... when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.―AA Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
I don’t think of myself as a Bear of Very Little Brain. I’d say I’m a bear of average brain. And I’m a bear who has a device that gives me access to a massive pool of human knowledge. I still know just what Pooh meant.
For example, when I stand up in church and say the Apostle’s Creed together with everyone, inside my mind I think “yep, yep, this is what I believe”. But when asked directly about some specific point—crisis. What does it actually mean?
I think I’ve worked out “the holy catholic church” bit, but what if someone asks me about the “he descended into hell” phrase? Or about why bit players like Pontius Pilate and the Virgin Mary get a mention in a statement of core Christian beliefs?
I do think this is probably average bear, average Christian behaviour. We want to explain Christianity to our friends but find ourselves getting a bit stuck on some of the finer details. It’s one of many reasons why it’s worth reading evangelistic books even as a believer, either before giving one to your friend or (maybe better?) together with your friend. We know enough to trust in God and accept Jesus as our Saviour, but since we will never have all the answers while occupying these bodies, it stands to reason that we’re also never too good to have the gospel preached to us again!
And it was in this situation, while reading The World Next Door, that I finally got my unexamined credal confusions straightened out. Well, somewhat. The authors, Rory Shiner and Peter Orr weren’t there watching Jesus when “he descended into hell” and cannot possibly have all the answers in their human brains either. However, their explanation of what that part of the Apostle’s Creed means was the next appropriate step for me. I understand better the correlation between our modern Christian ideas of hell and the Gehenna that is spoken about in the New Testament, and the contrast with the Sheol/Hades that is used in the Creed and in several places in the Old Testament. I see more clearly the fulfillment of the hope of those who died trusting God before Jesus’ resurrection. I rest more confidently in the knowledge that Jesus reigns over all realms of death.
Not only did I have this one quiet question answered, but I was strengthened by Rory and Peter’s explanations of other parts of the gospel message. They left me feeling certain and sure about the cohesiveness of Christian belief. Yes, Rory and Peter present the basics using the Apostle’s Creed as their guiding structure, but this universal statement is ultimately a tool providing a good picture of the lived Christian life. They also aren’t afraid to branch out into topics such as demons, truth claims, narrative and cyclic world views, reasons for God and whether or not a virgin birth matters. It’s surprisingly comprehensive for so few pages.
Being encouraged by the book myself, I now also know that The World Next Door is a great book to give my friends who don’t believe in God but do believe in understanding other people. For a start, I think it would be good for the parents of some of my daughter’s school friends. I also think several members of my growth group would love it. I wouldn’t give this book to someone who didn’t grow up speaking English (they might miss some of the jokes, for a start!), but it has the perfect pitch for my university-educated, open-minded friends. Despite dealing with ideas of eternal consequence, Rory and Peter write with humour and simplicity, sometimes veering into the slightly unexpected, so that the short book feels even shorter and so easier to give.
I don’t know why I haven’t always investigated every article of my faith when I probably should have. I’m grateful that my church recites the Apostle’s Creed so I started to learn biblical ideas without knowing it. And I’m glad that The World Next Door helped me take the next step in understanding what I was saying. I think in my heart I always thought of the Creed as a recipe to get Christianity right, or a checklist to be allowed into faith. Perhaps it has some of those functions, but after being reminded of the beauty of the truth it recounts, it also feels like a poem of praise that we lift to God together. The Thing is Thingish after all.