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.
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George Paul Wood (georgepwood)
I'm happily married to a maximally perfect woman, and we have a baby cuter than which none can be imagined. For a living, I'm the Director of Ministerial Resourcing at AG HQ in Springfield, MO. … more
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McGrath’s objective is two-pronged. First, he wants to remind Christians that an intellectually vibrant theology is not inimical to Christian life, worship, and faith. He spends the first half describing theology as a discipline that informs and sustains the Christian vision of reality and as a passion of the mind to understand God’s nature and ways. Second, McGrath wants to point out the benefits of a theology that includes an enrichment of faith and a deeper engagement with the culture and concerns of the modern world. It is this latter benefit that he hopes will help combat the contemporary critiques of religion from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and others. Indeed, the second half of the book is a counter to some of the claims of those he calls the New Atheists, though none of them will be convinced by any of McGrath’s arguments. This will serve as a good introduction for Christians who may be uncertain about, or have been unwilling to engage in, theological reflection, and to reassure them that rebuttals to the claims of those who deride religious belief can be made. --Christopher McConnell