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posted by Scot McKnight

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The Problem with Paleo-Orthodoxy

I’m taking a break from my usual “Law” columns to write about something that’s been bothering me a bit.  We have been talking here on Jesus Creed about the value and importance of the early Christian Creeds.  It’s been suggested, for example in the recent book “Deep Church” by Jim Belcher,  that the ecumenical Creeds provide a basis for marking the boundaries of Christian theology.  This approach is often referred to as “paleo-orthodoxy.”  The problem, in my view, is that it doesn’t work. In fact, I think the paleo-orthodoxy approach is opposed in significant ways to the “post-conservative” ethos that originally drew me to the emerging church conversation and that subsequently led me to participate in the Jesus Creed community.

Do the ecumenical Creeds establish firm boundaries for Christian theology?   Is pale-orthodoxy consistent with or opposed to the emerging / post-conservative / “third way” ethos?


I should note clearly hear that I will
happily recite the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.  I agree with paleo-orthodoxy that these Creeds reflect
important, basic truths about God and Christ.  I also agree that these Creeds establish a pattern for the
Church’s proclamation of the Gospel.   The Creeds emphasize the basic Biblical themes of
creation, Trinity, incarnation, resurrection and redemption, and proclaim in
particular the events of the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of
Christ.  This is the Gospel that
the Church has always proclaimed and always must proclaim, for the Gospel
fundamentally is rooted in God’s Trinitarian person and in these kerygmatic
events.  The Gospel is the “faith
that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3), which does not
change.

But paleo-orthodoxy, it seems to me, understands the Creeds
to have a greater authority than that of faithfully reflecting a pattern for
Gospel proclamation.    For paleo-orthodoxy, the
ecumenical Creeds are authoritative
for doctrine and theology because they are part of the “history of the Holy
Spirit.”  To be sure, the Creeds
for the paleo-orthodox are subsidiary authorities to scripture, but
nevertheless they are in some sense binding authorities.  In principle, for the paleo-orthodox,
the Creeds are reformable in accordance with scripture.  In practice, however, the Creeds for
them are functionally infallible (or so it seems to me, and to some other
observers such as Roger Olson, who writes to this effect in his book Reformed
and Always Reforming).

I find this notion troubling, for several reasons:  (1) it functionally compromises the
Reformational principles of sola
scriptura
(though it formally maintains that principle) and of the
priesthood of all believers; (2) it is highly selective – indeed arbitrary -
about which parts of the “history of the Holy Spirit” are authoritative; and
(3) it leaves unmanageable ambiguities about the status of some creedal
statements.

As to point (1), paleo-orthodoxy places tremendous emphasis
on the consensus of the councils that produced some of the ecumenical creeds,
particularly the Nicene Creed.  As
a historical and doctrinal matter, I think the Council of Nicea reached the
correct result in condemning Arianism. 
I believe the Holy Spirit was indeed at work in that process.  However, I don’t want to imagine the
Council’s vote as somehow bearing God’s own final
authority
.  There is a
significant difference between discerning that God was active in guiding a set
of contingent circumstances and taking that contingent guidance to represent a
binding judgment for all places and times.  Sola scriptura
argues that scripture alone enjoys ultimately binding status.  The priesthood of all believers
suggests that each Christian is both free and responsible to respond to God’s
revelation in scripture, without intermediation by any conciliar authority.

As to point (2), no one has ever been able to explain to me
why the Canons of the Council of Nicea can be rejected and ignored if the
Nicene Creed is a binding authority. 
The Council understood the Canons to be just as binding as the
Creed.  In fact, the Roman Church
eventually developed an elaborate system of Canon Law based on the historical
series of Creeds, Canons, and other rulings of which the Nicene Creed is but
one part.  Many of the Canons
relate to questions of Church authority and governance that fundamentally are
rejected by all Protestants.  The
Canons reflect and encode the universal belief of the Council that there was
one holy, apostolic, visible
Church.  I cannot discern from
paleo-orthodoxy any rational, Biblical or theological principle by which the
Creed can be surgically extracted from its historical context of Canons and
Church.

Finally, as to point (3), a prime example is what is sometimes
called the third ecumenical creed, the Athanasian Creed.  Jim Belcher lists the Athanasian Creed
along with the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds as one of the basic statements of
the historic Christian faith.  It
was listed in the Lutheran Book of Concord in 1580, and is still recited in the
Lutheran Church on Trinity Sunday. 

But some parts of the Athanasian Creed should
give most Protestants, and indeed all contemporary Christians, pause.  I’m referring here not to the
Athanasian Creed’s Trinitarian and Christological statements, which essentially
amplify the earlier Chalcedonian definition, but to its statements about
soteriology and its so-called “damnatory clauses.”  In relevant part, it states: 

“And
they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have
done evil, into everlasting fire.

This
is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he
cannot be saved.”

