The Purpose of this small book is to state the timeless truths of the Christian faith in terms relevant to the perplexities and confusions, the aspirations, joys, and sorrows of modern man in a troubled world. In short, we shall try to see not only what Christians are entitled to believe but also how these beliefs "count" in the business of living.
Accordingly, although at some points it will be necessary to state wherein contemporary theologians differ in their interpretations of the Bible and of biblical faith, we shall for the most part keep to the main stream of Christian conviction. It is inevitable that I shall make some statements with which not all readers will agree. No living person can say, without presumption, that he is wise enough to understand all the mysteries of God. To declare as the sole and final truth a single-track, authoritarian body of belief is not only to commit before God the sin of self-righteousness but to weaken one’s witness before men by an offensive dogmatism. Yet this is a long way from saying that we cannot know anything with certainty. Christians do, indeed, agree on a great many things. Furthermore, they live by those beliefs which they hold most steadfastly. Therefore it is to these beliefs that we shall give our main attention.
Since this book has been written at the request of the Editorial Division of the Methodist Board of Education, it will be appropriate to center particularly on what Methodists believe. It is hoped that this will not limit unduly the usefulness of the book in circles outside Methodism, for with some few exceptions that will be noted in due course, the beliefs of Methodism are the beliefs of the main currents of Protestant thought. There is far more agreement than difference within ecumenical Christianity today, and it is these agreements that will form the central core of what is found in these pages.
To present what Methodists believe, we may proceed in either of two ways. One method is that of elaborating point by point the twenty-five Articles of Religion, taken over with slight variation by John Wesley from the Anglican thirty-nine Articles and published unchanged in the Discipline quadrennium after quadrennium. Indeed, these cannot be changed, for the Articles of Religion and the General Rules are two things that the General Conference may not revoke or alter. This bulwark of stability prevents the tinkering that might otherwise ensue.
Yet these same Articles require fresh interpretations. It is contrary to the spirit of John Wesley to put theological beliefs into a strait jacket when human need cries out for a more relevant application to Christian experience. Accordingly, all thoughtful and concerned Methodists rejoiced when, in the great Episcopal Address of the bishops of The Methodist Church to the General Conference of 1952, there was a forthright statement in contemporary terminology of what Methodists believe. Personally, one of the most moving and lifting experiences of my life was to hear the late Bishop Paul Bentley Kern read these great affirmations, so simply stated, so profoundly true, and so compelling in their witness to the ground on which we as Christians must stand.
There are twelve of these affirmations. What follows, therefore, is twelve brief chapters, each introduced by one of these statements. Following each affirmation is a brief discussion of what, in the current mood or plight of modern man, makes this affirmation of special concern. Then in a longer, though still necessarily brief, form there is an elaboration of the belief’s meaning. Although we have proceeded with this discussion in a structure much simpler than that of Professor Paul Tillich, we shall attempt what he calls a "method of correlation," whereby man’s existential questions are met by the answers of our Christian faith.