A goal I have for 2017 is to read more, so I am participating in the 2017 Visual Theology Reading Challenge. You can download the plan here (either for free, or you can pay for some visually stunning options).
Today’s book review is part of fulfilling this challenge. I was not asked to review this book, and I have received no compensation for doing so. As always, all opinions are completely my own.
I love church history, but while I was in seminary, I didn’t love it enough to focus on it. I loved biblical studies more. Now I am slightly regretting the decision to not take more church history classes.
Dr. Justin S. Holcomb’s Know the Creeds and Councils came across my radar while I was teaching women’s ministry at a local Bible college. I saw this book, and the next one I plan to read by him, Know the Heretics, in an academic catalog. I snagged them at a deep discount and promptly stuck them on my “to read” shelf.
Researching doctrine and listening to a number of podcasts lately, I have heard reference to the confessional Christianity, Arian Controversy, the Pelagian Heresy, and the “1689.” I had some vague notion of what these things were, but not enough to always understand what the conversation involved. Of course, since it is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, I also wanted to brush up on Martin Luther and what happened.
This is a perfect book for anyone interested in either brushing up on their church history, or for someone who has never studied it, but needs a quick study. Dr. Holcomb begins with easy-to-understand definitions of creeds, councils, catechisms, and confessions. He also explains how they were developed, why they were used, and why they are important. I am certain I could not have told you what a “confessional Christian” was prior to finishing the book, but now I can (and I am wondering why more Christian leaders don’t find confessions necessary – but that’s another post for another day!).
Following that, each chapter is divided into smaller sections: the history of the topic at hand, why each creed or council holds relevancy today, and a series of study questions. I found this quite helpful, because I could read just a small bit at a time and never felt “lost” when I returned to the book. It could easily be used as a textbook in a small class setting, and the questions at the end of the chapters are good to reinforce that the reader is understanding what she just read (or, if you’re like me, that you recall the beginning of the chapter you read four days ago!).
Dr. Holcomb begins with the Apostles’ Creed, which is probably the most famous of all the creeds, and, in fact, is currently found almost in its entirety in a very popular song sung during worship. He also explains the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. The Councils he covers span a wide era, from the 325 Council of Nicaea to the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Seeing how all the councils built on one another, how politics and church splits were involved, and the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism was informative and fascinating.
Each chapter suggests further reading resources, and there are twenty-two pages of end notes, so if you desire further research direction, you won’t have to look very far! If I had to give a complaint, it would be I still don’t know what “the 1689” is!!!! Guess I’ll have to Google it!
I highly recommend Know the Creeds and Councils to anyone who wants to learn more about church history without being overwhelmed by technical terms or theological jargon (and, yes, that is a compliment!). I also recommend it as a starter resource to anyone who doesn’t know anything about church history beyond Scripture. You will have a much better idea of why the church is behaving the way it is today after you trace its history through the councils, and the final chapter alone is eye-opening and worth the price of the book!
Holcomb, Dr. Justin S. Know the Creeds and Councils. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.