These statements seem to contradict some
basic Reformational principles about justification by faith, including Article
IV of the Augsburg Confession, which also is part of the Book of Concord: 

“men
cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are
freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when
they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are
forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our
sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His
sight.”

How can it be that, according to the
Athanasian Creed, those who have “done good” merit everlasting life, while
according to Reformed theology as expressed in the same Book of Concord, no one
“does good” and those who are saved only gain that benefit through God’s
grace?  The usual answer is that
the Athanasian Creed is referring to good works as the fruits of faith, in other words to the process of
sanctification.  That explanation seems
to represent an eisegetical move, however:  it is a uniquely fifteenth-century Reformed gloss on  the sixth-century soteriology reflected
in the creedal statement.

And what of the apparent requirement in the
Athanasian Creed that only those who consciously confess a properly Trinitarian
and Christocentric faith are saved? 
For example, what about the problem of people who die in infancy, or the
mentally disabled, or those who have never heard the gospel? 

Reformed theology early on developed a
response to at least some such problems through the mystery of election.  For example, the Westminster Confession
states that “[e]lect infants, dying in
infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh
when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who
are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” 
In part because of concerns about
these damnatory clauses, the Anglican Church in the 19th Century
removed the reference to the Athanasian Creed from its Thirty-Nine
Articles.  Notables such as John
Wesley and C.S. Lewis have also balked at these clauses and interpreted them to
apply only to willful unbelief. 
Even contemporary Roman Catholic theology, after Vatican II, allows for
the possibility of the salvation of unbaptized infants and the unevangelized.  Partly in that spirit, the Athanasian
Creed is rarely recited today in Catholic worship.

Is the point of this discussion to bash the
Athanasian Creed?  No.  It is a beautiful Trinitarian and
Christological statement.  The
point is that even a document considered an “ecumenical Creed” has been subject
to repeated reinterpretation by the Church as other aspects of theology
developed.  It’s fair to say, I
think, that none of the churches that
today include the Athanasian Creed as part of their official documents take all
of that Creed’s soteriological statements at face value. 

This suggests to me that the Creeds simply
cannot bear the weight paleo-orthodoxy seems to want to place upon them.  They do not in themselves provide a
sure foundation for theology and doctrine because they stand in conversational
relationship with scripture and with the ongoing historical construction of
doctrine.  They are invaluable
conversation partners for us today as we seek to participate in the Holy
Spirit’s ongoing work.  We cannot
ignore them, and we should not expect the shape of our theology to vary
significantly from the patterns they have set for the Tradition.  At the same time, theology is an
ongoing constructive project, semper
reformanda
.

Is
this a fair discussion of the problems with paleo-orthodoxy?  Can a paleo-orthodox sensibility
coexist with a post-conservative impulse? 
Can a post-conservative ( or post-liberal) impulse effectively pass
along “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints?”

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Bob

posted February 26, 2010 at 7:09 am


If one is going to strongly adhere to the ancient creeds the logical conclusion is to end up Roman Catholic. The same Spirit that was with the church at Nicaea then is the same at the two Vatican councils. EO accepts the early council decisions. We all pick and choose on an individual level what creeds and councils we?ll adhere to. The Nicene Creed deals with the Christological heresies that are irrelevant to today?s issues. A more modern heresy would be the teaching of Joel Olsteen or John Spong. Jim Blecher?s (Deep Chuech) orthodoxy is just a kinder, gentler conservatism. It?s not a genuine third way.



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Patrick

posted February 26, 2010 at 7:59 am


David, I think you’re making a strong case (to keep the law theme going). The strategy of affirming the truth, unifying scope and value of these classic articulations of orthodox faith is certainly more welcome than an all too common evangelical dismissal of (or ignorance of) their continuing relevance. But I agree with you in wondering whether the fairly narrow agendas of the Creeds can adequately address the very different challenges facing Christians globally in the twenty-first century.
One other comment / question: I’m struggling with a vagueness around terms here. ‘Nicene Christianity’ can mean different things to different people. Paleo-orthodoxy seems a bit slippery. And is there really a definable “emerging / post-conservative / “third way” ethos?” with which to compare it?



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Dan

posted February 26, 2010 at 8:06 am


I think Tom Oden is the driving force behind the term paleo-orthodoxy. I don’t think he means to discredit the Reformation Solas or to make the creeds an “infallible” source equal to scripture. Rather, as I understood Oden, his view is to support a method that is exemplified by the creed, the Vincentian Canon, “seek what has been believed always, everywhere and by all”. “Always”, means there must be a basis in the teaching of the Apostles, which would not be inconsistent with Sola Scriptura, “everywhere”, meaning we should not look at regional or cultural movements as a source of universal truths without the consent of the whole, and “by all” meaning we don’t look at recent, new or novel ideas as authoritative if they contradict the long consensus.
Oden haw written, with J.I. Packer, a short book documenting Reformation views of “One Faith”, that show a consensus of opinion across denominational lines, but also show a trajectory that includes the early church. He has also written “The Justification Reader”, showing support for the Protestant view of justification by faith in the writings of the early church. His point there, I believe, is to show that the Reformers were very in tune with the early church, and believed that the medieval church had drifted. Oden’s tone is very irenic, but he doesn’t seem to shy away from Protestant distinctives.
The point is, Paleo-Orthodoxy is more about long consensus than about raw authority. The Three great creeds represent consensus.



