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Alister McGrath: Christian Theology

 

Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction,third edition (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 616 pages.

Alister E. McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader,second edition (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 707 pages.

Alister McGrath, the Anglican Evangelical scholar who is based in Oxford University, is a prodigious author with an encyclopedic mind. He is well placed, therefore, to produce these volumes which provide an overview of Christian theology, through the history of Christianity.

The presentation of the volume on Christian Theology is particularly interesting. Rather than approach the task by presenting a matrix of compartments, as is often the case with volumes on Systematic Theology, McGrath divides the work into three sections. In Part 1, he looks at ‘Landmarks: Periods, Themes and Personalities of Christian Theology’, offering the student an overview which invites an intellectual and cultural contextualization of doctrinal developments. In Part 2, he addresses the epistemological question, exploring the relationship of revelation and philosophy. In Part 3, he then goes on to examine the classical doctrines of Christian Theology.

I found this book over ambitious and idiosyncratic. It reads like a course book for Anglican students written by an evangelical: which it probably was designed to be. In its favor is its author’s significant intellect and command of theology. Again, the bibliography is extensive, and the web-references as well as the questions for discussion bring it well up to date. But I wonder at the relevance for scholars or students outside an Anglican, western context this book. The insights and perspectives are interesting, but there is too much ground covered to convey any sense of real depth. Good and trustworthy for a general, introductory course? Yes, if you are prepared to take on the Anglican perspective

Alister E. McGrath

The same applies to the Christian Theology Reader. Again, the range of McGrath’s academic competencies is demonstrated as he bounds through an extensive selection of authors and texts. But the present reviewer is suspicious of pericopes or paragraphs which are meant to introduce us to an author’s thinking. The quotations serve as illustrations for McGrath’s comments, but are too short to give the student any in-depth feel for the authors referred to.

Alister McGrath is one of the world’s leading Christian scholars. If that is good enough for you, and you have never looked at Christian faith from a perspective other than your own, non-Anglican tradition, this will serve as an excellent source book for seeing the evangelical tradition through different eyes. But if you are not an Anglican, and are thinking of these works as potential textbooks for students, then beware!

Cover from the 2010 Fifth Edition

Reviewed by Jim Purves

 

USA Publisher’s page for Christian Theology: An Introduction: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1444335146.html

Preview Christian Theology: An Introduction: http://books.google.com/books/about/Christian_Theology.html?id=bus5TyjTfxYC

 

USA Publisher’s page for The Christian Theology Reader: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470654848.html

Cover from the 2011 Fourth Edition

 

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Category: Fall 2007, In Depth

About the Author: James Purves, Ph.D. (University of Aberdeen, Scotland), has been serving in pastoral ministry since 1980 and is presently Mission and Ministry Advisor to the Baptist Union of Scotland. He is a research tutor at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, Czech Republic and author of The Triune God and the Charismatic Movement (Paternoster, 2004). His blog is http://jimpurves.blogspot.com

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