think we should just get rid of Creeds, confessions, dogma and doctrines altogether. But I do tend to get called an anarchist a lot, as if that’s a bad thing.

    When reciting the Nicene Creed, I do get a sense of confession of my relationship with God and communion with the many millions who have said this same thing down through the centuries. However, how many of these were actually in a relationship with Jesus and following his will?

    What was the original purpose of these creeds and dogmas? I am far from an expert and know little of the history, but it seems to some extent they were used to divide. “This is the way we have to think of the trinity, if you can’t say this you’re out, here’s some matches and a bottle of paraffin to keep you out”. On thinking of the introduction of Inerrantism to the statement of faith of my previous congregation I just saw it as a divisive act, “but purely for the benefit of God’s work in accord to his will”.

    Many seem to be descriptors of something which is hard, if not impossible to describe, or which seems to shift when you describe it, a bit like trying to pin a jellyfish to a board. Are they just trying to “eff” the “ineffable?

    As others have pointed out here, some creeds, confessions and doctrine need to be changed in the light of new “evidence”, but much need changing because they weren’t even in accord with the old “evidence”.

    Regardless of the above, change is always difficult and will be resisted and cause friction. If it were to be be done regarding the Creeds and Confessions I would go for simplicity and the lowest common denominator for the highest “dogma”. Something along the line of “We believe in the Lord God and desire to love him with heart, soul, strength and mind, we also desire to love our neighbours as ourselves”. Do we really need any more than that? Everything else is doctrine over which we’ll probably never agree, so why not keep it at a much lower level and agree to disagree. Additionally I would say keep the canon of scripture as it is and recognise it is there, with the inherent issues of translation and interpretation and that it can mean many things to many people but still has ultimate “authority”.

    The message I get from scripture is that God desires to free us from tyranny, are the Creeds and Confessions agents to free us, or are they agents of tyranny? On that ground they should be judged. The major problem here is who does the judging?

    “Sigh”, I’m just a saddened idealist at heart, with more hope in God than people. One suggestion I made many years ago was to open a church of “The Holy Schism”. In this there would be a pulpit at each end and the congregation would sit in swivel chairs. Two preachers, possibly with opposing ideas would preach together and the congregation would be free to make up their own minds. The first major decision of the congregational assembly would be to attend to major issues of great importance, so spend their first year in selection of the correct colours for the curtains.

  • Al Cruise

    Should Church creeds and confessions change? Yes, we must always move toward Truth. At the end of the day it will rule anyway.

  • Rick

    Just because they are very old does not mean they are wrong. In fact, that is one of their strengths.

    • Rick, you make a good point. But would you not acknowledge that creeds and confessions are products of men in dialogue with their time, dealing with the issues which were important or controversial to their contemporaries? It seems to me we have no choice but to approach them in their historical context, otherwise we’ll misunderstand and misapply them. That doesn’t mean they don’t contain eternal truths. The creeds have value because of how they connect us to the past, to the Church Triumphant. But many of the controversies they address do not wear on us as heavily as they once did, or we simply take them for granted. Treating them as if they were written with perfect prescience and are unproblematically applicable to us moderns seems wrong-headed. Especially if it’s based solely on their venerability. After all, it would make little sense to give greater value to, say, the Articles of Confederation, simply because it was crafted before the U.S. Constitution. And the U.S. Constitution before the 13th and 19th Amendments does not appear more appealing than its current incarnation.

      • Rick

        Justin- As a Protestant I would not disagree w/ much of what you said. However, I would hold their standard very high, and unless it can be shown how they cannot be supported by Scripture, they should be respected as such. Also, I take into account their historic development, not just their final product, as further indication of a high standard. They did not just come out of thin air into a crisis situation. Finally, as a Trinitarian, I must consider the role of the Holy Spirit in their development, in a time of more unity, and as factors in the church for almost its entire history (or its whole history, if one considers the pre-creedal/creedal statements found in Scripture).
        My main concern today is the seemingly anxiousness to want to change them. As some would say (CS Lewis, etc…), it rings of “chronological snobbery”

        • Rick ~ I accept your point that “chronological snobbery” is often a problem, particularly in liberal theology, and its an area where conservative Protestants should be commended both for their caution and their reverence for tradition. Tradition is there for a reason, and to sweep it aside as a product of benighted ages is more than reckless – it is a symptom of spiritual pride. On the other hand, conservative Protestants should avoid the knee-jerk urge to condemn new ideas which may appear at first glance to be at odds with our doctrine. If new truth doesn’t conform to our understanding of theological matters, it could be our own understanding which is incomplete. Discernment, for some, means the daily use of a rubber stamp that says “REJECTED,” while in the corner, cobwebs form around the “APPROVED” stamp.