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angusj

posted February 26, 2010 at 8:07 am


I’m not convinced that the soteriology behind the Athenasian Creed was ‘works’ based salvation, but even if it was the phrase in question is still entirely biblical (see Matt 16:27; Rom 2:6-8; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Cor 11:15; Jam 2:21-25; Rev 20:12). I have much more concern with “they that have done evil, into everlasting fire”. It clearly expresses the doctrine of endless conscious torment, the biblical support for which is tenuous at best. However, I would suggest perhaps one of the strongest arguments against the creeds being rigid boundaries to orthodox faith is the very longstanding western-orthodox dispute over the filioque clause. If there hasn’t been consensus on the wording of the Nicene Creed for 1500 years, how can it be used as a definitive test of orthodox faith?



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John W Frye

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:03 am


David,
Thanks for this informative, stimulating post. Because I have not been conditioned by the Creedal segment of the Church, I approach the Creeds as the consensus of the orthodox *in their day* addressing and attempting to resolve their theological conflicts. I would instinctively bristle if someone tried to trump Scripture with one of the great Creeds or even suggest that the Creeds are on par with the Bible.
I think we’re in a time, however, with all the looney stuff coming from some of the more prominent “Emegent Church” voices, when the Scriptures and the ancient Creeds will be called up once again to address the theological heterodoxies being currently spawned. I am all for theological innovation, thinking and expressing “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints,” but I cringe at the current attempts to make the Christian faith *something* it has NEVER been before.



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Darryl

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:04 am


I think most of us choose from the creeds according to our own understanding of what the Scripture teaches. Certain aspects of certain creeds I do not accept because they go contrary to what I believe the text teaches. Thus SOLA SCRIPTURA wins out. When Barton W. Stone (or was it Alexander Campbell) was asked during his ordination did he accept the Wesminster Confession of faith as binding he replied (my paraphrase) “only where it agrees with the clear dictates of scripture.” Not a bad response–in to be honest, most all of us who think for ourselves approach extrabiblical creeds with this attitude. Don’t we?



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Darryl

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:30 am


I think AngusJ and David Frye have expressed it pretty well in my book.



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Marcus

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:40 am


Amen David, Amen. The creeds are great, the creeds are useful, and I’d even say necessary, but they are not the word of God.



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keo

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:52 am


“Do the ecumenical Creeds establish firm boundaries for Christian theology?”
Perhaps, in an idealistic but vaguely nonsensical way. No, of course not, when “firm boundaries” really means “boundaries as (I, we, our group) interpret the Creeds, at the moment. We need to face it: Sola Scriptura really means “scripture as I or my group currently interprets it.” How can we deny this fact? Unless Scripture actually speaks out loud to clarify itself upon every application, we’re putting words in Scripture’s mouth. And this doesn’t destroy our faith, by the way, but it is a fact dismissed by many on a regular basis.
“And what of the apparent requirement in the Athanasian Creed that only those who consciously confess a properly Trinitarian and Christocentric faith are saved?”
Right. Was the thief on the cross properly Trinitarian? Hard to believe. But why stop at infants, the mentally disabled, or those who haven’t heard? I wrote up a list of other cases, on which we won’t find much agreement within our church circles: http://clanottosoapbox.blogspot.com/2009/07/are-you-saved-if.html



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Will K.

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:57 am


I guess the question I would put forward, in terms of Sola Scriptura vs. the Historical Creeds, is
“How does that work in the face of the fact that the Canon of Scripture is in itself such a grey thing outside of Prostestantism? Do we listen to Luther and Calvin as God-ordained for our Biblical Canon?”



