Posted by: Ken Brown | May 3, 2011

Creed or Chaos

For a long while now, I’ve done most of my linking on Twitter rather than here, but relatively few people actually click through on Twitter links (not too surprising given how fast most people’s feeds scroll through with new tweets), and it has left the blog rather neglected of late. The following is worth a fuller quotation than Twitter allows, so I’m posting it here, and will try to do more of this in the future.

In an excellent op-ed responding to the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” David Brooks makes the following observations, echoing Dorothy Sayer’s classic book Creed or Chaos? (HT: a comment at ThinkChristian):

Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

That’s because people are not gods. No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don’t have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own….

Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality. These maps may seem dry and schematic — most maps do compared with reality — but they contain the accumulated wisdom of thousands of co-believers who through the centuries have faced similar journeys and trials.

Read the whole thing here. One might also note Christopher Lane’s response, which does rightly emphasize the opposite danger of vying creeds themselves leading to chaos, but rather badly overreaches (in my opinion). As usual, wisdom lies somewhere in the balance.


  1. Hi Ken, this is as good a place to say hello as any. i’ve been enjoying your musings on the technical side of blogging as well as the theology. It’s always a balancing act with creeds, especially when historical they were as much about pacification as doctrinal summaries. I think Hans de Ries has it about right in describing creeds as ‘subject to improvement’. Shalom, phil

    • Thanks Phil!

      That’s what I particularly like about Brooks’ analogy of a map: it’s not only the product of a long history of exploration by countless different people (i.e. tradition), it also inevitable reflects the interests, biases, and political situation of its makers (context). Thus all maps require constant updating and improvement, but that hardly renders them useless or dispensable. No one is so “enlightened” that they never need a map.

      So, of course, with theological systems and the creeds (official and unofficial, ecumenical and local) that try to summarize them. They are far from perfect, but surely it is better to try to improve them, than to toss them out and wander around blind.

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