Questions about the adequacy of Nicene faith; is a creedal faith sufficient grounds for the work of God?

So let me get this straight — the believers who fully agree with the Nicene Creed do not have an adequate faith?

I am frustrated.

Who establishes a believer’s salvation? The Trinitarian God.

Who begins the work of God in the believer? The Trinitarian God.

Who completes it according to Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Philippians? The Trinitarian God.

Does God fail at anything He decides to do? No.

Now, if the individual believer has not been taught a particular view of grace, a particular view of justification, or a particular view of atonement, yet fully believes the Nicene Creed, is not that confidence in the statements of the Nicene Creed due solely to the work of the Trinitarian God?

Is an individual’s absolute certainty regarding the statements of the Nicene Creed adequate to bring him into the House of the Trinitarian God?

If certitude regarding the statements of the Nicene Creed can only come from the work of the Trinitarian God, and that certitude is adequate to bring the believer into the House of God, then will not God complete the work He has begun in the individual believer?

If a minister does not preach particular views of grace, justification, and atonement, will the Trinitarian God fail to fulfill his promise to complete the work He began in the individual believer?

If the work of the Trinitarian God in the individual believer depends upon a minister’s teaching of particular views, does not the individual believer’s spiritual growth depend upon men?

If Nicene faith is adequate for God to complete the work He began in an individual believer, then would particular views of grace, justification, and atonement be then secondary and non-essential?

Once an individual, by God’s grace, has accepted the statements of the Nicene Creed wholeheartedly, must that individual have a full understanding of particular views on particular doctrines before the work of God is activated within him?

In his Institutes, John Calvin wrote:

We are said to be clothed with him, to be one with him, that we may live, because he himself lives. The doctrine is often repeated, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). He who believes in him is said to have passed from death unto life (John 5:24).

The passage in which this appears addresses the believer’s assurance of belonging to God through Christ. I’m not an expert on Calvin, and yet it seems fairly clear that Calvin’s formula for salvation is simply acknowledging the work of God that was done on our behalf through Christ. Calvin exhorts the believer to look to Christ. If a believer gets only as far as that, and does not get any further into Calvin’s or any other of the diverse views of atonement, justification, and grace, will God fail to continue the work He began?

Please comment.

14 responses to “Questions about the adequacy of Nicene faith; is a creedal faith sufficient grounds for the work of God?

  1. I wish I could my comment could be thought provoking and controversial, but all I can say is “I’m with you brother.”

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  2. I wish my comment…

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  3. context?

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  4. The context is that I am frustrated. Of all the different Christian points of view, branches, denominations, that would agree with the Nicene Creed, I don’t see or read of any who act and speak as if Philippians 1:6 is a certainty, for in any branch or denomination or hermeneutic, there are always points to press and doctrines to emphasize, as if the individual believer’s intentions or disciplines or apprehensions are necessary for his spiritual growth. To what extent is Philippians 1:6 true? All generalizations are unfair, but like stereotypes, they exist due to reasons, so here goes. If Philippians 1:6 is true for me, then it is also true of the neo-Pentecostals (those within a belief in the Nicene Creed) who I think are bonkers, and it is also true for the Roman Catholics who I admire but am not entirely comfortable with, and the mega-church folks who I think have mostly skewed the faith, and the Reformed folks who are the only ones who seem close to believing Philippians 1:6 in an absolute sense and yet seem to place so much pressure upon the precise articulation of that confidence that they unwittingly create a new works-righteousness. The divergences of doctrinal beliefs are so broad, that one ultimately cannot believe that the Philippians 1:6 is true for everyone who believes the statements of the Nicene Creed, unless one is willing to accept the radical diversity of those who are within Nicene faith. Accepting that diversity is something that I, and many people I admire in various branches of Christianity, do not seem prepared to do. So, if not in the context of faith in the statements of the Nicene Creed, in what context would Philippians 1:6 be true? It is a verse in which Paul’s words are stated in a way that allows little begging-off for context; the speech is unequivocal; it rings of a promise. The promise no one believes? Should we just say “it’s all up to God”? What would our spiritual communities look like if we simply rested in the promise of Philippians 1:6, and let the Holy Spirit do the fine-tuning over the course of each individual life?

