Careful attention to words has now convinced me that “creed” and “gospel” are intimately connected, so intimately one can say the creed is the gospel. Perhaps you are shocked that I could even connect “creed” to “gospel.”
Though I’ve been aware of the words used in the creed for a long time, it was in reading a book by Ted Campbell called The Gospel in Christian Traditions that a historical reality about the creeds and the gospel dug its way into my bones and brought new life to my own personal faith.
After I read Ted Campbell’s book, I read (or slogged my way through) Jaroslav Pelikan’s Credo. Both Campbell and Pelikan discuss how the earliest Christians arranged what they believed into what is now called the “Rule of Faith” (in Latin, regula fidei). And this Rule of Faith developed over time to become the three principal creeds of the Christian faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedon Definition. In studying this history I landed on something that I think is uniformly ignored by most Christians — that the earliest Christians were developing a “gospel” culture. Put in summary form here is the big picture we will sketch in this chapter: First Corinthians 15 led to the development of the Rule of Faith, and the Rule of Faith led to the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. Thus, 1 Corinthians led to the Nicene Creed. Thus, the Nicene Creed is preeminently a gospel statement! But this gospel framing of the creed was revised later — and that revision led from a gospel culture to a salvation culture. (p. 63)
…the creeds articulate what is both implicit and explicit in Paul’s grand statement of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. This point must be emphasized because it may not even be known to many Christians today: 1 Corinthians 15 is the genesis of the great Christian creeds. This means these creeds were designed from beginning to end not to banter back and forth about speculative doctrines but were shaped to clarify the gospel itself. One can say with accuracy that the Nicene Creed is an exegesis or exposition of the gospel tradition of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. (p. 64)
In fact, denial of the creeds is tantamount to denying the gospel itself because what the creeds seek to do is bring out what is already in the Bible’s gospel. I will show why I say that below.( p. 65)
…the Nicene Creed, as well as the regula fidei leading up to it, and the creeds that flowed out of Nicea, are not to be seen as exercises in theological sophistry or speculation but profoundly gospeling events. To recite the creed for these early Christians was not to dabble in the theologically arcane but to articulate and confess — aloud and often — the gospel itself. To deny these creeds was to deny the gospel. (p. 69)
Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Zondervan, 2011)
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Creeds do not have a very good market among evangelicals. Unless they are called ‘statements of faith’ and are issued by their own denomination.
You will rarely find an evangelical church where the Creed is recited regularly. I feel very privileged to worship in one of those few.
The main reason for this suspicious attitude to creeds is the (wrong) perception that they are human constructions and that, as such are dispensable.
What Scot is trying to argue here for is that creeds, primarily the Nicene Creed, are a distilation of the gospel as contained in iblical texts like 1 Corinthians 15.