Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review
A Scientific Theology, Volume 2: Reality
A Scientific Theology, Volume 2: Reality. By Alister E. McGrath. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. xvii + 343 pp. $50.00 (cloth).
This is the second volume in a three-volume treatise on McGrath's program of critical realist theology, which he refers to as scientific theology. McGrath defines scientific theology in the preface as "an a posteriori discipline, responding to and offering an account of what may be known of God through revelation, taking full account of the stratified nature of that knowledge of God" (p. xi). So he begins this volume with a discussion of knowledge, how we obtain knowledge, and the certainty of our knowledge.
McGrath boldly proclaims the death of classic foundationalism in favor of critical realism and demonstrates that founding our beliefs on basic objective "truths" or on experience is misguided and a by-product of Enlightenment thinking. Critical realism "recognizes that the observer modulates the process of observation itself; that the quest for truth modifies the truth that is encountered; that the knower affects what can be known" (p. 205).
McGrath proposes a program of ongoing theological reflection that is based on internally coherent criteria. In order to illustrate the activity of this theological program he proposes the analogy of a boat on the seas which is constantly under construction and repair (as per philosopher Otto Neurath). Furthermore, nobody is capable of stepping out of the boat to gain a completely objective vantage point. McGrath very capably and convincingly relates this image of "Neurath's boat" to Christian theology, which exists at present within a vast storehouse of previous knowledge, faith, and tradition. Christian theology can be "consolidated" and "developed" by present-day theologians, but not "constituted" or reconstituted.
McGrath then goes on to show the importance of tradition in Christian theology as "an interpretive grid, a reticulate structure which may be thrown over experience" (p. 68) and the need to transcend tradition through the application of natural theology. …