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by Alister McGrath

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8308-1694-1

 A generally well-written apologia for evangelical Christianity whose occasionally overheated prose may reflect its origins as a series of lectures. McGrath (Theology/Oxford; Spirituality in an Age of Change, not reviewed) was once a theological liberal. He became disenchanted with the religious left, however, when he perceived its inability to address social problems in a serious and systematic way. Like Whitaker Chambers, the disaffected Communist turned zealous anti-Communist, McGrath then embraced the opposing camp with ardor. He has since joined the small cadre of evangelical religious scholars (like Mark A. Noll and Peggy Starkey) who seek to bring academic rigor to the movement. Here he explores some of the major issues confronting evangelicalism as a movement within a wider Christianity. He begins by tracing its history from the late Renaissance through the Protestant Reformation to the present day. Currently, the movement, though still largely an English-language phenomenon, is attracting growing numbers of adherents in non-English-speaking countries. McGrath is careful to distinguish evangelicalism from fundamentalism. While the latter argues for a rigid interpretation of scripture and dogma, the former fosters a ``theology of retrieval,'' recovering the main strands of the Christian tradition. The author then examines the major theological beliefs of evangelical Christianity (e.g., the primacy of the Bible and the need for personal conversion). He is not afraid to criticize his own movement from within, examining tendencies toward both fundamentalism and cults of personality. Although he disclaims any vested interest in such a conclusion, McGrath firmly believes that the future of Christianity lies largely with evangelicalism (including evangelicals in the Catholic Church). But he argues that evangelicalism, while popular and spreading, must deepen its understanding of itself and its roots. The work seems primarily aimed at younger, college-age readers in search of certainty in uncertain times. Others will be interested but less engaged.