The Story of Christian Theology
Roger E. Olson
If you’ve ever wondered how the major pieces of Christian theology –things like the Trinity, Predestination, and Baptism– you will find them here. Dr. Olson, a historian by trade, takes on the places, times, and movements that developed and hardened the Christian doctrines we know today. Essentially, this book follows a strictly chronological format, starting from the birth of the Church in the book of Acts, and carrying through to the split of the Fundamentalist movement and Reformed theology in the 20th Century.
The first section deals with the fundamental heresies that came in with the founding of the Church by examining the writing of the Patristic Fathers, the Apologetic Fathers, and then focusing specifically on Irenaeus. Here the fundamental issues of the nature of Christ in his incarnation were initially resolved. Of course, many of these issues have risen again in recent time with the formation of heretical branches of Christian thought, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the LDS Church.
The second section deals with the unity of the Church which is primarily founded on the conversion of Rome to a Christian state. While Dr. Olson does a good job of explain the good results of the unity of the Church, he doesn’t cover the concerns of those Christians who objected to the sacralism of merging the state and church, and using state power to impose consistency of theology.
The major argument over the nature of the Trinity is dealt with in the fourth section, and the fifth returns to the nature of Christ. Section five describes the split between the Eastern and Western church over the issue of the procession of the Spirit –does the Spirit proceed only from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. According to Dr. Olson, the theological quarrel was founded on different views of the place of Scripture and hermeneutics.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Reformers are covered in the seventh section. Dr. Olson provides good insight into the relationship between the various Reformers, laying the groundwork for the ultimate split of the Reformed movement described in section eight. The author’s ability to lay out the relationships in this section provides a very easy to understand historical picture, though he tends to downplay the role and objections of the Anabaptists, and the sacralizing power grounded in Constantinian Christianity.
In the final section Dr. Olson discusses the split between liberal and conservative Christianity, the split between fundamentalism and mainline Christianity. Some of the most interesting pieces he discusses here relate to the role of Billy Graham’s ministry, and the role of various schools, strong personalities, and even the impact of scientific thinking in this era.
A long read, but a good basis from which to reach out and investigate Christian history and theology.