I hope this book will help people of other religions and none to appreciate Christianity. I also hope that Christians will learn more about the rich heritage which is theirs.
It is difficult to convey the devotional heart of a faith. This is why I have included several quotations from hymns and prayers. Christians, over the centuries, have pictured Jesus in many different ways and have expressed their beliefs in a variety of doctrines. Theological debate is as intense today as it has been in the past. We are, however, beginning to recognize that truth is multi-faceted and that the True and Living God transcends all human description and language. Instead of thinking in rigid terms that one view is right and another wrong or one belief is orthodox and another heretical, we are learning that different theologies, be they feminist, classical, black or liberation, can add to the fullness of our understanding of God’s revelation in Christ.
Christians have also practiced their religion in a variety of ways and the expression of their service to the community has depended on particular historical, political and geographical situations. As we learn to live as citizens of one world, the history of the whole world-wide church becomes the inheritance of all Christians and a rich resource for the future. I write from the standpoint of a Church of England parish priest and many of my examples are from that tradition, but I recognize that the Church of England is one church amongst many churches, just as Christianity is one religion amongst many world religions which are slowly learning to share with each other their spiritual treasures and to work together for peace, the relief of human need and the preservation of the planet.
It is hard to know what to include in a short book and I am conscious of many omissions. I hope that the suggestions for further reading, at the end of each chapter, will enable readers to follow up topics in which they are interested. The available literature is, of course, enormous.
Those who wish to pursue biblical issues will find Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, ed. Matthew Black and H. H. Rowley (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1962), although dated, very useful.
Hans Küng’s On Being A Christian (Collins, 1977) and Christianity, The Religious Situation of Our Time (SCM Press, 1995) are a mine of information.
Various dictionaries are very useful, such as The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. E. A. Livingstone (Oxford University Press, 1977); A New Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, ed. J. G. Davies (1986); A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, eds. Alan Richardson and John Bowden (1983); A Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, ed. Gordon S. Wakefield (1983) and A New Dictionary of Christian Ethics, eds. John Macquarrie and James Childress (1986); all of which are published by SCM Press. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker (Oxford University Press, 1997); Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions, eds. Rosemary Goring and Frank Whaling (Chambers, 1992) are invaluable, as are the relevant articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Quotations from the Bible, unless otherwise stated, are from the New International Version. Other versions used are the Jerusalem Bible (JB), the New English Bible (NEB) and the Authorized Version (AV).
I would like to thank Judith Longman, Religious Editorial Director of Hodder and Stoughton, for her encouragement, and Mary, my wife, for her enthusiastic support and forbearance, and my teachers, colleagues and parishioners for all that I have learned from them.