If you want to understand the British theologian Aleister McGrath (1953), it is best to zoom in on a particular slice of his life story. In 1971, eighteen-year-old McGrath attended church service headed by Charles Coulson. Few still know, but Coulson was not only a secular preacher in the Anglican Church, but also the first professor of theoretical chemistry at Oxford. He also authored a book on faith and science: Christian Science and Belief(1955).
The fact that Young McGrath was enjoying talking to Coulson after church about things that “bothered him” is conceivable from his autobiography. God’s Mystery Read up to that point. He developed into an atheist with youthful courage and was just beginning his career in the exact sciences. But he ended up in the arms of the church – and that’s where the questions really began. These questions – about religion and science – are also discussed God’s Mystery, McGrath’s new book, in which he tells the story of his life.
The Oxford professor Coulson may have been forgotten, but Aleister McGrath is the opposite. He achieved great fame as a theologian. The latter must be said, because it was not when he was shown to be a gifted science student at Oxford and awarded grants for his best accomplishments. However, he became theology, by the way, after studying chemistry, and it was thanks to his personal transformation.
His knowledge of the “hard” sciences will forever affect his theological understanding. Then he countered the atheism of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and his cohorts. Shortly after Dawkins’ book was released God is a fallacy (2006) McGrath published his critical response in book form: Dawkins as a misconception (2007). Not surprisingly, his reaction was critical to Dawkins’ declaration of atheism: McGrath had already discovered for himself that the absolute certainty that scholars claim was philosophically untenable without a basis for a broader ideological belief.
Incidentally, the book that McGrath wrote against Dawkins is just one title in a long series of publications. He has published numerous studies and general books on Christian subjects, which are often reprinted Christian Theology: An Introduction.
From atheism to Christianity
McGrath was often asked: How did this transition from atheism to Christianity go? This question is the flagship of his biography. In this book I say, “he writes in his introduction,” How an anxious and liberal anarchist in thinking with the knowledge as great love developed an unfashionable, but highly satisfying, rational and flexible view of the world.
That sounds exciting, but McGrath also builds the legend a little. In his case, the fact that he was an “anarchist” means that he liked to read books. But the second part of the sentence quoted above also gives material for reflection: McGrath says he has developed a “rational, flexible view” of the world. In it a tone of self-confidence to some extent, which is what distinguishes him. McGrath is someone who does not hesitate, but offers clarity.
However, he does not want to be the publisher of indisputable sure meals. This becomes clear at the end when he says: “Faith is a will, yes, a determination to endure an almost enlightened world.” He continues: In this world, we can “believe in our minds and trust in our hearts that we can find the correct answers to our questions.”
McGrath discovered that the absolute certainty that scholars claim is philosophically untenable
But rationally proving our answers are correct – it just can’t be. So humility is a virtue, as McGrath points out repeatedly: We have to live with insecurity. But the uncertainty does not appear to affect his personal beliefs and the beliefs he claims, although he leaves some questions unanswered in this regard.
Faith as a holistic viewpoint is important to him. Faith does not complement scientific knowledge, but rather places that knowledge in a “comprehensive picture” or “frame of mind.” He asserts that the natural sciences are of exceptional value. But these do not answer the question of the meaning of our universe and mankind’s place in it. Not only did the aforementioned Coulson put him on this path but also the British writer CS Lewis, who has written several books about him.
Depend on certainty
But as intellectual though, in this book, McGrath also comes across his feelings and personal insecurities. Then it becomes clear that personal feelings had meaning in relation to his chosen path of thought. Thus, when he looks back, he discovers a strong thirst for certainty in his young mind. Perhaps it was a thing of puberty, or the other side of his mythical anarchism – at least, according to McGrath, it was a force factor in his sense of life at the time.
He notes that it was motivated by “narcissistic cravings for affirmation and acceptance.” He found an answer to this in The Christian Doctrine of Justification by Faith. He understood this teaching as “an acceptance from God as the basis for true self-esteem.” In other words, “I didn’t have to accomplish anything to be loved.” This then led to a “comprehensive exploration and description of this Christian doctrine,” which resulted – typical of its unstoppable power – no fewer than three books on justification by faith, published in rapid succession in the 1980s.
Interesting book, this is McGrath Biography. Of course, you are looking at his life path through the eyes of the author. On the outside, other things stand out. But this does not preclude knowledge of the passionate critical thinker, who moves between the poles of certainty and uncertainty, and does not play trust and faith against “science.”