          • Rick

            “…conservative Protestants should avoid the knee-jerk urge to condemn new ideas which may appear at first glance to be at odds with our doctrine.”

            I agree. I do think the type of orthodoxy (historic v. Protestant, etc…) sets the bar on what standard is needed to impact the theology. The older/more established the stronger/higher (in my mind).

            “If new truth doesn’t conform to our understanding of theological matters, it could be our own understanding which is incomplete.”
            Yes, but that does not always mean “change”. Sometimes it is a matter of application and expression of an eternal truth for a new time.

            By coincidence (unless he and P. Enns conspired on this), Roger Olson touched on this subject today by comparing Orthodoxy with Fundamentalism:

            “Orthodoxy is belief in the universal doctrines (dogmas) of Christianity rooted in Scripture and commonly held and taught by all the church fathers and Reformers….Fundamentalism is (among other things): adding secondary and even tertiary beliefs to basic Christian orthodoxy as NECESSARY for authentic Christian identity (e.g., premillennialism, biblical inerrancy, young earth creationism), insisting that salvation depends on belief in a long list of doctrines including ones NOT PART OF basic Christian orthodoxy, and refusing Christian fellowship with other Christians who are “doctrinally polluted” or “doctrinally impure” because they do not believe everything on the fundamentalists’ long list of essential doctrines.”


  • JL Schafer

    Peter, you are about to be brought back into line with the essential truth of the Chicago Statement. If not, you will be silenced!

  • Tim

    The short answer is; Yes, I think they should change with advances in knowledge.

    That’s not a very accurate answer though. I personally think creeds and official doctrinal statements of faith should be done away with entirely. They’re simply ways to control who’s “in” and who’s “out”.

  • Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Meat and The Dogma is the Drama are great. There’s also a 2005 Christianity Today article, Dorothy Sayers: “The Dogma Is the Drama”: An interview with Barbara Reynolds. From the latter:

    A sentence from a letter Sayers wrote at the time gives you a flavor of these essays: “The dogma of the Incarnation is the most dramatic thing about Christianity, and indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment.”

    Also this:

    First, Sayers emphasized the irrevocable nature of time and the need for redemptive human activity: The future is here and now; the past is irretrievably gone; what has gone wrong cannot be undone, it can only be redeemed. Second, she placed creativity at the core of what it means to be human beings made in the image of the Triune God.

  • Andrew Dowling

    This is a timely post as I was just looking at the history of the formulation of the Nicene Creeds (the first as well as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan which came several decades later) this week. One thing that is striking about the creed, which is pretty much the one universal creed that is shared among practically all of Christendom, is its lack of any real value statements . . there is nothing about doing unto others what they would have done to you, compassion, mercy, forgiveness etc. They are all declarative statements . . “I believe in . . .”

    The other striking thing is that the main reason why the creed was formulated was to settle the argument of the nature of Jesus’s divinity. You basically had several centuries of argument about this, which if one really thinks about it, is a little silly. The councils at Nicaea were basically philosophical debates, with of course the prerequisite references to Scripture (although the Bible can support the Arian argument as well . .they had their own references). None of the men there had known Jesus; their reference point was the same Bible we have today, but they were mighty certain about the exact way in which Jesus was related to God . . .these arguments often led to damaged relationships and even physical violence! And if you read the accounts of the arguments made, many would be considered fairly pedestrian if made today by some mid-tier theologian.

    All that said, I have sympathy for why the creeds were formulated. For an institution to survive, especially a religious one, you need conformity of basic belief and solidarity. Christianity in the 2nd-3rd-4th centuries had a wide variety of beliefs (as different as the churches are post-Reformation, the differences back then were significantly greater), and I have a hard time seeing the Church flourishing historically if consolidation efforts hadn’t been made. Even if you were sympathetic to some opposing viewpoints, the early Bishops were stuck between and a rock and a hard place, and what transpired was completely understandable.

