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Historical Theology: Introduction to the History of Christian Thought [Paperback]

Alister E. McGrath
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

23 Mar 1998
In this text, Alister McGrath utilises the successful historic chapters from Christian Theology: An Introduction, Second Edition and builds on them to provide all the material that students will need to understand the development of Christian theology from its beginnings.


Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (23 Mar 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631208445
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631208440
  • Product Dimensions: 24.7 x 17 x 3.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 468,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"This approach is very well–pitched for the intended readership, particularly those who are teaching themselves. Historical Theology is an excellent resource, both for the teacher and student." Morwenna Ludlow, St John′s College, Oxfor d "Perhaps for the first time an expansive and ecumenical survey of Christian Theology has been produced that can be read with the same ease as a serious but gripping novel... This book will serve as an invaluable tool: it locates theological innovation and controversy in its context–specific situation." G.W.P. McFarlane, London Bible College "The book clearly would be useful in undergraduate courses, as well as in introductory seminary ones. McGrath′s prose is clear and precise. He is very good at articulating distinctions between concepts... Historical Theology would be a valuable reference book to have in one′s library. It would certainly be helpful when preparing to teach survey courses requiring a component of history of theology, especially for those periods of which one has only cursory knowledge... As one already hooked on historical theology, this reader found her interest renewed and expanded numerous times by McGrath′s book. Historical Theology should be able to accomplish its primary purpose, that is, to introduce newcomers to ′historical theology as an important and interesting subject′." Jane E. Strohl, The Journal of Religion

From the Back Cover

Historical Theology provides all the material that students will need to understand the development of Christian theology from its beginnings. A substantial introduction by McGrath explains the importance of historical theology, its place within the study of Christian theology as a whole and outlines some of the best ways of studying it. The book features numerous case studies illustrating the main theologians and theological events for each historical period, enabling the reader to engage fully with a particular topic of debate. It also provides its readers with full glossaries of key theologians, key theological developments, and key names, words and phrases, together with an extensive bibliography.

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First Sentence
The patristic period is one of the most exciting and creative periods in the history of Christian thought. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alister McGrath's `Historical Theology...' is an easy to read, user-friendly guide to the development of Christian theology. Amazon's excellent `Search Inside' feature shows how McGrath structures this work: Four theological periods, from the church fathers (up to 451), to the modern period (after 1750).

Each part is subdivided into an initial overview section, followed by more detailed but very selective explanations. Thus he `begin[s] by painting a scene using some very broad brush strokes, and then filling in the fine detail in selected areas...'. This makes for a great aid to essay writing as you can quickly dip into the initial overview sections while more detailed discussions can be extracted from the later `case studies' sections too.

As the next reviewer notes below, one excellent aspect in `Historical Theology' is the frequent quoting of original authors in very digestible chunks and translations. For instance, pages 88 and 89 offer a couple of paragraphs each (not just a line or two) from the second century theologians Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria. We are also offered frequent reminders of who each theologian is in mini-biographies (e.g. `Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215). A leading Alexandrian writer, with a particular concern to explore the relation between Christian thought and Greek philosophy.') The use of different fonts, italics, indentations and shaded or bordered textboxes make this an easy title to navigate too.

Criticisms!

