by Robert C. Brow
Creeds and Confessions
When people try to explain their vision of life they inevitably develop an explanatory model. The model can be articulated by telling stories, but eventually the salient ideas will be set out in a written explanation. The model might be expressed in a political agenda, and could even change the constitution of a nation as in the French revolution.
When Marxism was first preached stories were told of class oppression and the surplus value being robbed from the workers by capitalists. Marxism was then outlined in a few simple points or election manifesto. One can also read a fuller exposition of the model in Das Kapital and many later books of Marxist doctrine. Eventually Russia and other countries tried out the model as a way of governing their economic structure and social life.
The Gospels can be viewed as a collection of the stories and teachings which circulated among the earliest Christian churches. They are obviously not the kind of stories Marxists or Existentialists or Monists tell. The reason is that Jesus told parables and gave explanations that belong to a Theistic type of model. God is the Creator of our world. Jesus is the Son of God who came into his creation. The Holy Spirit continues his work in the Church. Those are the basic components of the Christian Theistic model which is summed up in the The Apostles' Creed.
By the third century the Theistic model outlined in the Apostles' Creed was clarified in two directions which we might label Unitarian Theism and Trinitarian Theism. The difference between these focusses on two models of how the oneness of God is explained. A Unitarian model views God as an undifferentiated unit as in Islam and modern Unitarianism. In Trinitarian Theism there is a complexity within the oneness of God. God is pictured as three Persons held together in an eternal oneness of love. It was that vision of God which was set out in 325 AD as the Nicene Creed. The purpose was to clarify how Trinitarian Theism differed from the Theism of a preacher like Arius who believed in God as Creator but denied that the Son of God was fully part of the eternal oneness of God. The Trinitarian Theism of the Nicene Creed is therefore a subset of the Christian Theism of the Apostles Creed.
Most Christians believe there is a family connection between the Theistic model of the Gospel stories, the Theistic model of Paul's explanations, the Theistic model set out in the Apostles Creed, and the Trininitarian Theism of the Nicene Creed. And we can observe that the explanations of a huge majority of preachers of all Christian denominations throughout the world are Theistic in the sense of the Apostles' Creed, and they are Trinitarian Theistic in the sense of the Nicene Creed. Because the models are different Evangelical Christians are uneasy with explanations of God's dealings with us given by Arian, Islamic, or Unitarian preachers who might use some of the the Gospel stories to make certain points, but by definition they do not set the Gospel stories in a Trinitarian model.
In the process of time after the Reformation there were further clarifications of models which in turn became subsets of Trinitarian Theism. For example in the previous chapter we distinguished a model of Original Sin Trinitarian Theism from a model of Creative Love Trinitarian Theism. The models divide at the interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis. In Original Sin Trinitarian Theism the explanation begins with a model of humanity condemned to eternal damnation by original sin. In Creative Love Theism the Bible begins with the purpose of God by all means to bring many children to glory.
We could further subdivide Original Sin Trinitarian Theism into branches which we might label as the Sacramental, Calvinistic, and Decisional Evangelical sub-species of the model. Each of these set out their model of Original Sin Trinitarian Theism in stories and Sunday school materials, and also in confessions, or articles, or statements of faith, and each of these have massive bodies of theology to explain them.
Having clarified the differences we could develop a natural history of various Christian interpretative models. In such a natural history it is not the labels that are important, but the way the model hangs together in each case. In this way of doing model theology we might define Evangelicals are those who agree to preach the good news of Jesus Christ from the Gospels in their final canonical form. They all agree that the Apostles' Creed is a brief explanation of how the Gospels are Theistic in viewing God as the Creator of our world, how Jesus is the eternal Son of God who came into his creation, and how his work is continued by the Holy Spirit in the Church. Most Evangelicals also agree that they want to preach the good news of Jesus Christ in the framework of the Trinitarian explanation set out in the Nicene Creed. And they usually agree to exclude from their number those who wish the explain Jesus Christ in the framework of an Arian, Islamic, or Unitarian model.
But having done that Evangelicals still need to dialogue among themselves to clarify the models of others who are Trinitarian Theists but who differ about the best model for explaining how the love of God changes our lives. All our models, whether proposed by Calvin or Wesley, Menno Simons or John Bunyan, George Fox or Pope John XXIII, Liberation theology or the Charismatics, are built around the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. But they structure their Trinitarian Theistic model in very different ways. And when a model changes every theological term used in explaining the model takes on a different flavour.
One of the essentials of a Model Theology approach is the commitment to respect, attempt to understand, and dialogue with any interpretative model that can be derived from our OT and NT canon of Scripture. But having done that, a preacher inevitably has to adopt one particular model as the framework of his or her explanation of the Good News. The models we adopt are however provisional, and they can never be a proof that we have got the picture right and all other models must be condemned as wrong. It is wise to be ready for God to say "why not try looking at it this way?" And at any time the Holy Spirit might lead us into trying out a better explanatory model for any item of our faith or practice.
As we proceed we will try out this method in a variety of models that can explain components of the faith and practice of Christians committed to our overarching model of Trinitarian Theism.