“Why Not a Creedal Church?”
26 December 2004
One Christmas present came early and in and around my other duties, I’ve been reading it as best I can. The book is Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. She writes brilliantly and this book is about why we need creeds. Creeds are assertions by the church of our belief in objective truth. BY them we are declaring what we believe to be knowable and true about God, our faith and the world itself. The Nicene Creed is Trinitarian in structure--there is a section dedicated to each person of the triune God. It has been the position of the historic church to affirm that the structure of the godhead is the source of the structure of all reality. What does that mean?
It means that at its root all reality is personal. That relationship is prior to stuff. Before the world was created, there was in the godhead a personal relationship--a community of three, and spiritual communion between them. So stuff--the sun, moon, the stars and earth herself all proceed from the essential being of God; they come forth from the relational and remain bounded by that personal dimension. Physical reality is completely derived from God, is completely dependent upon God for both its origin and its continuance. Creation ex nihilo means just this. All that is, all that ever will be has it source in the creative purposes of God. He calls everything into existence. He speaks and they become, they exist whereas before He spoke, they were not. There is a fundamental unity within the godhead and that same unity incorporates the material realm so commonly separated in our thinking, in our “scientific” culture.
The Nicene Creed is like dynamite laid to the root of Western culture because Western culture is dualistic. Don’t check out on me now. I am declaring that the creed is dynamite. What it is blowing up is the tendency to think about things in opposing terms such as private v. public, myth v. science, subjective knowledge v. objective knowledge, or fable versus fact. Our culture tends to separate reality into two spheres: the faith sphere and the science sphere. Religion is in one sphere (and all the things we can’t “know” objectively are placed there) and “knowledge, or science” is in the other sphere (where knowledge which every intelligent person can understand and assent to belongs). In religion, we feel free to say--I‘ve heard it often, “What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.” In other words, we commonly assume that in religion everything is both relative and mere opinion. The cultural value of tolerance insists on this assumption in a diverse society However, in science, no one is allowed to get away with “the what’s true for you” jazz because in science, or so popular thinking goes, we’re dealing with objective reality. Here, knowledge’s real, provable, testable so everyone can agree that science is science everywhere, anywhere and anytime. Now hold the phone! I need to point out the obvious so that we all see what’s just happened here. Somehow, in the contest between faith and reason, science just got handed all the marbles! Science is “real” religion is fable, or myth. Science is the domain of knowledge and truth, whereas religion is the domain of opinion, varied, improvable and subjective. Or even more bluntly science has just pre-empted the place of truth and simultaneously devalued the knowledge proper to the faith, or religious sphere. Revealed knowledge is just as truthful as empirical knowledge might ever aspire to be. Therefore, this identity of science and truth is impermissible--they are not the same thing at all. That is what the Nicene Creed does well to expose and to demolish.
Let me speak plainly. We all know of bad science, of falsified information parading as scientific proof for political purposes. It happens in the drug industry all too often, and in that arena of politics known as global warming. We also know that science continues to reform and revise its “knowledge base” and its theories as new information comes to the fore. Hopefully, science leads us closer and closer to the truth it proposes to pursue but, in all humility, it may never get there perfectly, or absolutely. In all of this, scientific knowledge does not differ one bit from religious knowledge--theology also evolves, develops and unfolds. The Nicene Creed distills for us the essence of our revealed and historical faith. It is every bit as verifiable as scientific knowledge except in the historical sciences, requiring good evidence and reliable witnesses leading to sound testimony which produces valid conclusions. Every article of faith in the creed is supportable from Scripture which functions very much as the periodic tables in chemistry. We know how to distinguish truth from falsehood, how to establish probability even in the realm of prophetic utterances. The Nicene Creed affirms the objective reality to which our religion directs us. That’s quite a blessing.