Is this idolatrous?

So, I happened upon what seems to me to be a rather strange Christian creed recently.  It’s actually the creed of an institute of higher learning (I did not know institutes for learning – even those with religious affiliations – had such creeds), and the full text of it can be found here.

I don’t mean at all to comment on the particular institution this creed is from, but rather just on the creed itself.  I imagine that similar creeds must be found in a number of Christian circles, so the specific source is not all that relevant.

Here’s the creed:

I believe in the inspiration of the Bible (both the Old and the New Testaments); the creation of man by the direct act of God; the incarnation and virgin birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; His identification as the Son of God; His vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the cross; the resurrection of His body from the tomb; His power to save men from sin; the new birth through the regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the gift of eternal life by the grace of God.

And here’s my question: Is this creed idolatrous?

 Here are the (condensed) points of the creed, in order:

[They] believe in…

  1. A book.
  2. A particular explanation of the origins of a particular part of all existence.
  3. A particularly rare, but apparently natural, generation of a particular man (namely parthenogenesis) – though that’s not even clear, it could just mean that the man was born a virgin.
  4. The identification of said man as God’s Son.
  5. Their own salvation – or at least the idea of how it works.
  6. That said man’s body was raised physically from the dead.
  7. That said man has the power to save men from sin.
  8. A born-again concept.
  9. Eternal life.

I find a few things interesting, and they lead me to think that this creed is idolatrous.  Let’s review…

First, nowhere is there a specific mention of belief in God (though the creed does indicate an acknowledgement of God’s existence and action).  The main subject of the creed is not even identified as God.  It seems to me that a creed that does not speak of God must be idolatrous.

Second, the entire creed has to do with parts of creation.  It seems to me reasonable to assume that the primary thrust or focus of a creed would come at the beginning.  In the case of this creed, the beginning is about belief in the status of a book.  Any book is a part of creation and therefore not God.  So it appears the primary thrust of this creed is not God.  Wouldn’t that make it idolatrous?  The second point is similarly not God.  There we find a belief in a theorized action of God, but not a belief in God Godself.  The third point is also not God; indeed it’s not even something that is necessarily supernatural.  In any case belief in a process of generation, whether natural or supernatural, is not a belief in God Godself.  The fourth and sixth points are about the identity and physicality of a man.  God is not physical, so point six is clearly not God.  Furthermore, point six seems to have little or nothing directly to do with the rest of the creed importat ideas about this man.  Though one might have expected it, the fifth point does not identify the special man as God, but rather just the “Son of God.”  Of course, that’s not God either.  Furthermore, the creed does not indicate belief or faith in the special man as God’s Son, but rather just that the belief in that particular identification of the man.  It’s almost as if the creed reads, “I believe in not-God; not-God; not-God;…; not-God;…; not-God…”  How can that be anything other than idolatry?

The creed does add some level of belief structure to its wunderkind.  There is a belief about how his actions and abilities affect the confessors of the creed.  Of course, none of those things are God either.  Thus, the creed is not centered on God or even really on God’s Son, but rather on people – those who say accept this creed.  In my understanding, a creed that is focused on people and their status rather than on God is idolatrous.  Points eight and nine of the creed are similarly focused on the status of people.  Point seven of the creed also raises questions as to whether or not men and women are to be considered equal in that it is unclear whether the special man has the power to save women from sin.

God is clearly not the ultimate concern of this creed.  Man is.  As long as man remains an ultimate concern, the weeds of idolatry will continue to bear their fruit of de-humanization and destruction, both internal and external.  Idolatry eats away at the soul as it seduces people away from placing their ultimate concern in that which is truly ultimate.

This creed makes an idol of the bible, it makes an idol of anti-science, it makes an idol of a few details about a man, it makes an idol of salvation, and it makes an idol of the concept of eternal life.  Not one of those things is itself Ultimate, the Ground of Being, God.  That such idols have become the ultimate concern of many should be a concern for us all.

 

-GCC

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8 Comments

Filed under Grant

8 responses to “Is this idolatrous?

  1. John

    It is a university creed, not a profession of faith–it is not intended to encapsulate the entire theological basis of the institution. However, why the university has chosen not to include a full doctrinal statement on its web site is an interesting question.

    As for idolatry and “physicality of a man; God is not physical,” your complaint against BJU reads more like a convenient cover for a repudiation of Christian belief.

