Church history probed by scholars

Published March 1, 1999

THESE BOOKS, both the work of English scholars, merit the attention of anyone interested in historical theology and church history. Both authors recognize that the issues of the present day must be placed within the context of a larger history. This is valuable at a time when a knowledge of church history and historical theology are often devalued.

In Historical Theology, Alister McGrath offers a well written and well organized survey of the history of Christian thought from the Patristic (post New Testament to about AD 800) period to the present day. The book is a comprehensive introduction, accessible to the ordinary reader and of particular use as a textbook and as a reference volume.

McGrath begins with an introductory discussion of the nature and makeup of theology as a discipline. He then divides the history of theology into four major periods: Patristic, Middle Ages and Renaissance, Reformation and Post-reformation, and the Modern period to the present day.

Each major section begins with an overview highlighting major themes and chief historical developments. This is followed with case studies illustrating the issues discussed in the overview. Throughout, McGrath demonstrates himself as an able and insightful interpreter of the history of Christian theology.

[pullquote]Christianity: the First Two Thousand Years, by David L. Edwards, is more directly a work of church history than theology. This also is a work of considerable scope, accuracy of detail, and balanced interpretation. Its method and presentation of history tends to be more narrative than McGrath’s, and perhaps more useful for those who simply like to read history.

The book begins with a chapter in which Edwards considers Jesus and the historical context in which belief in him had its origin. He then takes us through the next 2,000 years of Christian history from the early Christians through the “postmodern age.”

What makes these books particularly useful is that they value the history of Christianity and the history of theology for an understanding of the Christian faith in the present day.

Both books look forward to the new millennium from the standpoint that it will be part of this larger history. At a time when we are naturally beginning to look forward, these books remind us that a celebration of our faith in the next century will require an appropriation of the wealth of its history and the meaning of its traditions. Both provide readers with reliable and comprehensive guides to much of that history.

Rev. Dr. Brian Spence is priest-in-charge of the parish of Ecum Secum in Nova Scotia.


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