26 April 2012

king jesus gospel 4

Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

[My plan here is to take a series of posts to interact and respond to the book's content, rather than offering a more traditional review.  I will be jumping over things and not taking the time to cover all of of the points.]

So, how did the modern church become so disconnected from the apostolic understanding of gospel?  This is the next question which McK takes on, via survey of the development of the creed.  This is an interesting chapter on various levels, and if you are from a non-creedal tradition there is a good deal of challenge to rethink your understanding of the creeds.

I blogged recently about my current involvement with a non-creedal denominational movement.  Interestingly, the cry, "We do not accept creeds" becomes its own creedal affirmation.  The primary difference, however, is that the claim that creeds are 'manmade' when in fact they are rooted in Scripture, the statement "We do not accept creeds" is completely human in origin, even to the point of ignoring and rejecting the traditions of Israel and the early church as contained in Scripture.  This is more than a sad and pathetic irony . . . part of what McK asserts in his book is that such an atmosphere has contributed greatly to the misunderstanding of gospel, and thus the misalignment of the church's mission.  Evidently, creeds matter.

The initial observation given in this chapter sets the course, "In studying this history and development, I began to see this simple observation: the classic universal (or "catholic") creeds of the church flesh out Paul's articulation of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 . . ." (64, emphasis original).  A few sentences later McK rephrases it this way: "1 Corinthians 15 is the genesis of the great Christian creeds" (64).

What is strongly asserted here is the connection between the creedal statements of the church and the biblical understanding of gospel.  In response to those who claim to deny the proper use of the creeds, McK poses this question, "What line or lines in the Nicene Creed do you not believe?"  His point, therefore, is that "there's nothing there not to believe" (65).  Thus, the connection between the traditional creeds of the church and gospel has been severed unnecessarily.  More than that, it has been severed with great damage to much of the modern evangelical movement.

What is the point of these creeds, then?  For some people today it has become a tradition in which they participate, but do not give much attention to the actual words.  On the other side, the creeds represent being conformed to a tradition of faith that exists to circumvent or replace Scripture.  And then, most of us fall somewhere in the middle.  How did it begin?  McK asserts, "To recite the creeds for these early Christians was not to dabble in the theologically arcane but to articulate and confess - aloud and often - the gospel itself.  To deny these creeds was to deny the gospel" (69, emphasis mine).  One could easily push-back on this point and make the claim that this is overstating things, and that those who are committed to gospel do not need the creeds for their faith.  In one sense this is true - we are saved not by creed or confession, but by God's grace.  However, the history of the evangelical movement, which demonstrates a movement away from the creeds - and many groups which make a point of leaving them behind as part of their theology - have allowed the church to disconnect from the gospel itself.  So, although creeds are not necessary for faith, they show that they play a vital role in building the faith.

One question that comes off of the rabbit trails here: Would it therefore be acceptable for the modern church to write its own creeds and affirmations of faith?  I believe the answer, in light of this discussion, would be "Yes!" - for the faith must be alive and in conversation with culture.  In many ways we do this on popular levels, sometimes well and other times not so well.  But the immediate follow-up would be: "Why?"  There is great wisdom in many of these creeds and, while any one of them might not be perfect, they articulate the faith in a manner consistent with Scripture and have carried the tradition of the church through many generations.  To be connected with the story of the church if vital in its own right.

McK strongly asserts that the connection between church and creed is important for our full understanding of gospel and kingdom.  Again, this is a powerful survey (which we have not really touched here) and challenge (which we have developed a bit) to our understanding, acceptance and (hopeful) use of the creeds as the community of faith.

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