    But we do have the benefit of hindsight, and it’s pointless to throw that away. I would not advocate getting “rid” of the Nicean creed by any means (although I don’t count the various post-Reformation “confessions” in that; those IMO can be discarded in the rubbish bin) due to its historical importance and place in tradition, but we can adjust the way the Creed is used as a wall barrier and as the “center” of our faith . . .I really don’t believe 4th century philosophical debates about the Trinity should be the center of our faith. We better yet can focus on matters that reflect the values of a life filled with God seen through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

  • Lars

    Man, that quote’s first sentence is a doozy! In essence, it implies that truth is constant but cannot be apprehended by subjective mortals. But then that makes its initial premise suspect! How can we know the “truth” of God or God’s acts when our access to that truth relies so heavily on the (almost certainly flawed) cultural and societal interpretations of others? What if the Church, despite its hard work and good intentions, has gotten it wrong? In the end, I don’t see that the Church has much to hang its hat on beyond that “it affirms that the universe and its life as we know them depend for their existence on a divine Creator.” After that, it’s anyone-that-believes-in-a-divine-Creator’s best guess and you live your life accordingly.

    • toddh

      I think you are missing a little bit of space in the middle. It doesn’t have to be set up as “either we can know God’s truths with complete certainty” or “we can really be sure of nothing at all.” There is some space in between where we can do the hard work of trying to understand what God is saying to us today, even if we understand it imperfectly. I think faith enters into the situation in believing that we can understand God, even if we won’t get it completely “right,” and those before us didn’t either.

      • Lars

        That’s an excellent point that I don’t dispute. I think we’re saying the same thing more or less, just from different perspectives. I don’t see the practical difference between a hard-fought, but still uncertain faith, and a child-like faith where certainty is never considered – ultimately, which one gets us closer to understanding God? And how, and by whom, is that closeness measured? I would say ‘God’, and it’s probably not measured not in this lifetime. My childhood faith has since been replaced by the hope that it’s God who understands us (humanity that is, not just Christians) and how our endlessly conditioned interpretations, as sincere as they may be, are just as likely to obscure His truth as reveal it, and who loves us anyway. I realize I could be totally wrong but this view helps soften the ‘crap-shoot’ nature of religion and/or truth, and has allowed me to get beyond the hand-me-down interpretations of an angry, jealous, vengeful God whose love is entirely conditional.

  • Seraphim

    Remember that you are always talking within a Protestant framework, even when you have escaped the narrow confines of fundamentalism. Liberal Protestant study of Paul remained distinctively Protestant even as it was liberal Here’s the problem with the way that progressive Evangelicals such as yourself talk about these issues. Kendall Sparks said that it is perhaps time to reassess our Christology in light of what we now “know” about books like Daniel. No consideration was given to the way that such a change would spill over into other areas of belief, areas which are actually quite crucial.

    In Patristic theology, Christ, in assuming one human nature, glorifies that nature with divine energy by bringing it into union with the divine nature he possessed before all time. Despite the patronizing treatment of conciliar theology I often see, each of the Ecumenical Councils was utterly devoted to Christology for the sake of soteriology. If an imperfection persisted in Christ’s human nature, this has catastrophic effects on soteriology. To say that Christ erred “in His human nature” is absurd because there’s only one subject of action in Christ. When we say that Christ erred (on the date of Daniel or whatever), we are saying that the Divine Logos erred. Arguing otherwise makes you a Nestorian, since there is another subject of action besides the Logos.

    And if that is true, then union with God is impossible, because the whole point of the incarnation was to sanctify human nature by uniting it to the Divine Logos. To be human does not mean to be imperfect. In reality, the human calling means to be “holy as I am holy.” I’m speaking from outside the Protestant tradition, I think the Chicago Statement is an incoherent category error, I believe in evolution, and I don’t consider myself an inerrantist. But part of the problem that I am seeing in this ongoing conversation is that Progressive Evangelicals aren’t aware that they are dialoguing with anyone but Fundamentalists. In fact, some of the things that are argued conflict quite strongly with all forms of traditional theology.

    Not everything I said applies to you, but in a general sense, I have become quite concerned with some of the ways that you talk about Israel’s story and the Scriptures as a whole, and I want to make clear that such concerns do not originate from a young-earth, fundamentalist Protestant.

    in Christ

    • Seraphim

      Sorry, *Kenton* Sparks.

  • Ross

    A couple of more musings on the post.

    Generally I’ve always been happy(ish) with the Nicene Creed though I’m not familiar with all the details of its origins and I would query some aspects of it. If it is agreed to by the vast majority of all Christian denominations and groups then it has served a great purpose which it serves still so should maybe be left alone. Though I might like to see some tweaks.

