Robert Nowell NOT SO MUCH what Anglicans believe but how they believe it is the main concern of "Christian Belief." a report by the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England published last week (London, SPCK at £2.50). The precise scope is best indicated by the report's subtitle: "The Nature of the Christian Faith and its Expression in Holy Scripture and Creeds.
What the 18 theologians on the Commission have been grappling with is in part the question of how the Christian today faces up to what he or she has inherited from the past and how far he or she allows this past heritage, particularly in its doctrinal form. to shape his or her present.
There is also the consideration —
made %cry clear I Press con
ference that maw, people are thought to he put off the Church by the mistaken idea that Church membership involves paying lipservice to doctrinal formulae or Scriptural statements which no one can he expected to take at facevalue. such as the idea that Christians are expected to regard the story of Adam and Eve as history.
The Commission's chairman. Professor Maurice Wiles, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. said: "I hope the report may get rid of the idea that officially the Church expects acceptance of every word of the Bible and the creeds as literal and unchanging truth."
The background to the report, said Dr A. R. Peacocke, Dean of Clare College. Cambridge, who cotnhines the specialities of theology and biochemistry. was the way theologians had over the past 50 years or so come to realise that belief was not a question of assent to a series of propositions but in fact a process of personal commitment.
But at the same time, as the report makes clear right from the start. the question of truth is vitally important: "One characteristic note of Christian life is personal commitment, but also. and indeed for that very reason, commitment to truth. The quest for truth. for art awareness and understanding of the way things actually are, is vital to the human race . .
The report tackles both the question of our proper relationship with the past and the problem of religious language — how, in brief, we can talk at all about what transcends Our powers of expression.
It then goes on to deal with the Christian's relation first to the Bible and then to the creeds. This first section emphasises the Bible's heterogeneous and dynamic character, so that its dialectical presentation of the truth becomes something that must not he suppressed by attempts to harmonise divergent accounts or interpretations.
With regard to the creeds. the report unanimously concludes that the Church should contain in creative tension four contrasting attitudes. ranging from acceptance of their contents as true and significant. through difficulties over individual clauses (such as the Virgin Birth), to regarding the creeds as of mantis historical importance, and finally respecting the Church's doctrines and dogmas but seeing them as necessarily inadequate to the reality they are meant to express.
The report can thus he seen as a statement of Anglican comprehensi%cness at the theological level and ,t statement moreover endorsed In theologians of all the various IfieoLopleai outlooks to he found within the Church of England.
Besides two historical appendices — one on unity and pluriformity in the New Testament by the Rev C. F. Fvons, and one on the origins of the creeds by Professor G. W. H. Lampe — the report contains eight individual essays by members of the Commission in which each explains and explores some aspect of his own individual belief.