Book Review: Exploring Christian Doctrine

Exploring Christian Doctrine

Tony Lane
SPCK, 2013

I was interested in this book for two main reasons. Firstly, as a new and mostly ignorant housegroup leader I wanted a source of answers to the sort of ‘why do we do this/ that?’ kind of questions that crop up from time to time. And secondly, as a generally inquisitive person I have my own questions about where particular manifestations of beliefs come from, or what specific doctrines mean.

So it seemed to me that an entry-level textbook such as this might do the trick and I would broadly feel it does. I’m definitely one of the target audience as an ‘educated lay person who has had no formal theological training.’

Designed as a broad survey (and based on an undergraduate course) sections deal with method (knowing and speaking about God), creation, sin & evil, redemption and future glory. For the purposes of this review I had a read through a few of the chapters, looking at Speaking about God, Holy Communion, and The Spirit World.

Lane writes from an explicitly Evangelical perspective. Alternative viewpoints are there but I did at a couple of points wonder whether if I knew more, would I wonder if some of the questions take this viewpoint implicitly. If that is not too meta- a question! I’m very much not qualified to think too much about that one. Equally, I don’t know enough to know whether the general characterisations of different theological approaches are accurate or caricatures. I suspect part of the problem may be that I am not used to reading at undergraduate level and so I am asking questions that are ‘beyond my pay grade’ as it were – so not really taking statements at face value as they should be. This caused me to stumble in another way. In the chapter looking at sin, I noticed that ascribing a psychological problem was listed as resulting from ‘being dropped on the head as a child.’ Now, this might be tongue in cheek, and I’m going to hope it was a throwaway remark, rather than characterising Lane’s understanding of the roots of problems. The trouble is that mentally it tripped me up (one of my degrees is actually in Psychology) so I took a slight step back from the other assertions of fact the book make. If that one is demonstrably untrue, but presented as a fact/ reason, what about others…? ran my thinking.

Criticism aside, I found it a useful resource. At least once on each page I had an ‘aha!’ moment as something joined something else up, or a bit of historical explanation made something else make sense. I particularly liked the ‘Errors to avoid’ which prevent us from accidentally believing six heretical things before breakfast. Also, as one would expect from a textbook, there are good footnotes and pointers for further reading.

I would be confident using this as a reference book to turn to during those discussions in the housegroup or for when my curiosity gets the better of me, albeit with one eye on further sources. I am still just as likely, though, to ask questions of my vicar friends, so it won’t stop me idly tweeting when I’m inquisitive.

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