Friday, July 19, 2024

Church Confessions and the NYT Bestseller List

by Ben Hein

Have you ever thought about how exciting it must’ve been to be an explorer at sea back before the world was fully known to us? Sure, there was danger involved and you never knew if a storm (or the mythical kraken) was going to show up and devour your crew. But on the flip side, you had the excitement of discovering new lands, new peoples, and new resources to advance the flourishing of humankind. If you were to ever lose your way, you could always drop anchor to get your bearings before moving on to the next uncharted territory.

This is often how I feel today in the sea of ideas, opinions, and new perspectives about the world. I love to explore new insights, to try and see the world through other people’s eyes, and attempt to understand how other people think – even if I completely disagree with them. But just like the explorers of the old world, I know that it is possible to lose my way amongst the surge of new thoughts and ideas. There’s even the danger of being swallowed up by a way of thinking that would lead me away from my Christian faith.

It is for this reason that I am so grateful for the great creeds, confessions and catechisms of the church (especially those of my denomination, the Westminster Confession/Catechisms). Much has been said in recent years about the importance of these documents for the church today. Drs. Carl Trueman and Chad Van Dixhoorn have written some great material which pastorally and winsomely express the need for the evangelical church to ground themselves in the creeds of the early church, as well as the confessions and catechisms of the Reformation.

Those churches which say they follow Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) and believe that the Bible is the Word of God will strive to protect what the Scriptures do and do not say. The 5- or 10-point lists on church websites are simply insufficient for the task. Only with the creeds, confessions and catechisms of the church can we effectively articulate what we believe is contained in the teaching of God’s Word. We do not elevate these documents above the Bible, but by affirming these documents we are able to accurately and succinctly defend and cling to what we believe the Bible teaches. Practically speaking, shouldn’t we want to do this? Wouldn’t we want to seize every possible opportunity to openly and honestly communicate what we believe the Bible teaches? As Dr. Van Dixhoorn has bluntly put it somewhere, “Cults hide things, churches proclaim things.”

But here I am adding on the practical reasons given by these brilliant minds (and others). The creeds and confessions of the faith provide us with an anchor that allow us to safely root ourselves in the Scriptures while we explore new ideas, views and perspectives. In other words, these historic documents of the faith provide me the opportunity to explore the unknown because I know I am anchored to the Scriptures by way of the creeds and confessions of the faith.

One of my favorite past times now is to go to Barnes and Noble and just pick books off of the New York Times Bestseller list to read. Whether that is the poetry of Rupi Kaur and Sabrina Benaim, the sociological studies of Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk and Dr. Brené Brown, the science of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Sam Harris, the anthropological history of Yuval Noah Harari, the fiction of Neil Gaiman, or the essays of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, and James Baldwin; all of these authors have opened me up to new ideas and perspectives which have only solidified my faith and allowed me to communicate it better.

I don’t think I would have the confidence to explore such a wide range of ideas unless I had a sufficient foundation and lens for reading these authors from a biblical view. This is exactly what the creeds and confessions provide.

Christ warns us through his Apostle not to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). I’m not naïve enough to say that anyone who doesn’t ascribe to a confession is going to lose their faith if they read a book which doesn’t have biblical foundations. Yet I do think that the danger for such individuals of being lost at sea does greatly increase. If you cannot clearly articulate what the Bible says about issues such as the natures of Christ, what was accomplished in the atonement, or the Scriptures teaching on gender and sexuality – what is to stop you from being swayed by new ideas as soon as they come your way?

Those who want to be able to navigate the world of different ideas and views which lies before us will find a safe anchor in the creeds and confessions of the church. As our world continues to change so rapidly, and becomes increasingly advanced and educated, Christians will need to be able to keep up in order to accurately apply and defend their faith in a world of new ideas and views. Without the creeds and confessions anchoring us to Christ, we are susceptible to our form of Christianity becoming completely unrecognizable from the historic faith of the Church.

What a tragedy it would be for us to lose our way when Christ has given his church such excellent means to stay anchored to him!

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