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The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition Reform

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Voted a 2000 Book of the Year by Christianity Today, winner of a year 2000 ECPA Gold Medallion Award. History is made up of stories—narratives that recount the events, movements, ideas and lives that have shaped religions and nations. Theologian Roger Olson believes that the history of Christian theology should be told as such a story, one replete with thick plots, excitin Voted a 2000 Book of the Year by Christianity Today, winner of a year 2000 ECPA Gold Medallion Award. History is made up of stories—narratives that recount the events, movements, ideas and lives that have shaped religions and nations. Theologian Roger Olson believes that the history of Christian theology should be told as such a story, one replete with thick plots, exciting twists, interesting people and fascinating ideas. In this panoramic work of historical theology Olson vividly recounts the deeds and words of the cultists and apostolic fathers of the second century, the clash between the theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch, the epochal division between East and West, the revolutionary advent of the Reformation and much more, right on up to the dazzling, sometimes dismaying fallout that has continued to shake Christians through the twentieth century. Through it all Olson detects and traces a common thread: a concern for salvation—God’s redemptive activity in forgiving and transforming sinful human beings. Evenhanded, refreshingly readable, impressive in its breadth and depth, The Story of Christian Theology is poised to become a standard historical theology text.


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Voted a 2000 Book of the Year by Christianity Today, winner of a year 2000 ECPA Gold Medallion Award. History is made up of stories—narratives that recount the events, movements, ideas and lives that have shaped religions and nations. Theologian Roger Olson believes that the history of Christian theology should be told as such a story, one replete with thick plots, excitin Voted a 2000 Book of the Year by Christianity Today, winner of a year 2000 ECPA Gold Medallion Award. History is made up of stories—narratives that recount the events, movements, ideas and lives that have shaped religions and nations. Theologian Roger Olson believes that the history of Christian theology should be told as such a story, one replete with thick plots, exciting twists, interesting people and fascinating ideas. In this panoramic work of historical theology Olson vividly recounts the deeds and words of the cultists and apostolic fathers of the second century, the clash between the theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch, the epochal division between East and West, the revolutionary advent of the Reformation and much more, right on up to the dazzling, sometimes dismaying fallout that has continued to shake Christians through the twentieth century. Through it all Olson detects and traces a common thread: a concern for salvation—God’s redemptive activity in forgiving and transforming sinful human beings. Evenhanded, refreshingly readable, impressive in its breadth and depth, The Story of Christian Theology is poised to become a standard historical theology text.

30 review for The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition Reform

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    I was excited to get this book and bought t a few years ago within a few months of its publication. Olson had a reputation as a progressive and ecletic but basically orthodox evangelical theologian. And not too many of those sort of folks have written a summary history of doctrine lately. I was very disappointed. On the good side: 1. nice binding and dustjacket by IVP 2. Lengthy 3. Simple, accessible writing style suitable for laypersons and college freshmen. 4. Sometimes insightful On the bad s I was excited to get this book and bought t a few years ago within a few months of its publication. Olson had a reputation as a progressive and ecletic but basically orthodox evangelical theologian. And not too many of those sort of folks have written a summary history of doctrine lately. I was very disappointed. On the good side: 1. nice binding and dustjacket by IVP 2. Lengthy 3. Simple, accessible writing style suitable for laypersons and college freshmen. 4. Sometimes insightful On the bad side: profoundly imbalanced and unfair to the folks he doesn't like (Reformed, conservatives, Early Church Fathers, etc.) A few example: * His treatment of Old Princeton is as superficial as I have ever seen. * He treats the Early Church Fathers as almost uniformly legalistic. * He is petty and critical of Edwards, but gives Wesley a free pass. Not surprising if you read Olson's bizarre letter to the editor of US News and World Report about 2004 regarding what a vicious tyrant Edwards was. * His sympathy for Open Theism is obvious everywhere. * He almost calls Athanaius an Apollinarian heretic * He clearly prefers live heresy to dead orthodoxy * On one page he calls Arminius a Reformed theologian, and on the next says he is not. We can go on and on. Simply put -- this book is a total trainwreck and not worth spending any time with at all. Save your money and buy Pelikan.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve Walker

    At first glance this appears to be a balanced and well written history of the development of Christian Theology. Unfortunately like most written histories of christian doctrine it is written entirely from a western point of view with very little coverage of the the east. In fact the east is forgotten after 6th or 7th century. if you are looking for the history of christian doctrine go to Pelikan, McGrath, or Gonzalez.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brent McCulley

