The Christian Theology Reader
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The Christian Theology Reader

Alister E. McGrath

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eBook - ePub

The Christian Theology Reader

Alister E. McGrath

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About This Book

Regarded as the leading text in Christian theology for the last 25 years, Alister E. McGrath's TheChristian Theology Reader is now available in a new 5th edition featuring completely revised and updated content.

  • Brings together more than 350 readings from over 200 sources that chart 2, 000 years of Christian history
  • Situates each reading within the appropriate historical and theological context with its own introduction, commentary, and study questions
  • Includes new readings on world Christianity and feminist, liberation, and postcolonial theologies, as well as more selections by female theologians and theologians from the developing world
  • Contains additional pedagogical features, such as new discussion questions and case studies, and a robust website with new videos by the author to aid student learning
  • Designed to function as a stand-alone volume, or as a companion to Christian Theology: An Introduction, 6 th edition, for a complete overview of the subject

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Information

Year
2016
ISBN
9781118874370
Edition
5
Subtopic
Religion

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1
Getting Started
Preliminaries

Introduction

What is theology? The word has been used by Christians since the third century to mean “talk about God.” “Christian theology” thus means something like “talking about God in a Christian way,” recognizing that the word “god” means quite different things to different religious traditions. Christians think about their faith; “theology” is the term used for both this process of reflection and its outcome. To study theology is thus to think systematically about the fundamental ideas of Christianity. It is intellectual reflection on the act, content, and implications of the Christian faith.
Starting to study Christian theology involves exploring a whole range of issues. Some of these focus on the identity and characteristics of theology itself. For example, what is theology? And how did it develop? How does it relate to other areas of life, such as philosophy or culture? How does our way of talking about God relate to our everyday language? To what extent – and in what ways – can the existence of God be proved?
The present chapter provides readings which explore these and related issues, some in depth. One of the most important debates in Christian theology concerns the relationship between faith and reason. Traditionally, Christian theology has seen reason as operating in a subservient role to revelation. Thomas Aquinas argued that supernatural truths need to be revealed to us. Human reason, on its own, cannot hope to gain access to divine mysteries. It can, however, reflect on them, once they had been revealed. This has been the position adopted by most Christian theologians. Reason allows us to reflect on revelation – but it must be used critically. This critical yet positive attitude toward human reason can be found throughout the writings of Augustine of Hippo, perhaps the most important and influential writer of the Latin west. Augustine's attitude shaped much of the Christian discussion of the place of reason until the early modern period.
All this changed during the great “Age of Reason” in western culture, which most historians suggest is to be dated to the two hundred years between 1750 and 1950. This era saw a new confidence in the capacity of unaided human reason to explain and master the world. Reason, it was argued, was capable of deducing anything that needed to be known about God. There was no need to propose divine revelation. Instead, we could rely totally upon reason. This position is generally known as “rationalism” and is still encountered today in some quarters. However, its credibility has been severely shaken on account of the growing realization that different cultures have different understandings of rationality. Reason, it turned out, is not the universal quality that many rationalists believed it to be. As the great Florentine poet Dante Alighieri noted, reason has “short wings.”
There is, of course, continued interest today in the role of reason in theology. The most obvious sign of this is the ongoing debate over “arguments for the existence of God.” Although it is very much open to question whether these arguments prove very much, let alone the existence of the Christian god, the fact that there is so much interest in them demonstrates that there is a continuing role for reason in theological debate.
This opening chapter brings together a group of readings dealing with preliminary matters. Readers can see it as a kind of “ground clearing,” preparing the way for a more detailed engagement with the sources of theology (Chapter 2) and the great themes of Christian doctrine (Chapters 310). Let's look at some themes that will be explored in this first chapter.

1 Can God's Existence be Proved?

There are three major themes that recur in Christian discussion of proofs for the existence of God. We could summarize them like this:
  1. 1 The existence of God is something that reason cannot prove conclusively. Yet the fact that the existence of God lies beyond reason does not for one moment mean that the existence of God is contrary to reason.
  2. 2 Certain excellent reasons may be put forward for suggesting that God exists; these do not, however, count as “proofs” in the sense of “rigorous logical demonstrations” or “conclusive scientific experiments.”
  3. 3 Faith is really about trust in God, rather than just agreeing that God exists.
Since the Middle Ages, Christian theology has explored this question in some depth, with particularly important contributions being made by Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas. Exploring this debate is an excellent way of engaging with some issues of fundamental theological importance. The following readings will help you engage with this debate:

Can God's Existence be Proved?

