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Studies in Doctrine Paperback – June 24, 1997

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Four books on key doctrines by a leading evangelical theologian all in one volume.

From the Author

Alister E. McGrath teaches theology at Oxford University, historical and systematic theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, and is research professor of systematic theology at Regent College (Vancouver, BC). He is also a contributing editor for Christianity Today. He lives in Oxford, England
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (July 6, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310213266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310213260
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,451,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Prof. Alister McGrath is a moderately conservative theologian and an ordained minister in the Church of England. He has written a large number of works, some of which are quite technical and others which are more introductory in nature. The best thing about his introductory writings is that they don't presuppose a knowledge of the subject, but at the same time they aren't simplistic.
This work is a collection of four smaller introductory works by Prof. McGrath: (1) UNDERSTANDING DOCTRINE; (2) UNDERSTANDING THE TRINITY; (3) UNDERSTANDING JESUS; and (4) JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH. I think UNDERSTANDING DOCTRINE is the best because it makes a persuasive case for why doctrine -- and not just feelings -- matter.
One problem I have with this work, like some of Prof. McGrath's works, is that he frequently discusses Karl Barth (1886-1968) the well-known Swiss Reformed theologian. Barth was the principal player within the school known as "neo-orthodoxy." To some he is a towering writer of a more or less Evangelical bent, to others he is something of a modernist. Some traditional Calvinists, such as Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til, wrote works criticizing Barth from the Calvinist perspective. I'm not competent to say how faithful Barth was to the Reformed tradition, but Prof. McGrath owes it to his readers to point out that there is quite a controversy about this. Unfortunately he doesn't. (See, e.g., McGrath, HISTORICAL THEOLOGY, 238-39.) For a discussion of Barth from an admirer of Van Til, see John Frame: CORNELIUS VAN TIL: AN ANALYSIS OF HIS THOUGHT, 353-69.
This book isn't a "mini" systematic theology. There are all sorts of important topics that Prof. McGrath doesn't discuss (such as ecclesiology and eschatology). Nonetheless, taken as a whole, it is a good introduction to Christianity from a Protestant perspective.
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I bought this book at the recommendation of a Presbyterian minister with whom I was discussing the Trinity. The minister said McGrath could explain and prove the doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, he spends almost no time attempting to prove it. It is written for people who already believe it, but I'm not sure how much it actually would help such a person. He does all the usual reasoning by analogy without ever finding any analogy that actually works to explain the Trinity. He uses multiple contradictory analogies. He uses scripture passages in contradictory ways, using the same passage to mean one thing one place, and something opposite someplace else. I found it a hopeless muddle, but then, perhaps my expectations were too high. What can one really expect from a book that attempts to explain what even the author acknowledges is inexplicable?

It also seemed to me that the author does not exactly conform to an absolutely orthodox or creedal Trinitarianism. At times, he takes positions that sound modalistic, reasoning that the three "persons" of the Trinity are actually three "personas." But then, he goes on to contradict himself, which is not completely surprising as the doctrine is inherently contradictory, but left me unusure what he was really trying to say.

If you believe in the Trinity and want a fellow believer to meander around in speculations, some orthodox, some not, in a futile attempt to explain the incomprehensible to the lay reader, then it may be of some value to you. If you are looking for a book to prove the doctrine, either to yourself or someone else, that is not the author's intent.
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