Book Review: The Passionate Intellect (2)

Alister McGrath holds a doctorate from Oxford and is an atheist convert to Christian faith. This book is an attempt by McGrath to demonstrate both the value to the Christian of an engagement with Christian theology and to directly engage the critique of Christianity advanced by the new atheism.

In the first section of his book, McGrath contends that rigorous theological reflection liberates us from the confines of our own narrow spiritual perspectives by engaging us in a conversation with the greatest minds of two millenia. He illustrates this with the theological poetry of George Herbert and the reflections of Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis on suffering and God’s embrace of this in the cross of Christ. He shows how a deeply Christian mind is one opened up to the study of the natural world and how theology aids our engagement in the defense of the faith known as apologetics.

The second section begins with a discussion of the relationship of Christian faith and science. He shows how there can in fact be a consilience between these two and that reports of warfare are greatly exaggerated. He even goes back to Augustine who warned against treating our interpretations of the Bible with regard to the natural world as infallible when our observations of that world raise challenges to these interpretations. He then engages the arguments of the new atheists that religion poisons everything — showing that it is not just religious people who poison things, but rather ALL people — all of us are capable of great good and great evil and that Christian faith in fact recognizes this. This, he sees as in fact a weakness of the new atheism, which claims the superiority of an enlightened atheism, ignoring the evil done in the name of enlightened reason from the French Revolution on to Stalin, Mao, and Hitler.

All in all, a useful rejoinder to Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens or those who have been exposed to their critiques.

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A note from the editor . . .

The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath. InterVarsity Press, 2007.

In November 2010, Micheal Hickerson reviewed The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (to read Michael’s review click here). I asked Bob Trube to contribute his review to once again encourage you, if you have not already done such, to read The Passionate IntellectHow about during Advent, over Christmas Break and/or with a discussion group in the spring?

Related, you and fellow followers of Christ with whom you are connected may also find benefit in considering one of the other books McGrath’s written for InterVarsity Press (i.e., The Dawkins Delusion?Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith“I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed”) and/or presentations he’s given for the Veritas Forum. To God be the glory! ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director of ESN, editor of ESN’s blog and Facebook Wall.

PS. On McGrath’s webpage, I came across his video on Augustine of Hippo on the Relation of Philosophy and Theology. (the author of Confessions, which won our version of March Madness 2013). This short piece (9 min, 15 sec) inspired me to add McGrath’s Christian Theology Reader (Wiley-Blackwell; 4 edition. March 7, 2011) to my wish list :)

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Note to the reader: The Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) continues to encourage those who have read the book “under review” to comment. In addition, we acknowledge that some who have not read the book “under review,” also bring helpful insights to the concepts/data explored in a given book, the writing of a particular author, and/or the understanding of the concepts/data as offered by the reviewer. As such we are open to “civil” on-topic comments from both those who have read and those who have not read the book “under review.”

Deep down ESN longs for reviews such as those offered by Bob not only to foster dialogue, but also to serve as teasers — providing an opportunity for our readers to discern what books to place in their personal and book discussion group queue. If you have books you desire to review and/or to have reviewed by ESN, please email ESN. 

Bob Trube

Bob Trube is Senior Area Director for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministry team in the Ohio Valley (Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania) and leads the ministry to graduate students and faculty at The Ohio State University. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.

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