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on 15 February 2006
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.
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on 5 February 2009
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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on 16 June 2017
Arrived in good time... excellent value
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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 MacCulloch is an excellent writer and secondly because his books are fairly obviously safe history rather than dangerous theology. However, the MacCulloch’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 June 2015
Very good book thank you
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on 5 April 2017
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on 8 April 2017
All good
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on 2 March 2017
Excellent book
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 December 2010
"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.
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on 11 November 2003
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.
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