Anyone who thinks that the practice of orthodox doctrine in one’s life is a pursuit of stale, boring, and dusty thinking from ancient people who were not as technologically advanced as we, has not read anything written by an Anglican.Of course this statement has its caveats, as not all Anglican thinkers and writers are orthodox in any sense of the word.
Here enters the mind and thinking of Michael Bird. An Aussie, Anglican, and able thinker, Bird brings doctrine to life in a recent work titled, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles’ Creed. Some of you no doubt have never heard of the Apostles Creed and upon hearing that term shudder at the “oldness” of it.
The Apostles Creed, the oldest creed we have, has been the basis of many of the Reformed Catechisms and Confessions of times gone by. Here we have a succinct summary of doctrine covering all the important points one ought to believe in order to wave the banner of Christian. Zacharias Ursinus, primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, notes that the Apostles Creed signifies, “A brief and summary form of the Christian faith which distinguishes the church and her members from the various sects.“*
So what does it mean that we ought to believe in these doctrines? Is that the same as saying that those who do not believe in these is not Christian? The word ought in itself carries the weight of responsibility. That is, there is an ethical duty to believe in truth over falsehood. So when Michael Bird says you “ought to believe these things” I believe he’s saying these things are true according to the Bible and as Christians we are obligated to believe them.
Bird lays out the Apostles Creed, bit by bit, in an attempt to condense the work he did in a previous volume.* While confirming the need for a creed apart from “me and my bible” the reader is taken through a brief discussion of the use of creeds in the ancient Church alongside being used as an accurate summation of doctrine for our modern times. This not only puts up guardrails on one’s way to heresy, it allows the Christian to have a sort of elevator speech containing the basics of belief.
While these beliefs are basic they are by no means simple explanations of what is contained in God’s revelation to us. There is an element of mystery in discussing theological loci. As Herman Bavinck has said, “Mystery is the lifeblood of theology.”
Michael Bird hits the nail on the head in respect to mystery when he writes “Faith is born out of a mysterious curiosity that is singularly dissatisfied with answers that leave no room for the transcendent.” (54) Bird, as able as he is, cannot fully comprehend and thus explain doctrines like the Hypostatic Union, the Incarnation, or the Virgin Birth. By necessity we must start with mystery and move forward with what has been revealed to us.
Points of Contact for Students
Students need to see the marriage of orthodox doctrine beautifully and simply defined, as is the case with the Apostles Creed, and a passionate, well-reasoned defense of the Gospel. In my opinion, this “marriage” is best done in the context of Reformed theology and Covenental Apologetics. In going out to college campuses, family members, or on the street, our students must know and pair a solid doctrinal understanding with a persuasive explanation of that doctrine. Ultimately, it is the Spirit of God who draws those out of dark into the marvelous light of the Father but we are sent as messengers to preach the good news everywhere we go.
Let’s dispense with sissified doctrine and step up to the plate with a robust understanding of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to fall outside that boundary. There are few books that do so better than What Christians Ought to Believe.