Lane, Tony. Exploring Christian Doctrine – A Guide to What Christians Believe. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2014. 308 pp. $30.00. Purchase for less at Amazon.
Tony Lane serves as professor of historical theology at the London School of Theology. He has written a number of quality books (you can find many of them here) including A Concise History of Christian Thought and Justification by Faith in Catholic – Protestant Dialogue. He is also a renown scholar on John Calvin.
The book is divided into seven major doctrinal categories. They are: Method (Bible and speaking of God), Creation, Sin and Evil, Redemption: God and His Work, Redemption: Personal, Redemption: Corporate, and Future Glory (Eschatology). In a very real sense, Tony follows a logical order akin to most systematic theologies. Each chapter includes a set of questions that are meant to be introduced (though not necessarily resolved) in the specific chapter. He also includes a particular question that is meant to be used as a catalyst to get the reader to think critically about the chapter and then he offers his answer though he is careful not to call it “the answer.”
Another key feature is his engagement of those who disagree. These may be nonbelievers who disagree or even Christians who may disagree with his take. He offers his reasons as to why he believes his perspective is correct (or at least more correct). Yet another fun component is his extracts from various historic creedal statements and any errors we must seek to avoid when wrestling through a particular doctrine. Also, in the same vain, he does not shy away from the tensions inherent within Christianity.
Finally, to drive home the personal implication of the importance of the doctrine, he sometimes offers his own personal speculations on the subject. The final two elements of each chapter are arguably the most important. He gives an extract from a hymn, worship song or even a liturgy and then offers a prayer from a source like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
First and foremost, I want to commend Tony Lane for the tone of humility that is evident throughout the book. He is writing to inform and instruct but he does so with simplicity, respect, and gentleness. He never comes across condescending to those who may disagree nor does he come across as haughty or arrogant. Rather, he merely lays out the historical facts and makes no apology for what has been historically accepted…good or bad.
His style and formatting is extremely engaging for the reader and helps the reader to feel as though she or he is carrying on a dialog with the author rather than the author teaching via monologue. There are a number of resources that have been cited that will enable the reader who wants to know more about a particular doctrine do so with relative ease.
Furthermore, he introduces so many different doctrinal topics that one does feel as though they are drinking from a fire hydrant. That fire hydrant, however, is controlled by 1) the author – he does not give too much information so as to hurt the brain and 2) the reader – you can simply put the book down and pick it back up when you are ready. The truth of the matter is, this resource is very much an introduction to Christian doctrine.
There are a number of Systematic Theologies available today. Yes, many of those are excellent and worth your time and money. Tony Lane’s work is a bit different in that it is a genuine introduction and is meant to be a “tool-box” book that opens the door to many different areas of theological understanding. I highly recommend Tony Lane’s Exploring Christian Doctrine to every Christian who wants to know more about the historic faith but does not know where to begin.