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Alister McGrath is an author I rely upon frequently for helping to teach theology. He has a broad-based, ecumenical approach useful and accessible to Catholics and Protestants; firmly grounded in the long history of Christendom and intellectual developments arising out of the early church forward, there is much that Orthodox Christians would also find interesting and helpful. His works on Christian spirituality, historical theology, and his excellent one-volume introduction to theology are constant references of mine.

This particular volume, produced by Blackwell (one of my favourite presses, particularly for theological works), is meant to serve as both an introduction and survey of the basic themes of Christian theology. McGrath takes the Apostles' Creed, one of the creeds of the early church that most every Christian agrees upon as a statement of some authority, as the overall framework for this text. In his introduction, McGrath explains the different methods of studying theology (highlighting particular theologians, or tracing the history), and some of the disadvantages of working with those methods. He explains the basis of following the Apostles' Creed to highlight ideas, which in turn draws in discussion of particular theologians and theological schools, denominational differences as applicable, and the major source elements of scripture, tradition, and reason.

The Apostles' Creed itself is rather short and basic - each line of the creed focuses upon one aspect of the faith, and McGrath uses these lines as the topics for the chapters. Elaborating on these basic themes, McGrath pulls in discussion and references from biblical texts and images, major theologians from past and present, and general trends in history. The development of the topics is broadly drawn, proposing more questions than answers throughout. The topics, drawn from the chapter headings, include:

* Faith

* God

* Creation

* Jesus

* Salvation

* Trinity

* Church

* Heaven

Those familiar with creedal statements will recognise the basic progression here. Chapters are short and accessible without sacrificing information and support. Each chapter concludes with possible discussion question.

One of the interesting omissions in this text is that there seems to be no actual recitation of the Apostles' Creed itself - one might expect this to be in the introduction, or as the beginning of the first topics chapter on faith, or indeed in the appendix. While it is true that many Christians will have this in prayer books and other texts, and indeed many will already know the text from memory, it is a surprising omission that could be easily corrected. There are good glossary, index and biographical appendices at the end of the book.

This is a good book for use in church, Sunday school and bible study situations, particularly for liturgical churches whose congregations will be readily familiar with the Apostles' Creed.
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on April 17, 2009
I hold a doctorate in practical theology and have read widely over the years. I needed a "primer" to use in an introductory theology class for laypersons. Having been familiar with Professor McGrath's larger volumes, I thought this volume might be worth a look. It was worth much more!

McGrath manages to cover the highlights of a 2,000-year subject, striking a balance between brevity and depth. He calls the work a "taster"--intimating that those who get just a taste of theology in this manner may want to go on to a more sumptuous feast. The beauty of the book may also be a source of frustration for some: I found myself wanting to have more depth just when the discussion got interesting. But, in the interest of covering the subject, McGrath chooses to move along.

There is a companion volume, Theology: The Basic Readings, which is helpful, but not necessary. McGrath includes a striking number of quotes from "source material"--i.e., the words of the original authors/thinkers such as Anselm, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and a number of contemporary writers.

Again, for an introduction to the subject, you could hardly do better; if you are looking for an in-depth study, try McGrath's longer works.
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on February 25, 2005
Something I have kept in the back of my mind for awhile now is to be on the alert for a short book delineating Christianity in its broadest categories. For me, the utility of such a book - were it to exist - would consist in having something to give to friends and acquaintances from different religious backgrounds, who are interested in what Christianity is generally about. Without wanting to sound melodramatic, let me say that Dr. Alister McGrath's book, _Theology: The Basics_, has filled that gap and freed up some memory in the back of my mind.

_Theology: The Basics_ is arranged very simply around an ancient Christian formula known as the Apostles' Creed. What McGrath discusses, whether faith, God, creation, Jesus, salvation, the Church, or heaven, is found in germ form at least in the Apostles' Creed.

As a scholar of historical theology, McGrath manifests a depth of understanding for Christian thought and its development over the centuries with each subject he treats. Frequent mention is made of such thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, etc. Some readers will find helpful the selected Christian texts, which are placed at the end of each chapter, accompanied by a few questions for further reflection. This feature makes _Theology: The Basics_ amenable for discussion groups.

