A “New Testament Confession” (Median vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 3)

This post continues my discussion of Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity (parts 1, 2). Last time, I proposed “Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen” as the only creed that should be required in order to prove true Christianity. Here, I provide a list of the major confessional material in the New Testament (drawn from Richard N. Longenecker, New Wine into Fresh Wineskins). I also distill this material and synthesize it into a single confession. On Monday, I’ll compare this NT-based confession with my proposal and see what changes need to be made where, and why.

Here’s the raw NT material:

“Who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:3b-4)

“[We] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:24-26)

“Who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)

“That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3b-5)

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19)

“Who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Gal 1:4-5)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'” (Gal 3:13)

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Gal 3:26)

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28)

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal 4:4-5)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

“We believe that Jesus died and rose again.” (1 Thess 4:14a)

“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb 1:3)

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8-9)

Other NT confessional material includes calling Jesus “Christ” (Mk 8:29b, par.; John 1:15–27, 41; 7:41; 9:22; 11:27; 20:31; Acts 9:22; 17:3; 1 Jn 2:22; 5:1), calling him “Son of God” (Mk 15:39; 16:16; Jn 1:34, 49; 11:27; 20:31; Acts 9:20; 1 Jn 4:15; 5:5), and calling him “Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; 2 Cor 4:5; Phil 2:11; Col 2:6).

In this collection, it is far to say, we have some of the confessional material that the NT authors granted imprimatur. (If only we had more! Our lives would be much easier then.) Let us begin by distilling all of Paul’s confessions into one single confession:

Jesus Christ, the Lord,
Born to a woman, under the Law, in the line of David,
Died to redeem us from sin and Law,
Was raised and declared Son of God,
Appeared to Cephas and the Twelve,
Secured justification for us,
Made us God’s children,
Unifies the Church.

(Note that this Pauline confession also includes the single-word confessions from the Gospels et al. — that is, “Christ,” “Lord,” and “Son of God.” Also note that, in Paul’s confessions, Jesus is not “Son of God” until his resurrection.)

Now, let’s distill Colossians and Hebrews and add it to Paul:

Jesus Christ, the Lord,
The invisible God made visible,
The reflection of God’s glory.

He was born to a woman, under the Law, in the line of David,
Submitted himself to God,
Learned obedience through suffering,
Was made perfect and became our source of salvation.

He died to redeem us from sin and Law,
Was raised and declared Son of God,
Appeared to Cephas and the Twelve,
Ascended to sit at God’s right hand.

He created and sustains all things,
Secured justification for us,
Made us God’s children,
Unifies the Church, over which he is head.

With this, I think, we have something we could reasonably call a “New Testament confession.” On Monday, I’ll compare this confession with my proposal, “Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen,” and see what changes need to be made to which confession, and why.

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

9 responses to “A “New Testament Confession” (Median vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 3)

  1. Shep Shepherd

    So the path to Church unity is to return to the doctrinal vagueness of pre-Nicea? (There wasn’t any unity their either, of course. There never has been in the entire history of the Church.)

    This is theology based in proof-texting. Seems a bit hyper-biblicist in some ways to me. Theology is ultimately grounded in the Person of Christ, who is the object of our faith. Christ is not an abstract fact.

    Also, Christ was not the Son of God until after the resurrection for Paul? What? Something isn’t a reality until it is declared to be so? That does not make any sense when held together when Paul’s theology as a whole.

    I’m hoping in your next post you’ll provide a substantial reason why this particular method of constructing a confession from “raw NT material” is to be preferred. I want to see the theological underpinnings. Just out of curiosity.

  2. You’re reading too much into me, Shep. :)

    1) Note that I carefully refrained here from drawing a value judgment about either my proposal or this synthesized NT confession. Such a judgment deserves a post of its own, rather than being an afterthought added to a post that is already too long.

    2) Note also that I have made no mention, here or elsewhere, of doctrinal vagueness being the path to Church unity. What I have said, and what I continue to say, is that it impedes unity when inessential doctrines are put forward as a requirement for faith.

    3) I did not say that, for Paul, Jesus wasn’t Son of God until the resurrection. What I did say is this: “Also note that, in Paul’s confessions, Jesus is not ‘Son of God’ until his resurrection.” This is a simple observation, which can be verified by reading the selections from Paul in the post. I made no assertion about the reality behind Paul’s confession, or about the rest of Paul’s thought.

  3. Shep Shepherd

    Yes, I know I’m reading into you (intentionally!) which is why I left things open at the end with my desire to see the theological underpinnings involved here.

