Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (12/3)

A Klingon Christmas Carol

A lot of good links over the last couple of days. Here are some of the more interesting.

  • PZ Myers points out that Answers in Genesis has been guilty of using history jacking (hijacking your browser history to discern what sites you’ve been visiting) and using that information to categorize visitors. Interestingly, although they have a distinct category for “Christian” users, if you’ve visited creationmuseum.org, joelosteen.com, or beliefnet.com, you get categoriezed as “other.” HT James McGrath and Stuart.

Let me suggest, in fact, that whenever we communicate to non-Christians that we have found it and that they have not, that we have been chosen and that they have not, that we are the apple of God’s eye and that they are not—whenever we assume that stance, consciously or not, we are communicating something other than the gospel, the Good News.

Sometimes with good apologetic and evangelistic motives we will point to all the OT prophecies about Christ and then run down a list of all the NT fulfillments. There is truth here, but if we set things up as “here’s the prediction; here’s the prediction come true” we are bound to confuse people. We may even cause people to doubt the prophetic witness rather than trust it.

These Pentecostals are widely read in biblical and theological studies, immersed in the latest trends in missiology, even leading the way in some areas of theological reflection such as the Holy Spirit and world religions.

Our attempts to read Paul, in other words, will come up short to the extent that we either (a) neglect the narrative flow within which the cited verse occurs in its original OT context, or (b) allow that OT context to be entirely determinative for what the verse means in Paul.

Today, the monastery is a vibrant stronghold of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox monasticism. And at first glance, it even seems impervious to modern Ethiopia’s fast-changing society. But it, as do all facets of Ethiopia’s monastic culture, confronts new realities and an uncertain future.

Review: The Passionate Intellect by Alister McGrath

Many thanks to IVP for sending me a review copy of Alister McGrath’s The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010).

★★★☆☆

Alister McGrath has written an interesting little book, arguing for the central place of theology in the Christian life and calling for a renewed appreciation for the “life of the mind” in churches today. The book comprises eleven chapters based on previously unpublished lectures presented in 2007-2009.

Summary

McGrath divides the book into two sections. In the first, he sets out to convince his readers that theology really is vital for a healthy Christian life and spirituality. And, this was by far my favorite of the two sections. As he says at the beginning of the book,

Christian theology is one of the most intellectually stimulating and exciting subjects it is possible to study, rich in resources for the life of faith and the ministry of the church. It has the capacity to excite, inspire and illuminate the human intellect, giving it a new passion and focus. (7)

And, he follows from there with six essays that together seek to lay out “the intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith and its ability to bring about a new and deeply satisfying vision of reality” (12). Recognizing that theology has a bad reputation in large segments of the church, the first two essays provide a brief apologetic for the necessity of good theology. The third essay offers an autobiographical account of McGrath’s own conversion and the important role that theology played in helping him understand the vacuity of atheism and the power of the Christian vision of reality. The next essay offers an interesting reflection on George Herbert’s “Elixir” to present the transformative power of theology. McGrath then presents an essay on the explanatory power that theology has for understanding the world around us. And, following naturally from this, the final essay in this section addresses apologetics and the necessity for good theology for articulating the Christian vision to the world.

In the second half of the book, McGrath’s shifts his attention to exploring “how inhabiting the Christian ‘interpretive community’ provides a platform for cultural engagement” (13). McGrath has a long-standing in natural theology and apologetics, and that comes across very clearly in this section. He begins this section by arguing that Christianity and science are supplementary rather than contradictory. I thought the following essay, “Religious and Scientific Faith,” was the most interesting in this section. Using Darwin’s theory of evolution, McGrath argues that both theology and science make arguments based on “inference to the best explanation,” and that, consequently, both are rational and faith-based to some extent. The next essay offers a very brief discussion of Augustine’s view of creation, demonstrating that Christian theologians have long been aware of the need to understand and engage the best science of the day even as we seek to interpret the Bible faithfully. And, McGrath finishes the book with two essays on the New Atheists, arguing against the idea that religion necessarily poisons everything it touches and pointing out the intellectual weaknesses of the atheist argument.

Strengths

Probably the book’s greatest strength is its readability. McGrath writes with a clear, concise style that makes the book more accessible than many others. A few of the essays wander into territory that will be less familiar to the average churchgoer (in America at least), particularly the essay on Herbert’s “Elixir.” Overall, though, the book is very readable and engaging.

I thought the first half of this book was particularly interesting. McGrath did a very nice job laying out the importance of theology across a broad range of the Christian life: love of God, worship, apologetics, discipleship, mission, and so on. The two chapters on “Mere Theology” in particular could be used alone to give someone a brief look at what theology is and why it’s important. And McGrath’s personal testimony in the fourth essay is really a testimonial for the argument of the whole book – the Christian vision of reality has explanatory power that surpasses any other worldview and, when embraced, has transformative power to reshape everything about you.

The second half of the book was less compelling for me. However, if you’re looking for a few, brief essays on the apologetic issues he addresses (faith and science, evolution, and atheism), then you might find it more interesting.

Weaknesses

The most notable weakness was the essay format. Although McGrath has done a nice job organizing the essays around a common theme, the book still feels a bit disjointed and uneven in places. Certain essays are necessarily stronger than others, and the connections between them are occasionally somewhat weak.

As I mentioned above, I also found the second half of the book less compelling. I thought the book would have been strengthened immensely if McGrath had devoted the second half to fleshing out a range of areas in the Christian life that benefit from a deeper appreciation of theology. Rather than restricting himself to a largely intellectual task like apologetics, it would have been great to see whole essays on worship, fellowship, mission, work, and so on. These are the areas in which the average person really needs to see the value of theology.

So, finally, I think the greatest weakness is that I’m not sure that McGrath’s book is going to convince his target audience that theology is really all that important. It will probably serve best those who are already committed to a “life of the mind,” but need to be convinced of the importance of theology. That is really McGrath’s story (i.e. the intellectual who is surprised by theology). But, at least in America, that does not describe the majority of Christians. They need a much more compelling vision of how theology touches everyday life.

Conclusion

The Passionate Intellect is an interesting book that is worth a quick read. The earlier chapters in particular are worth using as short classroom readings or with interested lay persons. And, if you know someone who is fairly intellectual and needs to catch a vision for the power of theology, this would be a great book to suggest.

Morning links (9/16)

Despite the outpouring of support for the previous title “Flotsam and jetsam” (yes, in my world four comments qualifies as an “outpouring”), I’m going to stick with a simpler title for a while and see how it works.

Hawking (et al) on Larry King Live

Steven Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, Deepak Chopra, and Robert Spitzer were recently interviewed by Larry King and shared their respective views on the relationship between science and religion. Just in case (like me) you missed this interview and (unlike me) you care, here you go. (By the way, how does Deepak Chopra keep getting invited to these things? The fact that your name rhymes with Oprah really shouldn’t qualify as a compelling reason.)

If you want a quick rundown on what they talked about, there’s a good summary here.

N.T. Wright on the literal meaning of “literal”

HT

Flotsam and jetsam (9/9)

Flotsam and jetsam (9/3)

Flotsam and jetam (8/31)

Flotsam and jetsam (8/11)

Flotsam and jetsam (vacation edition)

Wifi is a wonderful invention. I’m sitting in a nice, secluded cabin on Lummi island. Woke up to a rooster crowing on a nearby farm and spent the last couple of hours reading, drinking coffee, and enjoying a cold, misty morning. I just got caught up with my blog reading, and thought I’d go ahead and pass some links along. To keep the list manageable after a few days off, I’m just going to highlight the more interesting ones, and I’ll keep the comments to a minimum.