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ALISTER McGRATH ON CROSS AND JUSTIFICATION MICHAEL RooT Imtitute for liloumenical Research Strasbourg, France Ay REGULAR reader of theological book advertisements has encountered the name of Alister McGrath. Since 1984, he has published a two volume history of the doctrine of justification, a study of Luther's theofogy of the cross, a general introduction to the thought of the Reformation , a study of the late medieval background of the Reformation , a history of German Protestant Christology from the Enlightenment through the present, and popular books on the cross, the Trinity, and Christology. All the while he has lectured in Christian doctrine and ethics at Oxford. What is McGrath saying in this amazing flow of publications ? Here I wiH look at three representative works. Iustitia Dei, which traces the understanding of the doctrine of justification from the Bible to Gerhard Ebeling, must be considered the centerpiece of his work to date.1 Luther's Theology of the Cross can be taken as typical of his more monographic work.2 Fina;lly, The Mys.tery of the Cross can exemplify his popular writings.3 I. lustitia Dei has an obvious claim on our attention. As McGrath notes in the first sentence of the Preface, this has 1[ustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doct1·ine of Justification, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) . 2 Luther's Theology of the Gross: Martin Luther's Theological Breakthrough (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985) . a The Mystery of the Gross (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988). 705 706 MICHAEL ROOT been a history waiting to be written (except perhaps for the first volume of Ritschl's The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation). The Reformers stated that the docrtrine of justification was the root of their movement. McGrath has chosen an ecumenically decisive topic to survey. Although the length of McGrath's history (378 pages of text) may not justify its separation into two volumes, the division of the volumes follows a clear structural division of the work, a division McGrath finds in the history of the doctrine. After a definition of the subject and a six page discussion .of the pre~Augustinian tradition, the first volume rapidly comes to Augustine, the " fountainhead '' of the Western discussion of justification. The tradition from Augustine to the Reformation is sufficiently unitary that it can be discussed topically under such headings as " the righteousness of God," " the concept of merit,'' and " the relation between predestination and justification." In fact, the topics are so arranged that something of a chronological progression is produced, with the problems that dominated the late medieval period coming last. While the first volume deals with continuity, the second is structured by the major discontinuities of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. A major contention of McGrath is that the Reformation constitutes a break with a relatively continuous tradition. Another, even more radical break comes with the Enlightenment. Thus, the second volume is arranged chronologically and discusses developments from the Reformation through recent hermeneutically oriented interpretations of the doctrine. This outline of the structme of McGrath's hisrtory should make clear its most important characteristic. lt is a history of the discussion of justification in the West on the terms set by Augustine. After a six page leap from the New Testament to the late fourth century, the East is quickly dismissed, never to appear again. Even within the West, the history is selective. The six eenturies between Augustine and Anselm are passed over with only brief mention of the Semi-Pdagian disputes ON ALISTER MC GRATH 707 following Augustine's death and the controversies surrounding Gottschalk rGodescalc] of Orbais. Well over half the book deals with the period between 1050 and 1600 in the West. Following the Reformation, attention is given only to selected figures from the German and English Enlightenment, to Kant and Schleiermacher as critics of the Enlightenment (though Schleiermacher's own doctrine of justification, which in important ways recaptures that of the Reformation, is ignored) , to Newman, and to the most prominent German Protestant theologians of recent times (Ritschl, Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, Ebeling) . Except for Newman, who is treated in the context of Anglicanism, no Roman Catholic is mentioned after the condemnation of Jansenism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 705-725
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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