Entries tagged with “Alister McGrath”.

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.

Mere TheologyThe 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.

Yesterday evening I began reading a book entitled Beyond the Quiet Time: Practical Evangelical Spirituality. For those who know me, it should come as no surprise that on the subject of faith, I tend to prefer matters of an intellectual nature – sometimes, unfortunately, to the degradation of my personal devotional life. In my mind, I know that devotion is a necessary part of faith; but my heart is too often hard when it comes to expressing that devotion itself. I so despise that practice common among too many modern Evangelicals – that is, “zeal without knowledge” (Prov. 19:2) – that I have taken great pains to prevent this error in my own life. But in my good intentions, I have found myself devaluing devotional practices and pushing them to the side.

While I recognize the shortcomings of my own position, I find that I am not impressed by the frequently shallow “devotional” modes of life advocated by large portions of the Church. And so I have sought in my own life to find a balance between mind and heart faith, often unsuccessfully. Enter the book I have above mentioned. In this work, the theologian Alister McGrath attempts to reintroduce a joint heart/head approach to devotion. But rather than explaining what he says, I find it simpler (and more accurate) to let him speak for himself:

“We can read the Bible as a guidebook to Jesus Christ, appreciating the way in which the many strands of the Old Testament find their fulfilment in him. Yet there is another way of reading the Bible, which supplements this. It is to read Scripture in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ; and that means learning more about him (the objective side of things), and deepening our commitment and love for him (the subjective side of things). These two both need to be there. The head and the heart are both caught up in Christian faith” (17).

And again:

“Faith is related to both our minds and our experience; it concerns both Word and Spirit. Christians do not just believe; they believe certain things. Yet Christian faith is about far more than understanding ideas: it is about the transformation of our experience and the renewal of our lives. A fully developed Christian spirituality will thus deal with both these aspects” (21).

Building on this premise, McGrath rightly criticizes Evangelicalism for failing to provide the tools necessary for Christians to engage with Scripture in this deeply important way. The book in question seeks to reverse this problem by providing a structured format for devotion, recognizing the importance of both intellectual aspects [as we seek to gain maturity as we use “the mind to uncover the way in which Christian doctrines relate to and reinforce one another” (21)] while pursuing experiential aspects [as we seek to use “the imagination as to identify and appreciate the emotional aspects of the gospel, and their implications for Christian living” (22)]. The Scripture studies in the book provide (to name but a few of the elements therein) moments where the reader is invited to visualize themselves in various situations, moments for reflection upon the commentary of great Christian writers, and moments to express and exercise their responses to the devotions.

This book is an excellent devotional tool, and I commend it to any who may be seeking to reinvigorate their quiet times with God. The introductory essay is itself an excellent resource, to say nothing of the studies themselves.


For more information on Alister McGrath, check out his official website here or read the Wikipedia entry. Alister McGrath, formerly Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, is currently Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education, and Head of Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College London. He is the author of numerous books (both popular and academic) including The Dawkins Delusion, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, and A Passion for Truth.