The Christian Essentials series “passes down tradition that matters” (p. xi). The volumes in this series quote Martin Luther who wrote, “I never move on from the childish doctrine of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.” The Christian Essentials series looks at the basic biblical teachings and practices of the gospel that the church was founded on, that being the Ten Commandments, baptism, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Prayer, and corporate worship (p. xi).
These are the foundation of our faith. Yet they easily become routine, spoken and performed from rote memory and actions. What are we doing? Why are we doing this again? This series leads us through the basics and teaches us the meaning of what we are doing and why, or to whom, we perform them for. In this volume, Ben Myers, the Director of the Millis Institute and a research fellow of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology, leads you through the Apostles’ Creed to better understand the ground of our faith.
Myers writes in his Preface that a Christian does not begin with baptism and then go on to greater spiritual realities. Instead, “in baptism each believer already possesses the faith in its fullness. The whole life is encompassed in the mystery of baptism: dying with Christ and rising with him through the Spirit of the glory of God” (p. xv). In fact, when it comes to discipleship, “the one who makes the most progress is the one who remains at the beginning” (p. xv). We aren’t looking for scraps with which to live; “[w]e are like people who have inherited a vast estate: we have to study the documents and visit different locations because it’s more than we can take in at a single glance” (p. xvi). Thankfully, no matter how much or how little of our inheritance we understand, it still belongs to us. But the more we really understand, the happier we are.
After the introduction, Myers provides twenty-two chapters on the Creed’s three articles. Five chapters cover one word each (Article 1: I, Believe, Almighty; Article 2: Suffered; Article 3: Amen).
The Apostles’ Creed functioned as “the rule of faith.” It was educational. New converts would memorize the creed before baptism, having a guide for interpreting Scripture. It was also sacramental. It was both part of the preparation for baptism and part of the ritual of baptism itself, “a threefold immersion into the life of God” (p. 5). The creed “is a summary of Christian teaching as well as a solemn pledge of allegiance” (5).
Who am “I”? The more people try to be unique, the more they often end up being like everyone else. The “I” who speaks “is the body of Christ” (p. 11). The one being baptized is baptized into something greater than him or herself, “join[ing] their individual voices to a communal voice that transcends them all” (p. 11).
Myers looks back to the Old Testament to show the importance of the virgin birth. He writes, “Pregnancy and childbirth are the means by which God’s promise makes its way through the crooked course of history… Every male child was… a potent reminder that their bodies were not merely their own but had been scripted into a bigger story” (p. 53). To say that Jesus was born of a virgin shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s “a reminder that our faith has deep roots in Israel’s story and Israel’s Scriptures” (p. 54). God gives us his word and he keeps his promises. “The meaning if history is not power and empire, but promise and trust” (p. 54). Empires rise and fall, but our King became a baby so that he could save us and rule over all as our brother who is also our great Prophet, Priest, and King.
That Christ “descended into hell” not only reminds us of human mortality, but that Jesus became like us in every way. He was born as a baby, lived as a man, died, was buried in the grave, but he rose again to new life. Death is not the end. But when we bury our dead, we know Christ has gone before us. Myers writes, “Where others see only darkness and despair, we see broken gates. We others see an end, we see new beginnings” (p. 83). There is a wider meaning when we bury our dead. There is not a loss of hope. Instead, we praise the one who went before us and defeated death, and we praise the one who will one day swallow death while we put on immortality.
The Spoiled Milk
Understandably, each chapter has to be quite short considering that there are twenty-two chapters total. However, there is little use of the Old Testament here (though see “Born of the Virgin Mary” above). In the chapter “And in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,” Myers looks only at how Jesus is Lord (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:9-11; Col 1:15-17). All people do owe their allegiance to Jesus as our Lord and King, but why not connect “Lord” with Yahweh in the OT? How is Jesus “Christ” (Ps 2:2; 89:38) and “Son” (Exodus 4:22; Ps 2:7)? As well, the chapters “In God the Father” and “Almighty,” though very good, base nothing about God as Father or almighty in the Old Testament Scriptures, which certainly would have given the creed even more weight. The God who saves us and is our Father is the very one who made the world, saved Israel out of Egypt, and designated David as his anointed King.
Myers’ contribution is an excellent piece. The book is small and a pleasure to look at. Growing up, I hardly ever heard of the Apostles’ Creed, let alone read it (that didn’t happen until Bible college). To have a short volume like this that can guide believers through a creed that has its roots in the early centuries of Christianity is a gem. Pick up books on the Apostles’ Creed by Bird, Mohler, and McGrath as well for a fuller understanding.
- Series: Christian Essentials
- Author: Ben Myers
- Hardcover: 168 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (May 9, 2018)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.