    And no, you didn’t explicitly say doctrinal vagueness was the path to unity. I said it, because your simplified confession and this NT prooftext collection are simply a return to pre-Apostle’s Creed days (not that theology itself was ever necessarily simple in those days) but that Church doctrine itself had not been brought to a summary and so many of the doctrines of what was essential had not yet been ecumenically determined. So in fact vagueness is the path to unity in what you are describing here. Note I say vagueness, not ignorance.

    What you say about Paul only solidifies my point about prooftexting confessions – they take Paul out of context and thus skew what he meant to convey. “By reading the selections” – well, of course. All sorts of heresies can spring from reading mere selections. Paul wasn’t writing a liturgical confession. Nor was he guarding against heresies in many of those passages. Not all confessions are the same kinds of confessions, or are meant to be as exhaustive, or are meant to serve the same purpose. Attempting to distill a confession by prooftexting selected portions of Paul’s writings while pushing the whole aside amounts to mere bullet-point misconstruals of Paul’s theology, rather than an account that does justice to the more nuanced whole.

  4. Shep Shepherd

    One more problem with this “NT confession.” It clearly is dependent upon the canon, which was defined by the Church, partly on the basis of doctrinal consistency (their particular understanding of doctrine that tends towards certain famous confessions). So it doesn’t escape the thing that it seems to want to escape.

  5. Again: I have intentionally refrained from drawing a value judgment about my synthesized NT confession. I have neither approved of it, nor have I disapproved of it. At the moment, it is simply an intermediate step, something against which to judge both my proposal and the two historic creeds in question, and something to be judged against these other options.

    “Paul wasn’t writing a liturgical confession. Nor was he guarding against heresies in many of those passages. Not all confessions are the same kinds of confessions, or are meant to be as exhaustive, or are meant to serve the same purpose.”

    It’s actually more likely that Paul is citing a good number of these confessions, which were probably originally liturgical confessions, rather than composing them himself (see the Longenecker book I cited in the post). You’re right, though, that he was not denouncing heresies in most of them, but I see that as a virtue, not a vice. I agree with the last sentence, too; a creed, by its very nature, is usually not exhaustive; that’s why catechesis exists.

    “Attempting to distill a confession by prooftexting selected portions of Paul’s writings while pushing the whole aside amounts to mere bullet-point misconstruals of Paul’s theology, rather than an account that does justice to the more nuanced whole.”

    Again, I made no claim to be representing the whole of Paul’s theology. My only claim is, “With this, I think, we have something we could reasonably call a ‘New Testament confession'”; i.e., a synthesis of all the confessional material from the NT. Again, cf. Longenecker on the pre-existence of these bits of confessional material. I also explicitly denied that this confessional material exhausts what the authors would approve: “In this collection, it is far to say, we have some of the confessional material that the NT authors granted imprimatur. (If only we had more! Our lives would be much easier then.)”

    To sum up: I took the confessional material that Paul et al. cite and synthesized it into a single confession, making no claims other than that it is a synthesis of the data in the NT and making no value judgments about it, whether I approve or disapprove of it.

  6. Shep Shepherd

    Cory, you don’t have to keep emphasizing to me that you aren’t making a value judgment here. I already responded to that in my prior comment re: “reading into you.” Then I went on to critique the NT confession model and the “median” confession model. I’m not saying you approve or disapprove, I’m saying I disapprove. You’ll note my wording was cautious not to pin any opinions on you (ex. “In fact vagueness is the path to unity in what you are describing here” is not the same as “In fact vagueness is the path to unity in what you believe / espouse / endorse here.”). So this is some sort of quodlibet, ok, fine. You aren’t showing your deck yet, I’m showing mine.

    I said in my first comment I want to see the theological underpinnings at work here. I assumed then that you were supporting this NT model, really because I felt it was simply an extension of our last discussion (in which you used a Pauline statement as the basis of your median model). After you clarified though I haven’t carried on the assumption (although I note you didn’t negate it, but are instead leaving me in suspense!).

    Citing confessions isn’t reproducing them wholesale, nor does it negate what I prior emphasized as pre-Nicene doctrinal vagueness. As for Paul, he does denounce heresies elsewhere. False teachers and all that.

    Back to what I said above with the exhaustiveness bit. You see us as agreed on this critique (I guess?) so no worries here then.

    “A creed, by its very nature, is usually not exhaustive; that’s why catechesis exists.” No, actually, I think creeds, theology, and catechesis are never fully exhaustive, ever, because God is ineffable. My use of “exhaustive” here was comparative, “as exhaustive.”

  7. I ended up making a liar of myself. Monday got away from me; I’ll follow up to this post soon. Wouldn’t want to leave you hanging! Haha.

  8. Pingback: Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 4: Conclusions | Ex Libris

  9. Pingback: Top Posts for 2012 | Ex Libris

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s