When the Author Predicts Your Question

[This post is one of several on Ben Myers’s new book, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to order the book. Click here to read the other posts.

In an earlier post about this book, I asked a question similar to this: During congregational worship, is it better to confess “we believe” instead of “I believe” when reciting the creed? Ben Myers directly addresses that question in his final chapter. Continue reading

Advertisements

“They Will Forget to Die”

[This is one of several posts on Ben Myers’s new book, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to purchase the book. Click here to read the other posts.]

Gerascophobia. Do you know what that word means? It is a fear of growing old. My beard hairs are turning gray, so I have entered a stage of life in which I can no longer pretend I won’t become old someday. Sometimes I am gerascophobic.

In his chapter on “the life everlasting,” Myers summarizes a story by Jorge Luis Borges, in which a man drinks from a stream and becomes immortal. Eventually, the man realizes that “without death, life lacks definition; it doesn’t mean anything.” This story sets Myers up to make a proverbial statement: “You cannot make life better just by increasing its quantity. What matters most is its quality.” Continue reading

Death is serious…

[This is the third interaction with Ben Myers’ new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to see more posts about this book.]

I am reading Ben Myers’s new book chapter by chapter, slowly and joyfully. In this brief book, a new believer will meet figures like Julian of Norwich, Karl Barth, and Athanasius. Yet these towering and often complicated thinkers are met as someone would meet a friend of a friend at a diner. We get a name and something witty or important they said. Just enough to make you say, as you sit down at your own table with your friend, “I’d like to get to know them more.”

The presence of important figures from church history is pertinent in Myers’s chapter on the Creed’s claim that Jesus “descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” In this chapter, Myers helps the reader get a sense of early Christians’ views of the dead, especially martyrs, by describing some of their practices. From teaching new believers in graveyards to singing during funerals, Myers suggests, Christian views and practices related to death would have offended pagan sensibilities. The practices revealed the Christian conviction that “death has been subsumed by life” (p. 79).

Myers’s use of dead theologians is pertinent because each time he quotes a dead person he resists Death’s attempt to silence the life of the faithful. So, among the many one-liners worthy of quoting (“Death is serious; but not as serious as life”), Myers includes several words of wisdom from various saints. Here are a few: Continue reading

“I” or “We” Believe?

[This is the second interaction with Ben Myers’ new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to see more posts about this book.]

Picture of Book2I worshipped for two years in a United Methodist congregation. City Well UMC was a diverse and joyful congregation. They prayed the traditional liturgical elements of the UMC Book of Prayer but with spirits of fire. During that time I learned that the prayers, songs, and sacraments all preach in their own way. “The Great Thanksgiving” was itself a blessed sermon, that came from somewhere in the past, but each week challenged me afresh.

So when I began an internship at a United Brethren church whose worship did not include elements like “The Great Thanksgiving,” I began to dream about including bits of the church’s beautiful traditions. The pastor, Kevin, was kind enough to let me try. On one of my first Sundays preaching, I invited the congregation to recite the Apostles’ Creed together. “I believe,” the congregation repeated. “I.” As I read through the creed with all of my brothers and sisters in unison, the “I” felt out of place. What does that word preach? Does it imply Christian faith is mainly an individual thing? Shouldn’t it be “we believe” instead? Continue reading

Pledging Allegiance

One day while at the University of Aberdeen, Prof. Phil Ziegler invited Kent to look over his shoulder at some new-fangled thing on his computer screen. It was 2006 and he was pointing at a theology blog. “Take a look at this,” Ziegler said, “there is some really thoughtful stuff here.” It was Kent’s first glance at a theology blog, and it just so happened to be Faith and Theology by Prof. Ben Myers. Eventually Kent and some pals decided to give theology blogging their own twist, and Theology Forum was born.

Picture of Book2
I discovered Faith and Theology nearly a decade later, through Theology Forum. I latched onto it because of Kim Fabricius’s doodlings. “Doodlings” are joyfully incomplete thoughts, like someone hastily doodles an idea for a picture or project. How does someone provoke such thought and such laughter at the same time? Through the blog, I discovered Myers’s thoughtful writing.

