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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satisfyingly meaty, but not overwhelming, chunks of original theological writings with brief introductions & expositions: Superb, 5 Feb 2009
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This review is from: The Christian Theology Reader (Paperback)
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.
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