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2011 Christianity Today Book Award winner 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


10 thoughts on “The Passionate Intellect

  1. says:

    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 critiue of Christianity advanced by the new atheismIn 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 CS 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 apologeticsThe 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 HitlerAll in all a useful rejoinder to Dennett Dawkins and Hitchens or those who have been exposed to their critiues


  2. says:

    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 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 uestions 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 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 itThis 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


  3. says:

    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 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 bookAnd 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 scienceWhile 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 AtheismThe key weakness of 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 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 conclusionAll 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. says:

    This was a pretty good book I'm not really a fan of these books on Christian faith in post modern times I keep seeing these books in Christian bookstores and it's giving me the impression that the Christian institution note institution; not Christianity itself in certain regions of the world is beginning to collapse Books like these and the closures of local churches etc I think are ample evidence The message of Jesus and Paul have a kind of timeless urgency to them but I think the actual institution of certain forms of the Christian Religion have had their day Christianity is places like Brazil and the Philippines are far from going anywhere anytime soon They have seemed to tap into a form of lived experience that you just don't really see in a lot of regions of North America In the Philippines Christianity is most alive in the family and the community; in Brazil it's a radical even revolutionary form of factical life They have appropriated it into something active It's no longer social imposition and puritanism which was an invariable part of its downfall in North America because it led to so much resistance Although the material conditions of North America are also very different and the level of development plays a role I think in the receptivity of doctrine Lastly I don't care too much about the religion vs science debate Although McGrath does put forth some nice positions That's just my own bias though and not so much a problem with McGrathAlso this is a very fast read I read it in probably 2 hours total time A very clear and accessible book


  5. says:

    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 inuiry1The 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 he’d 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”SUMMARYIn 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 and 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 God’s magnificent power to transform what was once “base metal” into gold The fourth chapter offers a theology of suffering and bewilderment Utilizing Martin Luther’s 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 evangelismPart 2 begins with an analysis of whether or not there is actually a natural opposition of the natural sciences to faith In this section McGrath’s 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 God4 “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 Darwin’s 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 Darwin’s 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 evolutioncreationage of the earth debate into focus by engaging the thoughts of St Augustine on the matter Augustine’s 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 “Augustine’s approach to creation is neither liberal nor accomodationist but it is deeply biblical both in its substance and intentions”7In Chapter 10 the uestion “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 atheism‘s 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 critiues their node of argumentation on historical and philosophical grounds giving his readers an excellent primer for intellectual engagement of this worldviewCONCLUSIONThose 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 appetite1 Alister McGrath The Passionate Intellect Downers Grove IVP Academic 2010 122 Ibid 643 Ibid 814 Ibid 109 1155 Ibid 1186 Ibid 1297 Ibid 145


  6. says:

    McGrath talks a lot in this one about his arguments for the faith especially in the face of professional atheists like Richard Dawkins This is not a complaint because such success is an accomplishmentThe author brings that argumentative acumen fully to bear in defense of the faith in this one and aside from one chapter the title might not be as apt as it could have been However that one apt chapter is well worth reading this entire book


  7. says:

    Excellent book and accessible on the popular level


  8. says:

    Atheism is a bankrupt and intellectually dishonest worldview So explains Christian apologisttheologian British intellectual former chemist and all around critical thinker Alister MacGrath Actually according to McGrath 21st century Atheism espoused by such proponents as Richard Dawkins Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris is nothing than a vain attempt to move intelligent thought back into a very narrow and truncated version of the 19th century age of the EnlightenmentMcGrath's book subtitled The Christian Faith and Discipleship of the Mind calls for Christians to be passionately engaged with the world God created intellectually as well as imaginativelyI particularly enjoyed the first half of the book which dealt with the Christian imagination McGrath does a wonderful job of showing how George Herbert interacted with Christian doctrine through poetry and encourages Christians to find similar ways to engage the culture through creativityIn the second half of the book McGrath interacts with Charles Darwin and his famous book Origins exploring some of the faulty conclusions of evolutionary theory McGrath also engages with some leading atheists of our day and their erroneous god of the gaps theories He also talks about his own journey of faith which began as an atheist at Oxford University in Great Britain as he kept running into road blocks trying to understand the world through naturalistic eyesMy favorite uote of the book came from Voltaire of all people Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy; the mad daughter of a wise motherMcGrath's book is a very accessible introduction to Christian apologetics and theology for thoughtful people who want to be honest about their presuppositions It is also a passionate call for Christians to use the brains gifts and talents God has given them not just to process things rationally but to be engage with God and Christian doctrine through the imagination as well McGrath joins a long list of authors and Christian thinkers who are encouraging Christians to have a fully integrated biblical worldview which would include the arts science government and philosophy etc In other words a fully orbed Christianbiblical worldview I highly recommend this book as a welcome addition to that conversation


  9. says:

    I found this book to be very thought provoking but I actually appreciated the first half than the second half I think this had to do with my expectations I expected the book to be about Christian intellect and thinking and even though he discussed his outline in the introduction when I arrived at the second half the focus threw me off a littleI cruised through the first half and couldn’t get enough of it but I found the most delight in the chapter on Herbert’s poem The Elixir Loved these uotes “Theology is an activity of the imagination as much as of reason in which we seek to transcend the boundaries of the given pressing upward outward and forward”“The habits of thinking underlying the mature Christian engagement with reality are thus acuired for God rather than from innate human intelligence or experience These habits of thought then lead from reflection on the world to action within the world” “Theology makes possible a new way of seeing things throwing open the shutters on a world that cannot be known experienced or encountered through human wisdom and strength alone Christian doctrine offers us a subject worth studying in its own right; yet its supreme importance lies in its capacity to allow us to pass through its prism and behold our world in a new way”It took me a while to adjust to the gear shift of Part 2 However the further I read the enjoyable it became I did enjoy the tidbits about McGrath own life and how he came to faith And I actually really enjoyed the chapter on Darwin The chapters on Darwin and on Augustine were both very thought provoking and challenged some of my thinking I thought the chapter Does Religion Poison Everything was his weakest chapter I would have preferred he approach this in the way Doug Wilson does in his debate with Christopher Hitchens in the video Collision also in the book Is Christianity Good for the World A Debate by Hitchens and Wilson which I have not read I think there are times when we as Christians often pick up the sword when we shouldn’t but I also think there are many times we retreat when we are called to fight


  10. says:

    Alister McGrath’s book The Passionate Intellect Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind is a great book for thinking Christians I thought it would be about the role of the Holy Spirit regarding divine inspiration and this is mentioned but the volume actually addresses Christian intellectual thought especially as it pertains to apologetics the interplay and relationship between religion and science and the refutation of the so called “new atheism”The book is well done physically The version I have is hardcover which I vastly prefer to softcover The cover art is attractive and the book is laid out in an easy to understand manner including subheadings An introduction is provided The author uses end notes that are sometimes annotated There is also an index which is a wonderful help In this vein McGrath also uses titles that provide insight into the subject matter I noticed no typos Part One of the book deals with the role of Christian Theology McGrath argues that theology is important and should result in action on the part of Christians in that theology should inform and impact their lifestyles He coins the term “Mere Theology” an obvious play on CS Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” promoting the everyman day to day approach to applicable theologyPart Two is a collection of essays engaging with our current culture In this section McGrath deals with the natural sciences Darwinism evolution and the new atheism The latter is really a misnomer as the author points out as it is based upon the old ideas of atheism rehashed into the contemporary culture Thus it is “new” only in the sense that it is modern Before reading this book I had never heard the termMcGrath has done a good job of covering these issues in broad brush strokes It is a wonderful primer but those wanting a in depth treatment will need to move on to other writings I imagine this book would be helpful for students in some sort of survey class or anyone wanting an overview of the topics Highly recommended