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Last month, I had the privilege of presenting a paper at the Prodigal Love of God Conference hosted at Dordt College commemorating the 400 anniversary of the Synod of Dort. Looking to the future, my paper entitled, “Reformed, Reforming, and Reformational: Creeds and Confessions as Tools in the Neocalvinist Toolbox”, examined what role the creeds and confessions could play in Christians lives and in the life of the Church.

Despite criticism from various Christian circles, and a general decline in their use today, I believe the creeds and confessions have much to offer to the ongoing mission of the Church and the faith aspect of life. Approaching the topic from a particularly neocalvinist perspective, and drawing on my experiences in the university context, I examined the ways creeds and confessions can serve as resources for the church, and for engaging the world by leaning into the ways they present, and invite us into, the unfolding redemptive drama of God. Below is the introduction to that paper (with subsequent posts containing the rest of the paper to be released each week):

In the short book, The Implications of Public Confession, Abraham Kuyper expounds a sacramental story; a story bracketed by baptism and the Lord’s Supper, climaxing in public confession. It is a story into which each member of Christ’s church has entered; a story passed down from one generation to the next. Thus, Kuyper writes:

The present generation must reaffirm the confession which the previous generation received from its fathers. Nothing could be more erroneously conceived than to suppose that each new generation should make a new, that is, a different confession. The children must reaffirm the confession of their fathers. True education is just that: a reinterpretation and a reaffirmation.[1]

Kuyper’s work was intended to be something of a training manual for catechumens preparing to make public confession. However, it also served as a polemic against those who would disparage the creeds and confessions, and their role in the ongoing life of the church

Fast forward over one-hundred years and we’ve entered an age in which some see the confessions (and perhaps the creeds) dying a slow death of neglect[2]. All too often, the creeds and confessions are the victims' of churches’ efforts to become contemporary and relevant, imitating the broader world of evangelicalism, on the one hand, or Protestant liberalism on the other[3]. Both of which have, in my view, hindered the church’s public witness and cultural engagement.

It begs the question: What role do the creeds and confessions play in the 21st Century? Or, to put it another way, what role could they play?

I think the answer lies in returning to Abraham Kuyper’s concept of a story. In the post-Christian world in which we live, I believe the future of creeds and confessions lie in a twofold reinterpretation centered around the unfolding story of redemption; a reinterpretation that serves to reinvigorate and reorient the church, and a reinterpretation that invites others to enter into a compelling counter-story to those offered by the world. This paper will explore what this reinterpretation looks like for the individual, the church, and the world, offering practical applications born out of my experience in the university context.

[Part II on “Spiritual Revitalization in the Church” to come next week]

[1] Abraham Kuyper, The Implications of Public Confession, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1934), 36.  

[2] Paul VanderKlay, “Our Confessional Crisis,” The Network, last updated January 9, 2018, https://network.crcna.org/classis/our-confessional-crisis.  

[3] James K.A. Smith, “Buried Treasure,” The Banner, January 2011, 35.  See also David Wells book The Courage to be Protestant to understand the impact of evangelicalism’s “lowest common denominator” theology and faith practice.

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