Posted in Book Reviews, That Theology Thing

The Purpose Of Theology is to Understand The Nature Of God

Snip20160710_9Christian Theology: An Introduction – Alister McGrath

McGrath indicates that Christian Theology: An Introduction is a primer introducing the “core themes of the great tradition of Christian thought down the centuries, which are common to all Christian denominations and groups” (McGrath, Preface). McGrath begins with an overview of historical theology, the philosophical aspects of theology, and theological methods. McGrath then discusses leading themes of systematic theology spanning 2000 years of contributing Christian theologians (McGrath, Preface).

The themes discussed include: the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ and incarnation, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrines of sin, human nature, and grace, and the doctrine of last things (end times).

McGrath attempts to describe the various questions and answers that have occupied church history. His emphasis is on the streams of thought that have brought the Western church to its current shape. McGrath returns time and again to Augustine’s far reaching contribution to the shape of Christian theology. “Augustine’s contribution was to achieve a synthesis of Christian thought, supremely in his major treatise On the City of God. Like Charles Dickens’s famous novel, Augustine’s City of God is a tale of two cities – the city of the world, and the city of God”. Augustine made key contributions to major areas of Christian theology: the doctrine of the church, the doctrine of grace, and the doctrine of the Trinity (McGrath, p. 12). The Reformation is the bridge connecting the ancient past and present. Luther drew heavily from Augustine and the Reformation era systematic theologies find ready continuity today. Formative to Christian identity were ” two creeds – known as the Apostles’ creed and the Nicene creed – winning increasing authority and respect throughout the church” (McGrath, p. 14). These creeds became the public declaration of orthodox Christian faith and they informed the shape Christian theology both past and present.

McGrath draws on Karl Barth, exhorting his readers to embrace the importance of theological reflection, “we cannot be in the church without taking responsibility as much for the theology of the past as for the theology of our own present day” (McGrath, p. 3). McGrath is an academic and sees the study of theology as a way in. But the purpose of theology is to understand the nature of God for who he is and to have relationship with Him. McGrath says that narrative theology “affirms that God meets us in history and speaks to us as one who has been involved in history… Narrative theology declares that God really became involved in our world of space and time, that God really entered into history, that God really came to meet us where we are” (McGrath, p. 130). The biblical narrative brings alive the presence of God and affirms God as the actor moving toward us. That knowledge of God requires His presence becomes evident when McGrath quotes Barth, “if knowledge of God can be achieved independently of God’s self-revelation in Christ, then it follows that humanity can dictate the place, time, and means of its knowledge of God” (McGrath, p. 164). Christ then becomes the center piece of our faith. “For Christians, God is known fully and directly through Christ” (McGrath, p. 238).

McGrath began his survey discussing how important the past is toward informing our present. He ends the survey discussing Pannenberg and Moltmann and their sharp focus on the future. Our past and present is informed by the end. McGrath quotes Pannenberg, “history, in all its totality, can only be understood when it is viewed from its end-point” (McGrath, pp. 312). The return of the resurrected Christ is our great hope. This hope for Moltmann is, “the public hope of the whole of the creation, as it awaits the renewing work of the “God of hope.” (McGrath, p. 454). Our end is to be fully embraced by God and see Him as He is. “The Christian is finally granted a full vision of the God who has up to this point been known only in part. This vision of God in the full splendor of the divine majesty has been a constant theme of much Christian theology” (McGrath, p. 464). To quote the 2001 MercyMe song, “I can only imagine, what my eyes will see when your face is before me.”


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