Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed

Roger E. Van Harn, editor Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids November 15, 2004
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In this book the themes of the Apostles’ Creed are discussed in fifteen chapters, according to the phrases of the confessional statement. In each chapter, two scholars treat a doctrine that is affirmed in a phrase from the Creed. One writer discusses the biblical and historical support for the language of the Creed’s phrase, as well as the history of interpretation of that section of the Creed, and then he addresses some of the contemporary implications of the doctrine. Then another scholar/preacher’s sermon proclaims the truth found there. In this way, exegetical, biblical, historical, systematic, and homiletical disciplines intersect in an exposition of Christian doctrine.

In a volume involving a diverse group of contributors, especially one as evenly excellent as this one, it is difficult to single out essays of particular import or value. Each chapter deserves thoughtful reflection and even rereading. To encourage the reading of this book and to whet the appetite for more, this review focuses on several chapters. Marguerite Shuster’s essay “The Triune God” provides an excellent summary of the doctrine. In twelve pages she surveys biblical support, historical development, and contemporary implications of the Trinity. Cornelius Plantinga’s sermon, “I Believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, Our Lord,” uses Philippians 2 to answer the question raised by Qoheleth, “Is there anything about which someone can say, ‘Look at this! It is new!’?” (Eccles. 1:10, NET). Plantinga writes, “Advent is a four-week answer to that question, and the answer comes to us in paradoxes.  . . . The one thing under the sun that is really new is the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord” (p. 73).

In his essay “He Descended into Hell” James Kay examines the history of the inclusion of this controversial phrase in the Creed and its interpretation. He argues that the language of the Creed is consistent with Psalms 16:10 and 30:3. “At the most literal level, then, the descent ad inferna means that Jesus Christ went to his grave like any other child of Israel. Thus the descent into hell, in reinforcing the creedal ‘was buried,’ underscores that Jesus Christ was truly dead” (p. 120). The views of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin are examined as representatives of the Catholic and Protestant traditions, respectively. Kay summarizes Calvin’s view in these words: “Hell in the Creed is defined by the cross of Jesus Christ. Hell is godforsakenness. To enter into this state is what it means to descend into hell” (p. 125). Kay then concludes his essay with a doxological and soteriological focus. “That Jesus Christ ‘descended into hell’ is therefore ‘the sum of our redemption.’ There is absolutely no possibility for us and for all creation that is beyond the reach of the triune God’s unfathomable, unquenchable, and irresistible love” (p. 129).

The importance of the confession of Christian orthodoxy can hardly be overstated. In short, clear, readable essays the reader is given an excellent summary of the doctrines affirmed by the Creed. In the doctrinal sermons, though not always from conservative evangelical scholars, the implications of the doctrines are illustrated and applied to the Christian community. No one will agree with all the content of the sermons, nor perhaps even the doctrinal essays, but they can each be read with great profit. On the other hand all Christians will benefit from the intentional reflection on the great doctrines of the Christian faith discussed in this book. Pastors, students of Christian doctrine, and laypersons could all profit from this work. It would be an excellent resource for a fifteen-week series of messages or for small group study.

—Glenn R. Kreider

July 1, 2007
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2007 vol. 164 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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