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My Theology series, by Robert Beckford, Ilia Delio, Malcolm Guite, and Alister McGrath

17 December 2021

John Saxbee considers a new series of books of personal theology

ALISTER McGRATH, a contributor to this new series of theological autobiographies, refers to “how my ideas and my history interact and overlap”. That captures the essence of this enterprising venture. DLT is scheduled to have 16 My Theology titles available in a matter of a few months.

First up is Robert Beckford, described as “one of the world’s foremost black theological-cultural critics”. Raised as a Pentecostalist, he developed an early interest in religion and culture from a black perspective. Influenced by Malcolm X, he became politically committed to defiance rather than deference in his embrace of black theology, and has reflected this in his academic career and a series of TV documentaries challenging many mainstream assumptions about the origins of Christianity. He is committed to facilitating a radical theology “confronting racialised injustice, social inequality and environmental degradation”.

In this book, he styles himself as a Duppy Conqueror, driving out untruths told to enslaved and colonised peoples about the meaning of God, and promoting “a theology for deliverance from colonial Christianity”. Chapters entitled “God of the Rahid”, “Jesus is Dread”, and “Spirit Dub” deploy these terms of Rastafarian origin to place in the foreground God’s righteous anger and support for redemptive action, Jesus as a participant in black struggles in Britain, and the Holy Spirit re-mixed (“dubbed”) as a liberating force confronting and overturning social inequalities. Crucially, this contextualised theology is orientated towards action and change in Church and society.

Ilia Delio is a Roman Catholic Franciscan Sister with degrees in biology and physiology, and now a Professor of Theology at the Roman Catholic University of Villanova in the United States. She attributes our failures to deal appropriately with difference, such as Beckford describes, to our failure to love — and her book is a paean to Love.

Her scientific background leads her to the assertion that “God’s heart, full of love, explodes in the Big Bang and slowly dawns in matter with the rise of consciousness.” We are created out of love, and created to love: “Let us breathe in the pain of the world, and breathe out the goodness of love.” God is Love, and “through the eyes of love, we see the face of God.” She believes, with Bonhoeffer, that only a suffering God can help, and concludes that “our great challenge today is how to transform the suffering of the world into the creativity of love.” Jesus stands as “a symbol of God’s absolute fidelity in love”.

Unsurprisingly, Catholic luminaries such as Bonaventure, Francis of Assisi, and Bernard of Clairvaux have influenced her theology. But it is Teilhard de Chardin who is her primary inspiration.

This is a remarkable resumé of a lifelong commitment to love as “the heart of the Christian story”. In places, it is more poetry than prose, with quotable insights guaranteed to find their way into many a sermon.

Poetry, of course, features prominently in Malcolm Guite’s The Word within the Words. A regular contributor to the Church Times, here he has the opportunity to explain how his faith informs and underpins his poetry.

The incarnation is key to his credo “as in Jesus Christ heaven itself is bodied forth, given a local habitation and a name”. Chapters focus in turn on scripture, liturgy, and sacrament all stemming from “the one continuous miracle and mystery of the Incarnation”.

The Word made flesh stimulates his love of words, and he gives a moving account of his journey to faith by engagement with the Psalms and the words of the liturgy, including Morning and Evening Prayer. But, alert to Edwin Muir’s chiding of the Church for becoming a place where “The Word made flesh is here made word again,” he celebrates the transformative power of the eucharist for his theology, his poetry, and the world that he and we inhabit day by day.

This is theology steeped in the power of poetry to capture and articulate experiences and emotions that may for many be felt to be too deep for words. But Guite’s poems, featured here in support of his languid prose, testify otherwise.

Guite was an atheist committed to scientific reductionism when he went up to Cambridge in 1977 — just six years after an equally sceptical Alister McGrath arrived in Oxford. But, as his Return from a Distant Country informs us, McGrath was already beginning to rethink his position, and his theological odyssey was under way.

His autobiography, Through a Glass Darkly (2020), recounts what he calls “journeys through science, faith and doubt”, and that pretty well describes this abbreviated account. Using stages in his academic career, and drawing on the extraordinary breadth and depth of his lightly worn erudition, he focuses respectively on historical theology, science and religion, apologetics, and theological education. Few Anglican authors have been more influential than McGrath in recent decades, and this pithy apologia confirms why.

Distilling the fruits of a lifetime’s labours into fewer than 100 pages is no mean feat, but these four do so to great effect. The price may seem a bit steep for such pocket-sized books, but content-wise they provide excellent value for money.

The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.


My Theology: Duppy Conqueror
Robert Beckford
DLT £8. 99
Church Times Bookshop £8.09

My Theology: The Primacy of Love
Ilia Delio
DLT £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.09

My Theology: The Word within the Words
Malcolm Guite
DLT £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.09

My Theology: Return from a Distant Country
Alister McGrath
DLT £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.09

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