For The Someday Book

Book Review: “I Believe”

Posted on: September 13, 2015

“I Believe” Exploring the Apostles’ Creed by Alister McGrath, InterVarsity Press, 1997, 120 pp.

This is the fifth of five book reviews on the Christian creeds (and a book in heresy), which I read in preparation for a sermon series entitled, “I Believe: Christian Creeds in Context.” Those sermons can be found here.

I BelieveAlister McGrath is a darling of the evangelical movement, because he is a Christian apologist willing to argue with leaders of the New Atheism movement with the authority of his academic credentials at Oxford. He is generally a conservative sort, but I enjoyed his books on the development of the King James Version of the Bible and his biography of John Calvin. This book on the creed was not as uniformly helpful as some of the other resources, simply because other resources (including his own book on heresy) covered the topics with greater depth and interest.

McGrath’s take on the creed divides it into six sections, each of which gets a chapter in the book. Each chapter begins with a segment on “The Ideas Explained,” followed by a parallel on “The Ideas Applied.” He emphasizes the scriptural background of each section of the creed, providing a list of biblical citations at the end of each chapter, without commentary. His best contribution to the conversation about the creeds was his logical, critical analysis of each element of the creedal theology.

For example, his section on the importance of Jesus’ suffering and death addresses the problem of evil. He lists four answers that have been given in the history of religious thought (suffering is real and alleviated only by death; suffering is an illusion; suffering is real and we can rise above it; and the Christian response that God knows our suffering). The idea that God suffered in Christ, with us, is Christianity’s unique contribution, and places us in an intimate relationship. McGrath’s analysis in placing the creed in a wider context of religious history adds an interesting dynamic to the discussion. However, he also gives us powerful turns of phrase from time to time. In the same section, he writes,

God is not like a general who issues orders to his troops from the safety of a bomb-proof shelter, miles away from the front line, but one who leads his troops from the front, having previously done all that he asks them to do in turn. If God asks us to suffer on his behalf, it is because he has already suffered on our behalf. (67)

McGrath was most helpful for his ability to be clear and concise in his descriptions, but the brevity of this work leads to few new insights or ideas. However, I was simultaneously reading his book on heresy, which covered much of the same territory in a richer and more interesting way.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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