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Essentials of Christian Theology Paperback – 31 Oct 2003


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Product details

  • Paperback: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1 edition (31 Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664223958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664223953
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,154,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

William C. Placher was Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He was the author or editor of a number of books including A History of Christian Theology, Jesus the Savior, and Essentials of Christian Theology, all published by WJK.

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Several times, introducing me to a church group, a well-meaning person has said, "Bill Placher is a theologian, but I think you'll find what he has to say very interesting." Read the first page
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By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME on 9 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
William Placher is a well-known theologian, a good writer and a great teacher, recognised as such by the American Academy of Religion a few years ago. When this book came out last year, I recognised it at once as a very valuable resource, both for classroom use and for congregational study. The book can be used as a good introduction to the key issues in theology, a companion volume for systematic theology classes, a worthwhile text for contemporary issues in theology, and a good pro-and-con collection on significant topics. As such, it should serve as a textbook in many settings.
Many of the names incorporated into this volume are significant figures in theology. I am pleased to have met several of them; I had heard of almost all of them before getting this text, which speaks to the prominence of the contributors.
There are nine primary issues addressed in the text, each with two essays developing the topic from different (although not always directly opposing) viewpoints. Each addresses aspects of what Placher identifies in the first chapter as the five factors in context of theology in North American today -- issues of modernity, post-modernity, ecumenism, pluralism, and the Barthian challenge. Placher describes the Barthian challenge as the idea that 'Christianity should never compromise its principles to fit the culture around it.' Placher defines ecumenism and pluralism for the context of this book, but modernity and post-modernity always present a challenge in definition.
Placher acknowledges that the nine primary topics are fairly standard; not all theological topics are covered here (such is often impossible in one-volume texts).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Theological give and take... 19 July 2004
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
William Placher is a well-known theologian, a good writer and a great teacher, recognised as such by the American Academy of Religion a few years ago. When this book came out last year, I recognised it at once as a very valuable resource, both for classroom use and for congregational study. The book can be used as a good introduction to the key issues in theology, a companion volume for systematic theology classes, a worthwhile text for contemporary issues in theology, and a good pro-and-con collection on significant topics. As such, it should serve as a textbook in many settings.
Many of the names incorporated into this volume are significant figures in theology. I am pleased to have met several of them; I had heard of almost all of them before getting this text, which speaks to the prominence of the contributors.
There are nine primary issues addressed in the text, each with two essays developing the topic from different (although not always directly opposing) viewpoints. Each addresses aspects of what Placher identifies in the first chapter as the five factors in context of theology in North American today -- issues of modernity, post-modernity, ecumenism, pluralism, and the Barthian challenge. Placher describes the Barthian challenge as the idea that 'Christianity should never compromise its principles to fit the culture around it.' Placher defines ecumenism and pluralism for the context of this book, but modernity and post-modernity always present a challenge in definition.
Placher acknowledges that the nine primary topics are fairly standard; not all theological topics are covered here (such is often impossible in one-volume texts). He arranges them in the following manner:
Revelation and authority
Doctrine of God
Creation and providence
Human nature and sin
Christology (person and work of Jesus Christ)
Ecclesiology (church)
Christian life
Pluralism from a Christian perspective
Echatology (end-times; also, intentions and purposes)
Placher provides a brief introduction to each of the nine topics; these are almost always 7-8 pages in length, setting the stage for the subsequent dual presentations.
One of the more interesting exchanges for me was the chapter on 'Human nature and sin', where Placher paired Clark W. Williamson with Serene Jones. Serene Jones' father, Joe Jones, was a colleague of many years of Williamson; knowing Williamson and the elder Jones personally, and having met the younger Jones and having read her work independently, the exchange of views here was intriguing.
Placher's format is interesting -- the text is laid out with pull-quotes and text boxes scattered generously throughout the narrative, highlighting key points. There are suggested readings after each chapter, as well as questions for reflection and discussion. Placher's own introduction has a topically-arranged bibliography of further readings, too. There is a useful glossary of terms and names, as well as a good index.
The readings here are worthwhile without being unnecessarily hard or obtuse -- while this is a grand collection of theological scholars, it is also a good collection of accessible readings presuming no particularly in-depth theological education.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A Place for Evangelicals and Liberals to Meet 3 Jun. 2005
By Randal Rauser - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I teach at a conservative evangelical seminary and used this as a supplementary text to the mainstay (Millard Erickson). I must say that Placher has done a fantastic job of choosing a stellar lineup of essayists from a broad spectrum of opinion. Moreover, unlike some counterpoint books that leave the reader bewildered, each section here is unified by Placher's excellent introductions. The opinions expressed range from progressive evangelical to mainline liberal, and while there are definitely some places where my students were irritated (e.g. a defense of homosexual practice) or simply mystified (Cobb's process theology), their overall impression was positive. They recognized how much their horizons had been broadened, and that is the mark of an excellent introduction.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Excellent overview of contemporary theology 15 Aug. 2004
By Tom Hinkle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a seminary student who read this book over the summer, not for a class, but just to keep up my theological "chops," I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone wanting to explore different facets of theology from a multitude of viewpoints. The best use of this book is to read the introductions and the essays, and note the authors and issues of interest for future exploration. Because of the diversity of viewpoints, nobody will be in agreement with every theologian in this book. But all of them will make you think. Most of the authors (not all) operate from the traditional trinitarian framework at least as a launching pad, so much of this material at least speaks the same language as the knowledgable reader.

