Book Review: Faith and the Creeds

Faith and the Creeds Book Review

What do Christians believe? Why do they believe this? And what difference does it make? In the Christian belief for Everyone series, I aim to explore the basic themes of a simple and genuinely Christian faith

So opens the introduction, by the author, to this slim book, Alister McGrath is a name well known in UK Christian circles, both for his engagement with Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists, as well as his introductory textbooks on Christian Theology, and many and varied theological writings. This new series (like Tom Wright’s “New Testament For Everyone”) is a great example of a theologian with prodigious writing skills and a large output refining and explaining his work in an accessible and readable way. “Christian Faith For Everyone: Faith and the Creeds” is the first in McGrath’s attempt to summarise and explain the whole sweep of Christian theology!

McGrath is influenced by a variety of thinkers and writers, and I was struck whilst reading this book of his love and usage of C.S.Lewis, the Oxford apologist and writer. A large chunk of the first half of this book deals with the ability of Christianity to explain everything, couched in a very Lewis-esque way (McGrath acknowledges his debt to Lewis, Chesterton, and Dorothy Sayers). I loved this quote, relating the reality of the individual to the reality of everything;

Embracing Christianity’s ‘bigger picture’ helps us realise that each of us, being created in God’s image, matters profoundly; and that status and wealth mean nothing compared to the riches of knowing God. As Thomas a Kempis pointed out in his spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, when it was seen in perspective, ‘the glory of the world fades away’“.

After a wonderful exploration of the importance of story and ‘big picture’ Christianity, McGrath helpfully moves on to the opening words of the Creed – ‘I believe in God’ – and after sharing the responses of a few normal individual Christians, launches into a discussion of The Story. He echoes Lewis, and also Tolkien, noting that “many readers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings, find themselves presented with a world of such intense richness and depth that they are drawn into a reflection on the deeper meaning of life“. In the discussion of the Creed, McGrath helpfully notes that they “do not tell this story as a story… they distil its significance and hit its high points“.

The penultimate chapter is McGrath’s response to his own challenge at the close of an examination of story, demonstrating how the Creeds came into being. For the author, the Creeds are “verbal vessels containing the treasure of the Gospel“. McGrath goes on to provide a useful apologetic for having creeds in the first place, for using them, and how indeed they came to be. The final chapter here explores what it means to say “I believe“. The tension of that individual opening and the corporate celebration of the truth is amply addressed by McGrath, as he notes that “the Christian ‘big picture’ insists that each individual believer is significant“, and also that “Christianity is a corporate faith“. We then move into an interesting exploration of how believe affects behaviour. McGrath closes with a tantalising hint of what is to come, in the next volume of this series.

I thoroughly enjoyed this little book. I’ve appreciated McGrath at various times and levels – his introduction to Christian Thought inspired me to study Theology, and I used his Life of Calvin in my Dissertation. This new series seems to take the basically brilliant concept of the other ‘For Everyone’ books, and apply it to the Christian faith. I would recommend this book as a great introduction to the idea of Christian belief, and hope for continued excellence in this exciting new series!

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