Book review: Lord and Saviour: Jesus of Nazareth

Lord and Saviour: Jesus of Nazareth
Part 3 of Christian Belief for Everyone

Alister McGrath
SPCK: London
ISBN 978 0281068371

This is the third in the series ‘Christian Belief for Everyone’ and I looked at the first part last year here.
I rather enjoyed this one. It felt like a canter through a theological library, with McGrath pointing left and right to the big thinkers, the classic works of literature, whilst shouting out doctrines and ideas as we went. “Heresies! Look what Athanasius says!” or “Atonement! Crashaw, 1612! Incarnation! CS Lewis!” whilst occasionally lobbing a well-known hymn which made the same theological point at our heads. (There were also a few “You at the back, Dawkins. I heard that. Come here and make that point about science again please where we can all hear you.”) There are more in-depth considerations of other writers’ ways of putting fairly complicated points across, so we meet a range of recent and ancient voices. All help to present the Big Picture of who Jesus Christ was.

I can’t count the number of times I have stood in church and stated my belief. I believe in Jesus Christ. God’s only begotten Son. Crucified, dead and buried. This book reminds me I need to think about the man I am affirming belief in; and the words I use, and ultimately what the implications for my life of faith are. We are invited to take a look at the ideas of salvation, atonement, incarnation, sacrifice, ransom and others; and understand how the ideas and evidence and parts of the puzzle come together.  What does Messiah mean? or Saviour? What about Lord? Words we use often, in church-talk, but it’s rare we are given a chance to think about what the words might actually mean, or uncover the layers of connotations they might have.

I loved the pace of this book. I valued knowing there was a picture being sketched out here, that gave options for more indepth reading or just to become familiar with some of the arguments. The personal stories and illustrations of the tricky theological points also helped. The books were borne out of a series of sermons – perhaps that pace arises from the fact these were talks, not essays, originally, making them well structured and simple to follow. That’s not to say the ideas are simple, they are not; and in places things do seem to be glossed over. One that particularly struck me was the idea that the Jesus’ death changes the nature of the OT God to the benevolent NT version. McGrath states this is not so. I’m fairly certain an entire sub-book could be written about this, and I’d have perhaps preferred to see a bit more of this elaborated. I’ve just finished reading Joshua; that’s pretty bloodthirsty and hard to reconcile with the NT God.

This is a useful book. The final two will definitely be making their way to my bookshelves. I can see myself using these a lot in the future when leading housegroups, etc: a good resource to say “try these ideas for size.”


  1. This looks like a good book to keep at the back of the church on a bookstall.

    I’ve just started reading “Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ” (it was free on Kindle a few weeks ago…) which looks like it covers some of the same ground. Only got as far as the Introduction, however!

    On the Old Testament / New Testament God thing – Paul Copan wrote a book called “Is God a Moral Monster?” recently – I haven’t read it yet but it looks good.

    • Yes, that was exactly the sort of ‘useful’ I meant: handy for all sorts of people. Re the OT, well, I understand the arguments – just would have liked a bit more than a throwaway sentence.

  2. There was a good debate recently on Unbelievable (a Premier radio programme) between Bart Ehrman and Simon Gathercole on the question of an early high Christology. Both were, admittedly, plugging their own books on the topic, but they could serve as useful follow-ups. For a chunkier read, Wright has a lot to say about the terms ‘Messiah’ and the use of the term ‘Lord’ as applied to Jesus.

    I wonder if McGrath drew out the same point that 1 Cor 8:6 is a reworking of the Shema with Jesus, as Messiah, put into the middle of a declaration of monotheism.

    If you were interested in his bit on heresies, then I would recommend as a follow up two of his earlier books: ‘Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth’ and ‘Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution – A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First’.

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