Book Review: Exploring Christian Doctrine
Author: Tony Lane
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
I am always on the lookout for teaching tools that will help me to share What Christians Believe. InterVarsity Press and Tony Lane have worked together to produce what is, in my opinion, an extraordinary systematic study in basic Christian doctrine.
Tony Lane (DD, University of Oxford) is professor of historical theology at the London School of Theology. One might suspect that systematic studies of Christian doctrine can be rather dry and academic, but Tony Lane has broken that stuffy stereotype and written a work that is interesting, edifying, and understandable across a broad range of learning styles and levels of Christian maturity.
One of the many things I appreciated about this compelling study was the theological stance of Tony Lane. He is self-described as “‘eclectic’ rather than ‘confessional,’ writing as an Evangelical Christian, but drawing upon a wide range of Christian traditions—Reformed, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, etc.—without being tied to any specific one.” This attitude is pervasive throughout the study, from cover to cover; Lane shares insight and knowledge without bias and presents information as objectively and evenly represented between the Christian traditions as any resource I’ve ever come across.
The introduction sets stage for the purpose and format of the book. Lane writes; “This book originated as a series of Lectures for a first-year undergraduate Christian Doctrine Survey module. It is designed to be used by students at that level, either on their own or as a textbook for a whole cohort. It is also written to be accessible to the educated lay person who has no formal theological training.”
The format follows this basic pattern: (1) Chapter—the basic belief found in the doctrinal subject; brief historical account of the doctrine; important texts supporting the doctrine and any creedal support; differences over doctrine between groups and interconnections of doctrine between groups; relationship of doctrine to the contemporary scene in both Church and culture (2) Interactive questions are sprinkled throughout each chapter with “What do you think?” invitations. Lane provides resources for the reader-student to engage and also includes his personal opinion on the subject. (3) Skeptic’s objections are discussed (4) Creedal and Confessional statements related to the doctrine (5) Errors to avoid regarding the doctrine (6) Issues creating tension and speculation are presented (7) Inclusion of aspects of participation in or with worship (hymn, liturgy, ritual) and prayer.
At the end of each chapter study, Lane includes a notes section and resources section that contains bibliographies for further study. Likewise, he provides a “question to answer” and suggests answers be limited to 100-words or less. He makes this recommendation to prepare the student to have a ready answer for man-on-the-street type questions where the listener may not be prepared or willing to listen to an essay styled response.
I have really enjoyed my reading through this presentation of Christian Doctrine. I do not exaggerate when I state it might be one of the finest I have come across in all my studies…especially, when I consider the range, depth, and diversity of presentation that it encompasses. I will likely be using this as a primary textbook for catechism with new disciples and likely engaging “old” disciples as well. As always, I continue to praise the work of InterVarsity Press with their tireless efforts to the ministry and education of God’s people.