Perhaps one of biggest takeaways I received through reading McGrath’s formidable work, Christian Theology: An Introduction, is an appreciation of the value and importance of excellent theological and spiritual education. From his fascinating historical presentation to how theology developed over the centuries to his excellent introduction of important doctrines, McGrath leaves you with an increased awareness of the need for exemplary training in the things of God today, all the more accentuated by the current meager spiritual climate in Western Europe. Having recently returned from a visit to Paris, described by McGrath as once a great center of theological learning, and now living in Wales near a number of historical, yet crumbling monastic sites, one cannot but hear the call to once again turn the hearts of the people back to the love and importance of God and His holy Scriptures.
I especially liked how McGrath likened theology to “a growing plant. At times, it grows: at others, it needs pruning.” [i] Indeed, so much of what McGrath has weaved together reveals that to be precisely the case from New Testament times. McGrath himself competently explains how God has used great theologians as skilful gardeners to both prune weeds and nurture the blossoming trees and branches of theological study over the centuries. Indeed, he leaves the reader in awe of God’s sovereignty over this whole chronological process.
In his description of Christian theology as a systematic study of the ideas of the Christian faith, [ii] he mentions how “Christian theology is not just a set of ideas: it is about making possible a new way of seeing ourselves, others, and the world, with implications for the way in which we behave.” [iii] In that sense, the purpose of theology hasn’t changed over time. We may have Apple, Google and Samsung, but the questions of life and purpose remain the same: we still need to learn how to understand this universe, our place in it, and Who set it all in motion in the first place.
This book then is a means to that precise end. It’s not simply about appreciating theological processes, great theologians, and precious doctrines and dogma alone. McGrath places tools in our hands to further equip us for the evangelization of the world and the edification of Christ’s Body. When everything else is said and done, the bottom line is, how can we enable others to know of God’s great love, grace and plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? How has God already revealed Himself to us? And how can we take up the mantle in our twenty first century and assist skeptics, non-believers, atheists and even believers to know and love God and be saved?
Of course, knowledge and wisdom alone are not enough, for as Paul once wrote, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) Acquiring finer understanding of the things of God is not the ultimate goal for God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). Christian theology then, acts as the shaves that craft and construct this great truth together, making it accessible and correctly understood by all.
In closing, McGrath’s work not only provided me with a better understanding of our great spiritual heritage and processes of doctrinal formation, but has given me confidence that if God created these great centers of spiritual learning once before, He can do it again. Even in Western Europe.
[i] Alistair McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2011), 101
[ii] Alistair McGrath, 101
[iii] Alistair McGrath, 102