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Steve Robinson

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:58 am


David, Having come from both Catholicism and the Stone/Campbell Restorationist Churches, I came to realize that “We have no creed but the Bible” is the shortest and worst creed one can recite. I have been Eastern Orthodox for over 11 years now (after a LONG, arduous study of it). I think the issue I have with the paleo-Orthodox and your approach to the Creeds is that they are both, as you say, intepreted through the lens of post-Reformation and dare I say, American Evangelical Reformational “orthodoxy”. The issues you raise on both sides, ISTM, are framed by Reformation concepts. The “authority” of the Councils assumes that the Holy Spirit was capable of guiding the Church in the 4th, 5th and even in the 21st centuries just as it did in Acts 15. Their authority does indeed set a boundary, however the boundaries are not an exhaustive explication of the DEPTH of all Truth. It has been said the Creeds are a fence, but one can go as high or as deep within the fence as you are able. I don’t read anywhere that the Fathers believe their proclamations to BE scripture, but a right explication OF Scripture, and therefore authoritative as a guide for the Church. The “fall back” position that every person engages the scripture alone without the intermediary of conciliar authority is so fraught with problems… it ultimate rejects the notion of “teachers, evangelists, prophets, elders and pastors”. NO one comes to the scriptures without an intermediary, even if that intermediary is our Western cultural and philosophical mindset toward spiritual text. ISTM that it is safer to have as an intermediary a conciliar boundary than a solo, self taught, self guided pastor who believes he has the “true interpretation” of Scripture. The issues you raise with the wording of the Athanasian Creed (re: works and infants etc.) are lifted out of their historical/theological context and then evaluated with a framework that is foreign to the soteriology, anthropology etc. of Athanasius and his contemporaries in the Christian East. The struggle with “Creeds” in the Emergent Church in my mind is not so much a struggle with the interpretation of the texts or their relative authority as much as it is a struggle with trying to import them into a post-Reformation ethos and mindset when their generation and purposes and meaning are “not of this world”. (Of course I understand that EO can be viewed by Protestants as paleo-Christianity… :)



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Will K.

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:58 am


What I mean to say, if it isn’t clear, is that the canon was compiled by a bunch of dudes, just like the creeds.



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Your Name

posted February 26, 2010 at 10:00 am


Great blog, Mr. McKnight.
I think this is a fair, and extremely interesting, discussion. I had not beforehand been familiar with the term “paleo-orthodox” (sounds more archaeological than theological!). And I have to confess, I lean more towards paleo-orthodox than I do away from it.
I get what you’re saying: if the creeds themselves are “infallible” or set in stone, so to speak, then we do encounter problems. Not so much with the Nicene or Athanasian, maybe. But wait till we get to later ones. And when do we stop? Hard to tell. So I agree it’s a muddle.
But I think there’s one presupposition that, surprisingly, I just can’t presume. And that’s “sola scriptura.” If sola scriptura IS valid, then your argument here is more than fair. But I’m having a hard time justifying “sola scriptura” – we get that from the Reformers, from the Confessions of the early Protestants, from implications of the great Christians before us. But, I don’t really see anywhere where Scripture itself says to use Scripture alone.
Yes, it’s God-breathed, useful for rebuke, correction, edification… It says all these things. But it was the Church that decided what was to be Scripture. To not include some books (remember Luther wanted to toss the epistle of James out!), and to include others.
So I see this very muddling circle, so ambiguous that it’s hard to define (perhaps this is how the Spirit works? you can’t nail Him down). Scripture lifts up the Church, which affirms Scripture, which in turns justifies the creeds…and so on.
The more you talk about it, doesn’t it just seem more and more like a conversation not worth having?



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James Townsend

posted February 26, 2010 at 10:06 am


Steve Robinson makes a great point. And sorry. I’m “Your Name” above. My capcha or whatever expired, and it erased all my info.
But I greatly respect the EO approach. And it IS a conundrum: so much of these discussions are taking the post-Reformation presuppositions as a given…
That’s all I was saying.



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Karl

posted February 26, 2010 at 10:15 am


To borrow some legal terminology, I think the primary historic creeds should be treated as settled precedent, and any case for departing from them should have to be demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence – a high bar to reach.
That seems a fairly good analogy to me. Precedent can be overturned, but neither lightly nor easily, and while it remains precedent it is authoritative and does set the boundaries.



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RJS

posted February 26, 2010 at 10:34 am


David,
This is probably my error – but I have never considered paleo-orthodoxy founded in creeds to go beyond the early statements, which are more baptismal formulae than detailed statements. The Apostle’s creed – which is culled from various old statements is essentially expanded only a little in the Nicene Creed. Even there I don’t put much stock in the precise wording. This was fought over at Nicea and beyond and is interesting, but not binding, as it is an attempt to wrestle with the reality of the nature of the Trinity in a particular context of understanding.
When we get to Chalcedon or Athanasian … well this has stepped well over the boundary and has become a human attempt to wrestle – no more or less “perfect” than any other statement or creed anywhere else in the church – including Heidelberg, Westminster, The Chicago Statement, or the Wheaton Statement of Faith.
So – Paleo-orthodoxy is the root of the “I believe” – I believe in God the Father who created all, in his incarnate son who was born, crucified, raised and coming again, in the Holy Spirit, in the church and in the communion of the saints.



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James Townsend

posted February 26, 2010 at 10:35 am


Excellent analogy Karl. I agree w/ you completely.



