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4.6 out of 5 stars46
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 21 August 2012
This book looks very promising, but having purchased the kindle version I was disappointed to find that the book has internal cross-references to page numbers but no page numbers! I obtained a refund and ordered the paperback.
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on 20 March 2013
What I like about this clear and concise introduction to Christian theology is the way it is structured so that themes and ideas get repeated in a way that helps the reader grasp and absorb them yet with a definite sense of continuity and progression throughout.
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on 14 November 2014
Alister McGrath's introduction to Christian Theology feels like a history of theology. He expertly guides you through centuries of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox thinking about theology. Don't confuse this with a systemic theology, like Wayne Grudem's. Before even addressing the doctrine of God, there are two lengthy sections of the book (194 pages!) with useful background information and history to theology in general which are well worth reading. Also, don't expect to find copious bible references. The author's primary concern seems to be to present theological ideas as they emerged and developed in history (with the necessary context given to shed more light on them) rather than how we can derive theology from the scriptures. That is not to say there is no reference made to the scriptures, and at times McGrath helps the reader critique a particular theological statement in the light of clear biblical revelation.

For me, it was refreshing to rethink a number of theological ideas in the light of a myriad of comments made by different early church fathers, medieval scholars, reformers and counter-reformers, as well as later theologians up to the modern day. If you feel overwhelmingly daunted by the doctrine of the Trinity, that section is well worth a read. Not only do you quickly realise the common struggle faced by countless theologians in thinking biblically about it over the centuries, but you also begin to sense that the entrenched differences in understanding (say, between the eastern and western churches) may not originally have been as stark as they are now made out to be.

For a weighty book, it is quite readable from cover to cover (if you have enough time to read 464 pages!) with the development of thoughts and understanding arranged largely chronologically in each section. McGrath's writing style is engaging and gives you just enough of each theologian and theological concept to want to go elsewhere to read more. He cites Karl Barth's comparison of Christian Theology to a breathtaking view of Tuscany (pxxii), as well as Etienne Gibson's description of theological systems as "cathedrals of the mind" (p39). I liken reading McGrath's book to taking a drive through that beautiful scenery, or a fascinating guided tour of that cathedral, seeing just enough to want to explore more.

If your only experience of reading theology is a few sections of a systematic theology with strings of biblical references but no sense of how the interpretation and understanding of those verses came about, I would encourage you to get hold of this book. It really does live up to its title as a helpful introduction to Christian Theology.
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on 13 December 2014
An outstanding introduction! It's clear, concise and touches all the bases. If you are looking for a great overview of Christian theology, this is the one to get.
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on 18 September 2013
This book will give both the novice and seasoned Christian of any denomination a classic overview of Christian thought and theological themes that will inform, delight and cause serious thought and/or controversy that may lead one into new nd exciting ways of Christian living.
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on 24 August 2011
Christian Theology : An introduction - this an excellent and informative book, unlike most text book's this book will keep you engaged and informed chapter by chapter. It is user friendly and can be read from start to finish or dip into chapters as desired.
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in getting a general background of the wider aspects of the Christian faith.
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on 29 March 2013
It’s a tall order to cover both the history (MacCulloch et al) and the thought processes behind the Reformations but this is what McGrath sets out to do, and does very well. His historical narrative both sets the scene and provides a good grasp of the detail, while the following analysis is spot-on. An excellent volume.
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on 24 November 2014
this was a kindle download - I find this book well organised for my way of learning - reviewing the main themes first and then going into them in more detail later. It is very thorough and I am finding it helpful as an active Christian and as someone considering doing further study in Theology
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on 13 April 2016
I bought this book mainly because I’m a history geek and I wanted to know more about Christian theology and the role it played in the making of the modern Western world: actually I would argue that you can extend this beyond the West and say that Christian thought has impacted in a very fundamental way in every corner of the planet. As a history geek I can tell anyone who will listen all about the fall of the Roman Empire, the renaissance and the wars that were fought as Western civilisation emerged and spread. In particular I can bore at length about the 30 year war and its associated conflicts. If the listener is particularly unlucky I might even give them a long lecture on why there is (in my ‘humble’ opinion) an unbroken narrative linking Thermopylae to the Cold War via the peace of Westphalia. Of course my truths will not be everyone’s truth and in reality my firmly held convictions today may be blown away by better arguments tomorrow. Nevertheless, I am content that most of my ‘facts’ are credible. Many of these ‘facts’ relate to why people did what they did – my interpretation of their motivation – and having reached the common era (anno domini as we of a certain age would call it) these motivations are often related to Christian theology. If pressed on this subject I have often proved woefully ignorant. Fortunately, most of my listeners (willing or unwilling) have proved as ignorant as me and surprisingly most have taken great pride in this ignorance.

