The Landscape of Faith

Alister McGrath published by SPCK

There is no doubt that the classic creeds of the Christian faith, (Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed), no longer occupy the same position or fulfil the role that they did within the early church. Whilst some faith traditions do still use them in confirmation classes etc. the fact is that few churchgoers today could either recite them or explain them.

Readers coming to this book hoping to find a line-by-line exposition of the creeds will be disappointed, and in fact there is really no mention at all of what the creeds have to say about the resurrection. However, McGrath’s purpose seems to be more to provide a method of reading the creeds that demonstrates how the creeds can help disciples today to know, understand and indeed explain their faith. In that goal he succeeds very well. He begins by describing his own journey from atheism to faith and the role that the creeds played in that journey. The first part of the book reflects on the origins and purpose of the creeds and the following sections focus on the substance of the creeds, but not in a dry dull expository way. McGrath wants to show that the creeds “…are not definitive and exhaustive accounts of the Christian faith, but are rather summary descriptions of the vast expanses of the landscape of faith, intended to invite us to explore further this distinctive landscape.”

He uses four analogies – the creed as a map, a light, a lens and as the threads of a tapestry – that help to illuminate the distinct nature of Christianity in general and the purpose and place of creeds in the life of faith in particular. If we think of the creeds only as definitive doctrinal statements to be affirmed then they will always be nothing more than impersonal statements of belief that do not require personal involvement or engagement. For me this was extremely helpful and illuminating and I had to admit to myself that, like many others, I have read the creeds in that way, as nothing more than doctrinal statements to be affirmed, when in fact they are “a framework for integrating multiple perspectives on the significance of Jesus Christ…” a way of exploring the landscape of faith. As McGrath notes, the creeds, “describe the Christian faith, as a sketch map describes a landscape.” In that regard the creeds are not an end-point but are rather, an invitation to a journey.

This book has given me a new appreciation for the creeds as a tool to help me navigate, understand and share the lived experience of faith, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Rev Norman Graham