- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (November 13, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1405167548
- ISBN-13: 978-1405167543
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 64 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,091,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Theology: The Basics 2nd Edition
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Why Study Theology? Insights from author Alister E. McGrath
There are a number of reasons why it’s both important and enriching to study theology and here I have listed what I think are three of the most important.
Firstly, studying theology is about making sense of some of the great debates and themes of history. It is impossible to study the religious art of the Middle Ages, the great literature of the Renaissance, the history of the sixteenth century, or the novels of J. R. R. Tolkien without knowing something about theology. To study theology is to pass through a gateway which offers an enhanced vision of human thought and history. It’s like a lens that helps bring things into focus.
Secondly, theology enables us to see things through the eyes of others, so that we can gain fresh perspectives on some of the great questions of faith. One of the leading themes of C. S. Lewis’s late work An Experiment in Criticism (1961) is that reading literature enables us to see with the eyes of others, deepening and sometimes challenging our own ideas. To read Augustine, Athanasius, Thomas Aquinas or Karl Barth is to have our eyes opened to other ways of seeing things. We may not agree with them, but their insights help us forge and enrich our own approaches.
Thirdly, studying theology brings new depth and vitality to faith. When the novelist Evelyn Waugh discovered Christianity in 1930, he spoke of beginning the “delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.” Theology is about mapping the landscape of faith, discovering its landmarks, appreciating its inner logic, and experiencing its beauty and richness.
The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas, painting by Benozzo de Gozzoli, ca. 1420-97, tempera. Musee de Louvre, paris. The Art Archive / Musee de Louvre, Paris/Gianni Dagli Otti
William Blake's Ancient of Days, 1794, relief etching with watercolor, 23.3 x 16.8 cm. British Museum, London. AKG Images/Erich Lessing
C.S. Lewis. Getty Images
“McGrath’s approach is creedal and biblical. The chapters are lucid, engaging, and thought-provoking in so far as they serve as gateways into a complex (if not at times convoluted) field of study.” (Religious Studies Review, March 2009)
"The publisher's blurb reports that the first edition was 'an international best seller' … .It deserves this success. Students need such a clearly presented, sure-footed account of the theological basics." (Theological Book Review, 2008)
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Inevitably the question arises as to the provenance of the sacred science. Is it a project of seminarians and clerics, or is the privilege of exploring the sacred Tradition of the very essence of Baptismal right and responsibility? I would argue the latter, in that we cannot love a God we do not know nor can we celebrate that love without the passion or thrill that mystery arouses. A clarity achieved with no effort is a loveless marriage.
Alister McGrath's work is both an invitation and a roadmap. He introduces the layman and the cleric to the questions posed by a divinely created universe and the time tested formulas of belief around which Catholic thought has organized itself since the Nicene Creed was promulgated in the fourth century. His 32-page preface is an excellent and informative overview of the project of theology, highlighting the various methods of approaching this discipline while introducing its past and present masters. He discusses briefly but clearly the role of philosophy in both the development and intelligibility of theology.
Citing the acclamations of the Nicene Creed, McGrath unpacks the universal mysteries they address. "I believe in one God" becomes an essay on faith, the recognition of things unseen, most notably a Supreme Being. He examines St. Thomas Aquinas's "proofs" of the existence of God, derived at least in part from the philosopher Aristotle's recognition of a first cause and later called into question in the generation of Charles Darwin.
Each postulate of the Faith, however, opens new doors of questioning. One may believe in God, but as chapter two reflects, just whose God are we to believe? Further, what are the possibilities of apprehending this God? The Roman Emperor Hadrian's request of a Jewish rabbi to behold his God (p. 23) is a pithy summary of a complex question and would inspire theologians to our own day to explore the possibilities and capacities of humans to engage the divine. Karl Rahner's twentieth century speculation on the "supernatural existential" is a child of Hadrian's question.
Trinitarian formulation (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has always implied multiple interventions of the Divine. McGrath examines these in detail, beginning with creation in Chapter 3. The author explores a variety of metaphors including the Genesis accounts, Plato's concept of the divine as extrinsic fashioner, and the early Christian heresy of Gnosticism. In this chapter the work of an early Christian theologian comes into focus, namely the anti-Gnostic Justin Martyr (c. 150), and the reader gets a good look into the workshop of Revelation, Faith and lived experience, in this case frontal assault, where all theologians live, move, and have their being, so to speak.
As one might expect, the subject of Jesus is comprehensively addressed. McGrath approaches Christology from several flanks--the titles applied to Jesus, who applied them, and what they meant; the function of Jesus, specifically soteriology or the meaning of salvation; and finally, the Church's efforts to linguistically and logically talk of the meaning of Jesus Christ, in the "Christological Councils" of 325-451 AD.
Discussion of the Holy Spirit is complex. Understanding and misunderstanding of the role of the Spirit has essentially divided Christianity East and West, and even in relatively mundane matters as the age of Christian Confirmation of minors, clarity regarding the work of the Spirit remains a major focal point of theological investigation. McGrath does not shy away from these historical difficulties, which through time have led to debate and controversy over the nature of a threefold God or Trinity.
It is probably evident at this point that McGrath has, in his 200+ pages, set the table of the full banquet of theology. The study of the Trinity has led to investigation of those who believe in it, the Church, [ecclesiology] and its canon or collection of revealed works [Jewish and Christian scripture study], its communal life and behaviors [morality], its worship [liturgy], traditions [history], etc.
While it is true that theologians--dating back to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--have been indispensible in maintaining the backbone of faith and continuity in the global Church of all times, it is equally true that the object of theological study radically impresses itself upon the character and identity of those who embrace its labors. McGrath and other theologians use the phrase "obedience to the text" as a way of describing the irrepressible wave of change, perhaps best called grace, experienced by those in proximity to the wisdom of God.
The study of theology demands guidance, organization, humility, and grit. That said, the study of theology by all believers is the democratization of grace, the freedom of all people of good will to be dazzled by divine wisdom and passionately in love with Lady Wisdom, who delighted the Lord "from the beginning."