George D. Chryssides
Church Times Bookshop £13.50
READERS should begin with a careful consideration of the Preface. The book is written for the intelligent undergraduate, and gives a descriptive account of what Christianity is like today in its great diversity. The author tries, and in the main succeeds, in being non-judgemental and objective. So he moves from describing the lunatic fringe to the views of mainstream Protestants, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic Churches.
The first two chapters set the scene. Chapter One, “The Basics”, looks at sin and salvation, the Christ story, the Church in its many forms, and the Christian lifestyle. Chapter Two outlines the basic sources of authority in various Churches, and expounds the diverse approaches to scripture. The book then looks at the debate between science and Christianity, and then moves more logically with chapters on biblical interpretation, mission and ecumenism, ethics, the place of women, life and death, and the future of Christianity.
This well-read author must have had a serious problem deciding what to include or leave out. At times, he offers fascinating and little-known information, such as his account of the Prayer Gauge Debate of 1837-41, when scientists tried to prove the efficacy or otherwise of prayer.
In spite of his attempts to be fair, it is clear that he tends to a liberal and open view of Christianity. His chapter on the future of Christianity is perhaps the vaguest and least satisfactory. Beginning with those who are looking for the Rapture, he examines the process of secularisation, and the rise of Christianity and Islam in the Third World, but leaves open any examination of what God might be saying to the Church through this process.
For at least 40 years, theologians such as Moltmann have argued that the Church is being stripped down to the basics, so that it can be more faithful to the gospel. Sadly, the book lacks any consideration of the nature of Christian spirituality and how this enables people to find meaning and identity.
It leaves me wondering what those who know nothing of Christianity would make of this book. Some might think that different Christians are worshipping different Gods. Others might see its diversity as attractive, but, on the whole, like many of us, they might just be rather bewildered.
The Very Revd Robert Jeffery is Dean Emeritus of Worcester Cathedral.