How to sum up what Christians believe?

I’ve been musing a little bit about general Christian ‘statements of faith’.

I say ‘general’ in that a particular church or denomination will have its own defining distinctives. However even with a local or denominational church, I’d love to see a Statement of Faith broken into two parts: (1) what we affirm with all Christians (2) the  distinctives that shape our ecclesiologial practice

What follows are some random thoughts sketched out and published without editing or polishing – I’d be glad of your comments.

It is likely that the first Christians orally remembered and past on essential summaries of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – as recorded in a place like 1 Cor 15:1-5 for example. We had a discussion of these ‘gospel’ texts back when posting through this book. Philippians 2:5-11 is another beautifully structured celebration and declaration of the gospel of Jesus the Lord. Peter’s sermons in Acts are wonderful and powerful preached accounts of the good news of Jesus.

Such statements were gloriously ‘Jesus centered’, short and celebratory and transformative. And Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension are never disconnected from God the Father and the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit, nor from the unfolding story of God’s people Israel.

The Nicene Creed is, in its own language, similarly Jesus centered and celebratory – even though of course part of its history and purpose was politically and theologically defensive as well – to affirm truth is to deny error. I love saying the Nicene Creed together in a church service. It is a worship-inducing document.

Church history is littered with hundreds and thousands of statements of what Christians do, and do not, believe. I don’t have a problem with this – every generation of believers in every culture will need to articulate and affrim their faith in their context. I don’ buy into the anti-propositional stance that some were taking in the emerging church discussions a few years ago. Sure Word on its own is dead rationalism. But Deed without Word won’t sustain. Word AND Deed go together. That is, in effect, what the Bible is.

I’m a Presbyterian and they tend to like the Westminster Confession of Faith. I’ll make a confession of my own here – it does not do a whole lot for me. The reason is quite simple – it is not particularly Jesus centered. IMHO Jesus gets ‘lost’ in a welter of detailed theology on all sorts of topics (some of which I just don’t buy – like the deeply Christendom assumptions) and, unsurprisingly in its post-Reformation context, it is more than a tad concerned to define truth by simultaneously identifying error. Yes I know it is a classic statement of Reformed theology but it is in many places a turgid, complex and unexciting read.

So here are some of my ‘rules of thumb’ for a general Christian statement of faith around which someone who is a follower of Jesus could gather [please remember this a blog post and, as such, fairly unedited musings, so forgive me if I leave something big out!]:

1. Be Christocentric AND trinitarian

2. Don’t be defensive or sour; focus on the good news and celebrate it

Find room for the story of the Bible, especially Israel, church, Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God. In other words, go for narrative, not reductionistic systematics that flatten the narrative.

4. Expanding on the point above: be determindly biblical. Find room for how the Bible talks of God, humans, the gospel, Jesus, the Spirit, the church, the future rather than importing in later theological agendas.

5. Be as simple as possible – affirm a minimalistic Christian orthodoxy that embraces and includes and speaks of grace. Often, the more complex the statement the less attractive it becomes, the less it focuses on Jesus, the more it is concerned with policing boundaries by adding more and more tests of orthodoxy. Again the rule of thumb is to be biblical – if the Bible doesn’t spell things out in detail why insist that we know better? [E.G., Let’s have some eschatological agnosticism here rather than dogmatic insistence ours is the only right interpretation of what the Bible says about the future.]

6. Always connect what Christians believe with praxis – the lives they are to lead. Faith is much much more than a series of rationalistic propositions.

7. All theology should lead to doxology: the statement should draw people into the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ and point to the eschatological hope that shapes the NT.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

PS : And if you have a favourite summary of the Christian faith please share or link to it.

I’ll do another post in a couple of days on the best one I’ve come across.

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