- Published on Amazon.com
As Alister McGrath continues his series called The Heart of Christian Faith, this second volume in the series is called The Living God, and is published by wjkbooks.com. McGrath asks, "How doe we know about God?" and he says that dictionaries offer definitions of God as a "vague supreme being." He notes that Christian faith "stretches back to the dawn of civilization," and "we hold hands with millions who have known and loved our God and passed their wisdom on to us." Christians believe in the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob (Exodus 3:l6), and when we read of those "with whom we are linked by faith we are absorbing our own family history"
McGrath is Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King's College, London, and a prolific author. He claims that our God is a "personal God," an "almighty God," as well as being creator of the universe. He uses images as "windows into God," such as light, rock, shepherd, father, mother, king, and friend to describe the personal relationship between God and those who believe and have faith in him. He explains the doctrine of the Trinity as mystery, yes, reminding us of the one in three: God is creator, redeemer, and sustainer. The Holy Spirit, as the third person in the Trinity, is with us daily in our minds and hearts, leading, guiding, encouraging, and often leading us to worship and thanksgiving for our Triune God who loves us.
Volume three in this series is called Jesus Christ, and McGrath focuses on "what is, in many ways, the centrepiece of the Christian faith." He explores "more thoroughly what Christians mean when they declare that they believe in Jesus Christ." Volume four is called The Spirit of Grace, and as McGrath continues his teaching on the Holy Spirit, he brings in once again C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers to share some of their opinions and writings.
While volumes three and four are now available, the fifth and final volume, titled The Christiian Life and Hope, will be available from WestminsterJohnKnox in the Spring of 2016.
- Published on Amazon.com
In a society that is moving increasingly in a “post-Christian” direction, pastors and Christian teachers struggle to communicate Christian concepts. In a time where people have gradually forgotten doctrines that their parents and grandparents were once mildly familiar with, there are new roadblocks and barriers that clutter reception and comprehension. And then there are some verities that no longer resonate with women and men because of deep variations in family systems over the past three generations. Alister McGrath is seeking to do his part to remedy this condition with a developing series of books called “The Heart of the Christian Faith.” His new, second installment, “The Living God: A Guide for Study and Devotion,” is a 128 page paperback that attempts to tackle the first assertion in the Creeds about believing in God the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth. The five chapters of this short book are based on sermons the author has preached over the years in various parishes. That means that they have the advantage of having been honed through interactions with real people who have real faces and live and listen with real challenges.
In “The Living God” McGrath seeks to help the readers “consider what Christians mean when they speak about God” (vii). He begins by paring down the playing field of potential deities to one specific God, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) in chapter one. The author works to show how knowing this God is both relational and functional.
In the second chapter McGrath goes deeper into the relational, by bringing out that this God is a personal God of love and faithfulness. This is a God who is deliberately involved in human lives and circumstances, not standing off at a distance distracted with other chores, or unconcerned; “The way the New Testament speaks of the Christian faith has much more to do with a living relationship in which we don’t just know about God but are granted the privilege of knowing God ( . . . ). To ‘know’ God in this sense is about experiencing, loving and desiring God” (32).
Next, the author draws the reader to the notion that this God is an almighty God of power, but that power encompasses compassion and suffering. With regard to power, McGrath seeks to display that the God and Father of Jesus Christ can be trusted; he is not a God who abuses or misuses power: “( . . .) God acts powerfully – yet also righteously and mercifully. God wills what is right for us, and is able to achieve it” (43). But this power, he goes on to point out, also includes God’s own willingness to enter our muddled, maddening world and so take up our suffering with us and for us; “In choosing to come into our world, God also chose to enter into our suffering and to bear it” (57).
The fourth chapter looks at God as creator. To say that God is creator defines creation’s origination and God’s intentionality of making it; “( . . . ) the world has not always existed; it came into being – not by accident but by an act of will” (61). And if God purposefully made all things, then all things show his craftsmanship, pointing beyond itself “to its ultimate source and origin” (62). The author, rightly, examines humankind in this chapter and what it means for us to be in the image of God; that we are accountable to God, made to resonate with God’s rationality and enter into a relationship with God (72-4). In the final segment of this chapter, McGrath’s scientific background and theological training, shine through. The way he handles the subject of creation as a continuing process with God’s active engagement is sensitive, and is (in the best sense) craftily nuanced. The author works to show that Christianity has “no quarrel with science. ( . . . ) But we have every right to criticize science when it starts behaving as if it’s a religion or declares that is has ‘disproved’ God’s existence” (83). In this portion of the chapter McGrath is delicately making room for theistic evolution, which I am not on board with.
In the final chapter the author bravely guides the reader into the unique Christian teaching of God as Trinity. McGrath repeatedly reminds those who have taken up this volume, that “( . . . ) God simply overwhelms our mental capacities, as the midday sun dazzles our eyes” (91) especially when thinking about God as Trinity. Nevertheless the author walks us through showing how some alternative formulations are rather unhelpful, but others are usefully accommodating. He enlists the help of both C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, not in defending the doctrine of the Trinity, but in giving us analogies and aids to fathoming why this subject is so important. In the end McGrath rightly points out, “Those who complain about the irrationality of the Trinity are really people who want to limit reality to what reason can manage. They want to reduce God to what we can cope with or turn God into something we can control. ( . . . ) The contours of our thought need to be adapted to God, not the other way round” (108)!
“The Living God” is a plucky piece of work, in that the author gently and kindheartedly labors to help readers that have no or limited background in the Christian faith. A Christian teacher, pastor, or catechist wanting to bridge worlds will find this book useful. And readers who desire to have a better grasp of what Christians believe, will benefit hugely by reading this book. I recommend “The Living God”.
Thanks to Net Galley and Westminster John Know Press for the electronic copy of this book used for this review.