Across lines of tradition and denomination, many Christians express a purely propositional sense of belief, focused primarily on the existence of God and facts about Christ, contributing to a transactional approach to salvation. But belief is about more than the simple fact of God’s existence. Augustine provides a starting point for restoring the relational sense of belief encapsulated in the phrase "believing into Christ."

In Believing into Christ, Natalya Cherry explores this unique, grammatically awkward phrase that Augustine recognized and identified in his preaching as describing Christianity’s distinct contribution to human flourishing. Around this idea, Augustine established and systematized a three-part formula for belief, one which his theological successors treated as defining Christian faith. Cherry tracks the origins of "believing into Christ" and its loss in translation. She then crafts a constructive theology that addresses how to restore the phrase and all it entails. Such a view of belief involves transforming catechesis and sacramental practices that can equip believers to overcome oppression and social barriers in contemporary ecclesial communities and the world they inhabit.

Questions regularly arise about how one can believe in a loving God while being complicit with, or actively participating in, systems of violence and oppression. Christian faith informs our resistance against those systems when we practice the bold surrender engendered by believing into Christ. In this way, Cherry challenges us to consider the relational sense of belief, clinging to Christ by means of the Holy Spirit in a way that directs every relationship toward human flourishing, as the heart of Christian faith.

Praise for Believing into Christ

Some of the oldest and most familiar words of Christian faith become new and surprising in this joyful book by Natalya A. Cherry. Proving once again that God is in the details, Cherry shows how the proper understanding of a single preposition can sweep away centuries of mental cobwebs and cast fresh light on what it means to believe. This is not just a good book to read, it is a book to take to heart.

-- R. Kendall Soulen, Professor of Systematic Theology, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Cherry's book is a timely reconsideration of practices of Christian belief for the post-Trump era. It replaces an inward-looking "belief in" God predicated solely on a personal relationship with the divine with an emphasis on a bodily, relational, sometimes even bawdy, practice of Augustinian "belief into," that makes the case for "individual faith as inseparable from communal faith." Her suggestion that Christianity cannot be merely a personal relationship between individual human and divine that benefits no one else is highly relevant in an increasingly individualistic if not to say egotistical age.

-- Chris Vasantkumar, Lecturer in Anthropology, Macquarie University, Australia

Citing a bevy of theologians beginning with Augustine, Cherry impishly observes that even demons believe in God while contending that Christians are instead called to believe into God by enacting forms of relationship aimed at the promotion of human flourishing. In the constructive part of her argument, Cherry offers a timely and necessary reminder that, at a moment when intellectual assent to certain propositions about God is used as a basis for measuring belief and dividing up society into us and them, Christ calls his followers to love their neighbors, not to judge them. Cherry's explication of the ancient meanings of credere in will change how readers conceive of belief; indeed, I will never be able to profess the Apostles? Creed again without thinking and saying, "I believe into God"

-- John T. Sebastian, Vice President for Mission and Ministry & Professor of English, Loyola Marymount University

Engaging in skillful analysis of Latin and Greek grammar, Natalya Cherry shows in this book that, properly translated and used, the phrase 'believing into Christ' is at the heart of the early creeds and of Augustine's theology. She argues that the phrase illuminates the Augustinian concept of deification which coincides with the flourishing of human life, and consists in the believer's movement into union with Christ, in partial symmetry to the movement of God to become human. She shows that while the reception history of this formula yielded a reductive understanding, its proper restoration involves a relational view of sacraments, reconfigured to include much needed works of social justice.

-- Natalia Marandiuc, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, United Lutheran Seminary

Public Reviews and Press

From Emma Wenner in "Religion Scholars Work to Inspire Positive Change" Publishers Weekly November 5, 2021

"New books by biblical and religious scholars are asking perennial questions about human well-being, searching for answers to division and disruption, and probing history for insight on today’s racial justice issues." 

"Baylor recently released Believing into Christ: Relational Faith and Human Flourishing by Natalya A. Cherry, a Methodist studies and theology professor at Brite Divinity School. She argues that the biblical phrase 'believing into Christ' actually demands that Christians do more than simply believe in God’s existence. Instead, believers should act on their faith by resisting systems of violence and oppression and cling to 'the Holy Spirit in a way that directs every relationship toward human flourishing,' according to the publisher." 

From a casual reader in Massachusetts, via  Barnes & Noble: 


5 out of 5 stars.


