Luke Timothy JOHNSON, The Creed. What Christians Believe and Why it matters. New York: Doubleday, 2003. pp.324. $23.95 pb. ISBN 0-385-50247-8.
Reviewed by Francis HOLLAND, St. John's University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY 11439

Luke Timothy Johnson is a renowned Roman Catholic scripture scholar and current chair of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, which school is shaped by "the Wesleyan tradition of evangelical piety, ecumenical openness, and social concern" (as stated in their mission statement). Indeed The Creed exemplifies that mission statement. In my view, the greatest asset of the book is to anchor the creed in its scriptural heritage and demonstrate that the creed "provides an epitome or summary that guides and directs the proper reading of Scripture" (59). This insight Johnson himself affirms, "I never thought I would say this, but I have come to think that the creed may be the essential instrument needed for the Church to regain a sense of its own integrity and to recover a healthier reading of its Scripture" (viii). Thus one does not have to view the scripture and creed relationship analogous to the largely unproductive and acrimonious scripture/tradition debate. Johnson's treatment of the Creed is thus refreshingly not reminiscent of previous treatments which used the creed as a springboard to advance and consolidate particular theological perspectives (Rahnerian, feminist, anthropological or otherwise). Johnson notes several times that the creed "retains the virtue of reticence" (315) and Johnson for the most part displays a similar reticence. One then is guided to read the creed without having to subscribe to a particular philosophical or theological worldview. That being said, Johnson does not seek the safe neutrality of mere historical commentary. Those who know Johnson's other writings are aware of his critique of historicism, a critique also evident in The Creed, here the guilty parties being the Jesus Seminar and Modernity in general. Rather, Johnson is keen to make contemporary Christianity 'creedal', to suggest that to be "a Christian is a definite Christian" (324). This sense of definition, boundaries but not barriers, Johnson argues, is necessary in a contemporary Christianity that is deeply confused.

Structurally the bulk of The Creed is an exposition of the articles of the creed, prefaced by an introduction, and outline of the origins and development of the creed. The book concludes with an encouragement to Christianity to be more creedal and an elucidation of how that might be done and what it might mean.

The articles of the creed are well set in their scriptural and historical contexts, and without such setting would become overly technical or complicated. Contemporary appropriations and controversies are noted. In dealing with we believe in God, the issue of atheism is briefly treated; in dealing with God as Father, reference is made to feminist theology. Johnson seems to be sympathetic to the practical issues of feminist theology but finds the proposed remedies problematic. In dealing with God as all powerful, a process and liberationist approach to the problem of evil in the world is found wanting. Johnson is honest, "I am not able to provide a better answer to the problem..."(91). While Johnson does provide a context for any emerging theological resolution; nonetheless, perhaps the reader might want a bit more than reticence and boundary setting in these cases. The solid treatments of issues that pertain to the article on God as Father are carried through in the other articles of the creed, e.g. there are also good treatments of ecological theology, the marks of the church as an ideal. From the outset, it was noted that Johnson is a Roman Catholic theologian at a school shaped by "the Wesleyan tradition of evangelical piety..." Fittingly then, The Creed is not just ecumenical in tone but offers in particular a sensitivity to evangelical Christianity and its concerns. This sensitivity is exemplified, for me, in the treatment of the filioque controversy, in evangelical eschatological and in a critique of Roman Catholic excess. Johnson argues that the substance of the filioque controversy does not justify the division it has engendered. Thus if "my fellow Christian is offended by filioque, then I have no need to say it ever again" (231). In treating eschatology, The Creed is careful to avoid Enlightenment 'pie in the sky' attacks and an evangelical literalization and exclusive reading of the Book of Revelation. Again in an ecumenical tone and in endeavoring to foster theological simplicity, Johnson cites two instances of 'theological immodesty' in the Roman Catholic tradition—ecclesiastical hierarchy culminating in papal infallibility and extending into such accidentals as celibacy and male-only priesthood ("breathtaking in its arrogance" - 321) and the role of Mary in its out of proportion elements.

Given the structure and purpose of The Creed, the following quibble may be redundant—the book sometimes seems to talk in popularizations. For example, there is perhaps a popular view of Feminist and Liberation Theology, as opposed to these movements being defined by themselves; reference to 'modern Christians' (like the 'they' of history); the bogie man of Modernity, with an equal distain for the post-modern; a popular view of science language v. faith language types (41ff). Perhaps in a subsequent edition of the book, these matters might be clarified in footnotes or appendices, and such like. In the current edition, there are no footnotes, appendices or author/subject indices.

In conclusion, The Creed is a solid, honest, readable and committed exposition of the creed that is of advantage to those seeking the intellectual integrity inherent in their Christian faith.

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