No Creed but the Bible?

In his book Minority Report: Unpopular Thoughts on Everything from Ancient Christianity to Zen-Calvinism, Carl R. Trueman has a chapter on creeds and confessions entitled “A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished.”  In some ways, this chapter is a trimmed down version of his book-length treatment of the same topic.

Trueman points out the problems with those who elevate confessions to too high of a position, and those who minimize the importance (indeed, the inevitability!) of confessions.  I thought his comments were worth passing along:

On the issue of creeds, the evangelical world often seems absolutely divided into two broad camps: there are those who are so passionately committed to a particularly narrow view of Scripture’s sufficiency that they not only deny the need for creeds and confessions but regard them as actually wrong, an illegitimate attempt to supplement Scripture or to narrow the Christian faith in doctrinal or cultural ways beyond the limits set by Scripture itself.  Then there are those whose view of creeds and confessions is so high that any other theological statement, and sometimes even the Bible itself, seems to be of secondary importance.  Neither group, I believe, really does justice to the creeds.

I am very suspicious of both approaches.  While I share the concern of the first group to safeguard the uniqueness of Scripture and to avoid imposing my own cultural preferences and tastes on someone else under the guise of gospel truth, I have a sneaking suspicion that the cry of “No creed but the Bible!” has often meant rather, “I have my creed, but I’m not going to tell you what it is so that you can’t know what it is and thus cannot criticize it or me for holding it.”  Such is often the case with those evangelicals who reject creeds but have very definite views on the legitimacy of the consumption of alcohol and the nature of the end-times, for example.  In practice, they effectively allow for no hypothetical distinction between what the Bible says and their own, or their church’s, interpretation of the same.  Thus, they render themselves immune to any criticism.  Further, as soon as they use words such as “Trinity” or even consult a commentary, they reveal that what they say about their relationship to tradition and what they actually do in practice with tradition are in conflict.

I also share the underlying concerns of the second group for a high view of the church and of her public statements, and also for an honest acknowledgment of the indebtedness of Protestantism to tradition, albeit not in the same sense as Rome would understand.  Yet the second group too is susceptible to criticism.  In a strange way, their problem is similar to that of the first group: a radical identification of what the church says with what Scripture says in a way that makes criticism of church teaching in light of Scripture well-nigh impossible.

Pgs. 119-120. (Bold emphasis added)

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

4 Replies to “No Creed but the Bible?”

  1. Love that book, Andrew. In fact, I had to go back a few years to see if I blogged on that very essay you mention here. I don’t think I did, but I did mention the book before. Thanks for the post! shane


    1. The very ability to distinguish quia from quatenus subscription is proof that a person has a proper understanding of the relationship between the confessions and Scripture. -Andrew


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