Tuesday, October 23, 2007


(General Editor: Alister McGrath, First hardback edition 2006; flexiback 2007)

Here's an excellent 350 page introduction to classic Christian thinking/doctrine.

It begins with a seven-page overview of Christian Church History (try doing that sometime!). Then we explore faith, including an introduction to the creeds, faith and philosophy, religious language, can God's existence be proved?, the place of tradition, interpreting the Bible, introduction to theology, modernity, postmodernity, and Islam.

Next we have chapters on God, Jesus, Salvation, the Church, and the Christian Hope.

At the end is a Concise Anthology of Christian Thought (actually 'church history' via some great Christian apologists and theologians, from Justin Martyr to Tillich, Moltmann and Pannenberg). Then we have a useful 22-page glossary and an index.

Now, a cautious caveat. Lion Hudson, as this publisher is now called, has generally a 'conservative evangelical' flavour. The editor of this volume - Alister McGrath - may be the UK's most prolific evangelical writer. And J. I. Packer, the associate editor, is probably - with John Stott - one of the two or three modern 'godfathers' of English-speaking evangelicalism. (So, of course, the index has 13 references to John Calvin!).

I wanted to test the integrity of this book in terms of its ecclesiological breadth. My quest began with two articles on women. Here are two representative quotes:

'It is sometimes difficult to appreciate how novel [Jesus'] attitudes were at the time. Jesus' ministry represents an attempt to reform the patriarchalism of his day, and permit women to hold a new kind of authority in religious matters' (p. 139).

'An increasing number of churches have decided that there is no biblical or theological reason against ordaining women... Yet many churches hold that the tradition of the church in this regard must not be changed, and they limit the ministerial roles of women accordingly.' (p. 249).

You get the idea: conservative generally, but also cautiously 'broad church'. But not too broad: Bishop N. T. Wright gets a mention, but not, I think, the Jesus Seminar: though there is a one-page summary of the Quest for the Historical Jesus; the NRSV is used, but also the NIV; and there's two pages (!!) for an article entitled 'Where was the Garden of Eden?'

It's well-illustrated, brilliantly laid-out, and very readable. I'm teaching an Introduction to Theology course at the moment, and I recommended this book as a basic text. It's now (after the Bible) the first resource I would give to a thoughtful young person or adult beginning the Christian journey.

Copies available from Ridley College Bookshop, Melbourne.

Rowland Croucher

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