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EricG

posted February 26, 2010 at 10:55 am


I understand the concern with saying that the Creeds represent some sort of final authority for the reasons David outlines. They aren’t themselves divine.
However, as a practical matter, use of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed allows for the sort of ecumenical “big tent” Scot has talked about. More so than say, some of the current evangelical statements of faith which insist on things like inerrancy. That is the benefit of pointing to the Creeds, I believe: Although recognizing that they aren’t the very word of God, they are used to articulate a faith that includes the community of orthodox believers throughout the ages. It is a way of aligning ourselves with that community, without enshrining the Creeds themselves as the very word of God.
Using it in this way, rather than as some sort of absolutist statement of truth (and recognizing that some later Creeds like Athanasian can’t be used this way), seems to address the concerns. What is wrong with using the Creeds in this way?
Incidentally, isn’t the reason that the Canons aren’t treated the same way as the Creeds that they haven’t been adopted by Christians throughout the ages in the same way as the Creeds? I.e., it isn’t the mere adoption by the council at a specific point it time that gives the Creeds signficance, but instead the recognition of the Creeds by the community throughout the ages, as guided by the Holy Spirit?



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Rick

posted February 26, 2010 at 11:10 am


David-
Karl touches on an important point. The idea of paleo-orthodoxy has to deal with the high bar it sets, not one of equality with Scripture. One major theme is that proximity, in timing, to the Apostles is the key.
On a related note, the flow of apostolic teaching that is found in the Regula Fidei and canon of Scripture, and subsequently the baptismal formulas (as RJS mentioned, AND the catechumen (separate from the baptismal formulas). The creeds are directly related to that flow, and not detached from it (either by thought or meaning).
Likewise, as someone mentioned earlier, the Canon of Scripture then becomes an issue, since this same early church group that devoloped the creeds (in early forms) were the same that agreed on the Canon. Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen recently had a post and a looooong series of comments on that.
Finally, David, what then is false teaching (heresy) and how is it determined?



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dopderbeck

posted February 26, 2010 at 11:11 am


Steve (#11) — yes I very much appreciate what you’re saying. I’m curious: what perspective or perspectives does the EO take on infants that die in infancy and the unevangelized? My sense is that they leave this to the mysteries and don’t automatically consign all such persons to Hell. If so, how do they square that with the Athanasian Creed?



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EricG

posted February 26, 2010 at 11:11 am


In reference to my post above (#18), see, for example, the Call for an Ancient Evangelical Future, which is an example of what I am talking about: http://www.aefcenter.org/read.html



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Travis Greene

posted February 26, 2010 at 11:38 am


David,
I think I agree with your overall take on the creeds, but interestingly, I think I disagree with some of your reasons. I find it really problematic for “the priesthood of all believers” to mean each individual alone with his/her Bible. Certainly, we have no intermediary in the sense that we have to go through anyone but Jesus to get to God, but we also do mediate God to each other all the time as parts of the Body of Christ. The Bible is a community text we aren’t meant to read alone and decide what it means without communal ethical discernment.
And if you reject a certain view of the creeds primarily by appealing to certain Reformed principles, isn’t that in some ways just setting up another authority semi-under Scripture in the same way? Are not the “solas” and the Reformation itself also open to reformation?



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AMPisAnglican

posted February 26, 2010 at 11:43 am


Not sure what you mean by:
“In part because of concerns about these damnatory clauses, the Anglican Church in the 19th Century removed the reference to the Athanasian Creed from its Thirty-Nine Articles.”
When I look in my Book of Common Prayer (1962) I find the 39 Articles on page 698, and the reference to the Athanasius’s Creed is still there:
“VIII. Of the Three Creeds.
THE Three Creeds, the Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.”
What’s more, the Athanasius’s Creed is printed seperately on page 695:
“THE CREED OF SAINT ATHANASIUS
(COMMONLY SO CALLED)
Upon any day in the year, may be sung or said at Morning Prayer, instead of the Apostles’ Creed, this Confession of our Christian Faith, commonly called the Creed of Saint Athanasius, by the Minister and people standing.”
Seems to me that this Creed is still very much part of the Anlgican Worship.



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Don Ledford

posted February 26, 2010 at 12:12 pm


It seems to me that the formation of both creeds and canon are related, and raise a series of questions: What was the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the church during those formative centuries, and what authority does that bring to bear on believers throughout the ages? If we accept the canon of scripture that was bequeathed to us by the church of the first millennium, are we also bound to accept the creeds? And vice versa? If the Holy Spirit was sovereign in guiding believers so directly through those processes, then how do we witness the Spirit doing the same work today?
This is complicated by the fact that there was so much debate in the ancient church about both the creeds and the canon. Which canon do we accept ? the canon represented in our modern evangelical Bibles, or the canon represented in the Eastern Orthodox Bibles, for example? You could raise the same question about the creeds ? which creeds do we accept? (For example, Eastern Orthodox, as I understand it, takes the seven historical creeds as authoritative, but Protestants would reject much of that.) And which versions of those creeds? (For example, there are different versions of the Apostles? Creed, and of course much debate over the filioque.)
Maybe the only creed we should insist on is the Jesus Creed … which values relationship (with God and one another) over intellectual assent, and praxis more than doctrinal conformity.
This issue is a bit overwhelming ? I can see that I need to be much better grounded in church history to understand and appreciate the theological implications of this discussion. But I look forward to reading more!



