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The substance of things hoped for

by
04 November 2016

Faith’s content is vital to ‘discipleship’ says Christopher Irvine

What Do We Believe? Why Does It Matter?

Jeff Astley

SCM Press £14.99

(978-0-334-05405-4)

Church Times Bookshop £13.50

 

THE discipleship agenda is a hot topic, and Jeff Astley brings his considerable expertise in the field of adult Christian learning to this study guide.

The book is part of the SCM Learning Church series, and is divided into nine short chapters. Boxes suggesting specific learning activ­ities are inserted into the text, and suggestions for further reading are given at the end of each chapter. This, combined with a comprehens­ive bibliography at the end, makes this short book a user-friendly tool­box for adult Christian learning. The subject-matter is caught in the double question of the title: the importance of the content of Christian faith.

It is often said that Christian faith is primarily about trust and rela­tion­ship, and only secondarily about belief. But who is the object of this trust, and with whom are Christians called into relationship? When it is put this way, one can see how important it is for us to have some sense of the object of faith, of the one to whom we direct our worship and address our prayer. Further, we could say that Christian belief has a particular shape or pattern, and that this is implicit in the very faith into which we are baptised.

The Apostles’ Creed and the so-called Nicene Creed (usually recited during the celebration of the eucharist) are helpfully set out in parallel and contextualised at the beginning of the study. But, rather than simply follow the sequence of the tenets of Christian faith, Astley reverses the order and begins with the Church, and our being called into the community of faith, and then anchors faith in our experience of being forgiven and of the Spirit. He then moves to consider how we frame our understanding of Christ, creation, God the Father Almighty, and our ultimate destiny.

A short book has its limitations. Space prohibits any sustained look at the relationship between science and religion, and the problem of evil, and the reader is left flounder­ing among the varieties of inter­preta­­tions of the incarnation. But, all in all, this is an intelligent book. It takes us deeper than the current rhetoric of “discipleship”, and ef­­fect­ively demonstrates why it is that what we believe actually matters.

 

The Revd Christopher Irvine is the Canon Librarian and Director of Education at Canterbury Cathedral.

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