Headlong Into the Apostles' Creed


by Dwight Longenecker

Sophia Institute, 2003 192 pages, $14.95

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Partitioning the platform of the Apostles’ Creed into 20 interdependent springboards, Dwight Longenecker, a convert to the Catholic faith from Anglicanism, leads us through an invigorating series of dives into deep apologetical waters.

He sees to it that our imagination tumbles and flips as we jump from anthropology to science and theology to art, but Longenecker never loses sight of his purpose: illuminating and elucidating for us the concise statement of belief that defines us as Christians.

An underlying theme of the book is how to think and act “incarnationally.” He writes: “Do you want to find God? Then contemplate the Incarnation, for the Incarnation is the living proof of that universal principle that you must go down to meet God, for God always comes to us from below, and we must stoop to find him.”

Elsewhere he parses the proposition of God becoming man by comparing the event's universal aspects with its particulars. “The one Spirit surging through creation was to become specified in individual people,” he writes. “That's why Moses could see a burning bush only outside himself, but at Pentecost Peter had the burning fire first alight on his head, then burn its way into his heart, his mind and every fiber of his being.”

Throughout, Longenecker joins common-sense philosophy with poetic imagery to shake open our minds as well as our eyes to the wonders of the faith before us. “The Christian way is more like the trapeze than the tightrope,” he writes. “We're not called to tread a delicate balance between the spiritual and the physical but to leap off the platform and fly through the air, borne up by the strong arms of both. This is more difficult and dangerous than walking a tightrope. But if it's more difficult and dangerous, it's also more exhilarating and beautiful.”

With Chestertonian flair, Longenecker creates and sustains a character who appears every now and again throughout the book. He's “The Man From Missouri,” a skeptic whose “practical” view of life we all, Christian or not, tend to accept — often in lieu of an adventure in Christian orthodoxy.

“I've never been to Missouri, yet wherever I turn, I find myself living there,” he writes. “Missouri, as any home-grown American will tell you, is the ‘Show Me’ state. …

[T]he Man From Missouri is the archetypical squinting, chin-rubbing yokel who won't be taken in by nobody, no way, no-how. If Missouri is a flat state in the middle of America, it's also a state of mind in the middle of our culture.”

It is with such amusing (and deftly orchestrated) shifts in perspective that we explore the Creed line by line. By book's end, we sense we've just climbed a soaring spiritual ladder. The rungs we've stood on have allowed us to grasp both posts of the ladder even though they're in a certain tension with one another: time and space, beauty and truth, obedience and risk, pleasure and pain, justice and mercy, humility and divinization.

“The Creed provides a starting point with which to climb, and all real inquiry should be taking us further up the ladder,” Longenecker writes.

Read this book and discover a trapeze at the top of that ladder, a refreshing pool below and, within, the desire for jumping off — straight into the “exhilarating and beautiful” adventure orthodoxy can be.

Robert Trexler writes from Amherst, Massachusetts.