As also noted below, there is much repetition here. I found this quite irritating as many lines of text, frequently whole paragraphs - and at least one near complete page! - is lifted from one section and copied verbatim to another.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good trip through the history of ideas... 9 Jan 2006
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
There are many ways to study theology -- topically, by denominational structure, by particular theologians, etc. One of the more common approaches, and still a popular one, has been to study theology through the historical development of ideas, beliefs and doctrines. Alister McGrath's book, 'Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought' is one such text. Following a brief introduction, it is divided into four broad historical sections: The Patristic Period (100 - 451), the Middle Ages and Renaissance (500 - 1500), the Reformation and Post-Reformation (1500 - 1750), and finally, the Modern Period (1750 - the present).
In his introduction, McGrath traces the various sources and types of theology - biblical studies, philosophy, pastoral issues, and church history all provide insights into this. The development of historical theology as a discipline began in the Reformation era, when it became important to understand not only the doctrines and dogmatic principles of the church, but also how they came to be developed and instituted. Historical theology is an important pedagogic and critical tool, useful for creating a greater understanding of our present situations.
McGrath's chapters on the Patristic and Middle Ages periods look at the wider church ideas, developments of the creeds, canon of scripture, and early ecclesial structures along with the development of key ideas and key theologians. In addition to this, McGrath presents case studies, which include the various historical heresies (Donatism, Pelagianism, etc.) and various philosophical problems (arguments for the existence of God). Included here are discussions of the impact of Celtic Christianity and monastic institutions on the overall development of theology.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff 22 Jan 2013
By Merewyn
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book arrived on time, in great conditioned it was exactly as expected. I am really pleased with my purchase.
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Format:Paperback
As noted by the other reviewers this is a readable, if slightly repetitive, overview of the development of Christian theology. From an evangelical perspective it was quite good on the early church and reformation periods, although there was little new here if you already have a basic grasp of these periods. It then seemed a bit peculiar that the book diverged from an evangelical pathway in focussing on liberal theologians post-Enlightenment. This makes the book suitable for the student of theology in a first year undergraduate course but limits its usefulness for the believer who would want to see balancing treatment referencing Edwards, Wesley, the Princetonians, and the renaissance of evangelicalism in the later twentieth century.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent intro 1 Nov 2000
By Slacker79 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a great introduction to historical Christian theology. Basically all major theological developments from the earliest rumblings to the modern era are treated. In cases when the theological arguments do become complicated, McGrath lays them out and reviews them again in appropriate detail. The meat of the book, the "case studies," contain short selections from the relevant original texts so students can engage the original authors at their level.
This must be a very difficult sort of book to write while keeping the length reasonable (which it is -- under 400 pages). As is appropriate for an introduction and overview, the book does not get *too* detailed about any one topic (e.g., the thousands of trees felled over the ontological argument are distilled to a few pages in a case study). But the list for further reading, one of the most important resources of a book like this, provides a road map of the relevant literature.
The knowledge of general history assumed is quite basic -- at times too much so. McGrath errs on the side of caution here. But this does make it all the more appropriate for self study as well as a basic college course.
Once the medieval period is reached, McGrath definitely focuses on Western Christian theology (though in his defense that has something to do with the change in the seat of Christian theological ferment in the world). This should be kept in mind when deciding on purchase. Also, the title is accurate: this is a book about theology, not the Church in general or its social context. Look elsewhere for that.
The material is drawn primarily from the historical material in McGrath's _Christian Theology_. The present book is more affordable (at least where I bought it), but less comprehensive. So that's the tradeoff. If you have the more comprehensive book this is probably not necessary.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good historical perspective of the progression of theology 15 Oct 1999
By Van Loomis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was a good resource as an introduction to historical Christian theology. At Southeastern Baptist Theological College, we used this as a companion text for our Church History class. By using certain case studies for specific historical theological events (i.e. heresies, etc.), McGrath delved deeper into certain subjects. Another definite 'plus' for the book is the numerous incorporations of source documents. McGrath would not just summarize what certain historical church figures did or said, he actually inserted their writings into the case studies scattered throughout the text. If you're looking to get an initial overview of the way theology progressed through the ages from the Church Fathers to the present, McGrath is a reliable source to consult.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good trip through the history of ideas... 27 July 2004
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There are many ways to study theology -- topically, by denominational structure, by particular theologians, etc. One of the more common approaches, and still a popular one, has been to study theology through the historical development of ideas, beliefs and doctrines. Alister McGrath's book, 'Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought' is one such text. Following a brief introduction, it is divided into four broad historical sections: The Patristic Period (100 - 451), the Middle Ages and Renaissance (500 - 1500), the Reformation and Post-Reformation (1500 - 1750), and finally, the Modern Period (1750 - the present).

In his introduction, McGrath traces the various sources and types of theology - biblical studies, philosophy, pastoral issues, and church history all provide insights into this. The development of historical theology as a discipline began in the Reformation era, when it became important to understand not only the doctrines and dogmatic principles of the church, but also how they came to be developed and instituted. Historical theology is an important pedagogic and critical tool, useful for creating a greater understanding of our present situations.

McGrath's chapters on the Patristic and Middle Ages periods look at the wider church ideas, developments of the creeds, canon of scripture, and early ecclesial structures along with the development of key ideas and key theologians. In addition to this, McGrath presents case studies, which include the various historical heresies (Donatism, Pelagianism, etc.) and various philosophical problems (arguments for the existence of God). Included here are discussions of the impact of Celtic Christianity and monastic institutions on the overall development of theology.

After these periods, into the Renaissance, Reformation, Post-Reformation and Modern periods, the book is predominantly Western in outlook. Beginning with Scholasticism and the philosophical Humanism of the Renaissance beginning to influence general intellectual life inside and outside of the church, McGrath continues with the various Reformations (not all were the same), including the Catholic Reformation (often termed the Counter-Reformation). The influence of the Enlightenment and theological movements since then include a long list of -isms, including Feminism, Marxism, Modernism and Postmodernism, Postliberalism, Romanticism, Liberal Protestantism, and Evangelicalism (among others!). Case studies in these include the key controversies of ideas in the Reformation, quests for the Historical Jesus, political influences in the theological debates, and the growing influence of the two-thirds world on the theological scene.

McGrath's final case study is on the issue of method in theology in the modern period -- the starting point as well as the purpose is continually questioned, and McGrath highlights issues drawing from Schleiermacher, Tillich, Rahner, Barth, Lindbeck and Guttierez. Immediately following this (indeed, this section could be the beginning of another book, a companion to this text), McGrath addresses the issue of 'Where next?' for the student and reader. McGrath includes an extensive list of suggested further readings, divided by period, topic, and other helpful groupings.

McGrath is a good writer and educator -- this book is accessible to most readers, not assuming a great background in history, philosophy or theology; however, the more background one has, the better the experience of reading this book. It is a survey, which means it does not go into great detail, but it does include a fairly thorough introduction to all of the major and many of the side issues of theology through the 2000 years of Christian history.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for study of historical theolgoy 20 Dec 2002
By AlexForrest - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
McGrath is a leading scholar in our day, and this book shows why. While obviously very informed in his area of study, his writing is alive and easily accessible to the reader just wading into the study of historical theology. There are excerpts of original writings from different issues in church history, all of which are framed by McGrath's helful explanation, summary, and commentary. Definitely worth having.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seminary Student 14 Feb 2003
By AmazonLover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have to read this book for my church history class and I have found it to be a very good resource. The author presents the material in a highly readable format but it is not immature writing either. There are brief explanations about key figures throughout the churches history and these help you relate theologies with their proponents. This is a well written book that is highly insightful.
Pros:
Well written
Based on historical documents
Very in-depth
Cons:
Not for personal reading
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