Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Passionate Intellect - Alister McGrath

Pursuing a generous orthodoxy

The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind
Author: Alister McGrath
Publisher: IVP Books (
Pages: 210

“I hate theology!” my misguided acquaintance exclaimed as we walked down a corridor of the Bayshore Mall. Immediately, I rose to the defense, “Theology is the study of God!” My words did not register in a mind that suffers from mental illness.

It’s ironic that this mall-walking friend addressed his disdain to me. Though theology can be complicated, even frustrating, I treasure it. Though it can harm when distorted or misused, and be a source of contention, it can also be a means of knowing God and His ways more perfectly. It serves as a guide to walking with Him.

My love for truth caused me to respond with joy to the prospect of reading The Passionate Intellect by Alister McGrath. This former atheist has a scientific/naturalist background, which makes this volume all the more remarkable. He employs his keen intellect and research skills to show that faith in God is not only rationale but capable of meeting the challenges of our day.

Comprised of previously published lectures and addresses given between late 2007 and late 2009 in various European locations, the first six chapters make a case for the relevance of Christian theology. The common theme is the intellectual credibility of the faith. It not only makes sense in itself; it “has the capacity to make sense of other aspects of reality” (12).

The last five chapters deal with cultural engagement; specifically, the natural sciences, Darwinism, and the new atheism. The summary critique of the latter will help anyone that wants to gain a quick grasp of the claims of the new atheists and McGrath’s informed responses.

Throughout the book, there is a great deal of depth stated in summary form. The writing is accessible but college level.

What makes it especially rewarding is the winsomeness with which the author makes his arguments. He does not resort to demonizing those with contrary views. He is the opposite of what well-respected Christian leader J. I. Packer calls “entrenched intellectualists—rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all” (20).

His is a voice of reason as he goes on to write, “I think we all know people who seem to have an obsession with what Packer calls ‘winning the battle for moral correctness’ and little interest in any other aspect of the Christian faith. They may love God, but they seem to have problems loving other people—especially when they disagree with them. It’s not always easy to discern how this fixation on theological correctness links up with the Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Surely the better way is to pursue a generous orthodoxy, seeing disagreements in the context of the greater agreements which bind us together?” (20).

This broadmindedness permeates this volume while holding firmly to the faith entrusted through the Scriptures. I imagine that C. S. Lewis would look kindly at McGrath’s mere theology.

It’s also noteworthy that an entire chapter is devoted to George Hebert’s “Elixir.” In recent years there has been a surge of interest and recognition of the theological richness of the poetry of Herbert (1593-1633). “Underlying Herbert’s poetry is an understanding of the role of words to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, between the believer and Christ. Herbert’s use of evocative figures of speech (tropes) allowed him to establish significant links between the secular and profane world and the core themes of the Christian faith. His genius was to offer a way of expressing these themes that was powerful and imaginative compared to the learned biblical commentaries and dense tomes of systematic theology of his age” (47).  The words of a poet can express truth in a way that captures the imagination. The hymns of John and Charles Wesley are more remembered than their sermons.

One application McGrath makes from “Elixir,” regarded as Herbert’s most beautiful work, summarizes McGrath’s view of the importance of theology: “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” (52).

My friend who walks the mall does not hate God. He freely acknowledges Him. The disconnect in his mind carries over into his thinking about God and theology. In his right mind, I believe he would view the latter as a gateway to seeing reality as God intends.                                                                                                                                   

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sing Your Praises: One Thing Live

Worship that reflects God’s diverse creativity

Sing Your Praises: One Thing Live
Artist: Various                                 
Length: 12 tracks/73:42 minutes

For those not familiar with International House of Prayer (IHOP) recordings, this serves as a diverse introduction. Sing Your Praises: One Thing Live features 11 different artists leading worship in a live setting. They each have one song with the exception of Laura Hackett, who has two.

Included is “The Gift,” a closing piano ballad from Misty Edwards, who may be the most popular artist on the label. But each IHOP release that I have reviewed by other artists is similar in quality.

Part of the appeal is that they tend to be a little outside of the mainstream. These are not generic worship songs. The production values and artistry place them among the leaders in this genre.

This type of music gets its share of criticism, but I marvel at how far it has come. These IHOP releases reveal a maturity over early efforts in this field.

Frequent themes are a longing for Christ’s return, the reciprocal love between Him and His bride, the Church, and God’s majestic holiness.

If you are tempted to think, I’m more of a hymns person. I venture that Keith and Kristyn Getty, those superb modern-day hymn writers would applaud, “For I Was Far,” by Anna Blanc. If you hear it on the radio, you could think that you were hearing Kristyn. It would fit on a Getty album.

Another standout, for its uniqueness in perspective, is Jon Thurlow’s “Let Me See Your Face.” This is written and sung from God’s point of view. He woos His broken child asking that she but turn to Him. This is not Jacob wrestling with the angel. It’s the weary one, his way hedged-up with thorns, hearing a voice behind him saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.” God is speaking tenderly, “Just let me hear your voice.”

A favorite, for its recorder-like sound, dreamy guitar and peaceful atmosphere is Laura Hackett’s “The Love Inside.” Her other track is more dramatic, but does not have as much impact. The soft word carries more weight.

Imagine a crowded trendy club in some glamorous city, the air filled with anticipation as people wait for the show to begin. Suddenly, a DJ or master musician appears, starting the event with a high energy song. The crowd surges forward, pogo dancing in time to the throbbing beat. But something is different. There is more to this than music and dance. There are words of exaltation. The man in front is leading people in praise to God. Ascribe glory to God! That’s the setting I imagine for “Sing Your Praises” by Matt Gilman.  

I like the clear annunciation from Rachael Faagutu on the reggae-inspired “Survival Plan.” She proclaims truth about God, and her husband, Wallace, elaborates in response. Their voices join on the rapid-fire chorus. This is an artful use of a style not as common in praise and worship.

“We Make Room” by Jaye Thomas, which features The Cry, is decidedly gospel. Other tracks border on alt-rock.

This release certainly reflects the creative diversity that God has shared with the human race. He could have made just one variety of apples. Instead, we have many, and that is just one fruit. In a similar way, He allows a multitude of expressions and the use of creativity in worship. It’s all for the purpose of magnifying His glory.

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness (Psalm 29:1-2 ESV).

Michael Dalton

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

Christians making music for the many rather than the few Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil’s Music Auth...