McGrath, Alister The Unknown God: Searching for Spiritual Fulfilment, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999, $27.95 Can.

A review by Robert Brow       December 1999

The title is from the beginning of Paul's sermon in front of the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:23), and it explores the implications of "that they would search for God and perhaps grope for Him and find Him - though indeed He is not far from us" (Acts 17:27).

This marks a welcome radical shift in the way Alister McGrath writes evangelical theology. Instead of heavy theological argumentation, he begins with our deep longings and unfulfilled desires. He shows how they point to a "promised land" (p.17).

In passing he uses his previous logical skill to demolish The Great Projection Theory. The fact that we long for something does not prove that the object of our longing is imaginary (p.20). The theory is double-edged. If "all our beliefs rest on human longings" both faith in God and faith in the fact that there is no God are equally flawed (p.23) by "the assertion that something cannot exist if we wish it to exist" (p24).

In chapter 4 he uses Plato's Cave. "Experiences which we have on earth can thus be seen as hints of something greater which is to come" (p.28). Heaven "is like the best of this world, only better" (p.41).

The rest of the book points us to parables like the pearl of great price, the lost sheep, Jesus' words about thirst and hunger, which suggest that "our longings and desires have their origins in God" (p.42). He is "a personal living God who can be known, not merely known about" (p.71, see p.108).

The theology of the atonement (chapters 12 & 13) carefully avoids the theory of a payment by the Son in a heavenly law court. Ransoming is about being freed, not about "the price which was paid" (p.87).

There are some delightful quotes. The ones I liked most were : "I am an atheist who has lost his faith" (Boris Pasternak, author of Dr. Zhivago). A cynic is "a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing" (Oscar Wilde).

Unfortunately the publishers have given this beautifully written little book a glossy dust jacket and numerous art illustrations, which make it more like a coffee table Christmas present. At $27.95 (Can) better read it in a library, or else give it to a friend who has everything except eternal life.

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