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Vaughn Treco

posted February 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm


This thread has helped to crystalize a few thoughts that have been banging around in my brain lately. I hope that my attempts to answer a few of the questions posed proves helpful.
“Do the ecumenical Creeds establish firm boundaries for Christian theology?”
As uneasy as it may make many feel, it seems that the ecumenical Creeds ceased to be normative for the Christian tradition quite a number of years ago. Unless one concedes the binding character of the authority possessed by the Christian leaders who crafted the creeds in the first place, I do not see how it can be otherwise. Since few contemporary Christian communities believe that the men who gave rise to the ecumenical Creeds possess such authority, it stands to reason that these creeds ought not to be afforded the honor that they seem to be granted. The inability of certain Christian communities – especially those within the “the emerging / post-conservative / “third way” – to set aside the ecumenical Creeds – even as a reference point – in the discussion of contemporary Christianity seems to be based on a kind of theological nostalgia.
“Is paleo-orthodoxy consistent with or opposed to the emerging / post-conservative / “third way” ethos?”
Given the spiritual, cultural and theological ethos of “the emerging / post-conservative / “third way””, it’s interest in paleo-orthodoxy seems anachronistic at best. To me, the nostalgia for “ancient things” appears strange within this context. The question that seems to be begging to be asked is, “Why has paleo-orthodoxy arisen as a topic of interest within the Christian communities that identify themselves with “the emerging / post-conservative / “third way”?
Is this a fair discussion of the problems with paleo-orthodoxy?
I remain uncertain about the fairness of the discussion of paleo-orthodoxy. I am convinced that it can prove helpful to those wrestling with the impulse for paleo-orthodoxy.
Can a paleo-orthodox sensibility coexist with a post-conservative impulse?
Given what I have observed above, I do not see how paleo-orthodoxy can sensibility coexist with a post-conservative impulse.
Can a post-conservative (or post-liberal) impulse effectively pass along “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints?”
I’m not sure why this question ought to matter within “the emerging / post-conservative / “third way”? at least not if it has the ecumenical Creeds as a referent of the phrase “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”.



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JMorrow

posted February 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm


David,
Thanks for an informative post that highlights alot of my concerns with an overwrought reliance on creeds (ancient or modern, Protestant or EO or Catholic) for setting orthodoxy.
One of the most challenging parts of this conversation for me is the connection between creeds, church canon and The Canon. All three are to varying degrees products of the Church community. Which tells me there is no such thing as an unmediated relationship with the Bible. We are always dependent upon one another to see and know Jesus through these guides.
Also bear in mind the specificity of needs and politics behind the creedal writing and even some of the Gospel writing. The creeds, the Gospels and ultimately orthodoxy itself is about responding to questions. There are some questions we all will have, and the Canon tends to speak to the widest possible audience, and there are questions only some of us have. This is made most clear when looking at Christian history from a missionary perspective. What do the creeds look like in an African or Asian context? How might that give USAmericans some better perspective?
The move to creeds, systematic theological thought and writing is partly a contextual move to the Hellenistic world and its (mostly Western) progeny. That should make us aware of the finitude of the creeds.
Even more than Sola Scriptura, I really value Ad Fontes, with the idea that the Source is not just the written story, law, theology and letters found in the Canon, but the Big story which they all point to and digress from. The best thing attention to Scripture, creeds and affirmations can do is to keep us bridled by that Big story.



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Nick Mackison

posted February 26, 2010 at 1:57 pm


Scot, great post. I heard it said that if the words of Scripture are not enough to keep us faithful to the gospel, then no confessional statement will.



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dopderbeck

posted February 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm


AmP (#23) — I’m not Anglican so I many not have this history totally right. But I’m working from this version of the Thirty-Nine Articles. In Article VIII, reference to the A-C is omitted. There apparently was some controversy about this in the 19th Century, as this little treatise attests. But I see that in other versions of the Thirty-Nine articles it seems to remain. Maybe you could fill me in?



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Your Name

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm


AmP (#23): this may be the answer. An old book on the history of the creeds notes that the A-C was omitted from the American / Episcopalian BCP on account of the damnatory clauses in the 18th Century.



