Today’s book review is an interesting one, for me at least. Scott Hahn is an American Roman Catholic theologian, author and teacher, who is prolific enough that I’m planning on reading two of his books this year (this one, and his commentary on Romans). This little book is an accessible provocative and mostly helpful look at the words and worldview of the classic Creeds of the Christian Church.
Focusing as he does on the basic grammar and language of the Christian faith, it is refreshing that Hahn’s Roman Catholicism doesn’t come across to strongly – this perhaps says something about the detachment of some Catholic Dogma/Doctrine from the purity and simplicity of the Early Church Creeds – but it is more noticeable in some places.
Written in an accessible but informed style – Hahn wears his obvious learning lightly – this is a readable and enjoyable introduction to the basic statements of Christian faith. With 14 chapters (plus some helpful end material) this book is relatively short at just 160 or so pages – making each chapter easy to digest and think about. From my perspective, this book is particularly helpful at demonstrating the power and purposes of Creeds. Commenting on the apparent insanity of the very specific wording used by the Early Church, Hahn writes:
“They spoke of Jesus – not as a wisdom teacher. In fact, they repeated none of his proverbs. They spoke of nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2)
And as long as they did so, Christians endured. The Marcionites edited out the inconvenient parts of the Gospels, and they faded away from the impotence of their message. The gnostics rationalised every seeming paradox, and they perished of irrelevance. The docetists, Arians, and countless others died off – not from persecution, but from the anaemia of their creed less counsels.
The Church of the creeds, on the other hand, was persecuted and put to death, and yet it has persevered, endured, and triumphed. Because it worships Christ, it is one with him, it is like him, and it knows him”
This book demonstrates a confidence in the simplicity and power of Creedal Christianity – not least the Creed as being a helpful tool for reading the Bible. It was interesting to me that Hahn favourably references some Protestant theologians, Reinhard Feldmeier and Hermann Spieckermann, as well as engaging in some particularly interesting discussion of the relationship between Christian and Islamic understandings of God, which leads neatly on to one of the most powerful images that the Creeds offer us:
“Only when we understand the revolutionary claims of the creed can we understand why persecutors in the Roman era – and still today – cannot tolerate the simple statement “I am a Christian”.
Behind that confession stands a creed. Behind the creed stands a Father whose love, it seems, is so great as to be unimaginable apart from his self-revelation in the Son.”
Focusing, as the Creeds fundamentally do, on the God who creates, is incarnate, and redeems His people, Hahn writes powerfully about adoption being a key category for understanding the Gospel. I thoroughly resonated with his writing here:
“Like God’s fatherhood, our adoption is not a metaphor. It is real. Pope St. John Paul II saw this as supremely good news: ‘We are not the sum of our weakness and failures,’ he said. ‘We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son”
With Father, Son and Holy Spirit in view, Hahn does a good job of sketching the beauty of God’s salvific activity, whilst also avoiding some of the key words like justification that, to be honest, would be a sticking point for some. He also engages quite interestingly with the Filioque clause – a seemingly minor theological controversy which is at the heart of the major historical schism in the Church, between Western Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. If that sounds too complex, but you’ve been tracking my review up till that point, I would say you should definitely read this book – Hahn explains the issue fairly, referencing David Bentley-Hart, and is quite conciliatory.
Overall, then, this is a helpful book. It is revealing and illuminating, and relatively easy to read. Whilst Hahn’s personal theological views do intrude occasionally (which is to be expected) I think this would be a good book for theologically interested pastors to think and pray through – pondering again the beauty and power of these ancient words.