This is an excellent companion volume to Alister McGrath's 'Introduction to Christian Theology'. The many and varied theological excerpts in the Reader are arranged under the same headings that he uses in his 'Introduction to Christian Theology'. The two books are thus easy to use alongside one another and 'The Christian Theology Reader' helps to flesh out what McGrath writes in his 'Introduction to Christian Theology' with historical examples from across the centuries. I have certainly found the book helpful in getting a flavour of various theologians of many different persuasions and eras, from the early church fathers through to the present day. The length of passages quoted varies from a few sentences to a few pages and they are arranged in chronological order under each heading. McGrath also writes a brief introduction to each excerpt, which helps to orient the reader before the passage itself is actually read. Finally , I should note that it is quite possible to use and benefit from the 'The Christian Theology Reader' without also having McGrath's 'Introduction to Christian Theology'. I would certainly recommend both books, but they can each be read on their own terms or used for reference without recourse to the other volume.
This book was just what I was looking for. I wanted a good summary of Christian theology for the last two thousand years, so that I could make up my own mind about various questions. I didn't want anyone to feed me answers, but I did want someone to set out the options, and let me read representatives of each position. And this is exactly what this book did. McGrath provides more than three hundred extracts from leading Christian writers from all traditions, arranged under ten broad topical headings "God", "Christ", "Salvation", and so on. In every case, he provides a brilliant introduction to the reading, followed by comment. By the end of this, I felt as if I was some kind of genius. I had actually understood what this was all about! This is a great, great book if you are studying theology for yourself. It was recommended to me by a friend who used it at college, and she said it was even better when used with taught courses.
Alister McGrath's `Christian Theology Reader' undertakes an enormous task. Fortunately, the premise of presenting aperitifs and canapés from the vast banquet of Christian theology works wonderfully. Amazon's `Search inside' feature reveals how McGrath has divided this work into ten large chapters, after the 20-odd page introduction & initial bibliography sections.
Each of the ten chapters begins with a concise but informative introduction discussing why the general topic is relevant and where areas of tension and conflict derive from, etc., followed by a selective chapter contents listing; everything is very clear and easy to follow.
Individual readings are given a title which `allows the reader to identify both the author of the piece and its broad theme.' So, for instance, reading number 21 from chapter 1 (1.21) is entitled `The First Vatican Council on Faith and Reason'. There then follows a short introduction which explains that the council was `convened in Rome by Pope Pius IX in response to... the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars... and various intellectual trends which seemed to call into question the authority of the church and the truth of many traditional Christian teachings...' A one-and-a-half page portion of the statement from the third session of the Council is then quoted. If the quoted text was not written in English then some key words or phrases are occasionally offered in their original form for those who are especially interested in studying readings in their original language. For lesser mortals - like me - who can only read English, the translations are clear, vibrant and modern. (One or two readings are reproduced in their original old English, which is authentic but I found trickier.)
Each reading is followed by a brief `Commentary' and ends with three or four `Study Questions'. The commentary sections are especially useful as it's here that McGrath explains what is being said in each reading and why. On the Vatican Council reading of 1.21 noted above, McGrath explains that the council `affirmed the right of Roman Catholics to become involved in... the new intellectual climate which was emerging in Europe... while realising that each discipline [or "science"] made use of distinctive methods which could not necessarily be applied to matters of faith.'
A key area for me is presentation (because it can ruin a book - like Matthew Henry's commentaries) but this is excellent: large title fonts & reading numbers and the use of text boxes & clear separation lines all aid clarity and navigation. (McGraths 'Christian Theology: An Introduction' also makes use of twin columns on each page (like a Bible) which really helps reading.) As the book's cover and other reviewers' note, `The Christian Theology Reader' is a self-contained book in it's own right and is hugely beneficial and useful devotionally and (especially) academically - and is a very satisfying read too. But there is also a huge amount of extra mileage available if `Reader' is read with McGrath's `Introduction'; although I found that does make it a huge (1200+ page) mountain to climb. Still, it's more than worth the effort as McGrath's passion, wisdom and vast accumulated knowledge shine through the whole. His writing style is clear which enables us to engage with some very complicated theological issues.
I was somewhat critical of his earlier work 'Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought' because of the repetition and what I felt was the rather "cheapskate" approach of publishing two books from what was really the material for just one. McGrath seems to have abandoned the `Historical Theology' book route in favour of incorporating that ethos & content and combining it into his `Christian Theology - An Introduction' and this `Christian Theology Reader': `The readings have been grouped thematically over 10 chapters, and are arranged chronologically within chapters.' It works very well (although I loved the strictly historical approach). Page xxvii of the `Reader' is entitled `The Development of Christian Theology: An Historical Overview' which begins what is essentially a seven page précis of `Historical Theology'. For me, McGrath manages to capture the magic of historical development while necessarily following the thematic development processes.
All in all, `The Christian Theology Reader' is just a winning combination which I heartily recommend.
"The Christian Theology Reader" is a helpful collection of excerpts of theological writings from throughout the Christian era. Organized into ten topics, it enables the reader to seed differing perspectives ranging from the interplay between philosophy and theology through to the Last Things. Reading from cover to cover provides the reader with an overview of much of Theological thought.
I found this book to be interesting in that it brings to the page writings that I have heard spoken of but have rarely actually seen. On the question of the proof of the existence of God we are able to read the explanations of St. Anselm, and Guanilo' response thereto, along with later proofs such as those by St. Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes and Blaise Pascal. By reading the works of saints and scholars about whom I knew little more than their names I was able get some sense of why they were important and to what issues. The ability to compare and contrast conflicting opinions helps the reader to better understand each point of view.
The list of "Conciliar, Creedal and Confessional Material" and the "Glossary of Theological Terms" at the end help to put the selections into context. My one complaint about this book is that it rarely identifies the denominations of the authors, thereby making it more difficult to determine the authority to be attributed to each. Checking the "Details of Theologians" in the back would have eliminated much of the uncertainty. I recommend that the reader consult it as he goes along, rather than reading it in turn at the end, as I did. Having read it through I plan to keep it as a reference for when I want to revisit a particular question or the work of a particular scholar.
This is an excellent piece of scholarly work that places at the finger tips snapshots of the development of Christian theology. The excellent index locates the theme required and the thoughts of the theologian, thinker, philosopher with ease. McGrath's comments are succinct, sensible, balanced and thought provoking. This is no "this is what you must believe' manual, but rather a gold mine that will challenge, motivate thoughtful consideration and, at times, annoy and irritate when one's pet theories are openly challenged by the great thinkers of the distant, not so distant and recent past. The only negative, for me, is that this volume is not available in hard cover.
It is difficult not to wax lyrical about Alister McGrath's grasp of theology and his skills in writing. The Christian Theological Reader is a very accessible chunk of essential texts. (Theologian/Philosopher).