4 Reasons Why Every Christian Ought to Know the Traditional Creeds
In the last several years, there has been a resurgent interest in rediscovering the historic Christian faith. Among others, we have Michael Bird to thank.
In his new book What Christians Ought to Believe, Bird follows up his magnum opus on evangelical theology with a sturdy guide to the bedrock of Christian doctrine: the Apostles’ Creed. It summarizes and explains the basic tenets of the Christian faith using this theological bulwark, in order to reverse a trend he calls a “theological travesty”:
Sadly, I know many churches that make no effort to recite, teach, and confess the Apostles’ Creed or any creed for that matter…By ignoring the creeds those who consider themselves to be orthodox are effectively sawing off the theological branches upon which they are sitting. (13)
Which is why Bird begins his book by outlining the “why” to the creeds. Below we briefly engage with four reasons he gives for why every Christian ought to know the traditional creeds.
Creeds Are Standard
Plenty of well-meaning Christians hesitate to learn, know, and even recite the traditional Church creeds. Often they insist “We believe the Bible!” rather than mindlessly repeat man-based creeds, which is understandable.
Yet Bird reveals that sooner or later, even if you stand alone on the Word of God, you’ll have to outline what you believe about what the Bible says. And when you do that, you’re constructing a creed. Which makes them standard.
What does the Bible…say about God, Jesus, salvation, and the life of the age to come? When you set out the biblical teaching in some formal sense, like in a church doctrinal statement, then you are creating a creed. You are saying: this is what the Bible teaches about X, Y, and Z. (18)
And that's how the traditional Church creeds function in the first place.
Creeds Are Biblical
Consider this: The Bible itself is filled with creedal statements outlining beliefs about God, Jesus, and salvation. Bird draws our attention to several of these creedal formulas:
- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)
- “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
- “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)
One of the clearest creedal statements is the so-called “Christ Hymn” in Philippians 2:5–11. “Whether sung, read, or recited, it certainly lends itself to a creedal function,” Bird explains, “as it sets out what Christians believe about where Jesus came from, why he died, and why he should be worshipped.” (21)
Creeds Communicate Tradition
The Christian faith is as much an interpretive effort as anything else. We all read Scripture through an interpretive lens. We call that lens “tradition.” Bird argues the creeds offer us the best interpretive lens for reading Scripture:
This is because the creeds should be regarded as a biblically generated tradition that meets with the consensus of the universal church about what the main teachings of the Christian faith are…The creeds provide a kind of “Idiot’s Guide to Christianity” by briefly laying out the story, unity, coherence, and major themes of the Christian faith. (23)
“In this sense,” Bird continues, “a creedal faith is crucial for a biblical faith and vice versa!” (23)
Creeds Cultivate Faith
“Given that the creeds are great summaries of biblical teaching,” Bird argues, “they are undoubtably useful for cultivating a faith soaked in Scripture…Learning the creeds help us grow a truly biblical faith!” (36–37)
He offers several ways the creeds can foster and invigorate your faith:
- Worship: “If our worship services should be God centered, retelling the gospel of Jesus Christ and celebrating our unity with God and with each other, then the creeds are a natural tool to facilitate that kind of worship.” (39)
- Unity: “Despite the many differences among Christians, the creeds constitute the emblems of the biblical faith that are professed by Christians of all traditions, denominations, and backgrounds.” (39)
- Identity: “[The creed] declares to the powers that be…that we are the people defined by this story, the story of God, the reign of Jesus, the experience of the Spirit, and the hope of the world to come.” (40)
- Personal Devotion: Bird cites Oden, here: “to say, ‘I believe,’ is ‘to speak from the heart, to reveal who one is by confessing one’s essential belief, the faith that makes life worth living.’” (40)
“If you ask me,” Bird writes, “the Apostles’ Creed is probably the best syllabus ever devised for teaching basic Christian beliefs. It is succinct, easy to read, yet immensely profound.” (13)
Engage What Christians Ought to Believe yourself to better understand and teach the basic tenets of the Christian faith through the Apostles’ Creed, and also why this anchoring creed still matters.
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