Justin S. Holcomb. Know the Creeds and Councils. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 192 pp. $12.99.
In a day and age in which “no creed but the Bible” seems to be the most popular creed, Justin Holcomb’s new book Know the Creeds and Councils provides an accessible overview to the major creeds, confessions, catechisms, and councils of Christian history in a way that illuminates their collective and individual value and importance.
Christians of the past were no less concerned with being faithful to God than we are, and they sought to fit together all that Scripture has to say about the mysteries of Christianity – the incarnation, the Trinity, predestination, and more – with all the intellectual power of their times. To ignore these insights is to attempt to reinvent the wheel, and to risk reinventing it badly.
Before diving into individual creeds, confessions, catechisms, and councils, Holcomb spends some time on each of these four terms. In addition to defining and explaining these items, Holcomb shatters misconceptions of creeds, confessions, and catechisms being impractical rigid documents rotely recited and memorized. “Creeds aren’t dogmas that are imposed on Scripture but are themselves drawn from the Bible and provide a touchstone to the faith for Christians of all times and places” (13). “Confessions are meant to be worshipful responses to a truly gracious God” (16). “[C]atechisms are not meant to be an end in themselves. They are to lead to belief , practice, and love for God” (19).
The councils covered in this book are the seven ecumenical councils (Nicaea, Constantinople I, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople II, Constantinople II, brief mention of Nicaea II) plus Carthage, Orange, Trent, and Vatican II. The creeds dealt with are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith are also addressed. The final chapter covers two significant and well-known modern confessions – the Lausanne Covenant and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Each chapter follows a similar structure by providing historical background, content overview, and reflection on contemporary relevance. Every chapter ends with discussion questions and recommended reading for further study.
The information presented provides a great introduction to creeds, confessions, catechisms, and councils; because these can be seen as far-removed and irrelevant, the “Relevance” section of each chapter makes this book even more valuable and helpful. And throughout, Holcomb minds us that confessions are ultimately about worship. Know the Creeds and Councils is a great book for anyone looking for an introduction to creeds, confessions, catechisms and councils – especially for those who might see them as dead and irrelevant. Because of the short chapters and the way the chapters are structured, this book would also be great for reading groups, Sunday school classes, etc.
There is a free electronic leader’s guide here.
*I received a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review.