  2. GCC

    Yeah, I definitely get the university creed thing. Could be that the word “creed” carries more weight for me than it deserves. That’s also why I found it strange. It doesn’t fit well with what I understand to be good Christian theology. The Nicene Creed, by contrast, doesn’t present these problems. Not that I really mean to compare the two. I’ve since poke around the BJU website some more, and suspect that the creed is intended as a profession of faith. But it feels reactionary. It’s more saying we don’t accept things like higher- or historical-criticism and/or science, etc.

    I certainly understand why you’d read the “God=not physical” thing from me as such a repudiation. Believe it or not I don’t mean it as such in this context. I do think that can be a problem, but I don’t think this creed raises. The Nicene Creed, for instance, does seem to, but I think that in doing so it avoids all of the negatives that this creed runs into. I like that. The Nicene Creed is not ambiguous in its meaning and understanding of The Son. For the NC, it’s homoousia (sp?). Above, I read the son as different from God. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not trying to criticize Christian doctrine, but rather just this creed.

    Thanks for commenting, John!

  3. John

    Thanks for clarifying, Grant. I still don’t see this as a profession of faith, though, but rather a poorly-written mantra for students. For some comparison, I checked out Wheaton’s website. Their “Mission” and “Educational Purpose” passages are equally vague–but they supplement it with a pretty specific “Statement of Faith,” which serves to clarify (some) potential issues. BJU should probably do the same.

    On the Nicene Creed: it does read well today, but ambiguity in the earlier versions spawned enough heresies that successive councils had to refine the language and make significant additions. Maybe all BJU needs is a lengthy and heated revision process?

  4. Grant, I think your making some enormous assumptions. It seems to me that your projecting too. Perhaps you should write a letter to BJU and ask it for a formal position.

  5. djs

    For as many reasons as there are to rip BJU, and there are a few, in my opinion, this out of context reading of their ‘creed’ is not one of them.

  6. GCC

    Thanks for reading and commenting, all. I’m not sure what context I’m missing or what assumptions I’m making. I’m also not sure about projecting.

    Also, as I mentioned, BJU isn’t of interest to me. Rather, I wonder if there is a reading of this creed that does make it God-centered? Is it really idolatrous? It obviuosly seems so to me, so if it’s not, how? That’s what I find interesting here.

    Even more striking for me than what’s in this creed is what’s not in it. Ideas about eternal life, salvation, etc. are fine and they can be in creeds without making the whole thing seem idolatrous; but they are secondary (at least) to the God part. When they supercede God, then something that is not God has become the primary concern.

    I think John might be right in regard to the need for a revision process. It seems this creed opens the doors rather wide for things that could be considered heresies. Then there are those who would alreday call this whole creed heresy. And that’s why I don’t worry too much about what is and is not heresy, as if there is some sort of true orthodoxy. In modern times heresy is a meaningless word.

    If this is just mantra for students, I think its idolatrousness should still be considered – after all, lex orandi lex credendi.

  7. Grant, you wonder if there is a reading of this creed that makes it God-centered. The answer is yes. The answer could just as easily be no. It really depends on how the reader interprets the creed, and the significance they subscribe to it (primarily God). This is where I think you make some assumptions and projections. BJU would need to elaborate in order to really know what is meant by this creed. I know I can say that I believe in the basics of this creed without remotely feeling like an idolator. However, I do find the creed lacking in several categories that I believe are important to the Christian faith. And, I agree with John, this does not appear to be a profession of faith.

  8. GCC

    What I’m wondering is this: If the creed isn’t what is believed, or needs clarification and/or elaboration, or is lacking in some other way – particularly in categories that are important to Christianity – why is it labeled as such? A creed is an authoritative codification of belief. Is it not a bigger assumption to assume that this is not what it is labeled to be? After all, it does start with the words “I believe” – just like the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. I suppose we can’t know with absolute certainty that this creed is a profession of faith. But I see no difference between a profession of faith and a creed, and because the website has labeled this statement a creed, I see no problem in assuming that it is one. I feel additionally safe in this assumption after noting that the same website finds it important enough to discuss (in the same section/context) their preference of bible translation. It seems to me that a profession of faith would come before that, so my guess is they included what they intended as their profession.

    So, the question of the post is this: If this is a creed/profession of faith – as they have labeled it – and it, as such, is complete and its authors – who presumably thought a while about it before posting it on their university website – feel it needs no clarification, is it idolatrous? Or, without assuming this creed is something other than what it says it is, is there are way of reading it that isn’t idolatrous? It seems that if we, for the sake of argument, take this creed as a complete creed/profession of faith that we would agree it is idolatrous. Thoughts?

    Side note: Does anyone think there’s a theological difference between a confession and a profession of faith?

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