UK Christian Bookshops Directory: Christian Book Reviews: Theology: The Basics
Theology: The Basics Theology: The Basics

Alister E McGrath
ISBN 1405114258 (9781405114257)
Blackwell Publishing, 2004

Category: Doctrine and Theology

Another book by McGrath on theology? Hasn't he got three already? Indeed he has, and that's just counting the textbooks that attempt to provide a comprehensive survey of the subject. The value in this one is that it does what the title says: these are the basics, on 153 fairly small pages in a perfectly readable font size.

What I particularly value about McGrath's style is that he takes a historical angle on the question of theology. This is not a unique method (as if it were something nobody else does), but he has a way of doing it that makes most of the discussion sit within a historical context, of not allowing the historical perspective to become something that we refer to now and again for the novelty value, as it were. So instead of getting the impression that theology is something that only started after the second world war, you find yourself constantly reading about the contributions of a range of theologians. The whole range of historical debate becomes more obviously relevant to the present day: what Aquinas or Karl Barth had to say is something I ought to be aware of since it provides insight and clarity for the present discussions.

McGrath takes seriously the challenge to keep clear of partisan theology. This is a genuine attempt, as is all his work, to discuss theology in such a way that it engages with any relevant tradition and contribution to the question. He includes Roman Catholicism in that, and not just pre-Reformation Catholicism. To a certain extent he achieves this bipartisan position by passing over the areas of greatest discussion and difference. So there is no mention of baptism (age and method of), open theism or the charismatic gifts, to take three examples.

If there is an obvious weakness, it is the lack of a section on scripture. The basic framework for the book is the Apostle's Creed, which lacks a statement on scripture. Perhaps this in itself indicates how modern an issue this is. This one, though, looks like it needs comment.

The book is brief, a positive bonus amongst books of this type. This is an ideal starting point for anyone who wants to get a quick, readable and surprisingly thorough introduction to the subject. We'll be recommending it to Distance Learning Students, as something to read before you turn to the heavyweight volumes.

John Wilks, May 2004

Dr John G F Wilks is the Director of Open Learning at London School of Theology, Reviews Editor for Evangelical Quarterly and author of Scripture Union's Deeper Encounter Study Series.

Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.

Blackwell Publishing

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