MICHAEL LEYDEN leads St Mellitus College North-West. Faithful Living provides compelling evidence of the quality of his teaching. His students are fortunate. This book shows how doctrine has practical application in living the Christian life.
Leyden examines how the Nicene Creed is intellectually and spiritually nourishing, and also ethically formative: so much, so obvious, perhaps — except that a dissonance between Christian faith and practice has become observable.
The marginalisation of religion in public debate, including ethical discussions, may be one cause. The way in which “following Jesus” is seen primarily in terms of personal discipleship is probably another. Different theological disciplines may have also contributed by operating too long in largely separate worlds. (As I read Faithful Living, I thought of my own theological education many years ago, in which Old and New Testament, doctrine, liturgy, and ethics were each taught with no serious attempt to interrelate them.) The connection between what Christians believe and the attitudes and behaviour that flow from those beliefs needs the persuasive and imaginative restating that it gets here.
In arguing his case, Leyden also rescues the Nicene Creed from a propositional prison. He regards doctrines as “identity-confessing commitments which orientate an integrated Christian life”.
The post-Enlightenment West has been characterised by a quest for personal autonomy. That has been allied to a desire for freedom over personal space and attitudes, along with the rejection of external authorities’ telling us what to do, especially religious authorities. As I read this book, Covid-19 began to revolutionise Western society and the rest of the world, too. Everyone’s expectations have had to be suddenly modified. Who knows whether there will be a permanent reshaping of the moral and ethical landscape as result?
Like everyone else, however, Christians have had to rethink connections between who they are, what they believe, and what they are called to do. This book has become even more timely as a result.
Leyden covers a great deal of ground in each of his relatively short chapters on different statements in the Nicene Creed. For example, a reflection on “suffered death and was buried” explores the New Testament’s understanding of suffering before moving into a brief but informed discussion of assisted dying. This includes a review of some landmark cases in Britain, concluding with some guidance on how to think theologically and make informed ethical decisions in this area. It is not difficult to discern the author’s convictions, but there are no prescriptions. Instead, a well-grounded ethical framework is established in which readers are left to do some of their own work.
That is what makes this such a refreshing book. It marries theological method with a trust in the capacity of the Christian disciple to think creatively, imaginatively, and, to use a word from the last paragraph, “playfully”. Amen to that.
The Rt Revd Graham James is a former Bishop of Norwich.
Faithful Living: Discipleship, creed and ethics
SCM Press £19.99
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