When I had the chance to review R.C. Sproul’s What We Believe: Understanding and Confessing the Apostles’ Creed, I was excited to do so. I grew up in the Catholic church and have attended liturgical Protestant churches as an adult, both of which have recited the Apostles’ Creed with regularity. Our children’s catechism books have them memorize the Apostles’ Creed in the second grade, so this creed is regularly heard around our home. Still, I had questions. What exactly does “he (Jesus) descended into hell” mean? Why is Pontius Pilate mentioned when there are other people named in scripture as being significant to Jesus’ condemnation? What We Believe gave me a chance to examine these issues and more in greater depth.
What We Believe is not a new book but is an updated version of Renewing Your Mind, which is an updated version of The Symbol, later known as Basic Training in the Christian Life. That’s a lot of versions! Whatever revisions have been done seem to have provided appropriate updates to the material. Each chapter starts with a modern vignette that introduces the topic, such as a transcript of a counseling session introducing the chapter which includes a discussion on guilt and forgiveness. The book progresses through each phrase of the Apostles’ Creed, beginning with a chapter on what “I believe” really means and concluding with a chapter including “the life everlasting,” the final phrase in the creed.
Each chapter provides helpful exposition on the tenets of the Christian faith outlined in the creed. However, I found that each chapter then wandered into too wide a variety of topics that tangentially related to the phrase being examined. For example, the final chapter of “I believe…in forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and life everlasting” meanders into why a particular Latin American theologian’s theology is not sound. While I fully admit that I currently have “pregnancy brain,” even with careful reading I often found myself confused as to why a topic was being briefly introduced, only to move on to another topic that seemed loosely related.
Additionally, the book seems to end abruptly. I think the edition could have benefited greatly from a concluding chapter that ties up loose ends and provides summary thoughts on the wide variety of theology that is discussed in the creed.
I was hopeful that this would be a book that we could use with our children as they learned the Apostles’ Creed or perhaps with newer believers who could use instruction on the basic beliefs of the faith. While some sections of the book could be pulled out for such a purpose, the academic tone and aforementioned wandering would not allow me to simply hand over the book to be read.
I do write a critical review with some hesitancy, as I know that R.C. Sproul is a significant Christian author who has produced important books of great value to the Church. Indeed, I have read Sproul’s Knowing Scripture and benefited greatly. So while I do not particularly recommend What We Believe, I do encourage readers to explore some of Sproul’s other works.
FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review.