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Posts Tagged ‘Alister McGrath’


I must confess that I have never read an Alister McGrath book, until now.  Three years ago a friend recommended The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit while I was on one of my journeys to the RTS Orlando Bookstore for a sale.  At some point I started to read it, but got stuck along the way.

Fast forward to my trip to PA earlier this month.  Seemed like a good book to bring.  I’m wondering why I put it down in the first place.  It was very appropriate for the place in life where I find myself.

Alister McGrath confesses that it is too easy for him to intellectualize his faith.  Here he is not advocating an anti-intellectualized faith, but internalizing the truth of our faith so it produces hope in the midst of life’s journey.  To do this he spends some time advocating biblical meditation (see my post on this).  This is part of the map he provides for us to persevere on the journey.

He takes Exodus as his template with alternating stages of wilderness and oasis.  To promote trust and hope in the midst of the suffering that will often mark this journey, he talks about remembering what God has done and anticipating what God will do.  These are essentially the past and future aspects of biblical meditation.

“The present was thus sustained by the memory of past events and the hope of future events.”

Along the way the introduces a series of landmarks from a biblical theology (creation, fall, redemption), and some companions for the journey.  He recognizes the need to learn from those who have gone before us.  He chooses men like Jonathan Edwards, J.I. Packer, C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan and more.

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Saturday night I was in my hotel room in PA after dinner with the committee.  I’d caught CavWife up on the details of the day.  I decided to read some of The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit by Alister McGrath.  I discovered that I had started reading it before.   But since I did not remember anything about it, I started over.

At one point he was talking about meditation.  Though tired, I paid attention since I was going to be talking about meditation in my sermon on Psalm 1 the next morning.  He quoted these words from Geert Zerbolt van Zutphen, who lived in the 14th century:

Meditation is the process in which you diligently turn over in your head whatever you have read or heard, earnestly reflecting upon it and thus enkindling your affections in some particular manner, or enlightening your understanding.

That is a great one-sentence definition of what biblical meditation is.  A text is turned over in your head, you chew on it as a cow chews on its cud.  You are internalizing it as you explore it.  But it is not merely an exercise in reason.  Notice the proto-Edwardsian language: enkindling your affections.  It was to shape the desires of your heart.  It could stir up what Edwards called holy affections.

McGrath goes on to say how this feeds prayer.  We are stirred up to long for what the text teaches, and to passionately pray for it to come about.  I thought about C.S. Lewis’ statement about a holiday by the sea.  We settle for far too little.  God offers us amazing things in His Word, but we are content with far too little knowledge of and desire for them.

I see this as one of the reasons (and there are plenty) Western Christianity is so anemic.  Christians zoom about hither and yon.  We are not meditating upon the Word as a man enjoys a 4 course meal.  We are snacking on it.

When the Spirit brings a text to mind, or impresses it upon your heart as you read it, begin to turn it over.  Explore it, chew on it so that you may delight in it and the One to whom it points.  Let your affections be kindled by truth.

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