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Criminal Christianity: Dorothy Sayers, Meet Samuel Miller

27 October, 2009

IMG_1294Samuel Miller (1769-1850) was a founder of the Princeton Seminary and strongly desired to educate men for the ministry. As he saw it, men were in great ne of theological knowledge. However, the only way that these men could truly grow in their faith was in an educational context where men took the contention of truth once delivered to the saints very seriously (Jude 3). In his book, Doctrinal Integrity, Miller convincingly argued that without creeds and confessions there could be no serious theological training, but some people did not see confessional documents as indispensable to religious instruction. Consequently, this vacuous latitudinarianism and anti-confessionalism dissipated the virtue of doctrinal honesty and clarity.

Miller thus drew the conclusion that this kind of approach was criminal and devalued the Gospel,

The fact is, when men love gospel truth well enough to study it with care, they will soon learn to estimate its value; they will soon be disposed to “contend for it” against its enemies (cf. Jude 3), who are numerous in every age; and this will inevitably lead them to adopt and defend that “form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13) which they find in the sacred scriptures. On the other hand, let any man imbibe the notion that creeds and confessions are unscriptural, and of course unlawful, and he will naturally and speedily pass to the conclusion, that all contending for doctrines is useless, and even criminal (DI, p. 36.).

Although not intentionally prognosticating Princeton Seminary’s fate in the early twentieth century, his words precisely accounted for what would eventually happen when creeds and confessions were ignored,

From this [negative attitude towards creeds and confessions] the transition is easy to the abandonment of the study of doctrine, or, at least, the zealous and diligent study of it. Thus it is, that laying aside all creeds naturally tends to lead to make professing Christians indifferent to the study of Christian truths, comparatively uninterested in the attainment of religious knowledge; and, finally, regardless, and, of course, ignorant of “the faith once delivered for the saints” (Jude 3) (DI, p. 36).

Miller implied that the real criminal Christianity was the one that decried creeds and confessions. In sum, though Miller offered many reasons to exonerate creeds and confessions, the pinnacle point of his book was that the Bible advocated and encouraged confessionalism.The alternative in Miller’s evaluation was indifference to truth, which undermined the supposed unity that latitudinarians think that they achieve by maintaining that doctrine was merely a private (subjective) concern (DI, p. 37). Without doctrinal care and precision, the Church was left to vague and meaningless content. The choice was clear in Miller’s mind: either one had a creed or one had doctrinal dishonesty. In Dorothy Sayers’s words, the choice was between (creed) or confusion (chaos).

It seems to me that there is whole lot more creedless confusion in our theological climate than there is confessional clarity, and without calling out names, some so-called Reformed theologians seem to advocate doctrinal dishonesty, defending the creedless criminals instead of the confessional orthodox. So what do you say? Creed or Chaos?


  1. 27 October, 2009 7:52 pm

    You’re framing a good argument contra latitudinarians. I’ve always thought it a good thing to know exactly what your pastor your elders and your brothers believe. Kinda promotes unity. This is possibly what the framers of the WCF were shooting for with their document(s).

    On the note of framing and shooting, that’s exactly what’s involved in good shooting. Framing and aiming go hand in hand. You frame the target generally, and then zero in with precision aiming. If you could somehow translate the good framing and aiming done in this article into other more physical areas.

  2. 30 October, 2009 8:29 pm

    Sounds like what’s going on today. It’s hard to explain to my wife or anyone newly interested in the Reformed tradition.
    I don’t see why we should refrain from “calling out names.” The ‘confusion’ people have been doing it for a long time. They have been painting a portrait of the ‘clarity’ people as a bunch of meanies while the clarity people are expected to just mind their manners.
    It’s silly. Blocks of the tiny Reformed world are being grayed out with the multi-perspectival, edge-less Blob created by men who want to be recognized for being innovative and who would rather appear to be affable than faithful.
    Telling the truth in love is telling the truth faithfully. The Lord rewards his servants for faithfulness, not innovation.
    Go easy on my brother Josh. He can’t help it if he’s physically challenged.

  3. 4 November, 2009 5:17 am

    Well spoken, Josh. The latitudinarians have not heard the last from us confessionalists.

  4. 5 November, 2009 5:41 am

    Thanks, Steven. I often joke that I am hooked up intravenously to confessionalism of the Reformed type, as opposed to the Roman Catholic (That is a good idea for a future post if it hasn’t already been done on C or C). I guess that would make my blood-type, R. 😉

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