The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman is vying for best book I’ve read in 2012. I found it compelling, engaging, and convincing, and I hope that many of those in the young, restless, and Reformed crowd reads it.
Trueman’s burden in the book is his “belief that creeds and confessions are vital to the present and future well-being of the church.” He makes a well-reasoned case for why we should have creeds and confessions, including the ongoing use of those from the past. Given that in my ordination vows I stated that I agreed the Westminster Standards contain the system of doctrine found in the Scriptures, I greatly appreciated his explanation of why it is important to have such creedal standards.
Perhaps the most important point that Trueman makes in the book is this: everyone has a creed or confession–but not all of them are written down. In his words:
I do want to make the point here that Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true.
In other words, when pastors say, “I just believe the Bible,” what they are really saying is that they hold a certain set of beliefs that cannot be publicly examined because they aren’t written down. This alone gives a pretty convincing case for why creeds and confessions should be written down: so that we can compare them carefully with Scripture to see if the doctrine contained in the confession is taught in Scripture.
The Creedal Imperative works systematically through the bases and arguments for confessionalism. In chapter one, Trueman analyzes why our contemporary culture (even evangelical culture) is skeptical about creeds and confessions, particularly older ones. His observations are insightful and instructive for the groundwork that may need to be laid in order for churches to begin to embrace creeds and confessions more today.
In chapter two, Trueman argues from Scripture itself that creeds and confessions are indeed a biblical idea anticipated by how Paul trained leaders in the early church. This is a powerful chapter, as Trueman anticipates arguments suggesting that creeds and confessions will reduce our commitment to sola Scriptura, arguing that instead creeds and confessions allow us to continually make sure that the “tradition” we pass down is in line with Scripture.
In chapter three, Trueman looks at the development of the earliest creeds in the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the creeds that came out of the early ecumenical councils. These are instructive as they represent the importance the early church attached to written summaries of Scripture’s teaching.
In chapter four, Trueman looks at classic Protestant confessions, such as the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession. I highly recommend this chapter, as it demonstrates not only the beauty of these confessions, but also the particular historical circumstances in which these confessions emerged. This is helpful as we consider the role of confessions in our own day and how they can continue to be used fruitfully.
In chapter five, Trueman tackles the relationship between confessions and praise. Contrary to the perhaps popular image of confessions as dry and dusty documents, he shows that they ought to lead to doxology. That is, while they teach truth, they are also meant to be used in leading us to worship, and so we ought not to present a bifurcated view of what we teach and how we praise our Savior.
In chapter six, Trueman explores further how creeds and confessions can be used profitably. The appendix is dedicated to discussing the writing of new creeds and amending of confessions.
Again, I highly recommend this work, as it is a much needed antidote to the common mindset that we “just believe the Bible” and so don’t care about what the church has produced in the past as summaries of Scriptural teaching.Read More