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  5. Or, it could be that the various English interpretations of Philippians 1:6 have me confused. The words “started” or “began” and the words “will complete” at first seems to indicate a process that is now under way. Is God completing this work, in us, throughout our lives? Or, is Paul’s language intended to articulate a mere promise, not a process: The process was completed at the cross, therefore the believer has something that will be picked up on the last day? If that’s the case, why does Paul use the language of progress? “Started/began… will complete/render it complete.” Why use the language of progress to describe a completed act?

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  6. I suppose what I was curious about was what prompted this frustration? Are you in dialogue with anyone over this? Or did you come across an article that prompted it? Or is this something brewing…

    Also, I’m fascinated to see the emphasis of this post (through comments) turn towards sanctification. Perhaps at a future date you could explore the link between creedal orthodoxy and sanctification more fully. It seems to me like you’re off to a really good start!..and I’m enjoying your thoughts.

    thanks,
    rob

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  7. and congrats on the job 🙂

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  8. This is something that has been brewing, due in part to a discussion with Kristi about Reformed thought; due in part to postings on a blog of a fellow with whom I share a link exchange (get this: he got a masters at Westminster Theological Seminary and then a masters at Nachota House and then became a Roman Catholic); due in part to my father’s suggestion that I’m missing out on “the new things of God” because I’m not into the Lakeland, Fla., revival. I’m also wrestling with our lives after salvation (sufficiency of Christ makes sense in salvation) when we live in the zone of necessity — necessity being things like food and sleep, as well as things like emotional coherence and moral coherence, things we need in this world — as our sanctification is taking place. Our how-we-live (ethics proper) should be interrelated to our understanding of sanctification.
    So if a Pentecostal or a Roman Catholic has a firm conviction of the statements in the Nicene Creed, are they or are they not in a process of sanctification? If they are, then God apparently doesn’t find it important for them to embrace Reformed teachings, because many regular Pentecostals and regular Roman Catholics go through life and give to their churches and eventually die and are buried by their clergies. If they are not in a process of sanctification, then Nicene convictions are not sufficient for salvation. I say all this because I’m testing out how much I believe, and you believe, and anyone else who cares to comment believes, that (a) a firm conviction in the Nicene Creed represents a saving faith, and (b) that God from the moment of a person’s salvation is unconditionally committed to sanctifying each person who has saving faith. Two quick examples of where the rubber hits the road with this stuff:
    1. My Dad would most likely say that I have slowed down my sanctification because I will not go to the revival in Lakeland, Fla.; because I won’t go to the Toronto Airport Church, etc.
    2. I would say that justification by faith through grace is essential, yet the suggestion that God is not sanctifying a Roman Catholic of Nicene creedal faith (because he/she does not accept the Reformed exposition of justification) has become an appalling thought to me.
    Our grasp of Philippians 1.6 and all these matters of what God does and what we don’t do — all this matters primarily in the existential, in daily life. Because if we add Philippians 1:6 as a promise, and we then assume no hyperbole in Jesus’ statement that “apart from Me you can do no good thing,” then why wouldn’t some folks just fall into a zone of Buddhist-like renunciation of individual will and wait for God to guide them in everything like puppets? It’s the imitation of Apollinarianism in the individual believer’s life: the individual’s volitional, emotional, and mental personhood would ideally be overtaken by God; the individual is puppet of flesh and blood. “Apart from Me you can do no good thing.” So I won’t give my wife flowers because my motives aren’t perfect? I mean, hey, come on, we all know why guys give flowers to girls…
    But seriously, are we allowed to live our lives with any intentionality? Why? Here is the tie-in with matters of necessity in this life: do we get all that we need merely by waiting? Isn’t everything under the auspices of God’s ongoing sanctifying work in our lives, to make us more like Christ? Can any human effort or intentionality be proper? This sounds silly, but how do you not get stuck with these conclusions?
    I think there are obvious cases of hyperbole in Paul. Is “Apart from Me…” an example of hyperbole in Jesus? Hyperbole has its legitimate rhetorical and didactic purposes; it is not (only, merely,) a liar’s tool.
    I realize I have entangled matters of doctrine with matters of practice, but I have an ideal that they should be entangled. Shouldn’t how-we-live (ethics proper) have some relationship to our understanding of sanctification? Or, does our certainty of God’s sanctification allow us a broad freedom in how-we-live?

