I must confess (no pun intended!) that in my early Christian life I was more-or-less a “no creed but the Bible” Christian. I didn’t understand denominations and I didn’t like them. I didn’t like “confessing” any creed or doctrine, I just wanted to study and memorize Scripture.
Probably four things led me to change my mind on this
(1) The Gospels are narrated. Several years ago, I taught a course on the Fourth Gospel and we watched a movie based on that Gospel. Here’s the funny part – we all found Jesus quite random and even nonsensical. That is, without the help of the narrator. I used to think –how fun it would have been, how inspiring to be one of Jesus’ disciples. Alas, I think I would have been among those that left him! The narrators act as guides to make sense of the story. So it is with creeds. They guide us in the reading of Scripture.
(2) Paul taught “traditions.” We sometimes criticize “tradition” as human fabrications, but no doubt Jesus passed on early Christian traditions, the purpose of which was to confess and teach doctrine (e.g., 2 Thess 2:15).
(3) Everyone has a formative worldview, and creeds synthesize that worldview. I taught freshmen at Seattle Pacific University for a short bit and all students had to take a course called Christian formation. Most of us that taught that course focused on the Apostle’s Creed. What I came to see was how much deep theology is actually contained in it, if you interpret it in tandem with Scripture (I enjoyed using Karl Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline as inspiration!). It comes from and can articulate a particularly Christian worldview. It is not simply a set of “beliefs” that only pertain to “religion.” It creates a whole “world” into which we step and through which we interpret reality. Check out Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Creed.(4) Creeds can unite. I remember reading that the churches that stood against Hitler started to recite the Apostles’ Creed aloud while standing in church – this created a bond of unity over and against the apostasy of the Reich churches. Creeds can help us not only bond together, but helps us have courage to resist what is ungodly.
Well, that is all a bit of a long way to commend to you Michael F Bird’s latest offering, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed (Zondervan, 2016). I read through Mike’s book a few weeks ago, and it is an engaging work that unpacks the central teachings of the creeds. Obviously Mike’s specialty is making things that can be boring very interesting, and this is no exception.