George Grant and the Theology of the Cross: The Christian Foundations of His Thought.
It is not every day a minister of The Presbyterian Church in Canada has a book published by a major university press. Harris Athanasiadis, the minister of St. Mark's Church in Don Mills, Ontario, belongs to a new generation of younger Canadian Presbyterian scholars, and this book marks his first major contribution.
The book was originally undertaken as research at McGill University, Montreal, under the direction of theologian Douglas John Hall, whose own work on the theology of the cross has been recognized as a major contribution to contemporary Christian thought. Athanasiadis takes up Hall's work and applies it to the Canadian philosopher George Grant, one of Canada's best-known cultural commentators of the 20th century (Philosophy in the Mass Age, Lament for a Nation, Technology and Justice).
By most accounts, George Grant was something of an enigma. The scion of a quintessential Canadian establishment family (George Munro Grant and George Parkin were his grandfathers; Vincent Massey was his uncle), he nevertheless felt like an outsider all his life. Arguably one of Canada's most significant public intellectuals of the past century, he was often dismissed by the university community as an academic lightweight who was out of step with current thought. A Christian who took his faith seriously, he often found himself at odds with the Canadian churches. Why? Was Grant simply an old curmudgeon who couldn't get along with people?
Not according to Athanasiadis. The author argues persuasively that it had everything to do with the Christian foundations of Grant's thought. Through the influence of Simone Weil and others, Grant embraced Luther's theology of the cross and came to see things through the lens of suffering and deprivation. The ways of God in the world look very different when viewed through the cross. A theology of glory, according to Luther,. gets things backwards, calling evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross, however, calls things what they actually are, despite appearances to the contrary. Grant applied these upside-down values of God's reign to modem technological society. As a result, he tried to call things as they were, and not much escaped his judgment: education, the arts, business, politics, the media and the church. Athanasiadis makes his case as he sets out the main themes of Grant's key texts within the framework of Luther's theology of the cross.
This book is clearly written but it is not an easy read. It will, however, repay those who take the time to work through its five well-organized chapters. It will be of interest to scholars, ministers and educated laypeople who wish to pursue the Christian thought of an important Canadian thinker.
Let me be clear: my regard for the author's achievement is high. But two qualifying comments should be noted. First, Athanasiadis takes what is, by his own admission, "a thin tradition" in Grant's thought and uses it to illumine the whole in magisterial fashion. I think he is successful in this. Nevertheless, one gets the sense that this overshadows other important features of Grant's theological thought.
Secondly, Grant often painted with a broad intellectual brush. He was fond of describing two main approaches to Christianity (the Platonic, Augustinian, Lutheran theology versus the Aristotelian, natural theological, Calvinist, Puritan tradition), failing to appreciate the texture and nuance of rich and diverse theological traditions. Athanasiadis recognizes this, but he might have taken on Grant more critically at points, especially when the author's own Calvinist tradition is knocked around. That being said, this is a splendid book and well worth the read!
John Vissers is principal of The Presbyterian College in Montreal.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2001|
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