“The Passionate Intellect” by Alister McGrath


Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010). $22.00, 210 pages.

Recently, so-called “new atheists” have been making loud noises about how stupid and wicked religion is. Richard Dawkins thinks belief in God is a “delusion” to be replaced by scientific thinking. Daniel Dennett views religion as a “spell” that needs to be broken. Sam Harris longs for “the end of faith,” whose absolutism he thinks leads only to violence. And Christopher Hitchens argues that “religion poisons everything.”

Alister McGrath disagrees. Instead, in The Passionate Intellect, he argues for “the intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith and its ability to bring about a new and deeply satisfying vision of reality.” Furthermore, he argues that a “theologically informed discipleship of the mind sustains, nourishes and protects the Christian vision of reality, thus enabling the church to retain its saltiness and capacity to illuminate.” Compared to this vision, the “simplistic metanarrative [of the new atheism] can only be sustained by doing violence to the facts of history, the norms of evidence-based argument and the realities of contemporary experience.”

McGrath holds dual doctorates from Oxford in molecular biophysics and historical theology. He is chair of theology, ministry, and education at King’s College, London, as well as head of its Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture. He has written A Scientific Theology, a three-volume systematic theology in conversation with the natural sciences; The Twilight of Atheism; two books in critique of Dawkins: Dawkins’s God and The Dawkins Delusion; and his prestigious Gifford Lectures, A Fine-Tuned Universe.

Knowing McGrath’s background, readers might not crack open The Passionate Intellect, intimidated because they think it an academic tome. Those who do so will discover, instead, a work of popular theology and apologetics self-consciously in the tradition of C. S. Lewis. McGrath writes clearly and gracefully. Those interested in pursuing the subject matter further can peruse the twenty-two pages of footnotes at the end of the book.

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