Review: McGrath’s The Only True God (2)

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My first impressions on James McGrath’s newest book is are here. Jared Calaway, at Antiquitopia, has posted his general impressions as well. When I meet a book that deserves a rolling review, I want to give it one. This book is barely 100 pages in length (not counting notes) and while it is not for the faint of conservative heart, it does bare a responsibility to give it a decent review. I’ll leave that up to someone else, and give you what I can.

I am a conservative Christian, depending upon conservative scholarship to steady my foundation – and that’s how I try not to approach this book. I accept that, but I am also determined to grow in God, first, and knowledge second, so when a book that threatens me a bit comes along, I have no problem reading it.

I am trying not to make this review a response to his work, but I do have to make a point concerning a few things that I have found in chapter 3, Monotheism and the Letters Attributed to Paul. The book thus far has been an intellectual exercise, forcing me to examine some dearly held beliefs, even from his passing comments. (I wonder if he will devote more time to cosmology and monotheism?) Further, he takes the time to speak to non-specialists (what’s the word here?) and keeps away from those nasty Greek, Latin, and German words used so frequently in modern scholarship. I prefer to read the book, instead of having to take the time to either translate the passages or look them up.

One problem that I have with the set-up of the book is that it utilizes endnotes, and not footnotes.

But, returning to my brief point, while the author associates sacrificial worship with monotheism, he never finds the attribution of this worship to Christ in the letters of Paul. Seemingly ignoring 1st Cor. 10, and indeed, the eucharist, McGrath doesn’t connect Paul’s use of idols in this passage with the Deuteronomistic prohibitions to sacrifices in the places of idols, which is further connected to the communion meal of the primitive Church.

I would also contend with the author about his belief that the Trinity (‘three in one’ as the author puts it) was formulated at Nicaea.

Finally, in this section, the author spends considerable time on Philippians 2.9-11, and indeed, he does have a point, that this could very well point to the fact that God took a mediatory figure, which was common in 2nd Temple Judaism, and placed within him the Divine Name – except he pays very little attention to the verses preceding this passage, which focuses heavily on the deity of Christ. More than a mere human, the pre-existence is assumed in vs 6-8 (Pre-existence is also assumed by Paul in 1st Cor. 10.4). Also, he uses a passage in Colossians, which he notes that while it is not considered a true Pauline book it is attributed to Paul, and thus fits into perimeters of his current discussion. Considering the passage in Colossians is fine, but he ignores the deity attributing passages in other letters attributed to Paul, such as 1st Timothy 3.16 and Titus 2.13. He also fails to acknowledge, even in passing as a translation choice, Romans 9.5, a letter generally affirmed to be Pauline.

One of the most positive things about the book – which for me is important – is that while the author sees Jesus as exalted rather than divine, he still allows for the uniqueness of Christ and the history of the Gospels.

Again, this is only my view, as a conservative Christian.

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