    I have nothing against Olson; in fact, I had never heard of him prior to me picking up this book. Nevertheless, upon completion of "The Story of Christian Theology," I had concluded that Olson had successfully offered absolutely nothing new to the understanding of historical theology. His judgments were overly simplistic, and the caricatures he paints quite simply are unfair. A thorough review is not now necessary, but let me perhaps shed some light on what I am talking about. Olson follows Justo I have nothing against Olson; in fact, I had never heard of him prior to me picking up this book. Nevertheless, upon completion of "The Story of Christian Theology," I had concluded that Olson had successfully offered absolutely nothing new to the understanding of historical theology. His judgments were overly simplistic, and the caricatures he paints quite simply are unfair. A thorough review is not now necessary, but let me perhaps shed some light on what I am talking about. Olson follows Justo L. Gonzalez down to every yod and iota. He draws from Gonzalez's two volume history of Christianity so closely, his primary sources quotes are mostly pulled from Gonzalez as he himself quoted them. Again, Olson offers nothing new. What is more, is that in reading a historical theology book, one would hope that the author would set out to trace as objectively as possible their understanding of the realm of possible understandings of what best fits the model for how history and theology actually developed. Instead, we hear Olson's anachronistic judgments and condemnatory voice coming down on figures in history in such a terribly historically-fallacious way, that one is hard pressed to take Olson seriously. When one is reading Olson's text, they do not learn about the development of Christian theology, but they do learn a lot about Olson himself; viz., that he is a free-church loving, Calvinistic-hating, Anabaptist-leaning, Arminian. Rather than laying out all his cards on the table before he begins his historical survey, he conceals his cards, and thereupon makes inappropriate, unfair, and anachronistic ejaculatory comments in between his descriptions of the development of historical theology. While this may be "ok" in an oral academic lecture by a professor, it is simply crude and inappropriate in a 'scholarly' book. On the whole, some of Olson's blunders are as follows. He calls the early Apostolic Fathers "legalistic" who had "lost the gospel of grace." This is the most anachronistic unwarranted judgment I have ever read. In his diatribe against the Apologists and Early Father's use of Greek Philosophy, he literally quotes Tertullian's "What indeed does Athens have to do with Jerusalem" at least five times (54, 84, ff, etc.). What is ironic is that he misinterprets what Tertullian was actually saying which was merely defending Christianity against being subverted and judged by pagan philosophies and their rules and narrow claims for truth (Diogenes Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 253). His understanding of Greek philosophy is elementary in relation to the Apologists, "the god of Greek philosophy was considered the arche" (56). Olson clumps, for ease, together Stoic, Platonic, Epicurean, Cynic and all of the interrelated schools together and creates one "Greek god" who is impassible, immutable, timeless, simple, etc. The Christian Apologists obviously, Olson assets, succumbed to this conception of God. Olson propounds this false dichotomy all the way throughout his book. "This presupposition seemed obvious to Origen, and that can only be because like most other church fathers and theologians of the Roman Empire, he was unduly influenced by the Greek philosophical theism of the Platonic tradition which attempted to remove everything considered creaturely or imperfect...He seemed to capitulate all too readily to Greek metaphysical assumptions" (107). Again, "Origen can be criticized for failing to see the glaring inconsistencies within his system caused largely by uncritical acceptance of Greek notions of divine being (112). "Absolute static perfection--including apatheia, or impassibility (passionlessness)--is the nature of God according to Greek thought, and nearly all Christian theologians came to agree with this" (143). All of the above has been sufficiently refuted by Gavrilyuk's "The Suffering of the Impassible God: Dialectics of Patristic Thought" among many other monographs that have serious problems with this terribly fallacious understanding of historical theology. "The portrait of the God of traditional Christian theism would seem to be painted with both biblical and Hellenistic colors," etc. (530). He practically calls Athanasius a heretic (160-172). He treats the Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, and Patristics extremely unfair. After the split of East and West, Olson ignored the East and any developments in their theology. Olson's understanding of the "two schools" of Antioch and Alexandria is simply false. This has been refuted thanks to modern Cyrilian scholarship and new developments in Alexandrian and Antiochean theology. See O'Keefe, "Impassible Suffering? Divine Passion and Fifth-Century Christology," among others. Hence, it is simply wrong to say that Alexandrian theology stressed Christ's divinity whereas Antioch stressed his humanity. This is patently false. He sees the Council of Ephesus and Chalcedon not as positive contributions but as settlements and compromises. This is terribly fallacious. See also Fairbairn, "The One Person Who is Christ Jesus: The Patristic Perspective." His treatment of Augustine is unfair, injecting his own comments trying to pin down the readers' interlocutor, like "then does it not follow inexorably that God is the source of the existence of Evil? Yes" (275). Olson writes that Apostolic Christianity fell because of Constantine, etc. (278). Calvin gets a mere three pages (410-412), whereas Anabaptist theology gets sixteen (412-428), and is not free from Olson's inappropriate anachronistic comments seemingly condemning the man he is supposedly supposed to be objectively surveying. "Calvin's teachings about the Lord's supper appears contradictory...Calvin wanted to have Christ's body in Heaven and eat it in the sacramental meal too!" (412). Olson is not loath to point out Calvin's oversight of Servetus' execution, in fact, he brings it up four times inappropriately, three times outside the small section on Calvin." Clearly he is raking Calvin through the mud. He gives Arminius almost twenty pages(454-472), and writes later in the section on Deism "It became clear to Deists that the Church of England might take the step away from Reformed Theology--a step in the right direction" (531). On another note, there are multiple misspellings within the book, hardly Olson's fault, however, for bad editing. Dialogue is spelled "dialog" on page 565. And is spelled "ans" on page 603, etc. There are numerous other problems with this textbook, but I'm sick of rifling through it quite frankly. There are a dozen of quality texts on historical theology: this is not one of them. Brent

