Sun 17 Oct 2010
We cannot explore the relevance of theology, however, without first noting how bad a reputation it has developed within the churches in the last few decades. For some Christian leaders, theology is irrelevant to real life. It is about retreating into ivory towers when there are more pressing things to worry about. Yet rightly understood, theology is about enabling informed Christian action. It makes us want to do things, and do them in a Christian way. It helps us make judgements about how best to act; it encourages us to engage with the real world.
The preceding excerpt comes from the beginning of Alister McGrath’s new book Mere Theology: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (American title: The Passionate Intellect). In this book, McGrath argues for the importance of theology in the life of everyday Christians. Theology equips Christians to better understand their relationships with God, and appreciate better His grace and His glory. And it’s not a mere academic exercise. As McGrath writes, “Theology is a passion of the mind, a longing to understand more about God’s nature and ways, and the transformative impact that this has on life. Our faith can be deepened and our personal lives enriched through theological reflection.”
The book’s arrival is timely. All around us, Christians, churches and even entire denominations are stepping away from theological orthodoxy, chasing after personal convictions and ideologies contrary to God’s revealed Word. In the midst of all this, McGrath points us back to the importance of a theologically firm faith; a relationship with God that develops through the applications of our minds.
Along the way, he reminds us that this same theological reflection not only strengthens our individual faith and relationship with God; it further prepares us to be witnesses to the world around us. It gives us a new perspective when approaching the major issues prevalent in Western culture.
The book is certainly worth a read. In particular, Part I (the first six chapters) are truly insightful. It draws on theological inspiration from such figures as George Herbert, Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis while exploring such diverse subjects as the transformative vision granted by the Gospel, the cross as the anchor in times of despair, and the place of apologetics in the Christian’s life. The second part, exploring the relationship between faith and science (McGrath’s own area of expertise), admittedly feels a little disjointed from the first half (except as an example of how faith transforms our understanding of reality). No doubt the occasional disjointedness results from the fact that book is “based on previously unpublished lectures and addresses, given over a two year period.” In truth, the book would likely be better if the Second Part was published separately from the first, as it doesn’t really relate to “mere theology” in the way that the First Part does.
But as McGrath himself explains, “Their common theme is the intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith and its ability to bring about a new and deeply satisfying vision of reality.” And again, “Christianity is celebrated as something that both makes sense in itself, and has the capacity to make sense of many other aspects of reality as well.”
I heartily recommend this work to my readers. Most certainly you will not agree with everything McGrath writes. I know I don’t. But then, if we take McGrath’s call to theological scrutinity seriously, it would be wrong to take everything he says at face value. We must be discerning readers. And that, I think, is something we can all agree on.