    Really, great care needs to be taken in any form of doctrine and creedal statements in terms of who it is for. The majority of christians do not visit this forum and don’t tend to use words such as ontology, epistemology, soteriology or even creed and would probably get lost in working out what was being said a lot of the time. This doesn’t mean they can’t grasp the substance of what is being said, but don’t live or operate in the same manner or circles as many of us.

    The Gospel itself is not an exclusive esoteric message nor is it only for those who have undergone much training. It’s reality is that the “lowest of the low” can and do grasp it and they can often outperform the “wisest” in their knowledge and practice.

    So when it comes to the Creeds, they need to state in accessible terms what the substance of the “essential truth” is and need to be so in terms which can be orally asserted. I think this should be a pre-requisite of any musings about “theology”. “If I can’t easily express it to my illiterate neighbour, is it of any real practical worth?”.

  • Norman

    NT Wright had some thoughts on this issue in the Christian Chronicle in preparation of his upcoming visit to Oklahoma Christian my alma mater this week. Our Restoration heritage has strong inclinations of investigating the earliest first century church to determine acceptable patterns. We have historically shunned the creeds due to an aversion to the idea that they were not formulated under inspiration of the Apostles. This question and its implications was presented to Wright and below is his written response. I would mention that Wright comes out of a different experience and expectation and I think you can see his nuancing of the issue from an Anglican perspective where he is more comfortable with what he describes the as the working of the “Holy Spirit”.

    It seems that Wright may be allowing some traditional implementations to fall under the purview of the “Holy Spirit” which indicates he accepts them as possibly binding and authoritative? This question alone makes for an interesting discussion in light of this topic being discussed here.

    Here is the question presented to Wright.

    “How viable is the Restoration, or “back to the Bible,” message today?”

    Begin quote … “We don’t have the same “restorationist” movements in the U.K. as in the U.S.A., and I am not an expert on them in their various forms.
    The task of each Christian generation is to go “back to the Bible,” to try to hear in fresh ways what questions the early Christians were asking and what answers they were giving to those questions. That is what every wise church tries to do.
    But history suggests that it’s possible to be quite naive in thinking one can go “back to the Bible” and just reproduce early Christianity as though nothing had happened between the first century and today. (As though, for instance, the Holy Spirit had been inactive all that time!)
    Often such movements are driven by a rejection of existing denominations (and sometimes by the fact of denominations themselves), but they regularly end up producing yet another “denomination” by default.
    This is not to say that everything is all right with the existing church; only that the task of constant reformation in the light of Scripture is more complicated than it often appears.”
    End quote.

  • James

    A church I know adopted the Nicene Creed. They went on to outline purpose, mission and values of their particular group. I suggested to a Christian college president he consider doing the same. His institution cut back its statement of faith to bare bones but it still said too much of the wrong thing, in my opinion. The Nicene Creed has the advantage of being short, ancient and honored. A big disadvantage, of course, is its blindness to further progress of knowledge. Maybe it’s the best we’ve got considering the current flux.

  • I really appreciate this excerpt. I wonder though, if we need to move a step beyond talking about “apprehending” and “interpreting” unchanging truths from new historical and cultural circumstances and see creeds and theology in general as human constructions which are intended to serve the needs of the communities that create them.

  • Karen

    As someone else alluded to, the fact that most everyone agrees on the Nicene Creed is tremendous. Anyone who has studied church history knows how divisive things can become over the most minute details of doctrine. Even the Protestant Reformation with its fragmentation still rippling in 30,000+ denominations (and counting) can testify to that. Messing with the Creed pretty much ensures the end of ecumenism and the end of any hope of church unity especially across Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic lines. Never again will there ever be something as unifying as the Nicene Creed (filioque notwithstanding). The problem with Protestants is that they have a gross and disturbing indifference to church unity. The Reformation is not without its sin in that regard. As Paul said, we can have all knowledge but if we don’t have love we are nothing. So we can have all new up and coming knowledge, but if we do not have a church that is being built up together in unity, we have nothing. Disagreements are endless and at the end of the day all of us are going to have to accept some things that maybe we personally don’t completely ascribe to–for a greater spiritual good. Its not all about me and my personal pet denomination. This is not to say that some later confessions should not be tweaked, but certain staples like the Apostle and Nicene Creeds that provide the basics of the Gospel and are a strong unifying force should be given respect. Not everything that is “new” is better.