  4. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book reminds me of Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language in its length and purpose. Olson gives us an overview of Christian theology beginning with the Apostolic Fathers, moving through the early church, the medieval Scholastics, the Reformation and on up to the 20th century. It is not a brief overview by any means, at 600 pages. Yet so much work has been done in Christian theology, any one section taken alone will seem too shallow. Thus, it is a good book for those interested in This book reminds me of Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language in its length and purpose. Olson gives us an overview of Christian theology beginning with the Apostolic Fathers, moving through the early church, the medieval Scholastics, the Reformation and on up to the 20th century. It is not a brief overview by any means, at 600 pages. Yet so much work has been done in Christian theology, any one section taken alone will seem too shallow. Thus, it is a good book for those interested in beginning to go a bit deeper in historical theology or for those who want a refresher course. While Olson attempts to keep his bias to a minimum, it is clear that he leans to the Arminian (synergistic) side over against the Calvinist (monergistic) side. At the same time, I think he presented a mostly balanced view. There were some places that seemed to present a distorted view. For example, he mentioned numerous times that Tertullian wrote "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" to show that Tertullian opposed Christian use of secular philosophy. Yet in passing he mentions that Tertullian was well versed in philosophy, was influenced by Stoicism and that he was no mere biblicist (or 20th century fundamentalist). But I wonder if the reader with no prior knowledge would only remember Tertullian as opposing use of philosophy? At any rate, this is a good book for any who want to learn the over-arching story of Christian theology or want to re-learn some of what they forgot from earlier study!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Barton

    I highly recommend this volume of church history for anyone looking for a basic understanding of why theology has developed the way it has. Olson does a great job of making connections from one period to another and establishing cause-and-effect relationships to show that much of the main theological "movements" have been historically reactionary. Olson breaks down each period of theology into manageable bits by focusing on a few major theologians who really shaped their age. In a sense, this is I highly recommend this volume of church history for anyone looking for a basic understanding of why theology has developed the way it has. Olson does a great job of making connections from one period to another and establishing cause-and-effect relationships to show that much of the main theological "movements" have been historically reactionary. Olson breaks down each period of theology into manageable bits by focusing on a few major theologians who really shaped their age. In a sense, this is just a really big study on major Christian teachers and their surrounding cultural and intellectual climate, how that shaped them and how they responded, and how they impacted church history subsequently. Very readable and quotable!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike Gorski

    This book is exactly what it claims to be: a survey of the history of christian theology that is neither so deep as to go over the heads of the majority of readers, nor so shallow as to be a popular, yet unreliable, source of information. There is definitely an anti-calvinist thread running throughout the book, but nonetheless I greatly enjoyed this work and heartily recommend it to other amateur theologians. Olson shows well how the hand of God is providentially directing history for His glory.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This isn't something I would recommend to everyone--too long and specific for that. But for what it was trying to do--put the major changes and developments of Christian theology into context while trying to lay out the major streams in a comprehensible way--it is top drawer. Readable and organized. And Olson is an unapologetic Arminian, so it is refreshing compared to some of the other traditions I'm reading from. As a tool for helping me explain theological ideas for my church history students This isn't something I would recommend to everyone--too long and specific for that. But for what it was trying to do--put the major changes and developments of Christian theology into context while trying to lay out the major streams in a comprehensible way--it is top drawer. Readable and organized. And Olson is an unapologetic Arminian, so it is refreshing compared to some of the other traditions I'm reading from. As a tool for helping me explain theological ideas for my church history students, it was first-rate.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Forrest Martin

    Top notch. Quite thorough, but the beauty of The Story of Christian Theology is its readability - treating an exciting story as it deserves. Technical terms explained, not often too slanted, this is a terrific book for someone relatively new to church history. Highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Giovanni Generoso

