“But busyness may sometimes be an excuse for laziness.  As Eugene Peterson observes, busy people are too lazy to take control of things, so they fit themselves into other people’s demands.  Activities can be an excuse for spiritual inertia or acedia, an unwillingness to accept God as God, that is, his absolute claims on our lives.  It is easier to be physically active in order to be spiritually indolent.  A fast-paced life may also hide a pernicious boredom.  According to Lyman, ‘the theater of industrial drama conceals a subtextual tragicomedy of grotesque acedia‘ that gives rise to the overpowering demon of lust.  Modern leisure (or the problem of what to do with it) is just as beguiling as the daemon meridianus (noontide demon) that hounded the desert monks.”

~~Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life.

Last McGrath and a Smidge of Eschatology

Christian Theology

In completion of McGrath’s Christian Theology, he discusses the doctrine of the church and the sacraments, Christianity against the backdrop of world religions, and eschatology.

First, McGrath presents the populations of the church through the ages.  Isidore states the church is “‘the assembly of saints joined together by correct faith and an excellent manner of life’” (377).  Donatus expresses that the church is a body of “holy” believers “contingent upon the purity of the church and its minsters” (380) and that schism is “totally and absolutely unjustified” (379).  Conversely, Augustine posits it is a “mix of saints and sinners” (379) in a “hospital” for healing and “renewal” (381).  Calvin distinguishes the visible church (community of believers both “elect and reprobate”) and invisible (pure elect known by God) (383).  Reformers such as Simons echo Isidore viewing the church as righteous (384).  McGrath discusses Christ’s presence in the church (385-388) and illustrates the work of the church through the Nicene Creed: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic (391-399).

Next, McGrath discusses the sacraments: what constitutes sacrament, why celebrate it, and what does that celebration do for the believer?  Augustine states “that sacraments do not merely signify grace; in some way, they evoke or enable what they signify” (401).  McGrath submits Hugh’s criteria of sacrament: a “material” component, a “likeness” to the referent, “authorization to signify,” and ability of the sacrament to benefit the participant (403).  Ultimately, the sacraments must offer grace, strengthen faith, unify the church body, and inspire God’s love to the believer (407-411).  Discussion and debate ensued regarding the presence of Christ at the Eucharist (414-420) and similar discussion regarding the age of baptism, triggering the underlying discussion of original sin and, according to Augustine, its guilt and disease (421).

McGrath reviews religion in society (necessary or irrelevant) and where Christianity resides alongside other religions.  Religious consideration can be either through a detached or a committed approach (426).  McGrath states “religions show a marked tendency to depend on the particular purposes and prejudices of individual scholars” (427).  He illustrates purposes of religion: Feuerbach’s “divine predicates are thus recognized as human predicates” (428), Marx’s “‘religion is the self-consciousness…of people who either have not found themselves or who have already lost themselves again’” (429), Freud’s “religion arises through inner psychological pressures” (431), Barth’s criticism of religion as a human institution (433), and Bonhoeffer who argues for “‘religionless Christianity’” (433).  McGrath concludes the chapter identifying salvation through exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism with other religions (435-443).

McGrath completes the text discussing eschatology.  Joachim posits three ages: Father (Old Testament), Son (New Testament), and Spirit (renewal of the church) (448).  McGrath illustrates the positions of eschatology: the Enlightenment, Bultmann, Moltmann, Thielicke, dispensationalism, and Benedict XVI (451-456).  He also discusses the “places” of the end of days: hell, heaven, purgatory.  He also offers the theories of the millennium: amillennialism, premillennialsim, and postmillenialism (457-462).  He concludes by addressing the Christian resurrection body: in earthly form or in spiritual form (462).

Ultimately, McGrath offers evaluation of the body of Christ, how that body corresponds to the faiths, and non-faiths, of the world, and the hope that the body awaits.

Hangover from Superstition?

Stained Glass 5


In the next chapters of McGrath’s Christian Theology, he covers substantial topics including salvation, sin, grace, and predestination.

