Holding Faith: A Practical Introduction to Christian Doctrine

Cynthia L. Rigby
Abingdon Press, 408 pages

There is no one teaching theology and preparing students for ministry better than Cynthia Rigby right now. Thankfully, “Holding Faith” is an invitation to many outside her classroom at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary to join with her in the joyful task of doing theology together in a robust, engaging and winsome way. This publication is both a creative and faithful primer in Reformed theology in the context of current trends of “dechristianization” and the rapid digital transformation of our culture. She begins by reminding us why theology matters and questioning the caricatures and characterizations of those who claim that theology is not necessary for faith (which is itself a theological claim), by reminding us why theological doctrines matter to our everyday lives of faith. With engaging illustrations, conversational writing and clear explanations, she helps us see that ours is a dynamic and thinking faith rather than a museum collection of propositions and beliefs that seek to prove or produce divine certainty. And Rigby shows throughout “Holding Faith” how theology helps engage the deepest questions of faith while also taking seriously the deepest challenges and hopes of our lives, giving us the confidence to forge ahead when we may only have a blueprint of God’s coming future.

“Holding Faith” begins with “speaking of God” and the doctrines of revelation and Scripture, moves to where God meets us in the doctrines of incarnation and Trinity, then on to doctrines of creation, sin and salvation (where God makes us), then moves to where God blesses us in the doctrines of the church and Christian life and concludes with God sending us, exploring doctrines of Christian hope and Christian vocation.

Some of the best material (in my view) comes in sections on Christian hope and Christian vocation as Rigby reminds people of faith that our faith is not really our own, but sends us out into the world to share not our individual opinions, “our authentic feelings, our life experiences, or our best practices,” but to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and this “God with us no matter what.” The overriding purpose of theology, in the life of church and for the sake of the Christian life, is not to lay out the essentials and principles of our core beliefs or to focus first and foremost on best practices, but to be overcome by and attuned to “the truth, beauty and goodness of the subject matter.” For Rigby, holding faith is not an exercise in doctrinal fortress building or curating church doctrine as if in a museum collection, but is more playful and risky, venturing out into the water like Peter to meet Jesus or sharing together in the wonderment of God’s glory like John Calvin.

One of Rigby’s great influences is theologian Karl Barth who makes the point in “Church Dogmatics” that practicing and living the faith should be playful, more like a game or song than work or warfare. Rigby’s “Holding Faith” is a great example of such a theological resource, reminding us that theology, when practiced well, is joyful, playful and vital to the church and the life of discipleship. This book is an excellent resource for congregational studies and classes, for those interested in a theological primer, for ministry students and students of theology. “Holding Faith” is also a playful and relevant reminder that it is impossible to “hold the faith” without theology.