Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Alister McGrath's Science of God

Science of God’ is McGrath’s summarized introduction to his 3 volumes ‘A Scientific Theology’. It is an outline of his approach to develop a coherent understanding of the task of theology with major derivation from methods used in contemporary philosophies and natural sciences. In other words, McGrath seeks to explore Christian theology’s multi-faceted nature, finding answers to some of its problems through a wide spectrum of traditions.

The book consists of 5 parts. The first part records McGrath’s personal encounter with Christianity and hence Christian theology. He states that his commitment to atheism and Marxism in his teenage days was due to his ignorance of the exciting substances of Christian theology compared to his former beliefs (p.4). After his conversion in late November 1971, he pursued the studies of natural sciences and Christian theology academically, which he ended up with 2 doctorates; in molecular biology and historical and systematic theology. Impressive.

McGrath’s Scientific Theology has ‘three landmarks’ which are of central importance (p.8) to its conception. Those three are ‘The Genesis of Doctrine’ (1990), ‘The Foundation of Dialogue between Science and Religion’ (1998), and ‘Thomas F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography’ (1999). These works provides McGrath the critical apparatus he needs for his own systemic approach to theology.

The other 4 parts are categorized in the ‘Content’ page: 1) Prolegomena, 2) Nature, 3) Reality, and 4) Theory. Each of these parts comprises extensive discussion in their own terms. All parts are coherently inter-linked, grounded, and supporting each other. Like a gigantic web with each corner being essential to its being, Scientific Theology’s conception of its methods, of the Nature, Reality, and Theory is essential to this enterprise.

Basically Scientific Theology distinctively comprised of 12 integrated and complex elements (p.11-12) that displays the encompassing and substantial characteristic of McGrath’s approach. McGrath discusses these 12 elements throughout the ‘Science of God’. He elaborates some of these elements with examples from scientific discoveries and experiments. And at most part of the work, he derives critically from other thinkers their contributions in their own respective field, and integrates and appropriates their contribution into a systemic theological configuration.

1) The development and thorough examination of the methodologies and assumptions assisting Christian theology.

2) Insistence on Christian Orthodoxy possesses the intellectual resources to engage natural sciences fruitfully.

3) Identification of scientific and theological consequences resulted by postmodern deconstruction of nature.

4) Re-appropriation of Doctrine of Creation that enables engagement with natural world.

5) Retrieval and reconstruction of an authentic Christian natural theology.

6) Affirmation of theological realism especially in non-foundational context.

7) Utilization of a ‘tradition-mediated’ rationality, which surpasses the extremes of the Enlightenment on one end, and the postmodern pluralism on the other.

8) Theological application of critical realism’s stratification reality.

9) Reaffirmation of the purpose and legitimacy of doctrines in Christian life.

10) Development of new models on doctrinal development.

11) Revalidation of ‘heresy’ and ‘orthodoxy’.

12) Reaffirmation of the legitimacy of metaphysics in Christian theology.

My first exposure to systematic theology is Norman Geisler’s multi-volume Systematic Theology. It is structured very much on classical theology, epitomized by Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts, which are helpful but in many aspects, dated. It does not extensively and substantially grapples with prevalent issues provoked by natural sciences as compared to McGrath’s work. Besides that, Geisler’s approach took issues of classical conception of doctrines and philosophies from the Medieval period as given, while McGrath paid attention to fundamental issues pertaining to the study of orthodoxy, underlying philosophies and historical context, and heresy. Hence, one might has the impression that McGrath seems to be dealing not merely with any particular theology but producing a ‘meta-theology’.

In summary, a Scientific Theology can be pictured as a ground-breaking ceremony with all the spades and soil being appropriately in-placed. McGrath humbly admits that such project is a ‘movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbour’ for further development. To him, this project will not settle anything but serve as an attempt, which is still far from its purpose, to make its holistic impact on Christian faith, and to “convey the immensity of the Christian vision of God” (p.250). An attempt that deserves and invites nothing less than deep admiration and immeasurable gratitude in return among Evangelicals. An attempt that, so far, projects itself to be significantly credible.

No comments: