Not Nicene Christianity

Not Nicene Christianity March 11, 2013

Wright ( How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels ) claims that “the creeds were remarkable, a unique postbiblical innovation to meet a fresh need. They have functioned as the badge and symbol of the Christian family . . . for a millennium and a half. They are more than merely a list of things we happen to believe. Saying we believe these things marks us out as standing in continuity with those who went before us as well as with those around the world who today, in other places very different from our own, share this common faith and life” (256).

But he has reservations about contemporary calls for a revival of “Nicene Christianity”:

“The creeds,” he argues, “simply do not ‘let Scripture come to its natural two-testament expression’ [quoting Christopher Seitz]. Indeed, for many who has said the creeds down the years, the Old Testament has remained a largely closed book. There are many who would be horrified to have their status as catholic, creedal Christians questioned, but in whose life, worship, teaching, prayer, and Christian thinking the scriptures of Israel play no visible part” (256). They live out a “truncated, quasi-Marcionite Christianity.”

Creedal Christianity has not only missed the history of Israel, but in doing so has, in Wright’s view, missed the central thrust of the work of Jesus that the creeds summarize: “the great majority of people in today’s church who consider themselves to be firmly ‘creedal’ Christians, affirming the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and the second coming, have never imagined for one moment that the gospels are telling the story of how God became king . . . . there is a kingdom-shaped gap at the heart of their implicit story.” The problem is that this failure changes everything in the story “ever so slightly but significantly.” Without the kingdom, creedal Christianity misses the “central piece of the jigsaw puzzle” (257).

Christians of earlier ages “saw things we did not, and we must learn from them.” At the same time, both they and we “stand under scripture itself, appealing to it, being judged by it” (258).

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