Review of ‘Faith and Creeds’ by Alister E. McGrath

Faith and Creeds Alister E. McGrath, Faith and Creeds (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013). $16.00, 128 pages.

“What do Christians believe? Why do we believe this? And what difference does it make?”

Alister McGrath sets out to answer these three questions in Faith and Creeds, the first of five small books in The Heart of Christian Faith series. This book deals with the nature of faith and how it comes to be expressed in creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Succeeding books will deal with God the Father (book 2), Jesus Christ (book 3), the Holy Spirit (book 4), and Christian hope (book 5).

McGrath self-consciously follows in the Christian literary tradition of G. K. Chesterton, C. S Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers as he explains the faith to non-academic readers. He begins with ordinary experience—our desire for joy and for justice—as an entrée of spiritual reality. And then he uses that spiritual reality to shine a warm, bright light on our ordinary experience. Life shows the need for faith, in other words, and faith in turn shows the meaning of life.

With the Christian tradition more broadly, he distinguishes between the “faith by which we believe” and the “faith which we believe.” The former is “the act of trust and assent that says ‘yes’ to God,” while the latter is “a set of beliefs.” He makes a case for why the former always involves the latter, even if the latter cannot fully express the former. He shows how Christian faith gradually came to be expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. And he notes that how we believe always changes how we behave.

Though I minister in a Christian tradition that does not consistently use either the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed in worship, evangelism, or discipleship, I think all Christian readers can benefit from this little volume. Its focus is “mere Christianity,” not denominational distinctives. Its tone is both warm and reasonable. And its short length makes it ideal for use in Sunday school, small group, or book club.

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