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.
"The Coming of the Kingdom of God with Power"--in the lifetime of "some who were standing there" (Mark 8:38-9:1)
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is the historical context of Jesus’ statement to his disciples, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power?” What are the theological implications of understanding this passage in its first century context?
The historical context of “the kingdom of God coming with power” in the lifetime of “some who were standing there” is indeed past to us, and was fulfilled at the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is not to say that the destruction of the temple was the coming of the kingdom, but rather that it was the visible sign that all that had been written had been fulfilled. In other words, these events were not the substance of the coming of the kingdom, but rather the visible sign of its coming. Of course, the sign itself was a display of God's power, no doubt. In fulfillment of Christ's words, "not one stone was left upon another" (cf. Mark 13:2). But it was the destruction not of the temple building itself, but of what it represented--the OT law and commandments being abolished, and the "rulers of that age being brought to nothing" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6)--which ushered in the reign of Christ by the Gospel, and the establishment of "his government and peace which shall have no end" (Isaiah 9:6). The temple’s demise signified that the Old Covenant Age had passed away, and the New Covenant Age had begun. Jesus had indeed “made all things new” (cf. Revelation 21:5).
How one understands the nature of the kingdom will determine whether they believe it has fully come. For example, if one views kingdom promises as physical or geo-political in nature, then they may see a yet future fulfillment. Whereas if one sees kingdom promises as spiritual in nature, and applying to a kingdom “not of this world” (cf. John 18:36), and which came “without observation” (cf. Luke 17:20), which exists within the hearts of God’s people (cf. Luke 17:21), and is experienced in their communion with God and with one another in His presence (cf. Psalm 16:11; Romans 14:17; Revelation 3:20; 21:3) then they will understand that God’s kingdom has fully come. However to say the kingdom has fully come is not to say it is not ever growing and expanding, as more and more enter (cf. Isaiah 60:11; Revelation 21:25); for “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” and why did Jesus say it was the “unforgiveable sin?” Can we commit “the unforgivable sin” today?
First, spanning out and considering a larger context, this incident (3:19-30) is preceded by Jesus’ confirmation that He is indeed claiming to be God, who alone can forgive sins, in direct response to a charge of blasphemy from the Scribes—if only at this juncture in their unexpressed thoughts (2:1-12). Now we see him charging them with blasphemy for openly ascribing the works of God to the works of demons, or “Satan” (the prince of evil spirits, or the adversary). So in Mark’s chronology we see Jesus’ identity progressively revealed, and along with this revelation we see the Jewish leaders becoming increasingly bolder in their accusations against him, and in their denial of his deity—which is their rejection of God’s revelation of His salvation to humankind in Christ.
Specifically to the question of why Jesus defines blasphemy as the “unforgiveable sin,” it is important to identify from the text what that “blasphemy” is. And we do have the definitive statement that Jesus is speaking against the “blasphemy” of those who had said, “he has an unclean spirit” (3:30). In other words, this unforgivable blasphemy—committed in a specific time and place by a specific group of people--was the denial of Jesus’ deity, and not simply by suggesting he was a mere man rather than “the Son of Man,” but with the added force of claiming the works he performed to prove his identity were in fact works he performed by the power of “Satan.”
I have occasionally heard people wonder, “what if I have committed the unforgivable sin?” It is important that we remember the time and place context of this story. Again, Jesus was speaking to a specific group of people, who had committed a specific offense—that of denying that His works, done physically in their presence, were the works of God, and ascribing those works instead to the works of “Satan.” This is not a position any of us are in today, historically speaking. Beyond this, our theology, and specifically our soteriology, will dictate our response to someone who fears they may be “unforgivable.” When our faith in the power of the cross assures us that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (cf. Romans 8:1) we can comfort one another with this “good news.”
 First century Jews would have indeed understood from their prophets that Israel’s Savior would be none other than God. In fact, it is not possible to call Jesus “Savior” without also calling him “God” (cf. Isaiah 43:3; 45:21; Hosea 13:4).
 “Soteriology” refers to the doctrine of salvation, or our belief about how one becomes saved, and would also encompass whether we believe one could ever “lose salvation.”
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is the significance of Jesus’ claim that the “Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins?”
Old Testament prophecies of salvation and the forgiveness of sins often include the language of physical healing, associating disease and sickness with sin, and health and wholeness with the forgiveness of sin. For example, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases (Psalm 103:2). And in this description by Isaiah of the New Jerusalem, wherein God dwells with his people, which we understand to be fulfilled in the church (cf. Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 21:2, 9-10), the eradication of “sickness” is accomplished by the forgiveness of sins:
Isaiah 33:24 And no inhabitant [of the New Jerusalem] will say, "I am sick"; the people who live there will be forgiven their iniquity.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus comes on the scene healing, and specifically according to Isaiah’s prophecy, he heals the blind, deaf, lame and the mute, as well as many other diseases (cf. 1:29-34; 40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:21-41; 6:53-56; 7:31-36; 10:46-52). In addition to healing physical disease, Jesus casts out many “unclean” or “demonic” spirits (cf. 1:21-28; 32-34; 5:1-11; 7:24-30; 9:14-29).
When Jesus responds to the faith of the paralytic and his friends by saying to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” the scribes charge him with blasphemy, as only God can forgive sins. Jesus’ reply to them confirms that their understanding is indeed correct: only God can forgive sins. And just “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (in other words, so that you know that I, the Son of Man, am indeed God, “your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel”), he says to the paralytic, “stand up” (cf. 2:1-12).
 Isaiah 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (See also Luke 7:21-22.)
 “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine... For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...I am the Lord and beside me there is no Savior...Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel... I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King... I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (cf. Isaiah 43:1,3,11,14,15,25).
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.