by Alister McGrath
—Reviewed by George F. Pickens, professor, theology and mission; coordinator, Peace and Conflict Studies Program, Messiah College
Most studies of world Christianity focus on the Global South, where the younger churches are booming, and except for surveys of their swift and steady decline, the older churches in the Global North receive limited attention. While the recession of historic Christianity in old Christendom is widespread, in many places the faith remains dynamic and vibrant. In Western Europe and North America, signs of new life are emerging as churches confront mass Christian illiteracy.
Lord and Saviour: Jesus of Nazareth illustrates this growing effort to re-introduce Christianity to the post-Christian North. Alister McGrath is one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent theologians and a master in connecting the academy and the church with the masses. The Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, McGrath has written several influential volumes of academic theology. This small book, however, represents McGrath’s prolific efforts to introduce Christianity to popular audiences.
This volume is the third in a five-part “Christian Belief for Everyone” series authored by McGrath. This collection follows the outline of basic Christianity introduced in the Apostle’s Creed; each volume focuses on foundational Christian tenets, from faith and the Creeds, to eschatology, to the Christian life, and to each member of the Trinity. This particular volume concisely introduces the nature and work of Jesus as narrated in the Gospels, and through five chapters a compelling portrait of Jesus emerges. After an inspiring first chapter which relates the author’s personal encounter with the relevance of Jesus, a convincing case for the deity yet humanity of Jesus is presented. Two elements of this presentation are especially valuable.
Using the biblical texts and episodes from the author’s personal life, Jesus’ contemporary relevance is clarified. In a Christian landscape often characterized by shallow sound bites in hopes of achieving greater popularity, McGrath counters with substantial yet accessible Christology. His interpretations are drawn from solid theological scholarship, and he gently entices and directs the reader to greater depths of Christian faith that lay just beyond his presentation. Quoting heavily from C. S. Lewis and representing that popular author’s legacy, McGrath’s work is public theology at its best.
The chapter on the Atonement is also masterful. Here again, McGrath demonstrates his rare ability to blend theological depth with broad accessibility. He faithfully summarizes the theories of Jesus’ work on the cross, yet his illustrations of each explanation appeal to a popular audience. The section on Christus Victor is especially inspiring, and McGrath’s ability to explain and connect the profound mysteries of the cross for the masses is impressive.
Lord and Saviour: Jesus of Nazareth may be used in basic courses in the academy, yet its most fruitful context is the local church, especially in small-group settings. Even though this volume was written to engage post-Christian illiteracy in the West, McGrath’s work is also valuable in other contexts where a basic introduction to Christianity is desired.
EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 2 pp. 232-233. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.