  1. 1.7 Anselm of Canterbury's Proof for the Existence of God
  2. 1.8 Gaunilo's Reply to Anselm's Argument
  3. 1.9 Thomas Aquinas on Proofs for the Existence of God
  4. 1.11 William of Ockham on Proofs for the Existence of God
  5. 1.16 René Descartes on the Existence of God
  6. 1.17 Blaise Pascal on Proofs for the Existence of God
  7. 1.19 Immanuel Kant on Anselm's Ontological Argument
  8. 1.22 John Henry Newman on the Grounds of Faith
  9. 1.26 Ludwig Wittgenstein on Proofs for the Existence of God
As mentioned in the introduction to this work, these readings can be used to study general theological themes, allowing the reader to explore some of the central concerns, arguments, and issues they raise. As noted earlier, these readings are arranged chronologically and are each provided with a brief title indicating the reading's scope and contents.

2 The Relationship between Faith and Reason

A related issue is the rationality of faith. Whether God's existence can be proved or not is one thing, but what about the more general question of the rationality of the Christian faith? Does it make sense? Or is it about a retreat from reality into some kind of fantasy world? The basic issue of the rational coherence of faith has been discussed throughout the long history of Christian thought, and some representative contributions are included in this chapter.

The Rationality of Faith

  1. 1.21 The First Vatican Council on Faith and Reason
  2. 1.22 John Henry Newman on the Grounds of Faith
  3. 1.37 John Polkinghorne on Motivated Belief in Theology
  4. 1.38 Pope Francis on Faith and Truth in Theology and the Church

3 The Patristic Debates Over the Relationships between Culture, Philosophy, and Theology

The early church witnessed an especially interesting and important discussion of the extent to which theology should interact with secular philosophy. Many within the churches were suspicious of engaging positively with secular culture or philosophy, on account of the hostility of imperial Roman culture toward Christianity. Yet, following the conversion of Constantine, attitudes began to change. The first four readings in this chapter will help you explore this debate and also encounter Augustine's highly influential solution to the problem – the critical appropriation of culture by theology.

The Patristic Debate on the Relationship between Culture, Philosophy, and Theology

  1. 1.1 Justin Martyr on Philosophy and Theology
  2. 1.2 Clement of Alexandria on Philosophy and Theology
  3. 1.3 Tertullian on the Relationship between Philosophy and Heresy
  4. 1.4 Augustine of Hippo on Philosophy and Theology

4 The Status of Theological Language

A fourth area of considerable interest is the way in which theology makes use of language and imagery, including the question of whether theological language is analogical or metaphorical in character. The following readings introduce these important themes.

Theological Language and Images

  1. 1.10 Thomas Aquinas on the Principle of Analogy
  2. 1.14 The Heidelberg Catechism on Images of God
  3. 1.25 Ludwig Wittgenstein on Analogy
  4. 1.27 Vladimir Lossky on Apophatic Approaches to Theology
  5. 1.29 Paul Tillich on the Method of Correlation
  6. 1.30 Ian T. Ramsey on the Language of Christian Doctrine
  7. 1.31 Sallie McFague on Metaphor in Theology
  8. 1.33 Brian A. Gerrish on Accommodation in Calvin's Theology

5 The Nature of Dogma

A final area of much theological interest in the past two centuries concerns the nature of dogma, such as the Chalcedonian definition of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Is this simply a hangover from the past? Or does it play a continuing role in contemporary theological reflection? The following readings represent a variety of approaches, each with its own distinctive emphasis. Note that two are found in later chapters of this work, reflecting the crossover of theological themes within this book.

The Nature of Dogma

  1. 1.23 Adolf von Harnack on the Origins of Dogma
  2. 1.34 George Lindbeck on Postliberal Approaches to Doctrine
  3. 1.35 Dumitru Stăniloae on the Nature of Dogma
  4. 2.34 Charles Gore on the Relationship between Dogma and the New Testament
  5. 4.29 Dorothy L. Sayers on Christology and Dogma

1.1 Justin Martyr on Philosophy and Theology

In his two apologies for the Christian faith, written in Greek at Rome at some point during the period ...

Table of contents