After teaching Western Civilization to 15-16 year olds for a number of years, I learned that history, like theology, can easily cause a syndrome called, “Roll-the-eyes-back-into-the-head because I can’t take it anymore” which usually resulted in this question, “Besides, what relevance does it have in my life?” While they, like so many today referencing theology, might say “I’m bored;” it was merely a reaction to feeling overwhelmed with too much information. Using an analogy, can you see the cat in the midst of the trash heap? Apparently, if you can, then you are good with details. If not, well then, I guess all of life is like a garbage dump. Actually, I found the cat (it’s in the middle to the left) not because it was easy to find, nor because I’m a detail person. The reason I found it was because it drew my eye, and it was attractive to me.
Alistar McGrath’s Christian Theology could very well overwhelm anyone with considerable yet brief segments of description (not prescription) in theology about “Landmarks” in its historical context, debates over the origin, and various arguments over doctrines. However, McGrath’s intent is to do just that: offer pieces in the entirety of theology. He wants to paint the big picture so that the eye can land on what engages. Then the learner has the responsibility to take the next step to discover through further research and exploration what that subject may reveal. For it is in depth within a bigger picture, learning remains within the mind’s memory through its context and story. To remember through breadth can only breed breadth; a list of dates and names has little to do with that initial question: “What relevance does it have in my life?” When something becomes a part of one’s own life story, then the meaning and understanding become much more pertinent. For then, as McGrath offers, theology ultimately can be a place of understanding that is based on taking the time to explore for “Knowing is not learning, it is remembering”
For instance, after reading Ford’s Theology: A Very Short Introduction, I became curious about my placement in his framework of the five markers on a theological spectrum, particularly in trying to understand a bit more about Paul Tillich with regard to culture and faith. After exploring the Table of Contents, Glossary, and Index, my next engagement with McGrath’s book involved searching out his description of Tillich’s contribution to theology. In that context, I was able to place Tillich alongside other theologians who have also contributed to the modern conversation around “the sense of longing to understand more about God’s nature and ways – and the transforming impact that this could have on people’s lives.” Referencing the word “correlation,” McGrath and Ford both reinforce Tillich’s legacy among the theologians as indicating that “faith need not be unacceptable to contemporary culture and contemporary culture need not be unacceptable to faith.” My eyes see the cat, but I need to know more.
Now it’s time for the research to begin. Like a taste of a really good cookie, I need more information to find out a fuller understanding (or to truly enjoy the rest of the taste of the cookie). Tillich needs more explanation for me to decide if I want to line up in the Tillich camp. McGrath doesn’t have to do that. He does his intended work by drawing the initial picture with the intrigue of what happens next; he accomplishes his goal as a teacher to “awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” (Albert Einstein).
Another place of placing the cat in the middle of the garbage heap (which ultimately has its own chaotic beauty, if you ask me) was the conversation around the French theological soul searching of ressourcement. In the statement of “rediscovering and reappropriating the original sources of theology,” I’m brought into the dialogue by wondering about the quote by the author (Daniélou), his context as well as the culture’s, and the intended provocation with a new (or renewed) way of looking at theology. Is that not the task of the educator, as McGrath seems to demonstrate as a consummate teacher, to want me to learn, know, and remember more?
Looking at McGrath’s explicit intent to do a “sketch map,” I continue to be curious about researching more on what grabs my own interest and desire to understand theology in its complete context. As well, I find it fascinating that for McGrath, after years of laying a foundation of theology, his texts now seem to center around living out the theology with such books as The Living God: A Guide for Study and Devotion as well as reflecting on those who have influenced him in his own theological understanding with Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal and C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. As I continue to determine my prolegomena and name my theology in the dynamic process of discovery, I hope, like McGrath, that I can continue in the study and devotion of God while emulating those who have gone before me as a demonstration of the relevance of theology in my life.
 McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. (4th Ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), xxiv.
 “Knowing is Not Learning, it is Remembering,” Manataka American Indian Council, accessed October 26, 2014, http://www.manataka.org/page1150.html.
 McGrath, Alister E. Theology: The Basics. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), viii.
 McGrath. Christian Theology, 76.
 Ibid, 87.
 Ibid, xxii.
 Ibid, 111.