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The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity Hardcover – October 6, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this ambitious book, Olson delineates from an evangelical perspective what is and is not authentic Christian belief. Chapters feature such topics as the Bible, God, Jesus and the Church, beginning with an overview of orthodox belief about the topic, citing Scripture, the Church Fathers and noted Christian writers throughout history. Olson then devotes a section to heretical beliefs, and follows this with an examination of diverse non-heretical beliefs among orthodox Christians (including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, and most Protestants). He ends each chapter envisioning greater unity among Christians, despite honest disagreements. While marred by some redundancy and excess verbiage, Olson's writing renders many complex theological concepts surprisingly accessible. And in his attempts to separate heresy from right belief, he acknowledges that those who adhere to beliefs he labels erroneous are usually sincere Christians (he cites wrong belief among fundamentalists, charismatics, liberal Christians and various sects). Attempting to mediate among the myriad dogmas, doctrines and opinions of orthodox Christians is no easy task, and Olson's descriptions of certain right beliefs and heresies (such as the psychological analogy for the Trinity and modalism) are sometimes barely distinguishable. Despite these and other small logical problems, Olson's book contributes greatly to contemporary evangelicalism not only in its impressive survey of many theologies, but also in its use of "The Great Tradition" of Christian belief as an essential guide to orthodoxy.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this exemplary treatment of historical Christian theology and the development of belief, Olson (theology, Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor Univ.) succeeds in presenting what he posits as a "very basic, relatively comprehensive, nontechnical, nonspeculative one-volume introduction" to the subject. Olson works best at "affirming a strong central core of identifiable Christian belief," concluding that "beliefs matter, but not all beliefs matter equally." An evangelical Christian who is well versed in the variety of Christian beliefs-from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism to Protestantism and others that fall under the heading of "esoteric Christianity"-he compares and contrasts various traditions in brief and simple language, illuminating complex doctrinal debates such as the Trinity, the nature of God, salvation, and humanity. He employs an informed rhetoric, showcasing a Christianity "that allows for great diversity and variety about every detail." While not heavily into scholarly apparatus, he footnotes and cites where necessary. Teachers who want to cover a broad spectrum of Christian beliefs should seriously consider this as a textbook for their courses. Its reasonable price and thoughtful, comprehensive perspective make it a compelling purchase. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 367 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830826955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830826957
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger E. Olson (Ph.D., Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is the author of The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (both InterVarsity Press) and The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology (Westminster John Knox). He is also coauthor of 20th-Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age and Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God (both with Stanley J. Grenz, InterVarsity Press), and of The Trinity (with Christopher A. Hall, Eerdmans).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Michael Thompson on January 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In this book by Professor Olson, Christian history and theology is examined for the many differences and similarities that have characterized different denominations and presuppositions. The aim of this book seems fairly simple: to find a common bond that all Christians everywhere can unite under and find agreement. Olson's plea is for a synthesis over analysis (that is, to examine our theology very thoroughly and rigorously but to press this examination to unity rather than division, which has most often been the case).
Moving through twelve major/basic theological categories (Sources, Revelation, Scripture, God, Creation, Providence, Humanity, Jesus Christ, Salvation, Church, Life beyond Death, and the Kingdom of God), Olson presents the reader with a broad overview of what has typically and historically been held by varying denominations and sects among Christianity.
Again, Olson's goal in all of this is twofold: to present a 'handbook' of sorts for the new student(s) of historical theology and to make a case for a "both-and" theology rather than a divisive position. Although I feel that he falls short of this goal on two or three of the major theological positions, Olson does well in making this a reality that can be worked towards in the theological arena, even presenting the reader with more of a practical, "how-to"-type goal of what this "both-and" can look like.
On the whole, this book is an outstanding read and a tremendous resource. Olson writes very well and often times inspiring as he shares this vision of the theological horizon. This promises to be a great treasure and addition for libraries of pastors, theologians, students, and lay-persons.
Although the "both-and" isn't always going to be present, the overall vision has been set for a goal towards which our modern theology can progress.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Laurelin on July 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a useful textbook. Olson does a good job of explaining core Christian beliefs clearly and demonstrating an irenic approach to theology, without assuming that the reader needs to agree with him about anything outside of traditional orthodoxy. He does come across as rather defensive about Arminianism, though. It's a little dry, but not overly difficult. This would be a fine choice for a general theology course, though I wouldn't choose it for either a systematic or a historical theology course (Olson's other book, is a great historical theology text and isn't dry at all: The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. Kim on August 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the foundations and diversity of Christian faith. The book is very clearly written (i.e. very readable, does not plod or get bogged down in minutiae) and easy to understand. Dr. Olson follows a regular pattern in each chapter to help explain different key aspects of the Christian faith. He gives Biblical and historical reasons for orthodox faith, as well as reasoning for why certain strains of thought fall beyond orthodoxy, explaining the diversity within orthodox Christian belief without forcing his own beliefs or a single set of beliefs upon the reader.
I highly recommend this book - it's a keeper for anyone who is interested in theology, or needs to have a reference to help provide answers to those who might have theological questions.
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28 of 39 people found the following review helpful By theologicalresearcher on January 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Having heard and read about the unbiblical views of Roger Olson, I was hesitant to pick this book up and read it. However, after finishing it I don't regret reading this fine systematic theology book at all (though I disagree seriously with Olson on some issues). The book is nicely organized and very easy to read. Also, it is not a mammoth of a book (just over 350 pages) so readers will not have to devote many months to finish it.

I especially liked Olson's balanced style and exhaustiveness. Though he doesn't spend pages upon pages on a certain topic, he adequately covers the various orthodox views, the various unorthodox views, and provides a summarizing a conclusion for each chapter. One will really enjoy reading Olson's first four chapters on theological method, sources, and revelation (general and particular). This section provides a solid foundation on how we are to develop our theologies in the midst of this post-Christian era. His other chapters on God, creation, humanity, Jesus Christ, and salvation were well written. He provides a really balanced view of those topics. The only problem I have with Olson is his "limited providence" view regarding God's sovereignty and his pro-Arminian view of salvation. For a far better treatment of these issues I would recommend systematic theology books by Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, and Robert Reymond. I also found at times that Olson did not come down hard on heresies/heretics. There were times when Olson was unwilling to make a judgment call on a person's eternal destiny even if that person held to a very destructive heresy.

Overall, I recommend this book (despite some serious errors). It is easy to read, and thus, will be a useful tool for a systematic theology course. If you're a Calvinist don't get put off by Olson's stance on divine providence and grace. There are useful things in the book for one's personal growth and study.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Gordon on January 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Olsen takes the "either/or" arguments and presents them in a "perhaps both" format that made it easy for me to understand WHY "either/or" was important or not. Sometimes the going was tough, but always worthwhile.
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