One of the things that I have become more sure of as I have aged (and read more books) is that salvation is not simply about right belief. I Cor 13 seems to directly address the common, but unfortunate, problem that many modern Evangelicals (and other Christians have). I Cor 13 suggests that we may be right in the external features of our faith (knowledge, miracles, suffering for God) but still be missing the essential feature of Love.
So I think many, especially of the non-denominational and free church varieties of Christians, have rejected some types of knowledge in a partial attempt at being more about personal experience of faith than about the knowledge of faith. I think often this is a false dichotomy. We need the personal experience of Christ’s love for us (and our corresponding response of love for others) but we do not need to reject our knowledge (or history) to get it.
This past weekend I was talking to my Dad about theology (a common topic for us since he is a pastor and I like to read theology for fun.) One of the things that came up is that Evangelical theology is often narrow. The problem is not with the particulars of that theology, but with the narrowness. As a response some people want to reject one narrow theology and just adopt a new narrow theology.
But the better choice is to read and talk widely within the different streams of the Christian church precisely because we need those various streams to understand the fullness of the Christian faith.
As an example we need not reject the the penal substitution model of the atonement to understand that it is just one of the models of the atonement that is part of historic Christianity and biblically supported. Yes there are weaknesses to that particular model, but there are weaknesses to all of the atonement models. All are simply models that help us to more fully understand why Christ chose to come to earth, fully incarnated as a human, die and be raised again in a new (still incarnated) body. The model is not the atonement itself, but simply a model to help us understand the atonement.
None of that is a review of Justin Holcolm’s book Know the Creeds and Councils. But it is relevant because part of learning about the different streams of faith is important to understanding how they relate and where we agree. Virtually all streams of Christianity can affirm the earliest creeds, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. But understanding how those creeds and later creeds as well as later councils that helped form much of what we now believe, matter because it is the history, not only of our own stream, but of the other streams of Christian faith as well.
We cannot reject Catholic or Orthodox or other streams of faith out of hand without doing damage to our own history. Of course, no stream of faith has it all right. We all believe that our stream is the best for us right now or else we would not be a part of it. But that does not mean that we can be complete in our faith apart from all other streams of faith.
Similar to Paul’s body metaphors in Romans 12 and I Cor 12, we need the other streams of Christianity to form a whole body. When we only see our own small little slice of Christianity as the whole of Christianity we inevitably focus on what we see as important and minimize the emphases of other streams and become like a person with over developed biceps but no hands or legs.
Both Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics are useful books to attempt to gain a better understanding of why we believe, and focuses us back on the essentials that virtually the entire church agrees upon.
Know the Creeds and Councils is probably a little drier than Know the Heretics because it is a bit more focused on the theology and a bit less focused on the personalities. But both are well written and non-technical and would make for good reading and discussion. They are a bit long for most general small groups (usually I think anything that would take more than 6 weeks is too long for a small group discussion), but might work for some groups or a more focused adult Sunday School class.