31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2010
One of the primary cultural criticisms of Christianity over the past century has been its aura of anti-intellectualism--a preference of blind faith over a reasoned belief in God. In recent years, however, many brilliant theologians have given the lie to this mischaracterization of the Church, showing that faith and reason are far from incompatible.
Alister McGrath's The Passionate Intellect represents the latest defense of the faith against this charge. Unlike other books of this type, however, McGrath devotes his energy less to arguing specific aspects of Christian belief in an apologetic format and more to portraying orthodox theology as among the most intellectually challenging and rewarding intellectual disciplines.
In taking this approach, McGrath's focuses on the importance of loving God with all our minds, urging believers to engage deeply with the disciplines of study and reflection on Scripture. He gives a rousing exhortation of the transformative nature and power of the Gospel to give us the eyes to see the Lord's work. He explores the role of doubt in true faith--that theology alone cannot explain God--and describes the Christian view of creation and human thought.
For the first six chapters, when he confines himself to the book's putative subject (the discipleship of the mind), McGrath's work shines. For the final 5 chapters of the book, however, he turns his focus more narrowly toward the realm of science (specifically the historical interplay between orthodox Christianity and scientific discoveries) and refutations of New Athiest criticisms. These areas are, admittedly, McGrath's sweet spot--he did his undergraduate work in biology and has built much of his theological career on sparring with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens--but in this case, the book suffers with the addition of these chapters. He would have done better to break these collected thoughts into two separate works.
Still, the focal drift of its second half does not completely undermine the value of the opening chapters of the book. For its carefully wrought portrayal of what McGrath calls "mere theology" (in a tip of the hat to C.S. Lewis) and its admirable reclamation of the life of the mind from secularism, The Passionate Intellect deserves to be read.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2010
Not every Christian believes they are a theologian. For some, theology is a distant and unattainable discipline, only for those who have been to seminary and read certain books. Theology has become separated from the everyday part of the church. Alister McGrath, in this book, aims to bring the two together again.
Theology must be part of the everyday language of the church and of every believer, not because we must be intellectually superior but because it will help us engage our culture and be 'Christians' to our community. To read the Bible IS to do theology. McGrath, one of the most gifted theologians of today has managed to produce a book for EVERY christian, not just academics.
The first part of the book provides a short, but packed overview of the purpose, place and relevance of theology. It is one of the best summaries of Christian theology available. Part two brings the theology into the realm of our culture, showing how theology relates to everyday life, and especially is responding to the rise of New Atheism.
They say that to explain something simply requires profound understanding. McGrath has produced a book which explains simply the basics of theology and how it can relate to our culture. Those who read it will realize that theology is not a distant and unattainable discipline but a transforming and vital part of being a believer. To read this will give the reader a wonderful foundation and confidence from which to begin to explore more theology.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Recently, so-called "new atheists" have been making loud noises about how stupid and wicked religion is. Richard Dawkins thinks belief in God is a "delusion" to be replaced by scientific thinking. Daniel Dennett views religion as a "spell" that needs to be broken. Sam Harris longs for "the end of faith," whose absolutism he thinks leads only to violence. And Christopher Hitchens argues that "religion poisons everything."
Alister McGrath disagrees. Instead, in The Passionate Intellect, he argues for "the intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith and its ability to bring about a new and deeply satisfying vision of reality." Furthermore, he argues that a "theologically informed discipleship of the mind sustains, nourishes and protects the Christian vision of reality, thus enabling the church to retain its saltiness and capacity to illuminate." Compared to this vision, the "simplistic metanarrative [of the new atheism] can only be sustained by doing violence to the facts of history, the norms of evidence-based argument and the realities of contemporary experience."
McGrath holds dual doctorates from Oxford in molecular biophysics and historical theology. He is chair of theology, ministry, and education at King's College, London, as well as head of its Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture. He has written A Scientific Theology, a three-volume systematic theology in conversation with the natural sciences; The Twilight of Atheism; two books in critique of Dawkins: Dawkins's God and The Dawkins Delusion; and his prestigious Gifford Lectures, A Fine-Tuned Universe.