The Future Of The Church

Cherry creatively offers what the restoration of this “into” phrase could mean for the benefit of the whole Church. The later chapters are a must read for every clergy person wondering how to reinvigorate their church with just a simple turn of phrase.

From Amazon user Laurenbullock 

5.0 out of 5 stars

 Such a small change in language makes a huge difference.

Reviewed in the United States on March 13, 2024

Verified Purchase

This is one of the best books I have read that explores the meaning of the texts in a new (really actually old but forgotten) point of view. The scholarship is incredible and the sources are worth their own reads at times. It is a book that will make you reconsider just what it means to say you live a Christ centered life.

From David McCoulough in Theology Volume 125, Issue 4 (July/August 2022)

"This book is far more than an examination of a grammatical detail that has been lost, ignored or forgotten. For rediscovering what ‘believing into’ means for faith, the sacraments, the business of being church and witnessing in the world is far too important to be of interest only in the academy.

It is timely to revisit what believing into does to our relationships that are shaped by cherishing and love, incorporation into Christ and interdependence. There are some of us who believe that, for churches to be healthy and flourishing, to be fit for purpose, there needs to be an intentional focus on building a more relational culture. Flourishing church communities, believing into Christ, cherishing God and each other will become light and salt in an often dark and tasteless world.

This important book is not only a journey of rediscovery; it also opens up a future journey of exploration – challenging and encouraging the Church to face the ways in which we exclude, oppress, marginalize or ignore people. This is a book that gives a refreshing and challenging theological underpinning to the Church to be a beacon, an icon, a flourishing and relational body, intimately connected with the living God, by believing into Christ, enabled by the glue."

From Cristina L.H. Traina in Theology Today Volume 79, Issue 4 (January 2023)

"Cherry is right that US Christians, in particular, tend to focus on intellectual assent to doctrine to the detriment of body, affect, and spirit, and she is right again that Augustine's believing-into-Christ language—especially if incorporated into creeds, prayers, and catechesis—makes a convincing argument for an ecclesial spirituality and ethic of active, corporate compassion in the world." 

From Sarah Heaner Lancaster in Wesley and Methodist Studies Volume 15, Issue 1 (2023)

"My own sense as I read Cherry’s book was how much Wesley and Augustine had in common in the way they called people to Christlikeness. They may well have come to their understandings differently—and perhaps used different images—but they offered a similar vision for Christian living. I hope Wesleyan Methodist readers will make use of this book to highlight the wisdom that is in this tradition and recover it."

From Kevin Grove in The Expository Times Volume 134, Issue 4 (January 2023)

"...Cherry’s work alights on intersections of creed, catechesis, and sacrament with contemporary divisions in the body of Christ—from Donald Trump’s effect on U.S. congregations and the theological response of the Women’s March, to race, gender, and sexuality. The book challenges the reader to remember that temptation is inward, what Augustine referred to as the soul turned in on itself. The book’s admonition is that a preposition (into Christ) rightly lived will always reorient the members of the body of Christ outward beyond their own fallen solipsism toward God and neighbour."

Previous works and works in progress by Dr. Cherry

Natalya authored the historical theological and systematic theological components of Canvas, five free-standing, four-week, advanced theological studies for High School youth, published by Abingdon Press. She enjoyed being part of a writing team that included immersive educator Jack Kast-Keet and biblical studies scholar David deSilva. Each volume is a "Portrait of" God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Humanity, or Grace. Available from Cokesbury (click banner above). 

Book Chapters

Natalya has contributed a chapter on the reception of John Wesley in America around the turn of the 19th century (Chapter 34) to The Routledge Companion to John Wesley (2023), edited by Joseph Cunningham and Clive Norris and available here.

Journal Articles

A sampling freely available for online reading:

James M. Lawson, Jr., Called by King “The Greatest Teacher of Nonviolence in America” in Methodist History 54:3 (April 2016)

Original Sin, or Other Opposition to Optimism? How Harkness Differs from Wesley in the Face of Human Depravity in Religions Volume 13 (2022).

By subscription:

Works in Progress

Together with Ted Campbell, Natalya is co-authoring an exciting new biography of John Wesley, tentatively titled John Wesley: A Single Life in Communities. Natalya conducted research for this work using original letters held at John Rylands University Library and other artifacts from the Manchester Wesley Research Center, as well as site visits, in summer of 2022. Research and writing have continued and resulted in her presentations of an excerpt of the first chapter at AAR 2023 in San Antonio for the Manchester Wesley Research Centre session and an overview of the book's concepts for presentation at the forthcoming Fifteenth Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies in August, 2024.