Mysteries of Faith
Compier, Don H
Mysteries of Faith. By Mark McIntosh. The New Church’s Teaching Series, Vol. 8. Boston: Cowley Publications, 2000. xii + 185 pp. $11.95 (paper).
Professor McIntosh offers a highly readable and engaging interpretation of orthodox Christian doctrinal reflection. This is a book most suitable for adult study groups in the parish. Beginning seminarians suffering from fear of theology may also find a remedy here!
In the opening chapter McIntosh presents the fruits of his specialized study of the relationship between dogmatic and ascetical theology. Defining theology as “the struggle to put what has been understood in prayer into words” (p. xi), McIntosh shows that theology is a natural part of every Christian life. McIntosh views each doctrinal subject area as “a different path into the one great and eternal mystery of God’s life and our life in God” (p. 20). I highly recommend this section to anyone inclined to view theology as excessively abstract and irrelevant.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the central theme of McIntosh’s own theology. He offers a clear and compelling contemporary account of the Nicene faith: “God is God through relationship … the relationality of God is precisely who God is” (p. 31, italics original). Chapters on creation, revelation, incarnation, salvation, and communion unfold core Trinitarian insights. All those daunted by the next sermon for Trinity Sunday will benefit from his exposition!
I do have a few quibbles with this fine book. First, in spite of McIntosh’s insistence that “God has chosen not to be God without us” (p. 37), at times the book’s rhetoric suggests a rather self-absorbed God. For instance, he speaks of creation using the metaphor of flowers offered by a lover, when the beauty of the blossoms themselves is less important than their symbolic value in expressing the passionate relationship between the lovers, who in this instance are the different persons of the Trinity (p. 44). McIntosh seems to suggest that we only matter when we become expressive of intra-Trinitarian love. I believe he would benefit from careful attention to thoughts such as those expressed by Emmanuel Levinas, who insists that creation represents God’s acceptance of others who are truly other.
Secondly, Trinitarian thought has enjoyed a revival of late precisely because theologians have shown its relevance to contemporary social concerns. This dimension is largely missing in McIntosh’s work. I was surprised, for instance, that the chapter on creation scarcely mentions God’s interest in nonhuman nature, and that we get only a very general sketch of eschatological hope. This book, then, will not help new students of theology to obtain a sense of the lively debates characterizing the discipline as a whole. For all its merit, McIntosh’s volume does not present the faith of the Church so much as his own valuable yet quite particular perspectives as a representative of the radical orthodox movement in Anglicanism. This is especially noticeable in the highly selective list of resources for further study. Still, I highly recommend this study as an introduction to the traditions it represents. Those seeking a fuller introduction to debates in contemporary Anglican thought and Christian theology as a whole can look elsewhere.
DON H. COMPIER
Church Divinity School of the Pacific Berkeley, California
Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Summer 2001
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