The Apostles’ Creed for the 21st Century

In the every day of my walking-around life, heart and mind collaborate.  Putting a note in my patient husband’s lunch communicates love, but, in my case, it is likely to be motivated by knowledge:  he’s having a rough week; he did something terrific that I want to thank him for; the day ahead holds special challenges.

Truth about God can work in a similar way, directing the heart’s affection toward action, and although I am not from a tradition that uses creeds or written prayers in corporate worship, I have found that ancient words play an important role in framing my thoughts when I ponder the nature of God.  In What We Believe, R.C. Sproul has unrolled the parchment to display the Apostles’ Creed, clarifying and applying it line by line, phrase by phrase to life here on the ground in the 21st century so that the glorious truth of words from A.D. 700 can pour forth for the benefit of both heart and mind.

His outline is straightforward and provides the biblical basis for each tenet, including some of the more puzzling references.  For example, I have always felt uneasy about the inclusion of the concept of Jesus’ descending into hell because He is so clear on the day of His crucifixion that He would see the thief “in paradise.”  He also commits His spirit to the Father at the point of death, and neither reference supports the possibility of a missionary journey to hell.  R.C. Sproul concludes, along with John Calvin and other Reformers, that the “descent into hell” should be understood as a spiritual reality:  as Jesus hung forsaken by God on the cross, He experienced “the full torment of hell” for us.  Dr. Sproul doesn’t address the inconsistency of listing a “spiritual reality” in the same breath as the stunning physical realities of conception, birth, execution, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, but I was helped in my thinking, nonetheless.

Turning the pages of What We Believe, five big-picture truths were reinforced for me:

  1.  When it comes to faith, content (or the object of faith) is key.  The Christian is called to a faith in particular, not merely a faith “in faith,” or a warm feeling of hopefulness.
  2. Intellectual assent to truth is insufficient. “Faith loves truth,” but more importantly, it “delights in Christ,” the Object of our faith.
  3.  The Apostles’ Creed speaks from the assumption of an open universe in which the natural laws (like everything else) are God’s, and He is able to step into His creation for the purpose of causing extraordinary events such as the virgin birth and the resurrection.  It’s a nice bonus when science and Scripture sing in harmony, but my faith will not be jettisoned by lack of physical proof that a virgin birth could be replicated.
  4. The Christian faith is unmistakably Trinitarian.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God and each is addressed in The Creed.  Chapter 11 is a clear and helpful expansion of the Creed’s six-word assertion about the third member of the Trinity, including Old Testament references to the Spirit, and the Spirit’s role in regeneration and sanctification.
  5. Christianity is social, not solitary.  The nurturing of and the practice of correct theology happen in the context of “the communion of saints,” but the publication of the Gospel will only occur as Christians become embedded in the lives of those outside the church.  “In the world but not of the world” is wildly foundational to the amphibious life of the believer, and so we need one another as anchors and ballast.

Here on this planet we will only begin to understand the nature of God.  The Bible presents an abundance of truth and theology provides mental file folders for organizing that truth.  Credal statements serve to summarize the content of belief so that the truth can be succinctly spoken or held up and examined for teaching and inspiration.  The words of the Apostles’ Creed are a path toward a still place where the affirmation of beliefs in a renewed mind kindles love in a heart that has been set free by truth.

This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

21 thoughts on “The Apostles’ Creed for the 21st Century”

  1. RC Sproul….oh, he is one of my favorites. I have a list of books, that keeps growing, as I read your reviews. 🙂 I am not sure I have this one so it is being added to the list.

    Thanks, Michele.
    Blessings,
    Dawn

    Merry Christmas!!

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    1. Yes, I love how Dr. Sproul communicates truth in such an accessible style. If you have a lot of his older books, double check, because I think this one may be a re-issue of an older book with a new title and updated info.

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  2. “In the world but not of the world” is wildly foundational to the amphibious life of the believer, and so we need one another as anchors and ballast.

    I love how you put that!

    But according to Jesus one of the ways that unbelievers are attracted to ‘the communion of saints’ is by their love for each other inside that communion. There is much more to it than only correct theology, anchors, and ballast. We are, after all, a body together.

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  3. Our Lord and God Jesus Christ states clearly in Matthew 12:40 that “so shall the Son of Man be THREE days and THREE nights in THE HEART OF THE EARTH”. God uses earthly things to explain spiritual things. What is in the “heart of the Earth” but molten fire or a huge lake of fire pointing to God’s final judgment of every wicked creature including mankind. Now some are quick to say “that means when He was buried in the tomb” but if we study God’s way of keeping time we come up SHORT a night or better to say an Even. When did Christ our Redeemer descend into Hell in our place? If we start at the tomb we come up short. If we start at the Cross we STILL come up short one Even. Those events began Friday during the day portion. Our Biblical answer is found in Friday Even (which is Thursday night 6pm into early Friday before 6am in our current way of thinking). It began in the Garden. Here our Lord descended into God’s Judgment in our stead when He surrendered Himself into the hands of wicked men to suffer. He was judged & beaten by the High Priests, the same by Pontius Pilate and his soldiers, also Herod and his men & finally judged by Christ’s own, His people. Now our Lord at a certain point near the end of His ministry forewarned His discples what was coming and they did not understand till afterwards. In Luke 24:6-7 the recount is given by the angels, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again”. So here we are given when He began His GRACIOUS descent into HELL in OUR stead. “For Thou hadst cast Me into the deep, in the heart of the seas, and the floods compassed me about: all Thy billows & Thy waves passed over Me” ~Jonah 2:3. The Apostles Creed did not have originally the phrase “He descended into hell” but was added later. It is correct in itself but the phrase Biblically should be placed BEFORE “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” to avoid misunderstanding & be chronologically clear. Grace B2U & peace, from God our Father, Jesus & the Holy Spirit.

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  4. To continue the thought from my first comment with P.S.: Now we must add to continue to be clear that the soul of Christ upon suffering the first death ascended into Heaven having made atonement (“It is finished”) BUT His body was buried in the tomb and thus in a state of death (judgment) till the third day when He arose by the power of the Holy Spirit for our justification defeating sin and death by His works.

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    1. Tony, thank you for your thorough consideration of this topic. There is much that we can’t state dogmatically about God’s working through Christ to accomplish our salvation, but we can know and rejoice in His finished work and the love demonstrated by His sacrifice, the power made manifest in his resurrection, and the hope of His soon return. Blessings to you!

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  5. Michele, this was very interesting to me because I grew up an Episcopalian. Though I left the church in college for an evangelical nondenominational one, I remember memorizing the creeds. What We Believe sounds like it might be an enjoyable read.
    Blessings ~

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  6. Michele, I particularly enjoyed reading the five big picture truths. As a child I recited the Apostles Creed but didn’t really think about what it meant. I appreciated number 5. Christianity is social, not solitary. Thanks so much.

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  7. I love the specific examples you’ve given of how this book has helped you in your understanding. That was really helpful! Thanks so much for being a part of Booknificent Thursday’s weekly link-up party! Happy New Year!
    Tina

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