Alister E. McGrath. Faith and Creeds: A Guide for Study and Devotion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013. 128 pp. $16.00
What do you believe and why? What difference does it make in your life? These are the themes Alister McGrath aims to explore in the new series “The Heart of the Christian Faith,” of which Faith and Creeds: A Guide for Study and Devotion is the first volume. McGrath seeks to explore the basic themes of a simple and genuinely “mere” (a la C.S. Lewis) Christian faith in this series, setting forth a big picture that makes sense of both what we see in the world and what we experience within ourselves. In this first volume McGrath displays before us a panorama, exploring the nature of faith and the history and significance of creeds. The subsequent four volumes will provide snapshots of individual beliefs, expounding upon topics such as the nature of God and the significance of Jesus of Nazareth. Written for the “ordinary” Christian, McGrath draws upon and frequently references three of the great lay theologians of the twentieth century: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers.
In the first chapter, McGrath uses his own journey to show how science and empiricism fall short, that the true meaning of reality is to know God, and that an accurate view of the world around us is only possible through knowing God. Christianity enables us to see the big picture, and in chapter two McGrath focuses on three models that help us explore the big picture – the map, the lens, and the light. The Christian faith brings about a new way of seeing the world; and if you want to explore a new place, you need a map to help you explore and discover, to help you find your way to where you want to go; a lens to bring things into focus; and a light to illumine the shadowlands.
Chapter three explores words and stories. “The creeds give us a framework for going further and deeper into our faith. Yet many find their words and phrases inadequate, if not occasionally baffling” (40). However, although words have limitations they also have power, expressing matters that speak to the heart as well as the mind, acting as signposts that point to God. Story (which the Bible employs) is powerful because it makes faith more accessible and it has the unique power to change the way we think. The creeds are shorthand summaries and interpretations of the grand biblical metanarrative, tracing the story from creation to fall to redemption to final restoration. Chapter four explores how creeds came into being, focusing especially on the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. “The creeds are the carefully chosen words that the early church agreed on to try and capture what lay at the heart of the Christian faith. They describe the Christian faith as a sketch map describes a landscape” (62). Here, McGrath also expounds upon how creeds weave together the great themes of the Bible and provide a framework for interpreting it, as well as how creeds connect us with the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) of faithful believers throughout history. The final chapter explores how what we believe makes a difference in the way we live.
This book is a short, accessible, and engaging look at the nature of faith and the origin and significance of Christian creeds. Many in this age live by a mantra of “no creeds but Christ” or “no creeds but the Bible,” missing out on a rich Christian heritage as well as a hermeneutical/practical guide. McGrath convincingly shows how creeds can enrich our spiritual lives. This book and the entire series will likely be excellent books for a young believer or any Christian wanting to deepen their faith, to truly explore what they believe, why they believe it, and what difference it makes in their lives.
[…] far from merely summing up the things of God, they are an invitation to explore the wonders to 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 (59).
*I received a free electronic copy from the Westminster John Knox via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.