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  9. Come to think of it, there was an article that also played a role in these questions, although only in part. The article was Lesley Chamberlain’s interview of Rowan Williams in a Prospect magazine online exclusive. Chamberlain was interviewing Williams about the Archbishop’s new book on Dostoevsky. It occurred to me while reading the interview that some people would be critical of Dostoevsky’s and Williams’ focus on necessary-but-not-sufficient matters. Or you could say, extensions of salvific faith. Sufficiency in salvation is obvious. Navigating the necessities of this world — economics, politics, law, creativity, food, our relation to history — is not so obvious. After salvation, how should we then live? Yes, love one another, and I don’t mean to be dismissive (or too simplistic), but life is more detailed. It seems like there ought to be good ways to talk about how an individual believer can extend and expand-upon his engineering or his art or his athletics with a perspective that is oriented toward the Trinitarian God and the Church universal — does that kind of intentionality equate with works-righteousness or with wrongheaded human effort that is destined to fail?
    I can’t imagine anyone I know, on a practical level, objecting to expanding-upon and extending one’s abilities. But here’s the rub. (1) Philippians 1:6 and “apart from Me you can do no good thing” become stop buttons for me — assuming human depravity along with that (and for some, downplaying the individual as being created in the Image of God as part of his essential being), every volition and all intentionality becomes suspect, therefore the outcome is wholesale paralysis, even for the believer. Our life is lived in forward motion; our sanctification, if a process, is in forward motion, too. Is it possible for individual ingenuity and creativity to be out of pace with one’s sanctification? If those things are out of pace with one’s sanctification, then are they bad, wrongheaded, destined for failure? (2) Now to rotate and roll this topic to a completely different angle, do we or do we not have grounds for incorporating helps to navigating the necessities of this world from those who might not accept justification-by-faith-alone, or, far beyond that, from those who don’t believe in any sort of God? How many things are included in “no good thing”? I mean, did the discovery of penicillin depend upon the discoverer’s justification by faith? Sure, that sounds silly, but what part of our lives and our universe does God not preside over?
    If we are free to do things, are we to assume that all those things are meaningless?

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  10. These are the types of questions that will turn a man Catholic… (I’d sooner go EO or Anglican, but that’s just me)

    The Holy Scripture is not a text book, and is not designed to be read front to back with a perfect logical flow. Holy Scripture must be read as a story, but not simple poetry. No single line on it’s own is useful as anything more than a clever reminder. God has not given us the Scripture without context, and you might trust that the apostles and the fathers understood things we don’t. Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants…

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  11. I just read your “about” page. I see that you’ve at least mentioned C.S. Lewis. If you’re not familiar with his view of salvation after death, get familiar. It reeks of a trust in God’s grace. Don’t be so concerned with finding out exactly when someone is saved. Even John Calvin knew this wasn’t going to work (the only options in his theology are always or never). I mention Calvin, because your views on salvation are majorly influenced by him whether you like it or not. You are not God’s child because of worthiness…

    At the name of Jesus…

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  12. Good points, Russ, and thank you very much for adding them. Just for my clarity, you’re saying Calvin knew that attempts at pinpointing the moment of salvation were never going to work?

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  13. Hey lit, to say I knew Calvin’s though process was exaggeratory; I wouldn’t be so arrogant (I hope).

    My point was that to seperate Calvin’s view of atonement, as far as I try to reason, from predestination/limited atonement is very difficult. TULIP Calvinism maintains that a man’s final destination never changes, ever. So, there is no conversion of which to speak. Rather, there is the manifestation of what our sovereign God already chose and completed. This manifestation does not change the eteranl destination of the soul.

    I mostly made the point for illustration. The illustration was that it’s a difficult question haha.

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  14. I don’t know much Barth, but what I do know is that he was highly influential accross all branches of Christianity (love him or hate him) and a smarter man than I’ll ever hope to be.

    But, in expanding on a Reformed approach to the atonement, he became a hopeful for universal reconcilliation. I think if I were to try start to expand on Calvinist theology one of the first things I’d try to “fix” is limited atonement. It’s an ugly doctrine and just doesn’t seem exactly biblical (please no one shoot me!). There are just so many verses which testify that Jesus died for all. In starting down this path, I find it difficult not to become at least a hopeful universalist.

    Anyway, I’m checking out more of your blog now. I bookmarked it too : )

    Peace in Christ above all things, brother. I love to wax theological, but always keeping in mind it’s not of primary importance to a fullfilled existence.

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