Beliefnet
Excerpted from The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters with permission of Doubleday.

Many Christians know that deadly moment at a party when their friends realize they actually believe something everyone has merrily been belittling. They recall their stammered reassurances, their tortured reinterpretations, their relief when the conversation moves on, their self-contempt. They may never have heard of Nietzsche, may not be able to define Modernity, and may think of the Enlightenment as a chapter in a first-year college textbook. But their embarrassment at being seen as believers reveals them to be Christians whose view of the world has been shaped less by the Christian creed than by its cultured despisers.For Modernity, belief in a creed is a sign of intellectual failure. Creeds involve faith, and faith makes statements about reality that can't be tested. Everyone knows that statements can be true only when they don't really say anything about the world or when they have been empirically tested. Creeds are therefore structures of fantasy. One cannot be both a believer and a critical thinker. Creeds also express convictions held by a group of people, and for intellectual elitists, the many is always a herd, and a herd will always believe what it is told. A creed negates the need for individuals to seek truth as a quest for authenticity. To be authentic, people must own each statement they make passionately and personally, and must accept nothing on the basis of outside authority. Better to stay silent than to speak a single word that is not a personal testimony.For intellectuals in the West, it is the Christian creed that most offends. Christians are pitiable not only because they live by faith rather than by evidence, but because the faith they declare has so thoroughly been demolished by the evidence. This is the conviction lying behind all the raised eyebrows, averted glances, and embarrassed silences when the cultured cognoscenti find a committed Christian in their midst.Isn't it obvious, these gestures suggest, that science has disproved each and every Christian claim? Adherence to them can be attributed only to an ineradicable (and probably insincere) social conservatism, invincible ignorance, or stupidity-and we thought you were one of us! If the Christian creed has been shown to be false, and even its adherents know that it is false, their willing submission to its herd mentality must come from intellectual laziness or psychological weakness....
...many Christians who recite the creed each week share the worldview of Modernity, but do not realize it. Thus, they sometimes reinterpret the creed along lines more palatable to that part of themselves that lives within Modernity. Making alternative views of reality conscious enables us to more clearly grasp what it is (we say) we believe and how it matters (or ought to matter).The creed is also a source of controversy among Christians. A significant number of Christians reject any form of the creed. For some, especially in the Anabaptist and Free Church traditions, the creed is too much an instrument of ecclesiastical tradition and power, too much associated with the development of Christianity into Catholicism, too much shaped by philosophy and too little by Scripture. Such Christians, who view the Bible as an exclusive authority that individuals can understand by themselves, consider the creed to be an instrument of coercion rather than a glad confession of faith, a monument to the church's power rather than a movement of the Holy Spirit. For other Christians, a fixed structure of belief is less desirable than a good heart and an open mind. Creeds, they think, close minds and harden hearts....it is important to keep such divergent views of the creed constantly before us. The critics remind us that there are real dangers in adhering to a creed. It can be accepted uncritically and unthinkingly. It can abet intellectual laziness. It can be used as a theological cudgel. It can replace the reading of Scripture and legitimate the embrace of a divine Christ that obscures his humanity.There are still other Christians for whom the creed is not controversial, mainly because they have not much given it serious thought, even if they say it every Sunday. Many Christians recite the creed as a regular part of their community's worship with little sense of its controversial roots, history, or position in the larger world. Some sleepwalk through the words they memorized as children, bothered not at all by the outrageous ideas to which they are declaring their commitment.
Others find elements in the creed personally offensive but deal with the scandal by freelance editing, passing over in silence or altering the statements they disagree with. Still others try to pay attention but find the creed simply unintelligible. Its language is far removed from the ordinary world in which they spend their days. They stumble through it as an act of piety because the church tells them to. My aim is to make the creed controversial for those Christians who say it but do not understand it and therefore do not grasp what a radical and offensive act they perform when they declare these words every week in a public assembly. In other words, I want to make the creed more controversial rather than less controversial for the right reasons rather than the wrong reasons.
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus