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Theology for everyone...
on September 27, 2004
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:
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.