Are you looking for a solid, theological book that you can read devotionally? If you’re not, you should be. If you are, then pick up Michael Bird’s latest book, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’s Creed.
Everything Bird writes is entertaining. His punchy prose springs from the page, even when he’s writing deep theology. He intentionally uses attention grabbing language and examples to make important points memorable. The purposefulness of Bird’s exuberant writing is what keeps his books from being over the top. He uses snappy rhetoric only to punctuate the most important points, not merely to entertain.
What Christians Ought to Believe is divided into fourteen chapters, so a chapter by chapter summary would be tedious and unproductive. However, an overview is in order.
Bird begins with a basic defense of creeds and their relation to a biblical faith in four chapters. This is a necessary discussion for Free Church Christians (such as myself) who have historically questioned the place of creeds. After giving sound reasons to study the creeds—though certainly not slavishly—Bird shifts to a discussion of the nature of faith. This section outlines what biblical faith is in contrast to the generic call to believe that culture issues. Faith is substantive. Faith requires a solid object. Faith is a gift from God. Faith is enhanced when it is placed in the God who is carefully described in the Apostles’ Creed.
Having laid the groundwork for the remainder of the study, each of the remaining ten chapters picks up a phrase from the Apostles’ Creed and explains why proper belief in that element of traditional Christian doctrine is necessary for a healthy orthodoxy. It's a simple structure, but effective.
Each of the chapters has from twelve to sixteen pages. I read a chapter a day in the morning as part of my daily devotions for a couple of weeks. The rich theology, solid history, and entertaining prose make this an excellent way to begin the day. There are enough clear divisions within the chapters so that slower readers could easily make this a longer study without losing the flow.
This is the sort of volume that I would love to see used as college level book study. I am giving it strong consideration for use in our homeschool curriculum, when my oldest gets to high school. It would also be a worthwhile resource for the discipleship of new adult believers. The reading level is moderate, so for the right audience, this would be an excellent tool.
I could also see this being used as an auxiliary volume in a systematic theology course. Bird references sections of his Evangelical Theology after each chapter, but What Christians Ought to Believe could be used apart from his systematics.
Whether the book is included in a course, used as a small group tool, or simply for personal edification, this is a volume that warrants attention.
The one potential weakness of this volume is that there are a few cases where some readers may find Bird's illustrations to be excessively shocking. This will depend on the audience. One example is in Bird's account of first hearing the gospel, he relates a humorous story that includes monkeys giving themselves testicular exams. Many readers will find it funny and move on, and the story serves to wake the reader up to get the gospel in the same paragraph. However, some readers may find a few such flourishes to be a little too much locker room talk for a serious theology text.
What Christians Ought to Believe is a great addition to a theological library. It is well-written, theologically sound, and expresses the Christian faith positively. Instead of making a case against heresy, Michael Bird lays out his case for orthodoxy. If we continue to get books of this tenor and quality, there will be a lot to cheer about in the near future.
Note: I received a gratis copy of this from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.