Book Review: Faith and the Creeds

Faith and the Creeds: Christian Belief for Everyone, volume 1

Alister McGrath
SPCK Publishing

A quick confession. This is only the second Alister McGrath book I’ve read (the first being the Dawkins Delusion) but I remembered that as being well-argued and accessible. I was also interested in the idea behind this series, namely, a collection that will use the creeds as a basis for explaining what Christian faith is – and isn’t – all about. It’s aiming to be a 21st century successor to ‘Mere Christianity.’ Indeed, CS Lewis is one of the writers quoted – along with Dorothy L Sayers and G K Chesterton, whose works are used to help illustrate the arguments being made. I liked this – I liked the idea of this being a new way of bringing together these other well-known writers’ thinking about faith and how it works. Some of these were familiar to me, others weren’t – I laughed out loud on the train at this from Sayers, suggesting that ‘trying to get God into a verbal formula was like trying to get a large and irritated cat into a small basket.’ (p55).

So we are shown ways of thinking about faith, and are expressly encouraged to see that the atheists’ arguments are not as final and as rational as they’d have us think. Faith is shown as a way of explaining the world and seeing it differently, and then of finding our place in this world:

We could think of faith as the act of becoming a participant in the ‘grand narrative’ and discovering the role we believe we ought to be playing in taking that greater story forward (p49)

There is a potted history of the creeds (“verbal vessels containing the treasure of the gospel” p.60) and we’re shown how the creed can be a map, and a guide, of our beliefs. Understanding how they developed means knowing why they are different – not a central point, but interesting all the same. And being encouraged to grow into these statements of faith is enormously helpful for those who cannot fully agree with or truly make the whole public statement of belief. I know exactly who I will pass this book on to next – someone who needs reassuring that not being completely sure of everything all the time is absolutely par for the course.

As an introductory volume this sets out the landscape and as a voracious and curious reader I wanted to be able to read more – I guess I will have to be patient. I look forward to delving deeper into the themes to follow.

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