The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind
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The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind

InterVarsity Press / 2014 / Paperback

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2011 Christianity Today Book Award winner!

Now in Paperback

Alister McGrath, one of the most prominent theologians and public intellectuals of our day, explains how Christian thinking can and must have a positive role in shaping, nourishing and safeguarding the Christian vision of reality. With this in our grasp, we have the capacity for robust intellectual and cultural engagement, confidently entering the public sphere of ideas where atheism, postmodernism and science come into play.

This book explores how the great tradition of Christian theological reflection enriches faith. It deepens our appreciation of the gospel's ability to engage with the complexities of the natural world on the one hand and human experience on the other.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 210
Vendor: InterVarsity Press
Publication Date: 2014
Dimensions: 8.25 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 0830836756
ISBN-13: 9780830836758

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Author Bio

Alister McGrath (DPhil, DD, Oxford University) is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University. He previously held the chair of theology, ministry and education and was head of the Centre for Theology, Religion & Culture at King's College, London. He is in constant demand as a speaker at conferences throughout the world and is the author of many books including and .

Editorial Reviews

"McGrath brings his prodigious intellect and broad learning to bear on a number of topics, including apologetics, science and religion, and the new atheism. He demonstrates that theology is 'intellectually stimulating and exciting.' This book should whet the reader's appetite for further exploration of theology."
"McGrath skillfully translates his own deep learning into a delightfully accessible and enjoyable reading experience. . . . I certainly experienced the soul-stirring thrill of a sharp, devout mind debunking the old familiar, dubious claims against Christianity's intellectual coherence and credibility."
"For McGrath, the study of theology isn't a disengaged and abstract exercise; rather, it finds its authentic purpose and best expression when put into practice in the local church."
"McGrath, a prominent theologian and public intellectual, explains how Christian thinking can and must have a positive role in shaping, nourishing, and safeguarding the Christian vision of reality."
"McGrath's attempt to show that science is not necessarily a foe to faith is admirable."
"In The Passionate Intellect, Alister McGrath provides engaging, accessible, energetic help for Christians who are skeptical about the existential relevance of Christian theology, or who have come to doubt its credibility in the face of the attacks of new atheists and those wedded to a shallow scientism. This series of essays not only provides important support for believers seeking their footing in the current cultural morass, but can also stimulate a new curiosity about the intellectual and spiritual fruitfulness and integrity of the theological enterprise as a whole. It is obviously written by one who, well informed about alternatives to Christian faith, finds in that faith a source of life and of intellectual pleasure."
"This book is not only about the passionate intellect; it exhibits the phenomenon on every page. Drawing on the rich heritage of Christian faith and practice, McGrath is as much on his home ground in engaging contemporary issues in faith and culture, especially the relation to science. The author argues that good theology not only explains but transforms, and in this well-researched and eminently readable work it's easy to see what he means. The Passionate Intellect is a feast that will delight, provoke and challenge as well as inform us all."

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  1. The Patriot Principle
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    The Passionate Intellect a review
    June 26, 2016
    The Patriot Principle
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Alister McGrath is, arguably, one of the keenest intellectuals in Western Christianity today. A former atheist, he is internationally recognized as a historian, biochemist, and theologian, and is the Chair of Theology, Ministry and Education at Kings College in London. In his 2010 book, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind, McGrath encourages his readers to appreciate the power of Christian theology to engender a deeper appreciation of the capacity of the gospel to engage with the complexities of the natural world on one hand and the human experience on the other, while recognizing and respecting the inherent limits to theological inquiry.[1]

    The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind is actually a compilation of several lectures given by Dr. McGrath, then edited and updated based on feedback hed received. This is important to know, or else one may feel that the book lacks a cohesion. Part 1 (Chapters 1-6) encourages thoughtful contemplation of theology, while Part 2 (Chapters 7-11) puts theological reflection into practice by engaging two particular, interrelated, issues important in the increasingly secular climate of the 21st century science vs. religion and the new atheism.

    SUMMARY

    In the Part 1, the author takes his readers on a journey of theological reflection, emphasizing first the importance of theological reflection as we seek to relate more and more to our Creator (Chapters 1-2). In Chapter 3, God is revealed as the great alchemist, as McGrath utilizes the poetry of George Herbert to prompt contemplation of Gods magnificent power to transform what was once base metal into gold. The fourth chapter offers a theology of suffering and bewilderment. Utilizing Martin Luthers theology of the Cross, he reminds the reader that the life of faith is one in which one recognizes the essential darkness in which faith finds itself.[2] Chapter 5 views the natural world through the lens of faith as nature, rightly interpreted, points beyond itself to the divine.[3] The final chapter of Part 1 relates theology and apologetics, reminding the reader that one must both reflect theologically on the richness of the gospel, and reflect culturally in order to find effective methods of communicating the gospel, in order to engage in effective evangelism.

    Part 2 begins with an analysis of whether or not there is actually a natural opposition of the natural sciences to faith. In this section, McGraths personal interest in the subject makes the reading that much better. In Chapter 7, he argues that the supposed conflict is really due to scientific atheists 1) incorporating metaphysics into their science, 2) being doggedly pragmatic, and failing to properly understand the Christian notion of God.[4] The scientific method, he states, is no enemy of faith, but scientific culture must be engaged positively but critically.[5] Chapter 8 contains a recounting of Darwins scientific journey with a precision that is usually lacking in the conversations of Christians where, rather than painting the scientist as the enemy of all that is good and true, McGrath praises Darwins scientific integrity and posits that he was not the atheistic dogmatist that the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens might make him out to be. Darwin was aware, McGrath notes, that his scientific explanation lacked the logical rigor of mathematical proofs and that any theoretical account of what was observed would always be provisional.[6] The ninth chapter brings the evolution/creation/age-of-the-earth debate into focus by engaging the thoughts of St. Augustine on the matter. Augustines exegesis of Scripture, while accounting for the changing landscape of scientific knowledge, is presented well and, for some, will be a first introduction to Christian thought that does not accord with the six-day fiat creation model espoused by many Western Christian laymen. However, McGrath asserts, Augustines approach to creation is neither liberal nor accomodationist, but it is deeply biblical, both in its substance and intentions.[7]

    In Chapter 10, the question, Is religion intrinsically evil?, is answered. At this point, McGrath turns his focus on the purveyors of the new atheism movement particularly Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. The idea that religion causes all of the ills of the world is examined, as McGrath focuses on the Enlightenment background of atheism. He then discusses some historical examples which, he contends, are ignored by the new atheists, and shows that atheisms record of violence and oppression is not as pristine as their utopic rhetoric would imply. In his final chapter, the author looks deeper at the roots of the new atheism, and critiques their node of argumentation on historical and philosophical grounds, giving his readers an excellent primer for intellectual engagement of this worldview.

    CONCLUSION

    Those familiar with Alister McGrath are apt to see him as an astute scientist, historian and theologian. For those who are not, The Passionate Intellect is sure to convince them of such. In its early chapters, the book takes the reader on a fantastic journey of theological contemplation. The latter chapters bring the reader into a fascinating world of intellectual engagement. While the intellectual rigor of some of the chapters may prove daunting for some, the whole of the book is an excellent primer for theological and cultural engagement for those who have the appetite.

    [1] Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect (Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2010), 12.

    [2] Ibid., 64.

    [3] Ibid., 81.

    [4] Ibid., 109-115.

    [5] Ibid., 118.

    [6] Ibid., 129.

    [7] Ibid., 145.
  2. Don Haflich
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    An Excellent Primer on Intellectual Discipleship
    November 21, 2014
    Don Haflich
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    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.
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