Monday, October 15, 2007

Growing toward the creeds

Marcus Borg (who will be our Ann Evans Woodall lecturer on November 1) has this to say about the creeds:

My claim is not that later Christian doctrines are wrong and should be discarded. Not at all. I belong to a church that recites the creeds in its worship services, and I have no difficulty dong so. But this is because I understand the creeds as later Christian testimony to the significance of Jesus. In their language (language that had developed over a few centuries) these Christians expressed their deepest convictions about Jesus –about who he was (and is) and why he matters. These convictions flowed out of their continuing experience of the presence of Jesus, their worship and devotion, and their thought. But I do not see them as expressing beliefs or understandings that were already there in the first century, already there in the mind of Jesus and his earliest followers. (Jesus Harper, 2006, p.17)

Some years ago Tom Wright, now Bishop of Durham, reminded me of the saying that ‘growing in faith is growing toward the creeds’.

These statements have led me to reflect a bit more on what I make of the creeds, especially in light of the charge that The Episcopal Church has parted ways with traditional biblical faith.

I have no problem agreeing with Borg that the interpretations of the story of Jesus reflected in the creeds were unlikely to be in the mind of Jesus or his earliest followers. At the same time I believe them to be reflections of the biblical story as it came to be told after Easter.

We know that the creeds developed partially as baptismal affirmations and partly as essentially negative statements ruling certain doctrines, teachings , interpretations and so on as ‘beyond the pale’. All that understood, it seems to me that the creeds function as an outline of the story, effectively shaping the space within which we will find our response to the gospel life giving. In this respect, ‘growing towards the creeds’ is a process not unlike those early Christians who had a variety of responses to the story and who, thorough a process of something like trial and error discerned what was life giving and what was not. As they are products of what is sometimes called ‘the undivided church’ (i.e. prior to the split between East and West.)

When we recite the creeds in worship, I think of myself as remembering the outline of the story of our faith rather than giving intellectual assent to a series of dodgy propositions. I have no problem with seeing the significance of Jesus going to the beginning of creation (John 1:1-18), nor with God being revealed as Trinity. In fact I find these ways of telling the story to be life-giving. That does not mean that I do not enjoy exploring who Jesus was, how he was perceived and understood, how he understood himself and his mission and so on. I agree with Borg that how we construe the story makes all the difference in appropriating its meaning, but overall find the creeds helpful in dong just that.

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