As part of a New Testament seminary course I have been reading a book called Practicing Theological Interpretation by Joel Green. While I am enjoying the book and I do recommend it for its thorough discussion of various hermeneutical paradigms, one section on the "Rule of Faith" as dictated by the "Creed" (singularly referencing the collective creeds of the church throughout history) was challenging. Here is my brief response.
My local faith community does not regularly recite a creed. We do occasionally attend a Lutheran church that uses both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed alternately as part of their weekly liturgy. Of these two, I find the Nicene Creed to be the most significant because it affirms Christ’s deity, which I believe is an essential tenet of the Christian faith. However, it would not be accurate to say that the reason I believe Christ’s deity is an essential tenet of Christianity is because the creed affirms it; but rather, I see the creed as affirming what is taught in Scripture. The point of tension arises for me in other areas where I do not hold the creeds (or creed, used collectively) to be infallible. And that tension is increased by the acknowledgment that the same men who composed the early creed(s) of the church also determined what writings were included in the canon of Scripture. It would therefore be illogical for me to say on one hand that the creeds are subject to scrutiny, and are allowed to be questioned by a sincere Christian, but the make-up of the canon is not. There is of course precedent for such questioning in the Reformation era, as Martin Luther challenged the legitimacy of several New Testament books including James.
In this week’s reading, Joel B. Green poses the question, “What happens when an otherwise apparently faithful reading of Scripture stands in tension with a claim of the ecumenical creeds of the church” (Green, 81)? I confess I was most disappointed with his answer. He essentially concludes that any theological reading of Scripture that lies outside of the parameters set by the Rule of Faith cannot be considered a “Christian” reading (Green, 98). While he takes great pains throughout the chapter to claim this is not what he is saying, his conclusion reveals a view of the creed that is at least on par with Scripture, if not superior to Scripture. While on one hand I appreciate the “hermeneutical role” he assigns to the creed when he states, “procedurally, a theological hermeneutic might ask, ‘what do we see when we read Scripture through the prism of the creeds that we might not otherwise see?’”(Green, 98); I think he goes too far when he calls the creed the “rule for reading Scripture” (Green, 96). And if he is not placing the creed above Scripture, but merely in “dialectical relationship” with Scripture (Green, 97), then again, why does he conclude so forcefully that any reading of Scripture that is in conflict with the Rule of Faith is not a “Christian” reading? It seems he views the creed as divinely guarded from reformation, even reformation by guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Are there errors in the collective ecumenical creed of the church? I believe there are. Are there books in the canon that should not be there? Possibly, but I place my faith in the sovereignty of God over the preservation of the written witness to his revelation, so that regardless of this possibility, the Gospel is preserved with clarity and integrity through this witness. Are there books that were not included in the canon, but should have been? We may discover them yet. Again, it would be illogical for me to allow for the questioning, and the re-examining of the creed in light of Scripture, and hold dogmatically to a fixed canon. To sum up—although in no way to claim resolution to the tension I live with—I esteem the analogy of Scripture (the central message of the whole of it, seen in the unity of its the parts) over and above the Rule of Faith as defined by the creed. Or to put it another way, Scripture’s agreement with Scripture provides a more reliable hermeneutical guide for me than Scripture’s agreement with the Rule of Faith. That is, when the situation arises that a faithful reading of Scripture “stands in tension with a claim of the ecumenical creeds of the church,” I do not dismiss it as untenable merely because of this tension. While I may be forced to admit I am outside the parameters of Christian “orthodoxy,” so were many 16th century reformers who denied the salvific efficacy of water baptism, or the Eucharist as a means of grace, as are all protestants who deny these today.
To be continued (as I don't see a resolution to this tension any time soon)....
Citations above are from:
Green, Joel B. Practicing Theological Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.