UK Christian Bookshops Directory: Christian Book Reviews: Contemporary Creed
Contemporary Creed Contemporary Creed
A mini-course in Christianity for today

John Morris
ISBN 1905047371 (9781905047376)
O Books, 2005

Category: Doctrine and Theology

What kind of book is this? Is it poetry or theology? In short, it's both — and it's a powerful combination. It's an ancient approach to theology brought back to life for the modern world. Some of the best theology ever written has been expressed through verse — take the Psalms and Charles Wesley's hymns as some of the most well known examples.

But whereas psalms and hymns are usually vehicles of praise, John Morris has taken a different tack, deliberately taking hold of the enigmas and questions that theologians like to chew over and exploring them through verse to create if not quite a systematic theology, certainly a structured and accessible introduction to the Christian faith.

Does it work? For the most part, I'd say it does. Like any collection of verse — including the Psalms and Wesley's hymns — it has its hits and misses. But definitely more hits than misses, and where it misses — accept the challenge: could you do better?

Each poem addresses a specific question and is accompanied by a commentary that sets it in context and examines the main ideas expressed within the poem. The comments are tight, even terse, no words wasted, a sharp contrast to the poems, and you'll need a Bible handy to follow them as Bible references keep popping up.

One major disappointment is that for a book that aims to be contemporary there seems to be little or no attempt to use inclusive language. It's ironic that in the very first poem, Where is God? (p.20), the issue of divine gender arises: God is described as "gender-free yet personal" but in the commentary (p.21) it's "Man needs God's revelation" rather then "Humanity" or "We". Further on, similarly, the poem Good Friday includes the verse:

Ideas in books are not enough
To get beneath our skin:
Man needs a powerful picture of
The pain produced by sin.

Again, why not the word "We" in place of "Man"? It would fit the poem perfectly — and more than double its power.

This, I think, makes the book more suited to the modern era we're leaving behind than the postmodern era into which we're emerging. It's an unfortunate oversight on the part of the publisher that could all too easily alienate at least half the potential readership. That criticism aside, however, this is a powerful book which doesn't dodge difficult questions. Rather than nail things down with doctrines and dogmas, it lays ideas open to exploration and the theology that emerges is distinctly open-ended. A remarkable and thought-provoking book — and the cover design is spot on. Don't miss it!

Phil Groom, January 2006

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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