You may be familiar with my Facebook and Twitter pages, where I have a weekly segment called #ThursdayTheology. There I provide short, substantive quotes from important theological thinkers past and present. One of the most frequent sources is Alister McGrath.
McGrath serves as professor of science and religion at Oxford University. He earned three doctorates from Oxford in science, intellectual history, and theology. A truly prolific author, McGrath has written more than 50 books in such fields as science, theology, and apologetics. I have read many of his books and have found his writings deeply informing and inspiring.
What follows are four provocative quotes from McGrath on theology and apologetics that I’ve used in my social media Theological Thursday segment, along with a brief reaction to them.
1. On Jesus Christ
“If Christianity has a center, it is Jesus Christ. It is impossible for the Christian to talk about God, salvation, or worship without bringing Jesus into the discussion, whether explicitly or implicitly.”1
It is said that Christianity is Christ. The faith is all about his life, death, and resurrection. We know God through Christ and we know the Father and the Holy Spirit through the incarnate Son. We also embrace salvation by believing that Jesus Christ has made us right with God through doing (keeping God’s law) and dying (atoning for our failures to keep God’s law) on the cross of Calvary.
2. On Revelation
“Islam speaks of a revelation from God, where Christianity speaks of a revelation of God.”2
One of the central differences between Islam and Christianity concerns the different forms of revelation found in the two religions. Muslims view Muhammad as a prophet of God who delivers the inspired text, the Qur’an. Thus Muslims believe they have a revelation from God. Historic Christians view Jesus Christ as God in human flesh. Thus Christians believe they have a revelation of God. In Christianity, God has come to the world in person.
3. The Revelation in Christ
“The basic idea we find throughout the New Testament is that Christians worship and know the same God as Israel. Nevertheless, Christians hold that this God is revealed supremely and finally in Christ.”3
The biblical religions of Judaism and Christianity share much in common. McGrath is right—Christians do worship the same God as the Jews in the following sense: Christians believe in the Jewish Messiah. Yet the revelation that comes in and through Jesus Christ is supreme and final and thus includes the Trinity, the incarnation, and Jesus’s atonement on the cross. In other words, Christians worship Israel’s God fully revealed.
4. God’s Providential Presence
“God is always with us, a gracious and consoling presence on the journey of life, even as we ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death.’”4
The Scriptures reveal that God is everywhere present and yet he specially indwells all of his people through the Holy Spirit. The Lord is also graciously with believers when they die and leave this life for the intimate presence of God. Christians can be thankful for God’s faithful watchfulness over his people.
What impresses me about Alister McGrath is his ability to speak and write authoritatively in such diverse fields as science, theology, and intellectual history. His diligence has provided all of us with ample intellectual reflection to consider.
Reflections: Your Turn
Are there Christian theologians that you’ve learned from? Who are they?
- Alister E. McGrath, Christianity: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997), 75.
- McGrath, Christianity.
- Alister E. McGrath, Theology: The Basics (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 18.
- Alister E. McGrath, Surprised by Meaning (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2011), 6.
I find Michael Heiser’s bibical explanations, using his knowledge of the ancient languages, very interesting. Many of our ‘modern theologians’ prefer to ignore the supernatural aspects of the Bible.
I think Genesis 1-11 is a series of parables that gave satisfactory explanations for an early culture, and yet are compatible with the scientific data on an old-earth creation. That’s explained in signs1787.wordpress.com
He has been my favorite apologist the last few years. Love to hear him speak.
McGrath is impressive.
Thanks for these great thinking qoutes.
Appreciate your comment, D.N.
Thanks for sharing Alister McGrath’s thoughts on Scripture. You quoted him saying, ““If Christianity has a center, it is Jesus Christ. It is impossible for the Christian to talk about God, salvation, or worship without bringing Jesus into the discussion, whether explicitly or implicitly.”
I do agree here, but I am wondering how McGrath would feel about the Heavenly Father’s role. Without the plan of redemption and the Father sending the Son, there would be no salvation. Jesus also tells us to pray, “Our Father in heaven.” He doesn’t tell us to pray to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. Both are co-equal, but even Jesus says in John 14:28 that the “Father is greater than I am.” Was He saying this in his full humanity while still being deity? Most likely, but one must take some serious thought to this.
Have we over christologized our theology in evangelicalism? Has our meta-narrative of the Romans Road and soteriological focus underemphasized the role of the Father and the Holy Spirit? While I do agree with McGrath that Jesus is the promise-fulfillment, can we really elevate Him above the other members of the Trinity? Thanks for your feedback.
Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan once said “You evangelicals talk too much about Jesus and don’t think enough about the Trinity.”
As an evangelical Anglican, I think McGrath would agree with Pelikan. Jesus’s incarnation reveals God to the world but a deeper reflection unveils the intimate work of the Father and the Spirit in the life and ministry of Christ.
Theologian Michael Reeves said: “Jesus is the Spirit anointed Son of the Father.” So you can’t have Jesus without the Trinity.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments.