The Importance of the Creeds

Posted: September 29, 2011 in christianity, controversy, Jesus, theology

In an attempt to “nail down” certain truths about Jesus, particularly in regard to his relation to the God of Israel, the early church met in ecumenical councils and developed ecumenical creeds, for the purpose of establishing guidelines designed to protect the church from wandering off into the many heresies and misunderstandings that easily develop when talking about Jesus, the God-man.  Since the crafting of these creeds, the vast majority of Christians have embraced them as helpful summaries of biblical teaching and important standards of Christian doctrine.

Enter James MacDonald, who recently invited T.D. Jakes, pastor of a megachurch in Dallas, TX, to participate in his Elephant Room talks.  This decision has sparked some controversy due to Jakes’ questionable theology with regard to the Trinity.  On Tuesday, MacDonald posted a response to the controversy on his blog.  Here is an excerpt:

I affirm the doctrine of the Trinity as I find it in Scripture. I believe it is clearly presented but not detailed or nuanced. I believe God is very happy with His Word as given to us and does not wish to update or clarify anything that He has purposefully left opaque. Somethings are stark and immensely clear, such as the deity of Jesus Christ; others are taught but shrouded in mystery, such as the Trinity. I do not trace my beliefs to credal statements that seek clarity on things the Bible clouds with mystery. I do not require T.D. Jakes or anyone else to define the details of Trinitarianism the way that I might. His [Jakes’] website states clearly that he believes God has existed eternally in three manifestations.

Of particular interest to me is what MacDonald’s comments reveal about his perspective on the importance of church history and the ecumenical councils and creeds.  Carl Trueman, with his usual clarity and insight, has offered a nuanced and helpful response:

True catholic Christianity has always regarded Nicene orthodoxy as vital.   An evangelicalism which argues for the basic irrelevance of such is simply not part of that catholic tradition; rather than being generously connected to other believers, it effectively isolates itself from the mainstream Christian tradition…

I want to know how and why Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and Owen, to name just eight representatives of Trinitarianism, considered this to be more than a matter of over-scrupulousness.  A humble listening to the past is important for the church in any circumstance; in the context of the creeds, such listening is absolutely non-negotiable…

Thus, for an evangelical leader to argue that creedal developments on Trinitarianism are of little importance is a fascinating glimpse into the doctrinal make-up of what constitutes contemporary evangelical leadership in the United States as it connects to catholic Christianity and, indeed, any tradition which regards the insights of Nicene Christianity as of importance in the overall transmission and articulation of the identity of Jesus Christ and thus his gospel.

For more on the important councils and creeds of church history, see The Resurgence’s excellent series of posts.

UPDATE: Mark Driscoll recently posted an extremely helpful (and detailed) overview of the the above-mentioned controversy and the doctrine of the Trinity itself, from a biblical and historical perspective.  Definitely worth the read.

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