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The History of Christian Thought Paperback – June 16, 2007
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There are massive reference books with copious information to which I could turn, but I also needed something compact, something I could keep on my desk for the quick reference between lectures. Then a friends introduced me to [this] very handy little book. It was just what I needed. This succinct volume packs a load of useful information. Each entry is clear and easy to read. Hill does a fine job of simplifying complex ideas without being unduly simplistic. Another notalbe characteristic is that Hill treats different schools of thought in a balanced and objective way. (The Bodley Roundtable, March 4, 2008)
"An enormous subject, tackled in a lively and accessible way." (Publishing News)
"Well-informed, comprehensive, generous without being uncritical, the history is written in a lively and untechnical style and gives the reader just what's required to see the development of Christian thought in its scope and in its parts. For breadth, clarity and accessibility, this book has few equals." (John Webster, University of Aberdeen)
"Scholars and other interested readers will appreciate the succinct, authoritative work of Jonathan Hill in this book. Serious differences now exist on how best to relate the history of Christian thought, but Hill does good work with how he has chosen to tell the story." (Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame)
"A fascinating and invaluable book, accessible to the nonexpert but also a reliable resource for the student and even the teacher. For those . . . who simply want to browse through the ideas of some of the greatest minds of the Christian era, it is sheer delight." (David Winter, former head of BBC Religious Broadcasting)
About the Author
Jonathan Hill earned a first-class degree in philosophy and theology from Oxford University and subsequently an M.Phil. in theology (also from Oxford), specializing in the church fathers. Since 1997, he has worked as a writer and editor, dividing his time between Oxford and New Zealand. His books include The History of Christian Thought and Faith in the Age of Reason.
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Top Customer Reviews
The problem with this approach, however, is that it leaves little space for development or deeper exploration of ideas. If you're looking for an overview, this is a fine starting point. If you want a book to prepare for teaching a class, or writing a paper, on a number of theologians, this book wouldn't provide enough material on anyone to take you very far.
One comment on the author's perspective. Hill keeps his views out of the book in any overt way because of the lack of significant analysis. Clearly, however, he is more interested in the new developments of theology than in some of the more practical teachers in the church who spend their theological energies equipping the church to read the Bible, understand it, and apply it despite the latest trends in academic circles. Thus, Hill spends no time on figures like Edwards, Spurgeon, Stott, Packer, Kaiser, Boice, Machen, Lewis, or others in the evangelical tradition who didn't invent new approaches to Christian thought but who, in my view, have had a more profound influence on everyday Christian life than the German professors who have dominated academic seminary thought for the last 200 years.
This book is written for the "completely uninitiated," making this a book for the armchair Church historian, or the person who has no clue why Christians believe the way they do. Hill includes a glossary of terms, trying not to assume the reader knows anything about the subject. In addition, there is a short annotated bibliography following the books layout, for those wanting to go further in one period or another. The theologians themselves are listed in essentially chronological order as broken up into six historical periods. Each period receives its own introduction, which serves to bring people up to speed as to the historical situation. This enlivens the reading by showing links between the writers and their historical situation, proving that theology is not done in a vacuum, it is shaped somewhat by culture. Indeed, even Hill mentions the task of theology being restatement of "the Christian message in terms that contemporary people can understand" (262)--which is a statement that tends to reflect a liberal approach.
Hill begins with Justin Martyr, born in A.D. 100 and goes on a three hundred page trek through the warp and woof of Christian thought up to an including Wolfhart Pannenberg. He draws similarities between all the major thinkers in his book, not from their thought, but from their belief in Jesus Christ (329). This is the common ground he sees in all the history of Christian thought. All of history is fodder for contemporary thinkers of "unparalleled richness and diversity," no matter what is coming next.
In sum, this book is an excellent introduction to its subject matter. It follows a standard pattern throughout which makes the book easily readable. One generally unconsidered factor for reading is the font chosen for printing. In this case, the font is large enough to be easily readable and gentle on the eye. In too many books of this length the font is small and rigid which tends to put the reader to sleep, Hill font is not this way. The idea of being a liberal or a conservative is generally an issue based in one's own perspective, so some will see Hill as a liberal, and others will see him a conservative, but he represents fairly those theologians who do not represent his way of thinking. This book is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting the general sweep of history.
It is the first book I recommend to someone interested in the development of Christian thought.
At times the book dragged or got bogged down into too much detail, but for the most part it moves at a comfortable pace with just the right amount of detail to satisfy the attentive observer.
You don't need to be a scholar to get a great deal from this book, but don't expect every page to be riveting. You will have to struggle through parts.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in how Christianity has changed from what it was just decades after the apostles' deaths. (Note - it would have been even better to get a clearer picture of how the first thinkers had already changed Christianity from what it was when it was originally presented, though this may be a little too open for debate).