Knowing McGrath's background, readers might not crack open The Passionate Intellect, intimidated because they think it an academic tome. Those who do so will discover, instead, a work of popular theology and apologetics self-consciously in the tradition of C. S. Lewis. McGrath writes clearly and gracefully. Those interested in pursuing the subject matter further can peruse the twenty-two pages of footnotes at the end of the book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2010
The intellect and "discipleship of the mind" does not always top the list of dominant Christian characteristics in the eyes of the general public, especially those more antagonistic to our views (like the new atheists). So who better to write on the role of the mind in the life of the Christian than a former atheist? And there is perhaps no one on that list better suited than Alister McGrath to write such a book.
And The Passionate Intellect is that book--for the most part. The first two chapters are as solid a treatment on the Christian mind as I have read and they alone merit picking up the book. Other high points include a chapter on the relationship between theology and apologetics and between faith and science.
While the first half of the book focuses on the life of the Christian mind in general, the second half is a sort of case study on how Alister McGrath himself has applied these principles in his areas of expertise. The final five chapters deal with such themes as the natural sciences, evolution and the New Atheism.
The key weakness for this book lies in the fact that each of its eleven chapters are based on previously unpublished lectures and addresses given over the last three years. This naturally lends some of the chapters to be more timely than timeless. It also keeps the book from having a cohesive flow at times from chapter to chapter. And the book ends on a bit of an odd note with a chapter called "Atheism and the Enlightenment: Reflections on the Intellectual Roots of the New Atheism" rather than a summary and conclusion.
All in all, this book makes a solid case for the Christian intellect and gives us solid modern-day application for some of the biggest challenges currently being thrown our way.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
McGrath in his preface concedes that he is an academic theologian, but one that insists he is wanting to "generate reflective practices in the life and service of the church." This is the goal of this volume, in a limited way (see my conclusion for a 4-star review) meets this goal.
What this reviewer found as a strength of this volume is its focus on major topics of McGrath's interest, i.e. natural theology and rebuke of new atheism. He has some profound background and thoughts on these topics and shares them especially in the second part of two entitled: "Engaging with Our Culture."
The first part: "Purpose, Place and Relevance of Christian Theology" for this reader was the far more interesting and usable in ministry. Christian Theology's place in the world is certainly a given for a Christian, but for the non-believer it is questionable and debateable. He produces two brief landscape glimpses at the state of this in our times, as well as a fascinating revelation of his coming to see Christian theology through the eyes of Martin Luther. This in fact helped him to see that Christianity is not completely cerebral, academic and distanced from all of life. As a worldview, it is all encompassing, yet does not answer all questions as it has never been revealed to be. I have read McGrath's volume on Luther's theology of the cross and found it wanting it places, especially given that McGrath was not convinced by Luther's theology to become Lutheran. For a relevant take on Luther's theology of the cross, would suggest for those interested, "On Being A Theologian of The Cross" by Gerhard O. Forde.
McGrath's discussion between the relationship of Bible, tradition and reason. How this relationship between these three should be expanded further to include emotions, culture (especially business techniques) which currently predominately affect Christian theology in America than the new atheists. Thus, that he ignores these areas in his analysis plus his emphasis on natural theology and new atheism is the basis for 4 stars.
on January 19, 2015
When some people hear the word “intellect,” they may think of cold, stuffy academia. However, what I love most about Alister McGrath’s The Passionate Intellect is the robust treatment of the entire man. Not only mind, but heart. Not only thought, but affection (88-93, 96). McGrath says, “The surest way of enhancing the identity, coherence and cohesion of a community is to help it see what it loves more clearly, and thence to love it more clearly . . . . We cannot allow Christ to reign in our hearts if he does not also guide our thinking” (20-21). As McGrath explores the passionate intellect, he does so with an eye to “the Christian vision of God in all its fullness and wonder” (22)—that vision includes our affections.
