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Tony Lane: A Concise History of Christian Thought

 

Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 336 pages, ISBN 9780801031595.

At least one book on the history of Christian thought belongs in every Christian library. If you have more, this concise history should be the one closest to the desk. Tony Lane, Professor of Historical Theology and Director of Research at London School of Theology, has produced a comprehensive introductory text that also functions well as a reference book. The text is reliable, well-written, and highly organized, although the book lacks an index for quick access to various aspects of Christian history. The reader is rewarded with introductions to more than one hundred major Christian thinkers, church councils, creeds, church confessions, and ecumenical documents. Those looking for a comprehensive text will find in this affordable book a valuable and informative addition to their library.

Lane’s history is divided into five parts: (1) The Church of the Fathers to AD 500, (2) The Eastern Tradition from AD 500, (3) The Medieval West (AD500-1500), (4) Reformation and Reaction (1500-1800), and (5) Christian Thought in the Modern World (1800 onwards). Each part begins with an introductory section, followed by the contribution of major thinkers of the period, and framed by various church councils. The persons are arranged historically rather than by the significance that may be attributed to their contribution (a principle frequently found in other histories of Christian thought). Thus, one finds Augustine near the end of the first part, his significance indicated not by an artificial positioning at the beginning of Church history but rather by the number of pages dedicated to his account. Only when this pattern is disrupted, for example at the location of the Catholic counter-reformation at the end of the Reformation section rather than in the middle, the account suffers in its ecumenical strength.

The strategic placement of church councils and confessional documents throughout the text should be of special interest to Pentecostals, who have often rejected creeds as distortions of the God-intended course of history. Lane highlights the development of each council, its important features and documents, as well as the problems and controversies that led to divisions in the East and the West. The result is a balanced look at the emergence of Christian doctrine from the Church as an enduring community of faith faced with the death of the original eyewitnesses, an unprecedented increase in members, numerous heterodox and even heretical interpretations of the gospel, as well as the expansion of the Christian community toward the ends of the earth.

The final section of the book on the modern period is also the longest section. Lane introduces the reader to the adherents of modern Liberalism, Evangelicalism, the New Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Ecumenical Movement, and other developments. The collection is concise, as the title of the book claims, and certainly one of the most relevant to many readers. What Lane misses, however, is a more deliberate account of the movement of Christian thought since the middle of the twentieth century away from the West toward the East and the Southern hemisphere. Minority theologies still occupy a marginal place in this otherwise excellent work. The informed reader should supplement this text with more globally informed and marginally sensitive works written in recent years especially by Pentecostal scholars.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey

 

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2008

About the Author: Wolfgang Vondey, Ph.D. (Marquette University) and M.Div. (Church of God Theological Seminary), is Reader in Contemporary Christianity and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is an ordained minister with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). His research focuses on ecclesiology, pneumatology, theological method, and the intersection of theology and science.

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