What is doctrine? How can a doctrinal statement made in the past have any authority in the present? How should doctrinal statements be evaluated and criticized? These questions are central to Christian theology and have important consequences for the church. Based on the prestigious 1990 Bampton Lectures delivered at Oxford University, this book explores a range of fundamental issues related to the nature of Christian doctrine and presents a detailed investigation of the factors that govern its devlopment. Alister E. McGrath begins his book by critically engaging the views of George Lindbeck on doctrine before moving on to present a fresh understanding of the nature and function of Christian doctrine within the church. Particular attention is paid to the way in which doctrine acts as a demarcator between communities of faith, providing important insights into contemporary ecumenical debates. McGrath also explores the crucial issue of the authority of the past in Christian theology, focusing especially on how doctrine serves to maintain continuity within the Christian tradition. This book represents an exploration of a "middle way" in relation to the significance of Christian doctrine, rejecting both those approaches that insist on the uncritical repetition of doctrinal heritage of the past and those that disallow the authority of past doctrinal formulations.