Friday, September 21, 2012

Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind

Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind. IVP Books, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3843-1.

Alister McGrath is a theologian that writes theology for the general public. McGrath says this book "is about 'mere theology' " a term he has borrowed from C. S. Lewis. By mere theology McGrath means "the basic themes that have characterized the Christian vision of reality down the ages" (7). The Passionate Intellect's goal is not to argue for any particular theology but "to focus on the positive role of theology in shaping, nourishing and safeguarding the Christian vision of reality, and applying it to the challenges and opportunities that Christians face today" (8). The book is divided into two parts. The first part provides the groundwork for a Christian theology. The second part looks at specific applications, especially in the areas of science, religion, and modern atheism.

McGrath notes, "Faith is fundamentally a relational matter; it is about trusting God" (20). The author believes that faith is motivated to understand what it believes. In other words, there is a direct relationship between faith and reason. The resources to help us understand faith are the Bible, reason, mystery, and tradition. McGrath believes that theology helps us to map the "landscape of faith" (33). The author believes there must be a connection between what happens in the pew and public theology. McGrath thinks the theologian has a responsibility to interpret the Christian tradition to the church and to the world. He also thinks it is important that the theologian be an active member in the church. McGrath makes an important point here about the theolgian's connection to the church. McGrath asserts that the great theologians of the church, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and John Calvin were not "outsiders, dispassionate external observers; rather they shared in the life of the church and regarded it as vital to their own mission and ministry" (40).

McGrath takes us on a journey with three theological writers and explore how they can help us think theologically about the Christian faith and the world: George Herbert, Martin Luther, and C. S. Lewis. McGrath analyzes George Herbert's "Elixir," a poem from The Temple. McGrath shows how the Gospel can transform our lives and our vision. Mcgrath thinks Lewis shows us how the Christian faith is "on the one hand well-grounded, and on the other enriching and enabling" (58). Luther shows us how the cross can help us deal with suffering and "theological bewilderment."

Chapters seven through nine discusses the issue of religion and science, especially evolution and Christian faith. McGrath provides a good narrative of Darwin's intellectual journey and his struggles with faith. McGrath also speaks how he abandoned atheism for Christian faith. The last two chapters McGrath provides a critique of the new atheism.

McGrath is a prolific writer and writes in intelligible prose that is readable to the general public. He wears his learning lightly. The Passionate Intellect is recommended to all readers who might be interested in Christian theology and its modern applications.

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