BOOK REVIEWS · Church History

REFORMATION THOUGHT – Alistair McGrath (1988)

0470672811_bAlistair McGrath. Reformation Thought: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. 285 pp. $40.54

Reformation Thought: An Introduction by Alistair McGrath explores the fascinating contours of the sixteenth century. The author helps readers understand the historical, cultural, and theological context of the events that led up the Protestant Reformation.

McGrath guides readers on a fascinating Reformation tour and overviews key areas such as justification by faith, predestination, Scripture, and the sacraments.

There is much to commend about this excellent work. Pastors, students, and theologians will greatly benefit from McGrath’s work.

Apologetics and Worldview · Biography · BOOK REVIEWS

IF I HAD LUNCH WITH C.S. LEWIS – Alistair McGrath (2014)

C.S. LewisC.S. Lewis is widely trumpeted as one of the leading Christian thinkers and apologists of the 2oth century.  His seminal works, Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain have equipped a new generation of Christ-followers.  Creative works like The Great Divorce have stimulating the imaginations of thousands.  And who could forget his landmark series, The Chronicles of Narnia which continue to sell like hotcakes over fifty years later.

Alister McGrath is a leading authority on C.S. Lewis.  Like Lewis, the author teaches at Oxford University where his interest in Lewis blossomed.

If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis is a basic introduction to the life and writing of the Oxford don.  McGrath arranges a series of imaginary lunches with Lewis where they chat about subjects that matter – friendship, story-telling, learning, theology, apologetics, and suffering.

If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis is a perfect introduction to entry level readers who are not familiar with the literary genius.  The book offers enough information to satisfy beginners but also contains plenty of fuel for readers more familiar with Lewis.

3.5 stars


Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · VERITAS FELLOWSHIP

THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM – Alistair McGrath (2006)

The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World by Alistair McGrath is a book that deserves to be read.  The author maintains that the “rise and decline of atheism is framed by two pivotal events, separated by precisely two hundred years: the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and that of the Berlin Wall in 1989.”

McGrath skillfully guides readers through a detailed  tour of intellectual thought and demonstrates the corresponding rise and decline of atheism.

Part One: The High Noon of Atheism

Part one includes an excellent overview of the French Revolution.  Voltaire and Marquis de Sade are given special consideration and given special credit in the rise of atheism in France.

McGrath explores the intellectual foundations of atheism in Marx (God as an opiate), Freud (God as an illusion), and Feuerbach (God as an invention).

Atheism is seen through the eyes of science with a superb overview of atheism’s advance primarily through the pen of Charles Darwin.  McGrath demonstrates the rise of the so-called face value dichotomy which has contributed to the rise of secularism: “Science proves things, whereas religion depends on the authoritarian imposition of its dogmas, which fly in the face of evidence.”

Part Two: Twilight

The second half of the book picks up on the theme that Nancy Pearcey has so skillfully described in her book, Total Truth, namely the bifurcation of the sacred and the secular.  McGrath surveys the history of intellectual thought up through the Protestant Reformation and discusses the shortcomings of Protestantism.

Next, McGrath narrows his study to the birth of modernity and demonstrates that “atheism was [and is] perfectly suited to this rational and logical worldview.”

Postmodernity grew out of modernity, which according to McGrath seriously “undermines the plausibility of atheism.”  The reason: “Postmodernism is a cultural mood that celebrates diversity and seeks to undermine those who offer rigid, restrictive, and oppressive views of the world.”  And since atheism proves an incredibly intolerant worldview, the prospects of its growth do not bode well given the presuppositions of postmodernism.  McGrath suggests the reason for the incompatibility of atheism with postmodernism: “For postmodernity is intolerant of any totalizing worldview, precisely because of its propensity to oppress those who resist it” (which in the final analysis excludes atheism).

The book concludes by discussing the “fading appeal of atheism.”  McGrath discusses the shortcomings of this hopeless worldview and leaves the reader wondering what the future holds.  The author maintains, “Western atheism now finds itself in something of a twilight zone.”

