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Christian Doctrine (SCM Studyguide)

Author: Jeff Astley
Published By: SCM (London)
Pages: 250
Price: £16.99
ISBN: 978 0 334 04324 9

Reviewed by Chris Skilton.

The range of SCM Study Guides is a helpful way into areas of Christian thought, belief and practice. This introduction to Christian doctrine is written by a seasoned Christian educator and author and offers ten all-embracing chapters on different strands of Christian belief and faith. It ranges over a significant range of interpretations and understandings of key Christian ideas. The order of the material seems a little puzzling: Church, Ministry and Sacraments are covered in chapters 4 and 5 (and then with scant regard to the breadth of understanding in different denominations), but soteriology waits for chapter 6 and itself precedes Christology in chapter 7. It is disappointing that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit receives a muted consideration, with references dotted through the book rather than in one discrete chapter.

The book is pitched at first-year undergraduate level and would be suitable for enquiring and interested lay people and at a pinch as a brief refresher for a busy minister. Technical and detailed information is helpfully contained in boxes without interrupting the flow of the text. There are regular ‘exercises’ and questions along the way which would make the book appropriate for a church study group - maybe especially those exploring vocation and calling to full-time ministry. Inevitably a book of this length deals with broad brush strokes rather than carefully nuanced perspectives, something that’s very obvious in the chapter on the nature of the Bible and biblical interpretation.

A strength of the book is its excellent indices and suggestions for further reading and study. The claim of the author is that the latter is balanced and comprehensive although it does seem to reflect a clear bias towards writers like Hick, Wiles, Robinson, Cupitt and I T Ramsay at the expense of those from a more evangelical perspective - Stott on the Atonement, Paul Bradshaw on the church, Croft on Ministry, for instance, would all stand alongside some of the authors cited.

I suspect that all this could be said in some respects of all brief introductions to a subject and probably this one would prove a helpful introduction in the right setting for those who would be sympathetic to its underlying ethos.

Chris Skilton

Archdeacon of Lambeth and Board Member of Ministry Today

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You are reading Issue 50 of Ministry Today, published in November 2010.

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