Although some level of ignorance is an inevitable feature of the human condition, there are few areas in which people will glorify in that ignorance. For example, I teach genetics and have the privilege of witnessing veils of ignorance dropping away as students progress through their studies, i.e. I meet a lot of ignorant students. Yet I have never heard a student say ‘this argument between Lamarck and Darwin was ridiculous – they just had a hang up about the length of a giraffe’s neck’. However, I have frequently heard variations on the theme that ‘all this fuss during the reformation was ridiculous, fancy getting so het up about what constitutes a wafer’.

I suspect this pride in ignorance stems from a fear of being pigeon holed as some sort of religious fanatic. A position akin to that I once heard lampooned by a Muslim comedian in a sketch; she said “I’ve become an alcoholic recently, I don’t like drinking I just don’t want the police to think I’m a suicide bomber”. A fear of being too knowledgeable about Christianity does not necessarily imply atheism. The most acceptable form of Christianity in secular societies seems to be pietism and It is totally acceptable to have a heartfelt belief in God as long as you are not indoctrinated: learning about Christian ideas is widely considered to be equivalent to signing up for brain washing.

It is fine to know a few of the stories; I was brought up knowing all about shepherds, magi and Pontius Pilate washing his hands. I was even aware that I was supposed to be a Protestant as opposed to a Catholic, meaning I was allowed to use a condom. It is OK to know all these things as long as you never ask what it all means, the moment you start asking why is the moment you start looking a bit suspicious.

I started looking suspicious quite a few years ago now, but I was able to mask my unnatural curiosity by making it clear that this curiosity was based on an interest in history and not theology. I can also show an item of evidence that I am not religious which most people are happy to accept – I have an Anglican baptism certificate. I was lucky enough to stumble across the excellent books of Diarmaid McCulloch in my search for a better understanding of Christianity (e.g. A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years,Reformation : Europe's House Divided 1490-1700,Thomas Cranmer: A Life): lucky on two accounts, firstly McCulloch is an excellent writer and secondly because his books are fairly obviously safe history rather than dangerous theology. However, the McCulloch’s description of the ideas underlying orthodoxy, heresy and the reformation only served to whet my appetite for a deeper discussion. My first excursion into the heavier side of the subject was a book called ‘Christian Theology’ by Millard Erickson (Christian Theology) and it was not at all a happy experience.

Millard Erickson is a very learned man and his writing has a lot to recommend it. If you want to learn to be a particular type of Christian he may well be the perfect author for you. If on the other hand you want to learn about the full spectrum of Christian thought his somewhat blinkered approach may be a little off putting – it certainly put me off. This is of course only my opinion and if you search down Professor Millard’s books on Amazon and read the reviews you might get a different impression. There are a number of reviewers who praise him for his ‘even handed approach’. I can only assume that this means even handedly discussing the faults in all positions apart from those of his own doctrine and making a fair contrast between these faults and the self-evident virtues of his own position (which inevitably has been ‘proved’ to be correct).

For me the doctrinal certainties of Erickson are a strong impetus towards atheism, counteracted perhaps by the strong force in the other direction provided by the equally doctrinaire writings of Richard Dawkins. Neither Erickson nor Dawkins actually provide what I really wanted, i.e. a reasonably presented account of a full range of Christian ideas. I just want to know what people thought and why, I can make up my own mind about whether they were right, wrong or (more likely) somewhere in the grey zone.

I am sure that Alister McGrath is as capable as Erickson or Dawkins at arguing his position, in fact I suspect he is a more gifted advocate than either of them (with no disrespect to either of the other two writers who are both in my opinion brilliant theologians), but ‘Christian Theology: An Introduction’ is not about that. The story of Christian ideas is presented in this book in such a way that for most of its considerable length it is difficult to know what McGrath’s personal views are at all. I am sure given McGrath’s list of other publications that he is not sympathetic to the views of Feuerbach or Karl Popper, but these views are presented with such scrupulous fairness that it would be quite easy to believe McGrath was a radical atheist. More complex is the way in which McGrath addresses the views of Karl Barth, a major theme of the book… having read right to the end I am still not sure if Barth is one of McGrath’s theological heroes or if he is an irritant that has got under McGrath’s skin. I suspect that Alister McGrath is more sympathetic to Liberal Protestant views, but to be honest Schleiermacher and Tillich probably come in for at least as much critical analysis as any conservative Roman Catholic theologian.

One area where McGrath’s biases do shine through is in his consideration of the Enlightenment, but I find it very easy to forgive this. The treatment of the Enlightenment in so much popular philosophy and history is uncritical so it is actually refreshing to see a forensic light shone on some of its underlying concepts.

One last point - finishing at the beginning: the prologue to McGrath’s ‘Introduction’ is a very long discussion on the best way to read the book. I would like to add one extra piece of advice on this subject, the best way to read this book is without reading the prologue. The rest of the book is brilliant.
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on 8 October 2014
An excellent, very clearly presented book for anyone studying theology or just wanting to have a better understanding of the subject.
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