While McGrath does not focus on political or sociological concerns, historical events appear as an underlying thread influencing soteriology in this chapter.  He explores Kahler’s idea regarding the role that Christ plays in salvation.  Did Jesus accomplish what already existed, or did He do something entirely new (317)?  Following Kahler, Wiles states, “Christ is here understood to reveal the saving will of God, not to establish that saving will in the first place” (317).  Wiles’ statement reflects Matthew 5:17, “Do not suppose that I came to throw down the law or the prophets — I did not come to throw down, but to fulfill.”  McGrath posits salvation as either an event or a process by discussing justification, sanctification, and salvation (318-319).  Additionally, the cross is a representation or a substitution for humanity’s sin (328-329).  McGrath next explores the question: to whom did Christ pay this ransom? God? The Devil? (326-327).  Anselm proposes that the critical components for man to be saved were both the incarnation and the exaltation (326).  Next, the Enlightenment brings a rationalist approach to the relationship between God and man and reduces the cross to only a demonstration of love (333) and perceiving sin, “as a hangover from superstition, which the modern age could safely dispense with” (335).  McGrath points to the Pauline approaches to salvation (338-339) and to deity and holiness existing within sinful man (339-342).  He concludes the chapter with three theories: only believers will be saved, only an elect will be saved, or all will be saved (344-346).

Next, McGrath explores man as the image of God versus the likeness of God (348-350).  McGrath then explores free will from Augustine versus those akin to Pelagius and Luther.  Augustine states that man exercises a free will directly distorted by sin, and he requires divine grace for restoration (351).  He posits that man is born “contaminated” by sin at birth and is dependent on God for salvation; grace is internal (352-354).  Conversely, Pelagius, and later Luther, states that man is born sinless, and “humanity is justified on the basis of its merits” (354-355).  Grace is external (354, 361).  These conflicting approaches inspires Aquinas, Ockham, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Trent.  The Reformation brings Luther to the forefront regarding sin, grace, and redemption.  Justification, at this time, is viewed as what must man do to be saved and is contrary to the answer given from Paul and Silas, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  McGrath continues by discussing predestination.  Regarding the chosen, he cites Godescalc, “if [Christ] had, he would have died in vain, for their fate would be unaffected” (366).  McGrath concludes with evolution, young earth creationism, old earth creationism, intelligent design, and evolutionary theism (371-374).

Ultimately, these theological concepts were significantly impacted by both the historically powerful Enlightenment and the Reformation movements.

Down with Enlightenment!


Alister McGrath, in his Christian Theology, spent the last two chapters discussing the doctrine of God and of the Holy Spirit.  It stands to reason that his next chapters discuss the doctrine of Christ and Christ in history.

Christology, the doctrine of the person of Christ, seeks to understand what Christ reveals in an historical context.  It also attempts to evaluate the implications of Jesus as savior, as a man fully human, and as a being fully divine.  Before McGrath delves into the various aspects of Jesus’s nature, he points out the rationalist approach to Christ: Jesus had nothing new to bring to the table of moral and reasonable human interaction and therefore had no true value.  Arguing against this rationalist approach, Ritschl stated that what Jesus did exemplify was, “a new and hitherto unknown relation to God” (267).  Man could know God differently than before the incarnation because of the incarnation.  McGrath briefly defines New Testament terms given for Jesus: Son of God, Savior, Lord, Son of Man, and Messiah (268-271).  Within the idea of Jesus as God, Arius posited, “as a creature, the Son was changeable and capable of moral development, and subject to pain, fear, grief, and weariness.  This is simply inconsistent with the notion of an immutable God” (275).  Thus, two opposing schools of thought arose:  the Alexandrian and the Antiochene.  These schools debated the extent of the duality of natures within Jesus (271-279).  Theological concepts of Christology and soteriology gave rise to kerygma or the “proclamation of Christ” that will transmit the soteriological content of the Christ-event” (284).  How Christ responds is how God is revealed to us and how He bears the Holy Spirit to us (286-291).

Next, McGrath posits the problems of historicity, namely the Enlightenment movement in the 18th century.  The Enlightenment saw no purpose for history in that it was inherently flawed by perspective and subjectivity.  The incarnation, divine miracles, the resurrection, and even the person of Jesus Himself were called into question (295-304).  Theologians and philosophers questioned the life of Christ from three aspects: chronology, metaphysics, and existentialism (297-299).  Gotthold Ephraim Lessing stated: “What can the relevance of such an outdated and archaic message be for the modern world?” (299).  This “life of Jesus” movement  attempted to reshape the values Jesus proposed to fit with new evolving generations.  However, Martin Kahler refuted this historical approach to the person of Jesus.  The gospels were not to be read as historical documents, but rather as “accounts of the faith of believers” and, “Christian faith is not based upon this historical Jesus, but upon the existentially significant and faith-evoking figure of the Christ of faith” (304-305).  As Strauss, Bultmann, Barth, and Pannenberg debated the validity of the resurrection, McGrath concludes, “it must be appreciated that the resurrection of Jesus serves an additional function within Christian theology.  It establishes and undergirds the Christian hope.  This has both soteriological and eschatological implications” (310-314).

