James McGrath has an interesting post today, “I Believe in I Believe in God,” in which he writes
Last Sunday in my Sunday school class, the topic that came up here on the blog recently also came up there: the difference between trusting in divine grace, and trusting in one’s understanding of divine grace.
One can apply the same point to the creeds. There is a difference between believing in God, and believing a creed, even if the creed begins with “I believe in God.”
Hence the title of the post. For some, it is not enough to believe in God. One must believe in “I believe in God…”
The lack of creedalism
Now, McGrath represents the more progressive side of Christian theology, and would perhaps have a different perspective of creeds than the typical “evangelical” (in the contemporary sense, not the Lutheran sense). For that matter, I would not be surprised if many of today’s evangelical Christians know that the creeds exist or what they say. Evangelicalism, in part due to a disregard for the historic creeds, has drifted in myriad directions, and has become quite subjective. From this standpoint, many “conservative” evangelicals are, in fact, “progressive,” when it comes to historic, confessional Christianity. Far more often than not, what you hear on any given Sunday morning is not historic Christianity or theology, but the pastor’s perspective, salted with verses pulled out of context to support the topic du jour.
This is not to say that these evangelicals have drifted from the essence of the creedal statements, at least as far as their church statements of faith go. In fact, many have actually added requirements for being members of that church. However, it’s my experience that many evangelical Christians have never been taught basic theology, and are in fact heterodox with respect to the creeds.
There is a difference
There is, indeed, a difference between believing in God, and believing in a creed. But I think it is important to understand the origins and contexts of creeds. Without going into great detail, creeds were mainly developed in response to various heresies that threatened to divide the church. They were developed to reflect what was felt as the absolute bottom-line with respect to what one had to believe in order to be a Christian. Believing in God is one thing; believing in accordance with Scripture as reflected by the creeds is another.
The Nicene Creed, for example, was developed in the 4th Century as the standard for orthodox Christianity. You could believe otherwise, but you’d be a heretic – outside the faith. The same would seem to be true today – the creeds haven’t changed. You can disagree with the creeds, but then, you disagree with conventional, orthodox Christianity as understood for 2000 years.
There are a couple of issues with respect to the Nicene creed that conventional churches disagree about. One is whether or not the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or both the Father and the Son. This is not an issue I tend to worry about, although I tend to go East (from the Father only). The other issue is the phrase “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church” (“catholic” meaning “universal”), which would be disputed by some, and which is interpreted differently by others. Thus, some fundamentalist churches (who are very anti-Catholic and anti-Eastern Orthodox), would reject the Nicene Creed, again, making them progressives…
What do you think? Is it enough to believe in God, or does one have to believe in one or more of the creedal statements?