    • Paul Bruggink

      The beauty of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds is that there is no need to change them with advances in human knowledge. No matter what one believes about the age of the earth, biological evolution, historical Adam, the Fall, the Flood, original sin, the nature of divine action, theories of atonement, or whatever your favorite doctrinal issue is, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds hold up pretty well.

      • Murciano

        well said, Paul 🙂

  • rvs

    I like Screwtape’s observation: “The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption).”

  • accelerator

    Yes, a good argument CAN. Think Alfred Loisy and the whole history of Modernism in the Roman Catholic Church. It is frustrating to watch you replay the whole scenario out here.

  • This is amusing because it looks like I am both more liberal and more conservative than Lincoln.

    “Credal statements do not escape this and are therefore not immutable.”

    On the one hand I would go much farther than him and assert that Biblical statements are not (necessarily) immutable as well, which is clearly illustrated by the fact that they conflict with each other, thereby making picking and choosing inevitable.

    Thus I don’t single out the Protestant Canon as being always more inspired than other Jewish and Christian books.

    On the other hand I am open to the supernatural and think that one can only rule out the virgin birth (by using a statistical/probabilistic reasoning) if one’s assumes that for God, Jesus and Mary were just average human beings (or that God does not exist for that matter).

    Therefore I am agnostic about this event.

  • RJS

    The answer is of course ‘Yes’. Have you read any of the work of Revd. Prof. Maurice Wiles who was Regius professor of divinity at Oxford University for 21 years? He pioneered ‘doctrinal criticism’, i.e., applying the rules of historical criticism to doctrine.

  • Matt Ranson

    It’s kind of odd to talk about “updating” one’s “faith” to change as humans expand their knowledge. By updating your faith, is that not an admission that your previous beliefs were not true?

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    I hesitated before Replying to this query long enough hopefully so I won’t be asked to closely justify what I’m about to say–some of it may seem too odd to most Christians anyway–though others have made suggestions in similar directions. Still, I’d love to engage with those with sympathetic minds at rwwilson147 [at] swbell [dot] net


I don’t in any sense think creedal statements should be written on the basis of or changed by “advances” in human knowledge since “advances” can just as easily be diversions from revealed truth as they may be closer approximations of revealed truth. We have the biblical standards for truth; until any additional is given we ought never advance beyond that but only retreat within whatever “further” knowledge of that standard God may give us.

    To ask the question: 
”should church creeds and confessions change with advances in human knowledge?”
is also to ask whether the Church Creeds were actually human changes in doctrinal “knowledge.”


It seems apparent to me that the “universal” conciliar creeds of the Roman dispensation are based on presumed “advances in human knowledge” since they were clearly not just rephrases of biblical and hence Apostolic revelation. They went beyond scripture and answered questions that weren’t answered by biblical revelation at least in terms that were not a part of Apostolic knowledge. In a sense I admire the affirmation of the “two natures” of Jesus because it upheld his essential humanity. That much should have been obvious; that the Christ was also human had to be maintained. Still, neither I nor the Apostles will likely ever clearly understand the philosophical nuances that were incorporated in the Nicea-Constantinoplan formuli. These IMO went well beyond what had been revealed to the Apostles. If enough believers in Christ “advance” in their knowledge to agree this is the case then changes in church creeds might become inevitable. 

    Once I realized that scripture itself doesn’t answer the precise philosophical questions posed by the Christological debates that led up to the Nicea and the Constantinoplan statements or “symbols” I felt free to become non-creedal in my faith commitment to Christ and God the Father. No creed but that of scripture is OK with me. I have no problem with churches writing creedal statements, but do have a problem (and have had PROBLEMS with) churches thinking and acting as though their creeds or even those of “orthodox consensus” are equivalent to revealed truth. They aren’t and church creeds as such inevitably change with changes in “human knowledge.”


Now, if there is one thing that should definitely change in creedal formulations it is our statements about the Holy Spirit. It won’t happen any time soon I’m sure, but considering the complete lack of biblical and Apostolic revelation indicating in word or image that the Holy Spirit was either worshiped or prayed to as a distinct entity or “person” (in contradiction with the Constantinoplan statement) I’m inclined to think we might quite properly revise our creedal statements on that. The avoidance of honest and open discussion of this discrepancy in Christian theological venues is rather astonishing, but is also a strong indicator that most people don’t want to think even their own human understand can or should change.