As we wrap up this in-depth look at the Nicene Creed and its usefulness for defending the core, historical and Apostolic claims of a “mere Christianity” let me first make one additional point about the nature of the belief statements found in the creeds, a point which matters with regard to discerning a form of the Christian faith that has ultimate meaning, from one that has only psychological meaning.
The point I am drawing out is the necessity of making metaphysical commitments, specifically as they apply to the propositions found in the Creed. Thus, to see the language of the Creeds and the entities they posit as non-real, i.e. as merely metaphorical or symbolic terms that relate only to human intra-mental experiences, would effectively empty any of these beliefs of their ultimate meaning.
Now, this cannot be, and for two reasons: first, projectivist (non-metaphysical) accounts of religious faith tend to reduce all of religious language down to just that, language. Skeptical philosophy starting with Feuerbach’s critique of Schleiermacher, and then later analytical philosophy (Russell, et al.), have rightly shown such religious belief to be nonsense. Second, to think that the writers of the Bible were some kind of metaphysical or theological anti-realists is anachronistic to the point of absurdity.
So, the view that intentionally avoids, or rejects, metaphysical commitments with regard to the referents the Bible claims as real (e.g. God, human souls, maybe Seraphim and the Devil) may still value the Bible as an intriguing and ancient piece of literature, or even a compelling moral text, but it will do nothing with regard to soteriological reality, while, often arrogantly, downplaying the belief of the biblical writers themselves. As I have argued elsewhere, theologians or pastors who empty the Bible of its metaphysical claims, should simply embrace their non-belief AND also resign their positions…well, at least those in pastoral ministries (although perhaps atheist theologians would serve their communities better by identifying as religious studies professors).
Thus, the Christian faith that we defend as Apologists is one that assumes the existence of immaterial, causally efficacious, and morally agentive beings (e.g. God, angels, demons, human souls, etc.) In short, these beings exist, they do actual work in the world, and they can be rightly called good or evil.
That said, when we lay claim to the belief that it was through the Holy Spirit that Mary became pregnant with the divine Logos, what we mean is something like God causally generating new genetic material to be created so that the Logos could be hypo-statically united to a real flesh-and-blood human body.
This also implies that when we speak of historical events, like the Resurrection, we speak of actual, super-natural occurrences in this very same time-space reality that we experience daily with our senses, and not some legendary or symbolic retelling of either human intra-mental projections, or products or artistic fancy. The former liberal theologian, then later classical Christian theologian Thomas Oden put it this way:
I was able to confess the Apostles’ Creed, but only with deep ambiguity. But I stumbled over “he arose from the dead.” I had to demythologize it and could say it only symbolically. I could not inwardly confess the resurrection as a factual historical event. I was assigned the task of teaching theology, but when I came to the resurrection, I honestly had to say at that stage that is was not about an actual event of a bodily resurrection but a community memory of an unexplained event. I could talk about the writings of the people who were remembering and proclaiming it as the saving event, but I could not explain to myself or to others how Christianity could be built on an event that never happened…That was my credo in my early thirties. It was new birth without bodily resurrections and forgiveness without atonement. Resurrection and atonement were words I choked on. That mean that the gospel was not about an event of divine salvation but about a human psychological experience of trust and freedom from anxiety, guilt and boredom. (Oden, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir).
So, a genuine adherence to metaphysical realism when it comes to the kinds of being the Bible refers to, and the Creeds encapsulate, and the realness of historical events, is necessary if we are to call ourselves Apostolic and authentic Christians. It is this turn to the metaphysics of the Bible that brought Oden himself back to a historic faith.
On that note, let’s look at the last lines of the Nicene Creed. These lines pertain to three loci of theology: the Church, the Sacraments, and the End Times.
12. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
I believe that there is only one true church, even if it is not possible for human beings to know with certainty which persons are actual members of that church
This claim is important, and the obvious discussion here will surround the nature of the “true” Church, likely taking us into an analysis of the three major traditions of Christian faith: Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. For our purposes here, I would argue that the Church is the total number of all human souls who have come into a personal, salvific relationship with Jesus Christ, whether explicitly through a conscious act of commitment, or implicitly through a non-cognitive, loving awareness of Christ, His excellences, and His saving grace (for example, in infants, or those with severe mental handicap).
13. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I believe that one must be baptized by the Holy Spirit in order to be saved
Again, obvious debate here on exactly the mode of baptism required for salvation. But, for our purposes we would want to defend some kind of baptism event: minimally a baptism by the Spirit at the moment of regeneration and new spiritual life, and then more fully the outward act of Baptism that professes a new believers entry into the community of faith.
14. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come.
I believe that all believers in Jesus Christ will be raised again with new, glorified bodies
This final hope of an eternal life in a newly created world, with new physical bodies, is necessary to Christian faith. Our ultimate hope must be part and parcel of why we do what we do in defending the faith, even unto our own, temporary and this-worldly deaths.
Oh, and there is one last line,
I believe that I believe! And, not just in my heart, but also with my whole mind.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30, Matt 22:37, Luke 10:27).