Saturday, August 13, 2016
The Significance of Theological Creeds and How They Function in the Christian Community
Christian bodies that claim to follow “no creed but the Bible” put themselves at an enormous disadvantage for many purposes, not least for promoting Christian learning, because they cut themselves off from the vitally important work that has been accomplished by the numberless assemblies making up the community of Saints. [Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind]
Tom Kuttenmaker recently published an article entitled, “Why a Stout Theological Creed is Not Saving Evangelical Churches.” You may read this article HERE. There is a lot of truth in Tom’s article. However, overall, the article is misguided at its most fundamental level.
Tom spends his time rebuffing the likes of like Al Mohler for pointing out that Liberal Protestantism is chiefly in decline is because of its lack of conviction around basic Christian doctrine. Mohler often points out that Liberal Protestants reject the one thing that could restore their communities to health: a return to biblical authority. It is here, and nowhere else, that all professing Christian communities are defined. A rejection of biblical authority leaves a vacuum that no version of a social gospel can fill. Moreover, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is life, a vibrant community filled with a love for God, for God’s truth and a love for each other.
Protestant Liberalism gets the cart before the horse. She has lived for decades now, attempting to place love of men prior to love for God. Or worse, she redefines love according to criteria over which she is the sole authority. What Tom Krattenmaker and others like him do not understand is that where there is no love for divine truth, no love for biblical authority, there can be no love for God. And where there is no love for God, there can be no love, no true love for humanity. But I digress. Evangelicalism is in decline. And her supposedly firm grip on staunch theological creed is powerless to curtail her slide. The point is that if it is true that a stanch theological creed would save liberal Protestantism from her decline, then why isn’t this staunch theological creed saving evangelicalism? That is indeed a very fair point. But Krattenmaker is only seeing and telling half the story. What he is not telling you is that the evangelical trends that Mohler and others see and have seen for years now is a trajectory much like that of the liberal Protestants of years gone by.
The point is precisely this: liberal Protestantism abandoned the historic creeds and a staunch theological conviction years ago and as a result, over time, people have exited her in droves. What has held much of evangelical churches together for years, however, has been her strong convictions around biblical authority and other basic tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy. However, evangelicals have shifted from a staunch theological creed to a weakened one and now to outright abandonment of such a concept.
Some leaders are afraid to call themselves reformed, and they fail to recognize that a subscription to reformed theology matters, and it matters a lot. They worry that if they say Calvin or Calvinism that someone’s senses may be offended. We essentially make decisions on what to say and how we say it, based on the ignorance of those who haven’t cared enough to educate themselves. That’s right. What we preach, teach, and call ourselves in many instances is determined by the ignorant rather than by the informed. What? Say it with me: What!?
Tom is right when he says that church membership is not the place to look if we are seeking evidence for the beauty and power of truth. He is right when he says it never was the place to look. But still many, including the SBC, look exactly right there. And that is more than a little disturbing and has been since the practice began. The beauty and power of the gospel is witnessed not in the masses of people joining a church or an organization. It is witnessed in the miraculous change of the sinner’s heart. The transformation is indeed miraculous.
The church in modern America has been far too involved in the political system, the outward governmental structure and even economic policy. American Christians can hardly distinguish between their faith and their patriotism. Christ told us to make disciples and to preach the gospel and somehow, that has turned into outlawing abortion, stopping homosexual marriage, ending sex trafficking, fighting over things like “Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays,” and putting a stop to world hunger and a host of other good and noble causes but sadly, not the primary, or even the secondary purpose of the church. And now, we are starting the pay the price. It is all really very pathetic when you think about the mission of Christians in the world. We are fighting over prayer in secular school and whether or not we can bake a cake for a gay wedding. The distractions of political and social activism have drowned the gospel. Pagans in America think the gospel is “thou shalt not have an abortion,” or “thou shalt pray in school,” or “fill in the blank.” It isn’t because we should not be preaching against these vile sins. We should. But they are no longer issues of sin when you frame them up in political conversations. The gospel runs the risk of looking just like any other political posturing when we make it about issues like gay marriage or abortion or whatever.
Carl Truman, in his excellent book, The Creedal Imperative, hits the target; all Christians engage in confessional synthesis; the difference is simply whether one adheres to a public confession, subject to public scrutiny, or to a private one that is, by its very nature, immune to such examination.
In the end, liberal Protestants have their own staunch theological creed. Even though they like to claim they are more tolerant, the truth is, they are not. Just as true Christianity rejects those who claim to be Christian and yet reject basic Christian tenets, like the authority or Scripture, liberal Protestants reject those tenets outright. And just as true Christians reject the sexual ethic of the modern liberal Protestant, the modern liberal Protestant rejects the sexual ethic of biblical Christianity, characterizing it as hateful and bigoted. You see, both biblical Christianity and liberal Protestantism engage in confessional synthesis. We confess that Scripture alone is our final authority for faith and practice while liberal Protestantism confesses that human reason will decide which portions of Scripture are acceptable for faith and practice. That is the basic difference.