Now I am reading Myers’s in print form. His new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is fresh off Lexham Press’s printers. (This is, to my knowledge, the first Lexham Press review on Theology Forum!) The print edition is aesthetically pleasing, hardbound, and small enough to carry with you. Grayscale images throughout keep the copy interesting. Continue reading

‘Putting God in a Box’? Ruminations on a Common Saying

After a conversation earlier today in which this came up, I am reminded again of both the legitimate concern about ‘putting God in a box’ when we do theology and of the serious liabilities of this kind of suspicion toward theology.  There is, of course, the ever-present peril of assuming that we have comprehended God and pinned him down or packaged him neatly in a box.  Yet, though typically not meant to raze all possibility of doctrinal articulation and commitment, the attitude that is often beneath caution about ‘putting God in a box’ generally disparages serious and careful thinking about God and God’s works.  I’d like to suggest that this attitude and its common expression in hesitation about confining God to our descriptions are misguided for at least three reasons and then hear some of your thoughts on this.

First, it fails to carry the incomprehensibility of God into the practice of theology.  Indeed, it assumes that mystery, wonder, and reverence somehow simply cannot come with us into the realm of rational discourse and inform the way in which we operate there.  In a sense, one could say even that this attitude stems from unbelief: God’s greatness will begin to disintegrate with our theological distinctions and discriminations and so needs to be protected from such intellectual activity.  Perhaps, though, God’s awe-inspiring majesty and riches are never, and cannot be, in any real danger of being corroded even as we seek to speak carefully, even precisely, of him.

Second, this attitude misunderstands what theology is meant to do.  It is not meant to dissolve the mystery of God but rather, in view of God’s gracious revelation, to elaborate on certain points and make helpful distinctions for the well-being of the church’s worship and witness and then to leave things there, to reflect and to formulate modestly without ever presuming to domesticate God.

Third, this kind of thinking can leave the believer with his or her own experience as the primary or even only platform from which to talk about the faith and commend it to others.  If one resists confessional and rational articulation, one can get stuck in let-me-just-tell-you-how-Jesus-changed-my-life mode.  Because of the objective work of God in history and because of the fact that God’s word addresses us from without, it will not do to have only our experience as a resource or vehicle for commending the gospel.  God has worked and does work in the world and not just subjectively in our own hearts and it’s important that believers be able to give an account of that.  Otherwise, we may even risk absolutizing our own (always limited) experience and unduly foisting it upon others as the normative pathway to knowing God.

Ultimately, as Bavinck puts it, ‘Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics’ (RD, 2:28).  Yet, lest we appear to spurn God’s redemption of the human intellect, something is amiss if we resist thinking clearly about him as in the work of theology.

The creeds in public worship: a call to populist evangelicalism

I have posted comments on the conference in Wheaton I attended last week, and I would like to post one last time specifically on the public use of creeds in noncreedal, evangelical churches. This was a common refrain throughout the conference, and Scot McKnight’s paper made a specific proposal we might consider.

In McKnight’s paper he referred to noncreedal, evangelical churches as “populist evangelicalism,” and most, if not all, evangelical, nondenominational churches would fall within the same category (this is my opinion, not McKnight”s).

He summarized the theological, ecclesiastic function of the earliest Christian creeds as articulations of the gospel (what it is and does) that served to connect newly baptized and mature Christians alike to the gospel and to the church; the creeds were ways of providing “clarity, heritage, depth, width, and memory.” For the forms of evangelicalism McKnight has in mind, the absence of any public reading of the creeds “deprives” them of the very same clarity, heritage, depth, width, and memory and leads to a “theological superficiality” few of us familiar with populist evangelicalism would deny (I grew up in a noncreedal church and served on the pastoral staffs of several nondenominational churches).

So consider McKnight’s proposal, and let me know whether you think it hits the mark. I will put my cards on the table upfront: I think it does.

I propose that we who believe in the value of creeds become active in getting our churches, especially if we are part of a church tradition that does not recite The Creed publicly, to begin a course of instruction for the elders, deacons and teachers on the history of the creeds. And I don’t mean read a book about them; I mean read them and study them together. Continue reading