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linda

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm


I stumbled upon this and, ok, so I just skimmed this… because it’s clear that this is an attempt at justification for folks who want to make up their own “Christianity”.
To really look into this, well… uh… gee…
um….
You really don’t want to uh…
be Catholic?? do you??
to adhear to the ancient faith… yeah, that’s what you’d have to do.
Read the church fathers… read the councils… read the Didache… they were, well… uh… gee…
um….
CATHOLIC
As for Sola Scriptura… the Scriptures DON’T teach it… and for “FAITH ALONE” – even the demons have that…
What does Jesus tell us about the last judgement? What are we judged on?? That we just “believed”? Or that we did something??
You believe that the Catholic Church teaches error – that they worship statues, that they added stuff to the bible… but you don’t know the TRUTH. If you claim to be a Christian – then get thee to a library and start learning the Truth.
To be deep in history, is to cease to be protestant… To be deep in Truth, is to become Catholic.
Yes, this is a challenge!
and yeah, it’s pretty tough to be a GOOD Catholic if you don’t read the scriptures.



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Rick

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm


Linda-
“Read the church fathers… read the councils… read the Didache… they were, well… uh… gee…
um….
CATHOLIC”
I think the Eastern Orthodox would disagree with you.



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Nick Mackison

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm


Linda, what Scot is saying is that history is subservient to Scripture; everything is. So it’s all very well having two streams of authority in Scripture and Tradition, but when one contradicts the other e.g. Marian devotion versus Scripture’s emphasis on Christ alone, you’re left with a choice of one over the other. It seems, if I may say it respectfully, that in the RC Church, tradition trumps Scripture much of the time. Just because the church fathers (or better ‘church babies’) held to some teaching or other, it doesn’t mean that today’s church, pressing towards maturity, should be bound by it.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm


Nick, this post was written by David Opderbeck.



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dopderbeck

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm


(An aside — I, dopderbeck, wrote the original post — so any mistakes and so on are all mine!)
Linda (#30) — well, I have seriously considered becoming Catholic. There is a sense in which I think you’re right. As an evangelical, it’s very hard to understand the derived authority of the Creeds, because we simply have a problem with how to handle an authoritative tradition. We run into condundrums like the “damnatory clauses” in the Athanasian Creed, and there is no context within which to manage them. If I were Catholic, I could look to the entire interpretive tradition of the Magesterium, and I’d have the benefit of the authoritative position of Vatican II that inclusivism and a “broader hope” for those who haven’t heard the gosple is valid. I’d be able to understand the A-C’s damnatory clauses within the broader framework of the magesterium, and I’d feel confident that I’m not wandering into fundamental heresy by questioning the absoluteness of those particular clauses. As a protestant, particularly as an evangelical, I can’t do that. It’s rather frustrating for a thoughtful and scrupulous person.
But, I remain convinced that the Reformation was a valid movement of God, and thus I am not convinced of the authority of the Roman Church. Hence, I am not a Catholic.



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Karl

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:52 pm


Rick says in #19:
“The idea of paleo-orthodoxy has to deal with the high bar it sets, not one of equality with Scripture. One major theme is that proximity, in timing, to the Apostles is the key.”
Not surprisingly (since Rick was agreeing with me) I agree with Rick, but I would add that another key theme, again building on the analogy to legal precedent, is the length of time that the belief/precedent has been held.
Overturning any legal precedent can be a difficult thing. But a legal precedent that was set 5 years ago is usually easier to challenge or overturn than a legal precedent that was set two centuries ago, or that has its roots deep in English Common Law.
I would suggest that the creeds ought to be looked at similarly. We should have to demonstrate with “clear and convincing” evidence that this 1,500+ year old precedent is wrong before we say that it isn’t binding and boundary-setting. And sometimes, maybe we can do so. But the bar should be high and until it’s cleared then the precedent is binding IMO.



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AMPisAnglican

posted February 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm


Hello 28dopderbeck and 29Your Name
I feel I need to provide some clarification. When I referred to the Book of Common Prayer (1962) (BCP) is was referring to the Prayer Book that is used in Canada. As The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) is a seperate Province in the Worldwide Anglican Communion (WAC) I personally do not consider its actions or revisions to have any bearing on my Province.
The BCP was published in 1962 and has not been changed, amended, nor replaced since. Although many in the Anglican Church of Canada want the book of alternate services (bas) to be the official book the BCP still is. The bas is still officially an alternative and not a replacement.
Furthermore, the Solemn Declariation of 1893, which is the founding document of the Anglican Church in Canada in part states:
“…and defined in the Creeds as maintained by the undivided primitive Church in the undisputed Ecumenical Councils…”
So it seems clear to me that as this Declaration refers to “Creeds” and not “Creed”, and that the statement refers all the way back to the undivided primitive Church, that the Athanasian Creed is still very much in effect.



