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Did the Creeds Kill the Kingdom?

By the time the creeds were written in the 3rd century, what had happened to the conception of the kingdom of God? The Nicene Creed mentions it once, but only in reference to our life beyond the borders of this life, in heaven: ‘Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.’ The Apostle’s Creed and the Athanasian Creed don’t mention it at all.

The three great historic creeds summing up Christian doctrine, mention once what Jesus mentioned a hundred times. Something had dropped out. A vital, vital thing had dropped out. A crippled Christianity went across Europe, leaving a crippled result….A vacuum was left in the soul of Western civilization.

E. Stanley Jones, writing in Good News Magazine in 1970. Jones is not anti-creed, but very pro-kingdom and concerned with the implications for Christian conception of discipleship, the Bible, and salvation.

However I think the concern is a bit overstated and perhaps is more appropriately aimed at later eras, after the creed (N.B. I haven’t seen the context of this statement by Jones). The kingdom is inseparable from the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus, forgiveness of rebels, cross as victory over death sin and hades, the radical fellowship of the saints, future resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit as the sign that the old had begun to pass, and the new was invading. It is also inseparable from the status of Jesus as royal Son of God, Lord, and future Judge.

Viewed from this perspective, the Apostle’s Creed is in fact “kingdom-rich.” In the second section (person and work of Jesus) it describes the coming of the kingdom (gospel), and the third section describes the reality of the kingdom in the present and in the future (the blast zone of the gospel?).

Moreover, the language of “kingdom of God” has many near synonyms, so that one doesn’t have to use that label. Note its near-absence in John, even though many related concepts such as everlasting life and the gift of the Spirit (which, like the kingdom, are not entirely limited to the future) appear. Unfortunately, for many Christians, these related ideas (such as rebirth and everlasting life) do not evoke the rich biblical theology we often associate with the kingdom of God. But they should! And it’s not the Creed’s fault if they do not.

And that is what killed the kingdom: not creeds, but the loss of biblical theology and the story of salvation. Only when we forget that the creeds rely on the Scriptural story (and like Calvin’s Institutes, are meant to direct us back to the Word and its plot) do we begin to lose the depth of the imperial reign of God and humanity.

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Jason is a graduate of Rhodes College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Highland Theological College and the University of Aberdeen. Jason works as Scholar-in-Residence and director of Christ College Residency Program at Christ UMC. He's trying to figure out the twitter thing, twitter.com/jasonbhood.