The bones of the book is contextualized to the threat of new atheism, and is fleshed out within “the Christian vision of God” (22) for the maturation of the saints. One thread through out is humility. As we approach God, we confess he is near us, but also above us and beyond us. We can understand what he has revealed, but we often confess that God is mystery (26-30, 49-50). Also, the pursuit of passionate intellect is a humble pursuit. McGrath says, “The study of theology prevents endless reinvention of the wheel on the part of those who recognize the need to engage a situation or issue, but are unaware that the church has already developed the tools needed to cope with them” (37).
Also, we need people like McGrath who love science and faith to show that the two are not at odds. “The scientific method, when properly applied, is no enemy of faith. The problems begin when enthusiastic atheists start smuggling in their own presuppositions, hoping nobody will notice, or when enthusiastic Christians start believing that science challenges core beliefs or essential ways of reading the Bible and circle their wagons defensively” (118). McGrath shows that defensive maneuvers to defeat science are not needed. Science and faith are friends.
My favorite chapters were “3 The Gospel and Transformation of Reality: George Herbert’s ‘Elixir’,” “8 Religious and Scientific Faith: The Case of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species,” and “9 Augustine of Hippo on Creation and Evolution.” Chapter 3 on Herbert demonstrates beautifully how intellect and affection go hand in hand. Herbert plumed the depths of theology and it bled into his poetry. “Theology is an activity of the imagination as much as of reason” (46). Chapters eight and nine are important for encouraging Christians to not fear or reject science. We must embrace it. And we also must be carefully to not mistake science for Christian doctrine. McGrath says, “Let’s be clear about this: Augustine isn’t playing at being a scientist. Nor is he confusing science and theology. Augustine is not contradicting a scientific account of origins; rather, he is setting it within a theological scaffolding” (145).
Although the brightness of new atheism may be dimming with the passing of Christopher Hitchens and with the frequent social media foot-to-mouth disease of Richard Dawkins, the importance of pursuing a passionate intellect within a well rounded accounting of the Christian faith is no less important. Alister McGrath serves the church well in this regard.
on December 2, 2014
First, my thanks to IVP for sending me a copy for review purposes of this book. IVP I have found to be an excellent publishing company and their books consistently meet a high standard of excellence.
The Passionate Intellect is a look at the life of the mind from the viewpoint of Alister McGrath, himself a former atheist heavily interested in the sciences who became a theologian after his conversion to Christianity.
In some ways, I got a lot of good out of the book, but I'm not sure it was the good I was wanting to get. I would describe myself as one who has a passionate intellect. My wife would be more likely to connect to God through art and music and things of that sort. For me, I connect more through apologetics and through study of the historical Jesus.
Something I had been hoping for was a look at how exactly study was to be done with a passionate intellect. What do you do if you do not connect the most through music? After all, for me, one time I like to hear in a church service is "You may be seated." I want to jump right into the study of Scripture and see what it has to say. This is not intended to disrespect the band at our church. They do a great job much of the time, but I can only stand and hear the songs for so long.
McGrath doesn't do that as I would have liked. Still, he does bring out the importance of theology. Theology should definitely inform our worship and then in turn our worship will inform our theology. Too often we have worship going on in the church that has no real content to it and ends up focusing on us and our emotional experiences.
McGrath recommends studying the minds of the past and seeing how they deal with different circumstances, such as the problem of suffering. Here we see a contrast between Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis. What would these two have thought of each other? Could it be that we can have an idea of what the solution is to suffering but then we suddenly see how difficult it is when the real suffering takes place?
The second part of the book does focus largely on apologetics. Those who are interested in the question of the relationship between science and religion will always find something interesting to read in McGrath. You will find discussions on Darwin as well as looking at what has happened when atheism comes to power. McGrath even has a little bit on suicide bombers and asking if they're primarily religious or if they instead happen to be more political.
So in conclusion, while I did not get what I was necessarily wanting, I did get something that was helpful and I do agree with McGrath that we need some passionate intellects in the church. Those who would see themselves as having a passionate intellect are encouraged to get this book and see if it helps them on their Christian journey.
