Seminary is supposed to be a time of deconstruction, a time where beliefs are challenged and expanded. How do you stay faithful to Christ while your worldview seems to be torn down around you? I suggest that we take a look at the Creeds.
My academic life has been an interesting one, to say the least. Going into college, I thought I wanted to be a Communications major. As I began my first year at Iowa State, I became an English Education major with an ESL focus. I then switched from English Education to Religious Studies and Philosophy. After becoming disillusioned with Philosophy, I downgraded it to a minor and added a second major in Women’s Studies. After graduating Iowa State, I began my current Master of Divinity program at Northern Seminary.
One of the biggest challenges for me in going to a secular state institution, and even a semi-conservative in a lot of regards seminary, was maintaining my faith. Well, duh, you might say. But it is not exactly the party atmosphere. Far fewer people offered me alcohol than I had imagined, and zero offered me drugs. The hardest part was the deconstruction of the Bible.
Biblical scholarship these days has little faith that the Bible represents a fair reconstruction of history. From source criticism, claiming that the Bible was put together after the exile, to historical criticism, which asks how much of the Bible records actual historical fact as we understand it, my conservative leaning faith came under fire often. I still, to this day, maintain that the Bible more or less contains entirely historical fact. (Maybe a post for a different day.)
While now I am undeterred by these theories, it was not always so easy. It seemed as if my faith was under attack the entire time. Maybe my main issue is that I mixed up secondary doctrines with primary doctrines. The historicity of the Exodus, while an important topic, is not central to the faith. We need not necessarily believe that Goliath was 7 or 9 feet tall to be a Christian. Our primary focus is the resurrection of Christ and his ascension to the right hand of the Father and the current work of the Spirit in the Church. A lot of Christians lack the tools that focus our attention on the core doctrines. Because of this, we wander around, lost and blind, running the risk of being lost forever.
I often wonder if I lost sight of that reality because I had not adhered to the creeds. I’m sure most of my beliefs were in line with the creeds. I just didn’t know they existed, and didn’t know of their value. Thankfully, God, in his plan to keep me in the church, brought creeds to my attention. Creeds are tools that the church has used to maintain a record of her beliefs necessary for salvation. These are not inspired, but are written based on devotional readings of the Scriptures to respond to attacks against God’s Bride. Because of this, we may take encouragement from the Creeds as a means of God’s grace to maintain our faiths.
Here are some ways that learning the creeds, and reciting them often, can help maintain your faith in seminary.
- They put the focus on core doctrines. For the Apostles Creed, the focus is on the Trinitarian God. We believe, the creed says, in the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the church. The Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Statement both affirm the true divinity and true humanity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ incarnate. By affirming the Trinity and the incarnation, we are reminded of who, not what, is the core of our faith. When we are tempted to despair over archaeological evidence of the Exodus, we are reminded of God and his self-revelation in Scripture. As we discuss the validity of the virgin birth, we affirm with the historic church that Christ was born under Mary – he was a real human, as the Scriptures teach! Whatever we decide on the issue of the authorship of the Torah, we are reminded of Scripture’s core truths. This helps us from becoming discouraged by what we learn, and help keep our hearts centered on Jesus and his gospel.
- They focus our reading of the Scriptures. The creeds are imbued with the Scriptures. As a fun thought experiment, take a pen and a printed copy of the Apostles Creed, marking Scripture citations. You’ll find the page covered; any blank spots might be citations that we’ve missed rather than an oversight on the part of the writer. We may lose our minds, and our devotional hearts, when we are buried face first into a book. The more we read about God and the Bible, the less we might end up reading the actual Bible and spending time with God through his Spirit. At least knowing the creeds will bring us back, in some ways, to the Scriptures. As we are drawn back to the Word of God, we find grace to face the next homework assignment – and the potential is has to cause us to doubt, or even walk away from the church.
- They keep us in line with the historic church. Medieval theologians did not have to interpret Genesis in light of recently discovered Ancient Near Eastern documents. These discoveries may – and maybe rightly so – change the way that we read Genesis. But it does not change the way we see God. Ancient Israel knew Yahweh as their creator. The ancient church, according to the Apostles’ Creed, knew him as such as well. Whatever we decide about the interpretation of the book, we can’t learn anything new about God except what he has already revealed. As Dr. Jim Renahan teaches, the creeds have a twofold function: it maintains boundaries, and defends us from heresy. The creeds maintain the boundaries of Genesis (we must still affirm God as creator) while guarding us from affirming something wrong (because the text is polemic against the ANE countries, it does not affirm God as creator.) As biblical scholars start to deny the resurrection, we are reminded that, for her entire history, the church has believed in the real resurrection. Knowing the Creeds keeps us from going too far off the beaten trail and keep us within the church’s accepted teachings.
Unfortunately, even seminary has taken Christians too far off the beaten trail. Learn from my crises, and pray that God can use the creeds to maintain your faith in your studies.