Archives For Alister McGrath

There’s no real need to give you a one thousand word commentary on the following lectures because the content in each speaks for itself. I’ve watched all three; each of them reflect what I’ve written about or questioned here and on my other social media platforms.

When it comes to anything posted by or about Jordan Peterson, I am a cautious and curious listener. He has a grasp of the major issues that few, including most theologians and pastors, do. That’s a sad indictment, but the reality is most theologians and pastors show up as left-leaning and thus refuse to break with the modern liberal ideological radicalism perverting politics. My best guess is that this is due to the fear of public ridicule or a reluctance with having to deal with internal conflict caused by presenting an honest theological critique of the socio-political situation we are currently in.

My problem with Peterson is that he skirts around his own faith and steers clear of clarifying how his theology, or Christian theology in general, speaks into the political milieu of our age. This is amplified by his consistently ambiguous acknowledgement that the success of Western civilisation, especially after, through and despite so much human induced disaster, is due in large part to the Judeo-Christian faith and Western society’s Judeo-Christian foundations. However, given that Peterson is not a theologian, perhaps my problem with Peterson is too hasty; too harsh; too soon.

In regards to Alister McGrath, I’m a lot more receptive and less guarded. McGrath is a lot less political and a lot more consistent in his theological arguments, which are openly supported by his open confession of faith in Jesus Christ. This said, as a true blue student of Karl Barth, when it comes to McGrath overall, I’m drawn to hold some of McGrath’s thoughts on Natural Theology in question. Nevertheless, what Alister McGrath presents in the lecture below is outstanding and worth the effort spent absorbing.

Third and lastly, I’m not all that well acquainted with Peter Hitchens. I am less inclined to listen to him because his brother was a celebrity in the new atheist movement, and more inclined to listen to him because Peter Hitchens is a man of the radical Left, now a man-in-revolt against the radical Left.

Like Peterson, Hitchens is not a theologian, but speaks theological truths into a world happy to deny a Christian voice at the table unless it is a) supportive of the modern liberal ideological radicalism perverting politics or b) supportive of the unforgiving caricature of Christians in mainstream media.

Hitchens is careful with his words, considerate, relational and sober minded. Three qualities that Peterson and McGrath also possess; three qualities which make a great case for taking seriously what each individual has to say.

Peterson: ‘Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism‘ 

Alister McGrath: ‘Why God Won’t Go Away

Peter Hitchens: ‘The Abolition of Britain’ and other topics

 

 ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear.’ (Matthew 11:15)

gresham-collegeEngland’s Gresham College has a series of excellent lectures available for free on YouTube. Two grabbed my attention. Alister McGrath’s, ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates   and Alec Ryrie’s, ‘What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West.’ 

McGrath’s lecture starts with an overview of Charles Darwin’s journey from The Beagle to the establishment of his theory, and closes with a discussion about Darwinism and religion. My only criticism was that McGrath is a little too generous towards Darwin when discussing Nazism and its social Darwinian foundations.

That was, however, offset by McGrath’s in-depth look at Darwin’s assertions in ”The Decent of Man”.

“Darwin never became an atheist. Although he wrestled with [Protestant] Christianity’s “lack” in dealing with suffering, brought on by the loss of his daughter, Darwin never used evolution as weapon against Christianity. From what we know, Darwin didn’t see a clash between evolution and creation”

In a somewhat related vein, Alec Ryrie’s lecture deals with the paralysing of freedom.

His three primary themes are morality, christian authenticity and the loss of christian identity. All of which are paralysed by politics and pluralism.

Ryrie states that for the West, ‘World War Two was the defining moral event, of the twentieth century.’ For example: the fight against the Axis powers in WW2 was portrayed as a Crusade against evil. This, according to Dwight Eisenhower, was proven true by the horrors found in Dachau and Auschwitz.

This led to a post-war rallying around Judeo-Christianity, the faith of “Christendom”, as being a bulwark against communism, because those who pray the Shema Yisrael and the Lord’s Prayer, saved the West from Nazism [the new modern face and name for evil].

From the mid 1950s up to 1968 something shifted in the West. Ryrie looks to this shift by focusing on the African-American civil rights movement. In these he sees the opportunistic birth of the radical left (Western Marxism), as it took over ownership of the Civil rights movement, and quietly suppressed the movements Christian foundations.

The consequence being a ‘reckless abandonment of institutions‘ and tradition. Adding to this the eventual gagging of the gospel (Jesus Christ) and the disintegration of an openly Christian identity.

The outcome was that ”culture determined the agenda and therefore the church had to go wherever the culture led.” Just as the Church under the thumb of National Socialist Germany had lost it’s identity, was paralysed and painfully divided by conformity, politics and pluralism, the Church in the West today has followed suit.

Christian identity ended up ‘torn’ between political correctness and Christian orthodoxy.

For example: by the late 1970s the religious left had became ‘invisible’. Ryrie presents as evidence the overthrow of the Student Christian Mission (SCM) by Marxists, who,

‘merged a Marxist revolution with the Kingdom of God; seeing Jesus as a political radical.
This was the subsuming of Christian identity into radical politics.’

A theology of Christian liberation, which centres Christ at the heart of social justice, was confused with liberation theology, which surrenders Christ into servitude to the ideology of Marx.