In my opinion, the most interesting theologians represented were John Cobb, the process theologian, whose writings I might investigate further, and Serene Jones, who does theology that makes sense to the averate person in the pew (actually, there are several who do that). My least favorites were Clark Williamson, a stereotypical liberal on a soapbox, and Sallie McFague, who gets too close to pantheism for my comfort (actually, she would be known as a "panentheist"). It was encouraging to me to read some very thoughtful evangelicals as well, including Stanley Grenz and Richard Mouw.

Bottom line: if you want to get past Calvin, Luther, and that ilk and see where the action is in theology TODAY, this is a great place to start.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
An excellent introduction to theological studies 27 Aug. 2005
By Tedd Steele - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you are beginning a journey in Christian theology, this book is for you. Dr. Placher has put together a collection of essays by 18 distinguished scholars. Nine important issues are discussed. Each section begins with a helpful introduction by Dr. Placher which serves to frame the discussion. Then two authors with different perspectives present their thoughts on the topic. At the end of each chapter are questions for discussion and a list of additional resources.

This book could serve as an excellent launching pad for further research in any of these areas. The great thing about the book is that it is not set up in an "us" versus "them" way. The authors don't set themselves up on the opposite sides of issues. Rather, each presents his or her own views in a non-confrontational way. By reading two perspectives on an issue, more of the nuance of the topic shows through. This is a wonderful resource.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Great for intro and depth at the same time! 10 Nov. 2006
By Geoffrey Whitlock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Placher's volume is helpful to the first-time reader of Christian theology, but it is also engaging to a more seasoned audience. His introduction ("Why Bother with Theology?") not only stands as a useful argument on its own--it also sets an appropriate tone for the rest of the book.

Each chapter focuses on a specific issue of Christian doctrine (e.g. trinity, atonement, church). Placher begins every chapter with a brief but cogent summary of the history of the topic, including some of the historical theological perspectives that have shaped how we think about the topic today.

The chapters continue with brief essays from prominent contemporary theologians--two per chapter--presenting their perspectives. They represent the diversity in contemporary theological scholarship, ranging from the liberal to the conservative, the systematic to the scriptural, and including liberation and feminist theologies.

It is a great first-time read, and it is also something that should then be kept on the shelf for future reference. It may be rather expensive, but it is worth every penny.
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