In the every day of my walking-around life, heart and mind collaborate. Putting a note in my patient husband’s lunch communicates love, but, in my case, it is likely to be motivated by knowledge: he’s having a rough week; he did something terrific that I want to thank him for; the day ahead holds special challenges.
Truth about God can work in a similar way, directing the heart’s affection toward action, and although I am not from a tradition that uses creeds or written prayers in corporate worship, I have found that ancient words play an important role in framing my thoughts when I ponder the nature of God. In What We Believe, R.C. Sproul has unrolled the parchment to display the Apostles’ Creed, clarifying and applying it line by line, phrase by phrase to life here on the ground in the 21st century so that the glorious truth of words from A.D. 700 can pour forth for the benefit of both heart and mind.
His outline is straightforward and provides the biblical basis for each tenet, including some of the more puzzling references. For example, I have always felt uneasy about the inclusion of the concept of Jesus’ descending into hell because He is so clear on the day of His crucifixion that He would see the thief “in paradise.” He also commits His spirit to the Father at the point of death, and neither reference supports the possibility of a missionary journey to hell. R.C. Sproul concludes, along with John Calvin and other Reformers, that the “descent into hell” should be understood as a spiritual reality: as Jesus hung forsaken by God on the cross, He experienced “the full torment of hell” for us. Dr. Sproul doesn’t address the inconsistency of listing a “spiritual reality” in the same breath as the stunning physical realities of conception, birth, execution, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, but I was helped in my thinking, nonetheless.
Turning the pages of What We Believe, five big-picture truths were reinforced for me:
- When it comes to faith, content (or the object of faith) is key. The Christian is called to a faith in particular, not merely a faith “in faith,” or a warm feeling of hopefulness.
- Intellectual assent to truth is insufficient. “Faith loves truth,” but more importantly, it “delights in Christ,” the Object of our faith.
- The Apostles’ Creed speaks from the assumption of an open universe in which the natural laws (like everything else) are God’s, and He is able to step into His creation for the purpose of causing extraordinary events such as the virgin birth and the resurrection. It’s a nice bonus when science and Scripture sing in harmony, but my faith will not be jettisoned by lack of physical proof that a virgin birth could be replicated.
- The Christian faith is unmistakably Trinitarian. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God and each is addressed in The Creed. Chapter 11 is a clear and helpful expansion of the Creed’s six-word assertion about the third member of the Trinity, including Old Testament references to the Spirit, and the Spirit’s role in regeneration and sanctification.
- Christianity is social, not solitary. The nurturing of and the practice of correct theology happen in the context of “the communion of saints,” but the publication of the Gospel will only occur as Christians become embedded in the lives of those outside the church. “In the world but not of the world” is wildly foundational to the amphibious life of the believer, and so we need one another as anchors and ballast.
Here on this planet we will only begin to understand the nature of God. The Bible presents an abundance of truth and theology provides mental file folders for organizing that truth. Credal statements serve to summarize the content of belief so that the truth can be succinctly spoken or held up and examined for teaching and inspiration. The words of the Apostles’ Creed are a path toward a still place where the affirmation of beliefs in a renewed mind kindles love in a heart that has been set free by truth.
This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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