Deeper Waters Christian Ministries
on November 23, 2014
The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind is "an intellectual defense of the place of theology in the Christian life, and as a plea for the Christian church to take the life of the mind seriously, especially in light of contemporary public debates." Simply put: Christians need to think. Both about theology and about the world around them. Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, McGrath states that this book is about "mere theology," meaning that he seeks to covers basic themes that have been believed and passed down through the ages in the church. The Passionate Intellect contains 11 chapters which are based on previous lectures/addresses from 2007-2009.
The Passionate Intellect is divided into 2 sections: 1) The Purpose, Place and Relevance of Christian Theology and 2) Engaging With Our Culture. The first two chapters really drive home the importance of theology in the Christian life. McGrath calls theology "a passion of the mind, a longing to understand more about God's nature and ways, and the transformative impact that this has on life." He continues by stated the importance of theology: "Our faith can be deepened and our personal lives enriched through theological reflection." As Christians we should desire to think about God (Who He is, what He has done, and how all of this relates to us) and theological reflection gives us the framework to do this thinking in. BUT, right thinking about God should lead to right acting in response to Who God is and what He has done. This changes how we view reality. Now Christians are able, by knowing God and knowing more about Him, to rightly reflect on the world and our action in it. This transforms our thinking.
I found Chapter 6: The Tapestry of Faith to be an excellent chapter, specifically the careful look at apologetics. McGrath is quick to point out that relying solely on "human techniques and arguments is to run the risk of lapsing into some form of Pelagianism, which neglects, perhaps even denies, God's presence, power, and persuasion in the task of apologetics." This is an important point which he continues. He states, "arguments do not convert. The may remove obstacles to conversion and support the faith of believers, but in and of themselves they do not possess the capacity to transform humanity." For that is a work of the Holy Spirit. This is an important point to understand: We can give a reason and defense for the hope that lies within us, BUT it is always up to the Spirit of God to open darkened eyes and bring the dead to life.
Part Two: Engaging With Our Culture is a look into the sciences and the new atheists claims that science and religion are at odds with one another and are not compatible. As impressed as I was with the first part of this book I must say that the second part was somewhat of a disappointment. The shift away from the discipleship of the mind to an engagement with new atheism felt a bit out of sync. I would have preferred heftier chapters in the first section and the exclusion of this second section. McGrath also argues for theistic evolution in this section, although he never calls it that. I was disappointed in this because it is certainly a controversial area in Christianity, one which, as a six day creationist I adamantly disagree with. McGrath attempts to show from the writings of Augustine that this view can be legitimate without "caving" to modern pressure, as Augustine lived from 354-430. This chapter is only 7 pages and didn't develop a full blown proof from the early church for me as much as McGrath seems to think it does. After this chapter though, McGrath tears apart the New Atheism line that "religion poisons everything."
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this book. I think the first six chapters can be a huge blessing for all Christians, but the second parts handling of evolution make me cautious to recommend it to everyone. I think mature Christians will be blessed by much of this book and be able to sort through some of those areas where they may disagree. There is some great stuff in this book, it just could have been better and more focused on the discipleship of the mind.
I received a copy of this book from IVP Press in exchange for an honest review.
on November 20, 2014
McGrath, A. (2014). The Passionate Intellect Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (p. 210). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
As Christians we are faced with pressure on every side to be conformed to this world. Whether that pressure be from those who support same-sex unions or those who espouse that "religion poisons everything", the normal lay person is not prepared to address these issues in a biblical and tactful manner. I appreciate efforts like The Passionate Intellect Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind which spur on the average person in the pew to continue to strive for excellence while keeping the beauty of Christ at the forefront of the mind. Alister McGrath has put together a wonderful defense of the gospel, on one hand, and on the other an almost poetic apologetic against the prevailing ideas in the modern mind.