The lecture ends with the example of Buzz Aldrin’s decision to have communion on the moon. Ryrie highlights Aldrin’s regret, where in his 2008 memoir, Aldrin stated, if he did the moon landing all over again, he wouldn’t repeat it, because they went to the moon on behalf of humanity, which includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus and heathen, not just Christians.

Although Aldrin took communion in private, Aldrin is still led to reconsider it. The real reason? He has been taught to view the outworking of his Christian faith as intolerant and bigoted. He has been pressured to feel guilty for living out his Christian faith; coerced into feeling guilty for following Jesus Christ.

Ryrie points to Adlrin’s regret as evidence of the crisis caused by this loss of Christian identity. The  insecurity (lament/shyness/uncertainty) about holding up, with conviction, what is an essential rite of Aldrin’s faith, makes special note of the struggle Christians have in ‘maintaining a [Christian] identity in the midst of pluralism.’

Ryrie’s lecture is full of insight. He inadvertently backs up the quip that the radical Left created the modern Conservative movement.

The radical Left continues to be a divisive force, setting itself up as the Kingdom of God without God in it. Grasping for any cause that will reinvigorate this division to foster recruitment and feed an alternative sense of global community that competes with the Commonwealth of Christ, by attacking its freedom and undermining its legitimacy.

Christianity indistinguishable from the world is subsequently extinguished by the world.

Or perhaps more accurately, Christianity indistinguishable from the world allows itself to be extinguished (at least in public) from the world.

It should be no surprise to us then, that leaders will rise who don’t live up to the Judeo-Christian convictions that are said to have defeated the evils the world faced in the 1940s. It should be no surprise to us then, that once we’ve effectively evicted God from the pubic and private sphere, we end up with leaders who fail to lead outside their own self-interest.

You cannot remove Judeo-Christianity from the West, then think you are right to kick and scream when a leader/s rise who don’t live out Judeo-Christian convictions.

In the end, you’re only getting what you prayed for.


References:

[i] McGrath, A. 2016 ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates Gresham College – [transcript]

[ii] Ryrie, A. 2016 What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West Gresham College – [transcript]

English: Location of South Avustralia.

English: Location of South Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contemporary Western society both beguiles and reviles its ideological heritage.

This stems from the 19th and 20th centuries and is evident to the plethora of antagonists who aspire to deconstruct, in order to defend this heritage, or completely write it off as part of the inevitable devolution of imperialist Western civilisation.

This is manifested in the ”replace it with something else – bulldoze it”; revolutionary ethos, advocated by a large amount of people who align themselves with ”progressive” socio-political agendas.

Atheist and comedian Pat Condell is right, (even if a bit hypocritical in his defence of the freedom of speech), to point at that the problem is, progressives are now trending towards accepting ideology, without critique.

This necessarily means that ideology will enslave those that it is supposedly serving. For instance: ‘human beings do not have to serve causes, causes have to serve human beings’ (Barth – Against the Steam p.35).

My point is that in reality, ideology rarely delivers the freedom it promises, if at all.

Alister McGrath wrote that ‘the past not only shapes and illuminates the present but anticipates the future’ [1].

No matter how much we try to justify it, when reality bites, history corrects us. History presents those of us who abandon politics for theology, and vice-versa as the fools we truly can be.

This is evidenced in the eerie example of ‘Hitler, who only tolerated those clerics who applauded his will to be the absolute ruler of the state’. (Eberhard Busch ‘Barmen theses’, 2010, p.1)

It is true that ‘grace leads us to rebel against the powers which keep us in servitude’ [2]. In light of this it is certainly difficult to disagree with the caveat against appeasement, penned in 1940 by  C.S Lewis,

 ‘I think the suppression of a higher religion by a lower, or even a higher secular culture by a lower, is a great evil…though the world is slow to forgive, it is quick to forget’ [3].

I come now to the Australian Minister for trade, Craig Emerson, who staged this (see below) last year in order to ridicule Opposition claims that Whyalla, a mining community in South Australia, would be seriously hindered by the implementation of a ‘carbon tax’.

I support responsible management of the environment. I am, however, in complete disagreement with any cheap political gains that feed off what is pushed by a ”mob”.

This is because ‘truthfulness is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’ [4].

 

The reality – 2013:
”Whyalla Mayor Jim Pollock said he was shocked by the announcement, which dashed hopes of 1000 new jobs for the industrial city.Whyalla has suffered a series of blows in recent months, with BHP Billiton postponing its huge Olympic Dam expa…nsion and jobs at OneSteel under threat”.[5]
The theology – timeless:
‘It is better for a person to hear the rebuke of the wise  than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,    so is the laughter of the fools;   this also is vanity’ Solomon, Ecc.7:5-6. (ESV)

Source:

[1] McGrath, A 2007 Christianity’s dangerous idea, p.10 HarperCollins Publishers.
[2] Marquardt, in Gorringe, T. 1999, Karl Barth: Against Hegemony, Oxford press
[3]Lewis, C.S 1940, ‘why I am not a pacifist’ in Essay Collection, 2000 pp.287 & 293.
[4] Shuster, M. 2008 Performance in Preaching: bringing sermons to life, Baker academic
[5]Sarah Martin, The Australian (pay-walled content) via Andrew Bolt