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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative, readable and very useful - but the repetition...!, 16 Mar 2007
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This review is from: Historical Theology: Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Paperback)
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. Surely such a successful and popular author and publishing house can arrange for better editing!

And: `The book makes use of some material already presented in the best selling work `Christian Theology: An Introduction' (quoted from page xii).' Again, surely a best selling author can commit himself to writing an original work, not producing essentially the same book under two separate titles?

Theology is a vast and complicated subject but McGrath's presentation of it is both palatable and informative. I'm a big history fan anyway so the idea of dividing Christian theology chronologically naturally appeals and seems completely logical. Since there are only 345 pages before the indexes, we can assume that there are many important issues not tackled here - like eschatology (or the `End Times') for instance - but that would add pages and cost. (To investigate all the main Christian theological issues, see Millard Erickson's excellent and inexpensive `Christian Theology' - all 1300 pages of it!).

Criticisms aside, this is still a good and useful book: McGrath strikes a good balance between content and size and makes the whole very accessible. A star is deducted for annoying repetition (and taking advantage of customers?).
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