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dopderbeck

posted February 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm


AmP (#37) — thanks for that clarification. So what do you make of the A-C’s “damnatory clauses?” Would you say that an infant that dies in infancy necessarily is not saved because it never had the capacity to understand and affirm the Creed? If not, what’s the interpretive principle being applied? (Not challenging you, genuinely curious)…



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Nick Mackison

posted February 26, 2010 at 4:49 pm


Woops. Apologies to Scot and David for not bothering to read properly!



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Vaughn Treco

posted February 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm


dopderbeck, it seems to me that the concerns that you raise with regard to paleo-orthodoxy very readily cross-apply to the Scriptures themselves:
Since the Scriptures themselves bear witness to even more primordial events, the Reformational principle of “sola scripture” functionally compromises the importance, if not the primacy of the primordial revelational events to which they point.
Since the biblical canon does not contain a record of all of the primordial encounters between God and humankind, it is is highly selective – indeed arbitrary – about which parts of the “history of the Holy Spirit” are authoritative.
Since the Scriptures themselves bear witness to the existence of a great number primordial events – many of which find no witness within the texts themselves – they leave “unmanageable ambiguities about the status of” those unrecorded primordial events.
Put another way, the paleo-orthodox instinct seems to parallel the Evangelical instinct for an authoritative canon. If your concerns about paleo-orthodoxy hold, they seem incapable of answering JMorrow’s (#26) critique: “the Source is not just the written story, law, theology and letters found in the Canon, but the Big story which they all point to and digress from. The best thing attention to Scripture, creeds and affirmations can do is to keep us bridled by that Big story.”
Since you seem to have given this topic some thought, can you offer your thoughts about JMorrow’s response?



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Steve Robinson

posted February 26, 2010 at 6:02 pm


Dopderbeck, RE: Athanasian Creed and infants and the ignorant.
I would take Athanasius’ “verbal confession” in the same light I would interpret Romans 10:10 written by an apostle in the first century Church that baptized infants. (Yes, that is an assumption some Protestants don’t share, but in the context Athanasius wrote it, infant baptism was indeed the norm, so he couldn’t have been stating it in the sense of the modern Baptist.) Another important consideration is the EO doesn’t baptize infants to absolve “original guilt” so we do not believe the infant who dies unbaptized is lost, and since we don’t hold pen-sub as THE definition of the Gospel we believe God is free to forgive those who live according to the light they are given in this life on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. The Holy Spirit blows where He wishes. There are several podcasts on these topics in the audio archives of “Our Life in Christ”: A 4 part series on infant baptism, a program on original sin, and one on the view of the “non-Orthodox” (along with a lot of other stuff).



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Dana Ames

posted February 26, 2010 at 8:09 pm


David O.,
I like what N.T. Wright has to say about the Nicene/Apostles Creeds (also, the Lords’ Prayer falls under this in the conversation he was having). Those formulations are like a suitcase, which is used to transport things from one “place” to another. Inside the suitcase are a lot of things which have to be unpacked and hung up, which is what you do when you get to your destination; the point is not to leave the things in the suitcase forever. But the suitcase is an extremely useful way to take them from point A to point B.
Some of the things the church fathers were answering still rear their heads. The Nic. Creed is still, at the very least, a good tool to help people understand which god we’re talking about here, and provides a jumping-off point from which to unpack the central important points of Christian understanding.
My understanding of Orthodox canon law is that it’s lower on the list of what’s “authoritative” in Orthodoxy, and it takes up only a couple dozen volumes, unlike RC. Some Orthodox voices are calling for an overhaul of it, because many of the situations to which different articles of it spoke no longer exist, or have changed significantly.
Dana



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JoanieD

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:13 pm


To dopderbeck in #34 who said about becoming Catholic, “I’d have the benefit of the authoritative position of Vatican II that inclusivism and a “broader hope” for those who haven’t heard the gosple is valid.”
Yes, David, that is one of the things that I DO like about being Catholic.
And I agree with Steve in #40 who wrote that, “The Holy Spirit blows where He wishes.” We tend to want to put God in a box: “God does this.” “God does not do that.” It doesn’t work out that way. And I do like very much the way the Eastern Orthodox view the infant situation.



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Calvin Chen

posted February 26, 2010 at 11:50 pm


Scot,
I’m a big fan of the creeds in general. One very strong weakness I have found with paleo-orthodoxy is that it can lead to utterly unsatisfying theology. I’m leading a group of college students through the Mosaic of Christian Belief by Roger Olson and he basically takes a paleo-orthodox approach ascertain the boundaries of historic Christian witness and consensus, and diversity.
This is great for certain doctrines (e.g., eschatology, providence) and leads to an overall irenic and helpfully orthodox approach to belief, which is helpful. However, I found that for Christology… identifying historic Christian witness instead of just boldly and joyfully proclaiming “this is how Christ was and who he is!” was completely unsatisfying and joyless.



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