McGrath's mission here is not to overwhelm the Christian with lofty ideas or ivory tower scholarship. He brings the message of the gospel in all it's glory and places it on the lower shelf for us. He wants to this volume to "stimulate the development of the discipleship of the mind within the churches and enrich our vision of the Christian faith." (15) He always has the local church in mind when expressing cultural ideas of our day. He has in mind a Church so built up that it has all the weapons necessary to engage in meaningful and life-changing conversation. He makes a meaningful defense of the place of apologetics in Christian theology while maintaining that the Church needs to be more than able to have a voice in contemporary debates.
Having these two tracks, we can see the chapters fall in such a way as to address the two without any separation. In setting a landscape for us to view, McGrath points to old voices which helped to shape his own theology. Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis both played a pivotal role, in that they showed both the rationalism of Christianity but also that where there is light there is also shadows.Leaning heavily upon these two McGrath paints a picture for us that is both vividly colorful and masterfully crafted. This section is a mix of an autobiography along with a slight analysis of these two giants of the faith along with how their ideas have crafted a response to today's critics which is often missed in today's challenges.
Having our context firmly set in the glory of God, we move our painting on to another setting and begin to engage the characters in the painting instead of just looking at them. McGrath, who has his finger on the pulse of the natural sciences, leads us to the supposed war between science and faith. He guides us on a tour of where the two subjects of theology and science can benefit from one another and where, "Christian faith creates intellectual space for the natural sciences by articulating a vision of an ordered reality that is open to study by a human mind shaped in the 'image of God.'" (108)
The next section fascinated me as McGrath dove headlong into a case study of the Origin of Species. Penned by the, mascot of modern Atheism, Charles Darwin. As his method took shape, McGrath takes note that, "Darwin's method is a textbook case of the method of *inference to the best explanations,' which is now widely regarded as lying at the core of the scientific method." (124) We are provided with more of an analysis of the literature but of the mind of Darwin as he earnestly sought out to find out which explanation fit best in what he observed during his time on the Galapagos.
Next we engage another huge intellect when we come across the person of Augustine. Long before Darwin appeared there were guys like Augustine who spoke on creation and evolution, though they would have had no categories of evolution to speak of during the time Augustine lived. As he examined the scriptures Augustine writes in regard to the Genesis account of creation cannot be set apart from the remaining biblical narrative but must be set against the whole in order to determine the individual meaning. Augustine makes sure the reader is aware that in order to stay faithful to the interpretation of biblical texts concerning the creation account does not mean that we should be rigid in our view of a literal six day creation. This statement and the following study rocked me. Did I merely believe in a literal six day creation because I had missed something? As McGrath unfolded the letters of Augustine I became keenly aware of the gap in my defense of a literal rendering of the biblical text. This one will require further study.
The last two chapters reflect on the mindset behind the new atheism. Here the reader peeks a dialogue that McGrath has with tenets of this "new" line of thinking. He goes right after guys like Hitchens and Dawkins. As McGrath comes out of the corner swinging, the precepts which Dawkins and his followers stand on are shown to be shaky at best. "The new atheism advocates 'a return to the Enlightenment' without any attempt to confront the dark side of modernity....The same Enlightenment that the new atheism asks us to accept as a model of toleration and excellence is now charged with having fostered oppression and violence, having colluded with totalitarianism, by its postmodern critics. The new atheism deals with this by ignoring it." (154)
From these scathing reviews of atheism and its counterparts McGrath shows that the ideals of Christianity have the ideal foundation (the Godhead) and the necessary power (the gospel) to overthrow such ideology. He shows us that discipleship in the mind is more than memorization of Scripture, though it certainly is that. He calls the Church from it's mental slumber and urges us to take up the Word and stand on the side of truth with boldness. A few things in this volume surely caused me to think and reevaluate some points of my theology, certainly something I was not expecting.
McGrath presents the gospel with clarity and power as he sets down before us the path we should take in order to grow mentally. I was extremely excited with this volume seeing that I love biology and chemistry. Along with apologetics and theology we are propelled forward in these pages to engage the mind of those who oppose Christianity by winsomely destroying their arguments. We can do this but McGrath urges us to do it with love in our hearts and the view of God's grace in our minds.