The Twilight of Atheism is a welcome addition to an ever-increasing list of books on apologetics, worldviews, and evangelism.

4 stars

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Fiction

THE AEDYN CHRONICLES: Chosen Ones – Alistair McGrath (2010)

I could not resist reading The Aedyn Chronicles: Chosen Ones by Alistair McGrath.  Dr. McGrath combines his skills as a theologian with a vivid imagination to produce a tale of adventure and good versus evil.

Peter and Julia are the main characters who enter an enchanted garden, similar to the world of Narnia that was conceived in the mind of C.S. Lewis.  Peter is captivated by an Enlightenment influenced worldview while Julia is more emotive, dare I say “postmodern.”  She comments at one point, “Truth isn’t always logical.”

The two main characters enter the land of Aedyn and face the challenge of “freeing the slaves.”  They are to restore the land to the Paradise of the Lord of Hosts.  These slaves are captives to the so-called Lords of Aedyn: the Jackyl, the Leopard, and the Wolf.  The Lords of Aedyn are a wicked lot and seem to bear  a strange resemblance to the world, the flesh, and the devil.

While the primary task of Peter and Julia is to free the slaves, there is an over-arching theme that points to a Deliverer, the Lord of Hosts who will “visit and restore his people.”  One character notes, “The Lord of Hosts will visit and restore his people.  He has seen our suffering at the hands of our oppressors, and the time has come.  He has raised up a deliverer  who will break the power of the dark lords.”

The Aedyn Chronicles is a fun read.   Children over the age of eight should be able to pick up the main storyline and enjoy  the action and adventure.  However, something larger is at stake here.  McGrath seeks to introduce the Christian worldview to his readers and he does so quite skillfully.  The key themes of covenant, kingdom and Christ emerge in a subtle and powerful way.  This story unlike many popular fantasy books (use your imagination) finds righteousness reigning.  Evil is presented in vivid terms, but righteousness clearly wins the day.  Finally, I see The Aedyn Chronicles an effective means of discussing the Christian worldview with my children.

4 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Historical Theology

HERESY: A History of Defending the Truth – Alistair McGrath (2009)

Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth, by Alister McGrath is a detailed overview of the progression of heresy in the church.  Part one defines heresy and provides a helpful summary of the origins of the idea of heresy.  “The essential feature of heresy is that it is not unbelief (rejection of the core beliefs of a worldview such as Christianity) in the strict sense of the term, but a form of that faith that is held ultimately to be subversive or destructive, and thus indirectly leads to such unbelief.”

Part two examines the roots of heresy.  McGrath provides a fascinating historical survey of the development of heresy and its early development in church history.

Part three summarizes the classical heresies of Christianity including Ebionitism, Docetism, Valentinism, Arianism, Donatism, and Pelagianism.  McGrath does an especially noteworthy job on his treatment of the arch-heretic, Pelagius.  However, I would commend R.C. Sproul’s, Willing to Believe to any readers interested in a deeper look at the Pelagian heresy.

McGrath rightly points out the pervasiveness of Pelagianism “on Western culture, even if its name means little to most.  It articulates one of the most natural of human thoughts – that we are capable of taking control of ourselves and transforming ourselves into what we would have ourselves be.”  Indeed, the tentacles of Pelagianism are not only choking the world, this diabolical worldview has found entry into the American church.

Finally, part four focuses on the impact of heresy.  The author urges the reader to recognize that “the pursuit of orthodoxy is essentially the quest for Christian authenticity” and to recognize the tendency that heresies have in “repeating themselves.”

McGrath’s book is a noteworthy summary of the history of heresy.  However, if one is a newcomer to this subject, I recommend starting with John Hannah’s, Our Legacy: A History of Christian Doctrine.  Additionally, Harold O.J. Brown’s work, Heresies will provide readers with a detailed look at the heresies that have consistently plagued the church.  Each work is a clear reminder of the danger of heretical ideas creeping into the fabric of the church.

3.5 stars