What Christians Ought to Believe:
An introduction to Christian doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed.
Michael F. Bird, Zondervan, 2016
As a self-confessed fan of the Apostles’ Creed, I was excited to see that Michael Bird had written this book. After reading it I am now even more excited about the book and recommend it to both fans of the Creed and those who are perhaps a little less enthusiastic in their desire to use the Creed in their churches.
What Christians Ought to Believe is remarkably readable, profoundly relevant to our time, and deeply theological as well as practical in terms of a life of Christian faith. Even if your church isn’t an Apostles’ Creed reciting type of church, the contents of this book will inform your mind, encourage your heart and strengthen your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bird uses the Apostles’ Creed to structure this book, which is really a primer on the theological basics all Christians would find it useful to reflect on and know. Most chapters of the book cover one or two lines of the Creed, which is broken up into appropriate bite (or chapter) sized chunks. However before he gets to the Creed, Bird whets our appetite with three preliminary chapters. Chapter 1 gives a brief and helpful recap of the history of Christian creeds; Chapter 2 discusses the biblical canon and church creeds, how they go together and why we need the creeds; and Chapter 3 is a fascinating reflection on the first two words of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘I believe’. What does it really mean to have Christian faith, how do faith and obedience relate to each other, and what are we to do with doubts are big questions that are covered briefly but helpfully in this chapter. From here, Bird launches into the substance of the Apostles’ Creed, which is covered in the remaining eleven chapters of this book.
Perhaps surprisingly for a book about Christian doctrine, this book is written in a chatty and anecdotal style, which I found made it both engaging and relevant. As Chapter 3 addresses the question of ‘What is faith?’, we’re pointed to Kenny Rogers’ and George Michael’s use of the words ‘faith’ and ‘believe.’ The beginning of Chapter 7 recounts a late-night comedy show’s take on the virgin birth. And when thinking about the return of Jesus, the ‘end of the Christian story’, Bird compares this with the end of The Return of the Jedi and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Bird’s anecdotes and illustrations are apt and make for enjoyable reading.
This book shows a refreshing willingness to ask the hard questions about Christian faith and about the Creed. These hard questions are addressed and honestly discussed rather than swept under the carpet. When we say we believe in ‘God, the Father almighty’, is this not just hopelessly patriarchal? As mentioned, the difficulty of the virgin birth is admitted before constructive discussion. During this discussion Bird reveals his view that ‘no one should be yelled down for asking honest questions raised by reading the biblical texts’ (p102), which is a refreshingly non-defensive approach to the Bible, Christian faith and the Creed. Bird also opens chapter 6 with the intriguing statement that ‘There is sadly a major deficiency in the Apostles’ Creed’. I’ll leave you to discover this deficiency for yourself, but this chapter doesn’t despair and ditch the Creed, but rather concludes with this lovely sentence:
‘The most confronting issue about Christian faith is not any single idea—as if “Christianity” can be reduced to an “idea”; rather the most challenging aspect is a person: Jesus’ (p. 96).
Bird displays an ability to unveil the beauty of many deep theological truths in this book, as well as a commitment to sharing the practical implications of how the theological truths summarised in the Apostles’ Creed make a difference in our everyday lives of Christian faith. From reflecting on the implications of a declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’, to thinking about the practical consequences of Jesus’ ascension, to wondering why the return of Jesus really matters to us, Bird challenges not just what we believe as followers of Jesus but how we live as his people each day.
This book has been a delight to read. I’ve learnt new things, been encouraged with a deeper understanding of old truths and been challenged by the profoundly practical implications of the central truths of the Christian faith.
Natalie Rosner, Vic