Mere Theology

From my post on the 1st December:
"And now the world has changed. Could we imagine a book called "Mere Christianity" having such an impact in 2011? The post-war, church-schooled audience isn't there any more. What would a modern-day Lewis write, and how would he capture the minds of this generation?"

Lewis for today? Society has changed of course, but I would propose Alister McGrath. His latest book 'Mere Theology' is fun:

But there are many (many) other books from which to choose! His gift is to make complex things 'simple' (a la Lewis) and to gradually lead the reader into more technical areas step-by-step. (i.e. starting with Alister in the wrong place can be disastrous)!


In 2006, the movement now widely, if inaccurately, known as she "new atheism’ exploded on the cultural scene. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006), Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell (2006), and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (2007) created a media fascination with religion and its discontents. Public interest in the God-question soared. I found myself regularly being called upon to speak and write on these themes, and debate with leading atheists in public: Richard Dawkins in Oxford, Daniel Dennett in London, and Christopher Hitchens in Washington. Although I much prefer seminar rooms to debating chambers, there is no doubt that the issues being contested were a matter of general, not just academic, interest. To my surprise, I found that I had become a public intellectual.

Debate often centred on the rationality of faith, and the coherence of the Christian vision of reality. For the new atheists, Christianity represents an antiquated way of explaining things that can be pensioned off in the modern scientific age. In one of the wonderfully unsubstantiated assertions that make up so much of his case against religion, Christopher Hitchens tells us that, since the invention of the telescope and microscope, religion ‘no longer offers an explanation of anything important’. It's a nice soundbite which, when placed alongside many other equally unsubstantiated soundbites, almost manages to create the semblance of an evidence-based argument. But is it anything more than that?

In his brilliantly argued critique of the new atheism, Terry Eagleton ridicules those who treat religion as a purely explanatory entity, 'Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It's rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster, we can forget about Chekhov.’ Believing that religion Is a 'botched attempt to explain the world' is on the same intellectual level as ‘seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus’.

Eagleton is surely right here. There is far more to Christianity than an attempt to make sense of things. The New Testament is primarily concerned with the transformation of human existence through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel is thus not so much about explanation as about salvation - the transformation of the human situation. Yet while the emphasis of the Christian proclamation may not be on explaining the world, it nevertheless also offers a distinctive way of looking at things which, at least in principle, enables us to see those things in different ways, and thus leads us to act in ways consistent with this. Christianity involves believing that certain things are true, that they may he relied upon, and that they illuminate our perceptions,, decisions and actions.

Alister McGrath
Mere Theology (2010)
(The introduction to the book)

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