A.A. Hodge on Creeds and Confessions

In his most popular work, Outlines of Theology, A.A. Hodge covers dozens of theological subjects. Some of these topics are intellectually weighty, such as predestination and eternity. Other matters, however, are quite practical. One of these practical matters concerns the importance of Christian creeds and confessions. When wielded properly, these tools can be quite helpful to those who are wanting to deepen their understanding of theology.

            Unlike many modern Evangelical churches, Reformed churches hold to doctrinal standards that are both detailed and historic. For example, Presbyterians have been using the Westminster Confession of Faith since its completion in the 17th century. Even older statements, such as the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, are staples of sound churches.

            So why even bother with such texts? Well, A.A. Hodge gives us the answer to that question in Outlines. He argues that creeds and confessions are necessary, not because Scripture is insufficient, but because they help us to be in agreement with what Scripture says. He writes, “Since all truth is self–consistent in all its parts, and since the human reason always instinctively strives to reduce all the elements of knowledge with which it grapples to logical unity and consistency, it follows that men must more or less formally construct a system of faith out of the materials presented in the Scriptures.” In other words, humans have a need to summarize information to communicate effectively and to understand various subjects. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Christians do this with theology.

            How can we best utilize creeds and confessions? Hodge gives us several uses for these documents. First, the creeds and confessions can be used to study the progress that the church has made in developing its system of theology. These works have historical significance in addition to theological importance. Hodge says they can be used to “mark, preserve and disseminate the attainments made in the knowledge of Christian truth by any branch of the church in any grand crisis of its development.”

            Second, these expressions of faith protect God’s people from heretical teachings by being precise in what they outline. For example, the Athanasian Creed details an orthodox view of the Trinity against the incorrect Arian view. They are used to “discriminate the truth from the glosses of false teachers, and accurately to define it in its integrity and due proportions,” notes the Princeton theologian.

            Hodge offers other uses for these doctrinal statements. They “act as the bond of ecclesiastical fellowship,” demonstrating truths that theologically unify local congregations. In addition, they can also be used by pastors and teachers “as instruments in the great work of popular instruction.” We know this to be true in our day, as the confessions make for great Sunday school material and starting points for conversations.

Some object to the use of creeds and confessions, claiming that they lack value and usurp the authority of the Bible. Hodge counters this argument by saying, “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament having been given by inspiration of God, are for man in his present state the only and the all–sufficient rule of faith and practice. This divine word, therefore, is the only standard of doctrine which has any intrinsic authority binding the consciences of men. All other standards are of value or authority only as they teach what the Scriptures teach.” Since these doctrinal statements explain and summarize the Scriptures, they are of immense value. Truly, all believers would benefit from the study of the classic creeds and confessions of Christianity.

– R. A. Miller