Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Brief review: I believe & it’s not silly

‘Tis the season for believin’.

Macy’s makes this commercially clear in their seasonal advertising. Even popular movies and TV programs pump up the believing mantra.

“You have everything you need, if you just believe,” and hop aboard the Polar Express.

And little Susan, forlorn that her miracle wasn’t under the tree, mumbles pitifully, “I believe... I believe... It’s silly, but I believe.”

But then, because that’s what the screenwriters pre-ordained, her miracle finally comes into view because, as her mother explained, “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see?”

Well, not exactly.

Often, even true believers -- aka Christians -- don’t do much better.

When a need is present, the answer to its solution is, “Just believe! Believe real good!”

And soon it all devolves into being the little Christian who could, bearing down and grunting between clenched teeth, “I think I can believe. I think I can believe.”

But all of this begs the question, Believe in what?

Ah, there’s the rub.

Contending in the faith with the creeds

I grew up in a faith tradition that more or less pooh-poohed anything that even resembled the trappings of “them other fancy  churches.” Meaning the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, not to mention the Catholics. Seriously, don’t mention them.

This meant, in part, we didn’t ascribe to the generally accepted creeds and confessions of the Christian faith.

You know, the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Westminster Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and so forth.

Frankly, I think this was a real shame. Studying these traditional, truth-packed resources would have provided a far firmer theological grounding than did the diluted Sunday school stories we were plied with.

Now, understand, I am thoroughly proud of my church-centered heritage. What I was exposed to was not a waste. But there was (and is) room for significant improvement.

One good resource that churches could employ is R. C. Sproul’s recently re-released and slightly updated book, What We Believe: Understanding and Confessing the Apostles’ Creed (Baker).

Feeding the mind of Christ in us

Too many believers tend to brush off any talk of theology, preferring to wade in the shallows of devotional reading and promise-box believing.

Sproul states, “a flea could wade in the depth of knowledge about God in the mind of the average Christian.”

Sorry, but that’s not going to cut it.

Survival in today’s post-modern world requires more than happy, saccharine, Bible-lite sermons and positive-thinking memes.

Sproul opens the book stating,
“Nothing is as radical as a new mind, and a new mind is a matter of theology. To be conformed to the thinking of this world is to think with its forms and structures. To be transformed is to think beyond the forms of this world. And the power for this transformation is the renewed mind. It means a new set of beliefs. A renewed mind means a major reorientation of what we believe.”

Breaking out the Apostles’ Creed into 13 segments, Sproul lays out a path for better biblical thinking grounded in sound theology.

He starts at the beginning -- I believe in God -- explaining, “That confession is not an expression of a creative imagination or an instance of projection, but a response to the One who manifests himself in creation, in history, in deed and in word, and, supremely, in Christ.”

From there Sproul presents a cogent and accessible argument for each piece of the creed, building solid content behind Christian belief.

In the final chapter of the book, he provides very relevant discussions of the differences between guilt and feeling guilty, theonomy versus autonomy, separating guilt from conscience, how to discern true forgiveness in light of not feeling forgiven, the role of repentance, contrition versus attrition, and cheap grace, among other topics.

Better living through better believing

Believing is a wonderful expression of faith. But to be of any real value, the content behind what’s being believed in must be substantial, viable, and true.

Belief in and of itself is useless. (And Santa isn’t real.)

Sproul has provided an excellent resource using the model of the Apostles’ Creed to help all Christians firm up the substance of what they believe in with clear biblical evidence on which to stand.

The book is a great read for any believer, especially those new to the faith, and would be useful for small group study and Sunday school classes.

BTW: If you read a previous review of a Sproul book, which I panned, I mentioned that there were other books of his that I liked. This is one. As with the previous one, this is a re-issue (one of many prior). However, this one makes that fact more clear and the editing does make it fresh. Publishers typically update and reissue older books by popular authors to freshen the sales.

Random Trivia: These are two actual sentences from the book that, for some reason, cracked me up when I came across them. You’ll have to get the book to see them in context:
  • “Attacks by seafaring Philistines were a constant source of danger.”
  • “Few people grieve when a fly dies.”


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Did you / do you study the Creeds and such in your church? If not, do they seem foreign to you? Why or why not? Do you believe creeds and confessions are useful for gaining maturity in faith? If not, why not? Please share your thoughts, criticisms, and insights in the comments!

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