Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of Date, 2002
Academic tries to transfer skills to spiritual writing
Knowing Christ by Alister McGrath. Galilee/Doubleday: New York, N.Y. 2002. 241 pages. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
The journey from head to heart is one of the longest and most difficult that we know.
He describes how Christ can be known in times of loneliness, anxiety, doubt and suffering. He writes of images that help us understand Christ and of barriers to understanding him. He tells of how Christ can be personally encountered today, just as he engaged people when he walked this earth.
McGrath the academic, remains primarily an idea person. Some academics are able to switch gears and write spiritual literature. Just how well this book succeeds, however, as a masterful work of contemporary spirituality in the tradition of writers like Ronald Rolheiser is debatable.
McGrath writes unevenly; both in terms of chapter quality and length. While this is probably a book one might consider giving a young reader or a new Christian, there is not a lot here that would challenge veterans.
The author is obviously adept in the world of academic theology but not in writing transparent spiritual autobiography.
Near the end he does make an interesting point about the value of giving and receiving criticism on the spiritual journey. "As I have grown older," he says, "I have become increasingly willing to receive criticism and less ready to give it." He goes on to say that criticism, within a community of spiritual friends, can be very helpful in the growth process.
That being so, this reviewer would supportively encourage McGrath to continue gaining experience in this genre. One way would be to learn how some of the modern spiritual masters like Oscar Romero, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen (intellectuals all) tried to do it.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)
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