I invited students to think with me last week about the nature of the confession “I believe” and the relationship this might hold to the ecumenical creeds and confessions of the Church.
Students read selections of New Testament proto-creeds and excerpts from Origen, Karl Rahner, Georges Florovsky, and John Webster. It all made for vigorous discussion about the various ways we can conceive the purpose and role of confessions in the church’s ongoing life. Consider the following two excerpts, one from Rahner and the other from Webster, and let me know what you think: What is the ongoing role of the creeds in the life of the church – if there is one?
[T]he effective mission of the church in the face of modern disbelief likewise requires a testimony to the Christian message in which this message really becomes intelligible for people today … This message has to be able to express the essentials briefly for busy people today, and to express it again and again … [H]owever much [the Apostles Creed] will always be a permanent and binding norm of faith, nevertheless it cannot simply perform the function of a basic summary of faith today in an adequate way because it does not appeal directly enough to our contemporary intellectual and spiritual situation (Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, p. 449. Emphasis mine).
Set this next to Webster’s and you immediately see stark differences:
What is said about the nature and functions of creeds and confessions must be rooted in talk about the Triune God in the economy of salvation, tracing these human texts back to their source in teh church’s participation in the drama of God’s saving self-communication in Christ through the Spirit’s power … It is simply to say that the history of the creeds is part of the history of the church – part, that is, of that sphere of human life invaded and annexed by God and characterized by astonished and chastened hearing of the Word and by grateful and afflicted witness (“Confession and Confessions” in Nicene Christianity [Brazos, 2001], p. 120).
With whom do you feel more resonance, why? Or, what are the gains and losses of casting the history of the creeds into the divine economy of salvation as Webster does – while creating a foundation to argue for the ongoing significance of the creeds in the Church’s life, does this line of reasoning have drawbacks?