From the perspective of someone, who might like to distribute a copy of this book to non-Christians, let me offer three reasons in support of this gesture: Firstly, _Theology: The Basics_ is a clear presentation of Christianity with the selected subjects dealt with in a mature fashion. Secondly, McGrath showcases an ecumenical spirit citing from Protestant and Roman Catholic sources alike, though perhaps the majority of citations come from the former. Thirdly, _Theology: The Basics_ is a non-threatening book. McGrath is anything but in the reader's face. Listen to how he ends his book: "...some of you will choose to end your studies here. If so, I would like to thank you for allowing me to accompany you on your exploration of theology, and wish you well in the future." (2004, p. 138)
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on May 9, 2008
I used this book for one of the courses in my Masters program and have used it many times since then as a resource. I have used it for myself as well as to answer questions for our RCIA group. I have recommended this book to fellow team members at our parish.
McGrath's use of the Apostle's Creed as the model for the progression of the chapters fits in well with learning about God and our beliefs. I also liked cross referencing with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
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on November 25, 2013
Having started formation for Holy Orders, I chose this book to begin to have a better knowledge of theological teachings. I was not disappointed and seek to read more from this author. His style and approach, in this book, allow the novice to slowly grasp concepts that will be expanded on in further works.
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on July 7, 2005
The basics theology book is an excellent book for those studying theology for themself or at the university. The terms selected are the ones most Christians use but don't understand.

This book will remove false understanding and offer more information about their belife system.
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on December 30, 2008
An excellent read for the beginner of theology and an apt refresher for the knowledgable.
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on December 16, 2011
St. Anselm is well known for his explanation of theology: "faith seeking understanding". For generations the church understood that theology was essential for godly living. That is why they pursued doctrinal discussions with such enthusiasm. It was essential to live a godly life.

It didn't always stay that way. As the church entered the 18th and 19th century philosophical inquiry changed theology from a key component to the life of the church and godly living to inaccessible, ivory tower exploration. Christians responded with a movement we now identify and Pietism (Europe) and Revivalism (America). These often downplayed the importance of theology for godly living. In fact, they believed it to be unnecessary - detrimental, depending on who you talked to. In many areas there is a resurgence in the pre-modern. This is a most welcome providence in many disciplines.

The truth is, theology is necessary for godly living. In the preface to his book Theology: The Basics Alister McGrath calls theology the "Christian's discipleship of the mind" (xiii). In order to aid Christians in the study of theology he has written this book on the basics. Due to its intentional rudimentariness McGrath refrains from analysis. In other words, he describes the major positions (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) without judgment. This is the third edition of Theology: The Basics and McGrath has expanded and revised his treatment of the Holy Spirit.

This is an excellent and extremely helpful introduction to Christian theology. Believers of all familiarity with theology will find McGrath's explanations helpful and clarifying. This would be an excellent text for a sunday school or church bible study. I would even include this as a text for an introductory course in theology. This book is intended to be a shorter introduction to his much larger and much more extensive Christian Theology. Just as The Basics would serve people well as an entry into doctrine, so it serves us well as a "handshake to start a much longer conversation" (197).

NOTE: In accordance with the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission I would like to state that I received a complementary copy of the aforementioned text for the purposes of review. I was not required to furnish a positive review.
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on March 7, 2015
I don't think this text was as good as it could have been. It really doesn't actually give a definitive view of theology, but rather a topical overview of historical theology that uses the Apostle's creed as an outline.
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on January 23, 2015
At 200 pages, this introductory text manages to cover all the expected topics. It is structured around the Apostle's Creed. Accordingly, the conceptualization of the three consubstantial persons in the Trinity and their relationships are explained. This is followed by chapters on ecclesiology, sacraments and eschatology. The beginning chapters are on the whole systematic. The last chapters however are significantly more on dogmatics. Historical contexts are not fully presented and ostensibly not deemed obligatory. However some background knowledge surely will help and arguably is required. Each chapter ends with short theological excerpts which the author guides the reader to dissect. The overall view is traditional but ecumenical. Do not expect any in-depth deliberation. Rather, it serves as an introduction and its clarity is exemplary. In essence: a short and sweat text.
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