My review of Alister McGrath’s Faith and the Creeds

“The creeds…far from merely summing up the things of God…are an invitation to explore the wonders 16193848to which they point. Like diagrams of cathedrals and maps of landscapes, they are useful as summaries and starting points, but come to life when we let them guide us on a voyage of discovery, in which we see things with new eyes and take things in with a new sense of satisfaction.”

The history of my personal Christian pilgrimage is primarily non-creedal, that is the historic Christian creeds (such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed), were not recited in worship. In fact, the tradition of which I am currently ordained found the creeds were, shall we say, ‘unsatisfactory,’ in the early days of its history. But because of Twitter and blogging and my own pastoral efforts and helping others see the big picture and long history of the Christian faith, I have experienced a new interest in understanding these elements of the faith that were of vital aid to faith in the early days of its life and development.

Alister McGrath’s new work Faith and Creeds, published by Westminster John Knox Press, is going to be an aid to me and countless others in seeing the creeds for what they are, “an invitation to explore the wonders to which they point,” the wonders of faith and God. Written in a simple and conversational style, Faith and Creeds is the introductory volume in a new series Christian Belief for Everyone.

McGrath begins the book with an overview of the series and why it needed to be written – the ‘big picture’ “of the Christian faith that I aim to set out in this series [to make sense] both of what we see around us and what we experience within.” In doing so McGrath makes clear that he writes for the ‘ordinary’ believer and not the clergy. He also acknowledges that he will draw on ‘three great lay theologians of the twentieth century” G.K. Chesterton, C.S.Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers (the last two, you Hobbit and Lord of the Rings readers, were both faith journeyers and fellow writers with Tolkien).

In the chapters which follow McGrath lays out the metaphors of journey and the tools of journey with a rich discussion about the journey of faith and how the creeds are like a map which

“…is there to help us explore the landscape of faith and to find our way back home. It’s a map that distils the core themes of the Bible, disclosing a glorious, loving, and righteous God, who creates a world that goes wrong, and then acts graciously and wondrously in order to renew and direct it, before finally bringing it to its fulfillment.”

As he does so, McGrath brings in illustrative points in his own brief autobiography of faith from childhood upbringing in the Anglican church in Northern Ireland, through a period of doubt and atheism, to return to a vital and personal faith to illustrate the value and purpose of the creeds. Trained as not just a theologian and pastor but also as a scientist, McGrath’s personal story I believe is an additional plus to this book. He concludes the volume with a discussion of the creeds as, chapter four’s title notes, “a public vision of faith” and as chapter five’s title notes, the ‘big picture.’

I was expecting to have more written about the creeds themselves and when I came to the end of the book I was somewhat disappointed. However, McGrath’s ‘big picture’ approach to faith and belief, as well as his own faith journey, I think adds a personal as well as appropriate theological base to the volumes that will follow this book. I liked this book and it was both helpful and inspirational  to me as a follower of God and as a clergyperson.

I rate this book a ‘very good’ read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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