Have you ever wondered where terminology such as “trinity” developed? Or what certain church fathers’ positions were on various doctrines? Gregg Allison has spent the past ten years laboring to produce Historical Theology – a companion volume to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. In it, Allison follows the historical path each of the 33 doctrines from Grudem’s work that results in our modern beliefs. The purpose is to bring a greater understanding of doctrine through studying the past, and make the information accessible to all believers. In my opinion, Allison has more than accomplished this goal in Historical Theology.
Allison surveys the perspectives of “theologically conservative Protestants” who hold a high view of Scripture, believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, seek to live godly lives, and engage the culture, primarily in movements in Europe and Northern America (p. 15). He defines his approach as “diachronic essentialist,” meaning he takes a doctrine and follows it through periods of the church, noting the continuity of core truths (pp. 29-30). In the process, the author quotes steadily from scholars of the past, citing references and documents, and examining developments over time. Heavily footnoted (often taking half the page), Allison does not hold back from naming and explaining his sources. This is one aspect that I appreciated about his work. How often have I read a historical exposition by an author and wondered at the sources?
Each chapter begins with a statement of belief, and follows with information from the Early Church, Middle Ages, Reformation and Post-Reformation, and ending with the Modern Period. For each era, Allison chooses key leaders who spoke to the topic, providing quotes and commentary. Again, the footnotes are ever-present for the reader who wants to delve deeper into a person or idea presented. Even with the weighty topics that make up systematic theology, Allison’s writing is exact without being obscurely academic. The book is surprisingly readable, and, dare I say, fascinating to anyone remotely interested in history.
For many doctrines, there are dissenters and Allison briefly mentions them in context. Given the scope of his project, he couldn’t feasibly go deeply into controversies. He states, “Such selectivity means that, while I do tell the story of the historical development of Christian doctrines, it is not the whole story” (p. 14). But even so, this volume weighs in at 784 pages, and gives enough background to satisfy without bogging down a reader.
I highly recommend Historical Theology for not only church and school libraries, but it is an excellent source of insight into church history that is ideal for home bookshelves as well. Used as a reference or in personal study, curious minds will find that once they’ve begun reading, they won’t be able to put it down. – Stacy Oliver, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Most historical theology texts follow Christian beliefs chronologically, discussing notable doctrinal developments for all areas of theology according to their historical appearance. And while this may be good history, it can make for confusing theology, with the classic theological loci scattered throughout various time periods, movements, and controversies. In Historical Theology, Gregg Allison offers students the opportunity to study the historical development of theology according to a topical-chronological arrangement, setting out the history of Christian doctrine one theological element at a time. Such an approach allows readers to concentrate on one tenet of Christianity and its formulation in the early church, through the Middle Ages, Reformation, and post-Reformation era, and into the modern period. The text includes a generous mix of primary source material as well, citing the words of Cyprian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and others. Allison references the most accessible editions of these notable theologians' work so that readers can continue their study of historical theology through Christian history's most important contributors. Historical Theology is a superb resource for those familiar with Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology or interested in understanding the development of Christian theology.