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Alister McGrath: The Passionate Intellect

Passionate IntellectAlister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2010), 210 pages, ISBN 9780830838431.

Alister McGrath, an Anglican priest, theologian, and Christian apologist, is currently Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at Kings College London and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture. He was previously Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, and was principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford until 2005. McGrath is noted for his work in historical, systematic, and scientific theology, as well as his writings on apologetics and his opposition to anti-religionism. He holds both a DPhil (in molecular biophysics) and an earned Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Oxford. His The Passionate Intellect is an interesting and readable offering for those wishing to understand or defend the intellectual viability of the historic Christian faith. Scholars and clergy alike as well as informed laity will benefit from reading it. This collection of diverse essays, lectures, and presentation or talks is divided into two parts, “The Purpose, Place, and Relevance of Christian Theology,” and “Engaging with Our Culture.” The Passionate Intellect is well written in a warm, personal style but has a “take no prisoners” approach to its opponents. It is scholarly without being pedantic and witty without being trite. Overall, it’s both an enjoyable and informative read.

In 2006 the movement now widely known as the new atheism exploded on the cultural scene in an aggressive manner. In this vein, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006) and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great (2007) created a quite stir. Debate often centered on the rationality of faith and the coherence of the Christian vision of reality. For the new atheists Christianity represents an antiquated way of explaining things that cannot be accepted in the modern scientific age. For example Hitchens has declared that since the invention of the telescope and the microscope religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important.” In large part, The Passionate Intellect (McGrath has debated Dawkins publically several times) responds to such statements and presents a view of an exciting and stimulating version of intellectual Christianity. McGrath thinks Christians can and should be well prepared to respond to any and all intellectual challenges from today’s culture (cp. 1 Pet 3:15). Too many Christians seem to feel intimated by atheists; but, the fact is that Christian thought is more than strong enough to stand up to the task of refuting them. McGrath concurs with the statement of C.S. Lewis that, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen—not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”

McGrath suggests the defense of the intellectual credibility of Christianity has become increasingly important in recent years, in part due to the rise of the new atheism. Christians must see themselves as standard-bearers for a vibrant faith. Accordingly, they must expand our vision of the Christian gospel. The need for a Christian presence and voice in our culture has never been greater. Apologetics, or rationally defending the faith, has become a critical task for all believers. In order to do so effectively, believers need to know the Bible, Christian history and tradition, and be able to reason calmly and clearly with doubters.

The new atheists tend to portray the Christian view of the natural world as naïve and unscientific. However, McGrath persuasively argues, that is not at all true. Some seem to want a war between religion and science. In fact, historically some of the greatest scientists have been devout Christians. A problem between the two only arises today when science and/or religion forget their place and try to do the other’s proper work. Science deals with observable phenomena of the natural world but has no authority in the realm of metaphysics or religion. Religion deals with ultimate values and purpose but is not authorized to make scientific pronouncements. McGrath adheres to the idea that true religion and true science are completely compatible. The personal testimony (included in this book) of Alister McGrath, once an atheist and himself a scientist coming to faith in Christ and becoming a leading theologian is a powerful example of that possibility.

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Spring 2012

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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