The Phenomenon of Christian Belief
by G.W.H. Lampe (ed.)
For a number of years it has been the practice of the Board of the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge to arrange an annual series of Open Lectures on matters directly or indirectly related to the problems of religious belief. These lectures are not part of the Faculty’s regular course of theological teaching. They usually take place outside the Divinity School, and they are intended, not for specialists in religious studies of any kind, but for a general audience of people, mainly, but by no means exclusively, undergraduate, whose courses of study may lie in other fields, but who are interested in listening to a non-technical presentation of questions with which theologians are concerned and perhaps also in taking part in discussions which are arranged to follow the lectures. Such discussions cannot be reproduced in book form; but it is still to the general reader that these lectures, which are printed as they were delivered, are now addressed.
Some earlier courses of these Open Lectures have been devoted to particular questions of social and personal morality, such as the series on God, Sex and War (Collins, Fontana Books, 1963) delivered in 1962. Others have discussed the basic problems of Christian belief itself and, especially in the crowded, and afterwards widely read, lectures on Objections to Christian Belief (Constable) in 1963, have adopted a rigorously critical attitude towards Christian doctrine. For the course in 1969 it was decided to attempt a more positive presentation of the belief of Christians. The object of these lectures is, as Mr. Baelz points out at the beginning of his own contribution, to try to ‘get clear in our minds what kind of thing Christian belief is and what kind of thing it is not’. The aim is to describe the phenomenon of Christian belief: not to undertake the task of an apologist and to contend for the truth of Christian belief, but to show what it is, at least in certain of its aspects.
It is, nevertheless, an attempt to describe this faith from the inside. The lecturers are trying to show how it appears to them, not as neutral observers, but as committed believers who in fact hold it to be true. They are speaking from within a living tradition which, because it is living and developing, is neither bound to a particular system of doctrinal orthodoxy nor compatible with static uniformity. Each lecturer is therefore attempting to describe Christian belief from his own individual standpoint, as he himself believes it. For the same reason, each looks back to the basic documents of Christian belief, the writings of the Old and New Testaments and the credal formulations of the early Church, from his own point of view and in a perspective conditioned by his personal belief. For the purpose of this descriptive task he is concerned, in the first instance, with the impact which these writings make on himself, and not primarily with the first aim of exegesis, which is the detailed analysis of the meaning and intention of the original writers; though this does not of course mean that his individual understanding and evaluation can dispense with scholarship.
The first lecture speaks of an ‘adventure in exploration’: ‘the sort of thing it is for a Christian to believe in God and the way in which this belief is rooted in a living historical tradition’. The second looks back to the sources of that living tradition in the personal faith of Jesus himself as this is mirrored by the New Testament, and in the belief of his first followers that through Jesus God had made known to them his presence and power as ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. In the third lecture we are shown what Christians did with that original belief, why they constructed impressive but perplexing dogmatic formulations, and what relation these credal structures have to the faith by which the Christian community actually lives. The fourth enters into the heart of the life of Christian groups and individuals, and looks from the inside at the central activity which both expresses and stimulates Christian belief. It speaks of prayer from a personal and aesthetic standpoint.
The four lecturers were all at the time members of the Cambridge Faculty of Divinity.
The Rev. P. R. Baelz is the Dean of Jesus College and a lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion.
Canon G. W. H. Lampe is the Ely Professor of Divinity, with the New Testament and the Fathers as his fields of study.
The Rev. M. Santer is the Dean of Clare College, and a lecturer in Christian Doctrine.
The Rev. J. H. Drury was the Chaplain of Downing College when these lectures were delivered, and has since become Fellow and Chaplain of Exeter College, Oxford.