Should the Church Formulate a Creed Including a Theory of the Atonement?

I was reading an essay by Mark DeVine titled “Can the Church Emerge Without or With Only the Nicene Creed?” It is one of the essays in a book edited by Timothy George, Evangelicals and the Nicene Faith from Baker Academic (2011). There is a strong challenge in these words with which many will disagree. I have set in bold two sentences that particularly struck me.

In such circumstance, the promise and appeal of a ‘mere Christianity’ that either sidesteps, mutes, or stays silent with respect to the heart of the doctrine of salvation seem obvious. But can the church really emerge with only the Nicene Creed? Why cannot the same considered modesty of Christian confession, which should mute the voices and relax protruding neck veins about the intricacies of eschatology or the most obscure dimensions of the relationship between human responsibility and divine sovereignty, also extend to this question: what was the Triune God in Jesus Christ up to at Golgotha? And just how do sinners come to benefit from what was done there? Are we less confronted with the mystery here than in the doctrines of the Trinity or the person of Christ? No. Not at all. Both in the incarnation and at Calvary, we not only confront mystery as profound and inexhaustible as that met with in the doctrines of God and Christ; we also confront divine activity and revelation no less central and no less essential to believing and confessing than we do in the doctrines confessed in the Nicene Creed.

For good reason then, the church has felt no less compelled to formal doctrinal articulation of the soteriological mysteries than of the mysteries attaching to Christology and theology proper. That historic and global consensus where the atonement is concerned continues to elude the church, at least compared to that achieved on the doctrines of God and Christ, may well commend a certain modesty or encourage an ongoing teachableness regarding the doctrine of the atonement. But this same elusiveness, however regrettable or inconvenient, ought not to justify a shirking of confessional responsibility where the saving work of God in Jesus Christ is concerned. What might parade and congratulate itself as unity-seeking modesty or mystery-acknowledging ecumenism too often turns out be (sic) irresponsible failure of theological nerve. The same compulsion to confess formally and doctrinally what the church knows where God and the person of Jesus Christ were concerned also accounts for the central place given in the confessional history of the church to the question, What happened on the cross? Surely the source or that compulsion cannot be in doubt: it is the revelation of God in Holy Scripture. The Bible is the whistleblower on those who would relegate the doctrine of salvation generally or the doctrine of the atonement specifically to a confessional status below that rightly commanded by the doctrines of the Trinity and of the person of Jesus Christ. The church across the ages may have failed to reach consensus, but make no mistake, this must be acknowledged as a real failure, not as the inevitable confession limitations endemic to matters taught but left largely unexplicated in Holy Scripture, as might be justly claimed for other teachings which are then given secondary or nonessential status within the believing community. (193-94)



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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