'The history of Christian theology can and should be told as a story. It is full of complex plots, exciting events, interesting people and fascinating ideas. This book is an attempt to tell that story well, doing justice to each of its subplots.' By and large, the story of Christian theology is the story of Christian reflection on the nature of salvation and the meaning that is given by Jesus. This, in story terms, could be called the central plot line -- other related and tangential issues, such as liturgy, the nature of God, sin, grace, authority, the place of the church in the world -- all of these have meaning insofar as they have and give meaning to the central plot. Most people (and for good reason) think of theology as dry, dull, not really relevant to reality. Christian theology is often seen as a scholars-only pursuit that is only peripherally connected to 'real' Christianity. However, this volume tackles that assumption head-on, by showing the interconnectedness over time of Christian belief and practice with the theological developments and controversies of the times. Just as theology impacts the church and society, so to do church and society impact theology. There is a dialectical relationship between the two which cause continuing development. This book, 'The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform', strives to be non-technical and 'non-threatening' in approach. Roger Olson, professor of theology at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, also serves as editor for 'Christian Scholar's Review', and has written other books, including 'Who needs Theology'?. Olson therefore has experience in making the often-rarified field of theology accessible, and this experience shows through in this volume. This volume is not written from a completely impartial standpoint -- Olson holds firmly that beliefs matter. 'Throughout much of the history of Christianity beliefs mattered much more than they do to many contemporary Christians. Reading and understanding the story of Christian theology requires a prior awareness that the Christians of past ages who wrestled with doctrinal issues really cared about believing the right things about God. That was true not only of bishops and professional theologians but also of ordinary laypeople in the church.' This is an approach often missing from surveys of theology. Why do people care about these things? What beliefs are truly important? This books can go a long way toward addressing the gap in knowledge of people who profess beliefs without a firm understanding of their origins -- 'even people who have never heard of Athanasius, for example , are greatly influenced by him.' Examining the primary and many secondary plots, or strands, of Christian theology from the earliest days of the church in the second century through the multiple divisions of Christendom and the attempts to elevate (and, in some ways, remove) theology from everyday consideration, Olson shows the importance theology can and does have in everyday practice and belief at work in every Christian today.
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This book gives an excellent overview of the history of the development of Christian theology. The book is quite long at 652 pages but it feels like this is needed to do justice to what is covered. I am currently studying theology and wanted to read something that would give me a good overview of historical theology that would not be superficial. This book was perfect for this and I highly recommend it to students at undergraduate level as well as to other readers who wish to extend their knowledge of how theological ideas have developed over time. I found it to be both interesting and enjoyable to read and it has given me a deeper appreciation of the significance of different theologians and how ideas fit together. Well worth reading.
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