Maker of heaven and earth

24 December 2008

Martin Warner reads two introductions to the idea of God

The Christian Vision of God
Alister McGrath

SPCK £10.99 (978-0-281-05596-8)
ChurchTimes Bookshop £9.90

reviewed with

God: The short version
Peter Lundstrom

Lion £4.99 (978-0-7459-5312-0)
Church Times Bookshop £4.50

THERE is no doubt about it: Alister McGrath does write exceedingly good books. This statement must be taken at face value, and, if you are in any doubt, The Christian Vision of God can account for my assertion.

This book comes in the same format as Resurrection, published last year. In this new volume, we are presented with a series of seven pictures that McGrath uses to narrate in intelligent and attractive terms the Christian understanding of God as we believe it has been revealed to us.

The tone of this narrative is certainly not polemical, but the label on the front cover reminds us that Professor McGrath is also the author of The Dawkins Delusion, a book that enters polemical territory. This is a slightly subtle signal that McGrath is in the business of Christian apologetics for all. The Christian Vision of God may not provide you with answers for the determined, militant atheist, but it will broaden your points of reference for how to account for the enterprise of faith.

As in Resurrection, the range of meditations in The Christian Vision of God locates us in the devotional sphere. Here is an implied assertion that Christian faith in God is about living in a particular way as much as believing particular things. Mind, heart, and actions must all cohere if this faith is to have integrity and converting authenticity.

One observation of a critical nature will not, I hope, diminish the positive tenor of this review. Chapter 1, “God as the heart’s desire”, makes its point with a picture I would call an illustration: it is a straightforward depiction of the parable of the pearl of great price. Much more interesting is the choice of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss for chapter 2, “Enfolded in the love of a personal God”. This altogether more edgy, erotic image takes us into a much richer seam of theo­logical suggestion and illumination. After Klimt, I was sorry that McGrath’s other selections were less daringly illuminating.

Peter Lundstrom’s God: The short version deserves short applause for a serious account of God in the great world faiths. It offers a balanced survey, except that, having introduced us to Spinoza, with a nod in the direction of Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, it suddenly discusses, at some length, Bishop John Spong as the exponent of “upwelling modern pantheism”.

A selection mistake, surely? But with that health warning, I’d say it was well worth a fiver as some­thing to give the intelligent con­firmation candidate or agnostic sixth-former.

Canon Warner is Treasurer of St Paul’s Cathedral.

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