Review: The Passionate Intellect

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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