The Landscape of Faith
An Explorer’s Guide to the Christian Creeds
By Alister McGrath
SPCK. Pp. xiii+256. $23
Review by J. David Moser
St. Augustine called Christians viatores, wayfarers, who journey through this world to their heavenly destination. Alister McGrath, the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, has given us a map that can assist us on the journey. His book is “a tool for study, a resource for wisdom in leading an intelligent, reflective, and grateful life of Christian discipleship” (p. xi).
McGrath’s book at times has the quality of a spiritual autobiography. He tells us how he came to faith in Christ as a student at Oxford in the 1970s after years of being a staunchly committed atheist. He realized his dogmatic certainty that only the scientific method laid claim to what is true was really an unverifiable assumption he unquestioningly held. Even atheists need to hold to certain beliefs by faith.
This fact invited him to reexamine his unquestioned assumptions about the ultimate questions and to find a coherent big picture of the world that explains the diverse aspects of human life. McGrath became a Christian, and here he commends Christianity as the explanation of the world and our lives as gifts of God (p. 90). His autobiography leads us to a central theme of the book: the nature of faith as not only assent to what is believed, but also trust in and commitment to God (pp. 52-53). God’s benevolent commitment to us requires our commitment to him as we journey through this world.
The Christian life takes place on the landscape of faith. When Christians experience salvation in Jesus Christ and begin the journey, they need a map for the way ahead. Here McGrath commends the creeds, which are “summary descriptions of the vast expanses of the landscape of faith, intended to invite us to explore further this distinctive landscape” (p. 18).
Accordingly, the book is organized according to the pattern and content of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Each chapter contains short biblical and theological accounts of each belief that the creed affirms.
McGrath brings up apologetic concerns in many of the chapters. In his chapter on the Trinity, for example, he responds to the charge that the doctrine is incoherent nonsense. He shows how it should be received as a mystery within the context of worship. While we cannot fully comprehend the mystery, we can grasp it within the lens of faith.
The text is remarkably clear and well-written. Furthermore, McGrath follows C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity approach in his account of Christian doctrine. Thus, nearly all of what one finds in the text is universally held by Christians.
This makes the book commendable to diverse Christian communities. Furthermore, it will be useful for preachers and catechists who need an introductory guide to core Christian doctrine for teaching purposes. It will especially connect with those who have held some of the scientific objections to religious belief that McGrath once did.
J. David Moser is a PhD student in theology at Southern Methodist University.