Water & Spirit



The project will reveal the significance of the sacrament of baptism in the work of the church, both regarding the baptismal candidate as well as the catholic church.  Jewish history reveals purification ceremonies that, with the baptism of Jesus, have marked a critical moment of the believer in a bath of both water and Holy Spirit.  This moment crosses denominational lines to be an ecumenical awareness of God’s grace for His people.  However, the sacrament of baptism does not involve the candidate alone but is an opportunity for the church to reaffirm its baptismal covenant at each event.  For liturgical churches, there is a vow within the baptismal covenant promising guidance and partnership from the church to the baptized.  That vow has been forfeited over time and has caused the process of Christian formation to be lost; thus, the church has failed the church.  However, there is hope for the body of Christ to reclaim its vow and restore its commitment to this most holy sacrament.  Fred P. Edie in Book, Bath, Table, and Time illustrates that baptism is an acknowledgment, a movement, of “being” for the baptized into “doing” for both baptized and church body.  This acknowledgment is the pivot point for the growth and future of the church.  Simon Chan in Liturgical Theology rightly noted, “Strong martial language is used, for baptism is part of a cosmic struggle to reclaim humanity and the world for Christ” (118).


Just Under the Wire!


In Allen’s and Springsted’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology, chapters 7 through 11 builds upon the established philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Barth.  They move to modern philosophies as methods for understanding how man assesses his relationship to The Divine.

The authors illustrate in the seventh chapter through several approaches:  moderate realism, humanism, hierarchical methodology, and mechanical philosophy.  In moderate realism we understand an object by assessing its knowable essence.  Interestingly, Ockham rejected natural philosophy and based his awareness of God on faith as opposed to “philosophical demonstrations” in nature proposing that nature is “sheer fact” and contingent upon God, thus, contradicting Aristotle’s process (117-118).  Humanism aided the philosophical evolution through the Enlightenment as it defined a structural hierarchy, macrocosm and microcosm, and established man’s place in that universe.  Newton was aware but did not fully ascribe to the Deist theory in that he used God as a stop-gap for those occurrences in nature which could not be explained.  His checkered illustration could be unraveled as we see later in the text (124-127).

Next, the authors illustrate the notion of modern philosophy and the demise of natural theology.  In modern philosophy there is more to experience than sensory experience; Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” postulation arises and concludes with three ontological realities:  mind, extension, and God (129-133).  Disturbingly, morality is contingent upon logic, and matter determines viability (134-138).  Additional is Bayle’s notion that Christianity does not inherently equate to morality, thus, arises a “rational, enlightened religion” (142).

In the following chapter, the authors focus on Kant’s terms of knowledge:  a priori and a posteriori.  The authors also illustrate Kant’s branches of metaphysics:  “self (rational psychology), world (rational cosmology), and God (rational theology)” (160).  The authors note that Kant needs qualifiers to the third branch to distinguish practical reason from pure reason and to allow an aspect of faith to prove God’s existence (163); he posits that we would seek morality for itself, not for the pursuit of happiness (167).

Hegel then proposes that God manifests Himself historically and that our awareness of His inclusiveness is a continual process, “self-unfolding and self-realization” (169).  Hegel’s criticism of philosophical theology was that it is too narrow; his emphasis on reconciliation of finite man to the infinite God embodies his theology in an historical context (179).  Furthermore, we cannot comprehend reconciliation without the foundation of the incarnation.

One of the main threads in the last chapter is the intentionality of consciousness.  We become aware of God as we recognize the chasm between man and The Divine.  Existentialism reveals that we believe in God but are without God (191); phenomenology and hermeneutics offer the approach to know God through matter and the interpretation of events (201-203).

A subcurrent of the text is the relationship between God and Christ to man’s morality:  Christ does not guarantee moral actions nor does morality, when stripped away, reveal a Christian.