May 24, 2011

Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect

I loved this book. Alister McGrath is one of the most distinguished scholars in the evangelical world. He spent 25 years teaching historical and systematic theology at Oxford University and is now head of the Centre for Theology, Religion & Culture at King's College, London. He also holds Doctorates from Oxford in both historical theology and molecular biophysics. And he has also written broadly at both an academic and more popular level, focusing especially on historical theology, the interplay of science and theology, and most recently of a Christian response to the New Atheism of Richard Dawkins and others. This all means he is ideally placed to comment in this present book on the importance of theological thinking and the importance of careful consciousness of the traditions of the past as living voices for the church today. The first half of the book is a series of investigations into the sources and methods of theology and an application of these methods to a couple of important theological questions--the role of ambiguity in faith, a Christian understanding of nature, and the role of apologetics and its relation to theology. The second half of the book is a series of essays engaging with important issues in our current culture from a historically oriented theological perspective. These essays focus on two main issues, the proper relation between science and theology and the (closely related) possibility of a robust Christian response to the new athiesm of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. And it is here that this book especially shines. McGrath's readable and lucid descriptions of how science and theology may be fruitfully related are outstanding and point in far more fruitful directions than are often assumed to be possible when the relationship is thought to be one of conflict instead of "reasonance" as McGrath describes it.

This book is a series of lectures given in 2008-9. This gives them a timely feel, as he addresses contemporary issues, and it also give the book a nice conversational and approachable tone. But, unlike many volumes of lectures, these have been been carefully reworked so they cohere nicely and smoothly and are well-annotated with relevant citations. This book demonstrates again McGrath's amazingly wide reading across historical and contemporary theology, philosophy, the natural sciences, sociology and literature, though he wears this learning lightly. His prose is always clear, and he makes his points efficiently. In all, I really loved this book. It was enjoyable to read and reinvigorated my passion for theology, even as it presented helpful directions for cultural engagement in our postmodern and post-Christian world.

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