Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Against confessing the faith

It is never an option for evangelicals as to whether or not they will have a systematic theology. They have one. That theology is either good or bad, thought through or cobbled together without much in the way of reflection. But we ought not to think that we can lay our cards on the table and say that we don't have one. So it is with being confessional. We simply cannot be Christians at all with confessing the faith.

The following is taken from Richard Muller's address Confessing the Reformed Faith and can be found at Scott Clark's page at Westminster Seminary California. Muller is critiquing the approach of well meaning, and perhaps not so well meaning, evangelicals who contribute to confessional erosion:

"I am speaking here of the noncredal, non-confessional, and sometimes even anti-confessional and anti-traditional biblicism of conservative American religion. One recent evangelical systematic theology makes the point that confessional theology is a form of "indoctrination" that ought to be avoided-and, over the years, I have heard similar comments from students who were associated with the noncredal churches: Confessions are unnecessary at best when one has the Bible. At worst, they prevent their adherents from encountering the meaning of Scripture.

have usually asked such students whether they believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, specifically, the doctrine of one divine essence in three persons. When they nearly invariably respond positively, I point out to them that they are not really noncredal or non-confessional, but are in fact adherents to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed from the Second Ecumenical Council (A.D. 381).

I ask next whether, from their noncredal perspective, they view it as permissible to hold a doctrine of the Trinity according to which only the Father is truly God, and the Son, as "the firstborn of all creation" who himself confesses, "The Father is greater than I," might be viewed as an exalted creature of God. Of course, they deny such a possibility-but they have very great difficulty arguing against it in brief, without recourse to the Nicene formula: Arianism, after all, did have its scriptural proof texts.

The point is, then, quite simply made that we need creeds and confessions so that we, as individuals, can approach Scripture in the context of the community of belief. It is not that creeds and confessions stand above Scripture as norms. Not at all. They stand below, but also with Scripture as churchly statements concerning the meaning of Scripture. And therefore, they also stand above the potentially idiosyncratic individual and prevent him from becoming his own norm of doctrine even as they provide entry for him into a churchly perspective".


Highland Host said...

"Had it not been for the perversions of heresy, [confessions] would never have been called for." Thomas Chalmers.

Martin Downes said...

Perhaps confessions are shaped by heresies but isn't the basic impulse to confess before the world what God has done for us in Christ a matter of conversion and Christian identity?

I was thinking of Romans 10:9 and 1 Corinthians 12:3

Bokey said...

I like your thoughts here. As someone who has grown up as a believer in a former brethren church where there is a very lax confessional standard, I am more and more aware how good the historic confessions are. I am particularly beginning to love the Westminster confession. Must be my lapsed Presbyterian roots! Thanks

Gary Brady said...

Thanks for this. I've been toying with attempting something very simple on the 1689 Confession. This may have tipped me in the right (or wrong!) direction. PS I owe you an email.

Highland Host said...

Thomas Chalmers (I'm preparing for a paper on him, and he's incredibly profound in places) wonders if we should have had to confess the faith in words other than those of Scripture if heresy had not come into the Church.

That is of course an academic question, as the rise of heresy is clearly prophesied in Scripture.