    The thesis of Olson’s The Story of Christian Theology is that the ultimate thread common to Christian theologians throughout history is “salvation—God’s redemptive activity in forgiving and transforming sinful humans.” In fact, in the preface and throughout the course of his book, Olson explains that the key to understanding the history of Christian theology is to approach it through the lens of soteriology. Furthermore, of particular interest to the overall purpose of the book is the dramatic n The thesis of Olson’s The Story of Christian Theology is that the ultimate thread common to Christian theologians throughout history is “salvation—God’s redemptive activity in forgiving and transforming sinful humans.” In fact, in the preface and throughout the course of his book, Olson explains that the key to understanding the history of Christian theology is to approach it through the lens of soteriology. Furthermore, of particular interest to the overall purpose of the book is the dramatic nature of Christian history. He explicitly says that “The history of Christian theology can and should be told as a story. It is full of complex plots, exciting events, interesting people, and fascinating ideas. This book is an attempt to tell that story well, doing justice to each of its subplots” (13). What this reveals is that Olson’s intention in writing this book was not to simply add information to the database of scholasticism, but was written for “the untutored Christian layperson or student as well as for the interested Christian pastor who wants a ‘refresher course’ in historical theology” (14). It is significant, therefore, that Olson opened the Preface of his book with the assertion, “People live from the stories that shape their identities” (11). Because of this, he has here attempted to provide a very accessible, yet thorough accounting of the Christian heritage, the Christian story. A thoughtful person, when he finds himself thrust into existence, will want to ask the question, From whence did I come? It is this profound and most important question that Olson seeks to answer for the Christian. Compared to other works in the field, there is a sense in which Olson’s book seeks to provide an equal balance to the particular nuances of doctrinal formulation, on the one hand, and universal coherence, on the other hand. His book attempts to stretch the course of time, going into detail when necessary. If Olson’s thesis is that specifically salvation is the most important thread throughout Christian theology, then we should expect to see this play out in history. As it turns out, Olson has strong reasons for believing that this is the case. For example, the ancient debate between the Gnostics and the Church fathers was not a disagreement over moot, esoteric semantics. Rather, as the Church fathers saw it, salvation itself was at stake. The Gnostics rejected the incarnation, saying that Jesus Christ wasn’t actually a literal human being (although he may have appeared to look like a human), but rather was only a spiritual teacher who came to reveal secret knowledge to the apostles. To the Gnostics, salvation was obtained through gnosis. This is fundamentally a different Gospel than what was handed down to the fathers through the apostles. Olson points out that it was the Church father’s responsibility to, in some sense, formalize the Christian faith and life lest heresies crept in (39). Similarly, Cyprian of Carthage promoted Church unity for soteriological motivations. Cyprian understood that a house divided against itself cannot stand. In fact, so intense were Cyprian’s convictions about the unity of God’s people that he said “he cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ” and “he can no longer have God for his Father who has not the church for his mother” (121). During the formulation of the Council of Nicaea, Orthodox thinkers like Athanasius knew that the Arian heresy was a threat to salvation. Operating under the logic that God can only save that which He becomes, if Jesus was not fully God—but only a created creature—then he cannot bring humans to God. On Arian’s paradigm, however the atonement supposedly works, it is vain. Athanasius once said, “the Logos is not a creature but is of one substance with the Father… because only so is our salvation fully realized and guaranteed” (167). This soteriological significance can be seen throughout the whole history of Christian theology. The Reformers understood that if the Gospel salvation was truly by faith alone, then it could not be obtained by works of the Law. The Protestant Reformation attempted to reevaluate Roman Catholic dogma that was incompatible with Scripture’s message—for the sake of salvation. The sources that Olson uses are, for the most part, very good. I appreciated that he used plenty of direct sources, quoting from the original authors themselves. There is a sense in which using secondary sources lessens the weight of one’s argument, since there is always room for misinterpretation. Obviously, if he were to use strictly secondary sources at the focal points of his arguments, I’d be much more suspicious and would probably be tempted to double-check his interpretation—his interpretation of an interpretation, that is. One specific author that Olson quoted from generously was Justo Gonzalez. I have read the works of Gonzalez and know that they’re very helpful books. Overall, I think his sources contributed to the thrust of his argument. In his review of Olson’s book, R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in California argued that Olson’s bias flows out of his book when he gets to Jacob Arminius and the Arminian/Calvinism debate. “His Arminius was reacting to the five points of Calvinism! That would have surprised the international delegation to the Synod, who thought that they were responding to the five points of the Remonstrants.” I particularly agreed with Scott’s critique of Olson on this point. Olson failed to talk about John Calvin, and surely saw an influential giant in the famous Jacob Arminius. This was one of my critiques of the book as well. In my opinion, he does not give a thorough enough hearing to John Calvin and his influence upon theology in the post-Reformation era. I can think of no more fruitful way to study theology than to do it through the lens of history. The evolution of theology has indeed been a story—a story in which we are all characters a part of the dialogue. The story is not over, and in some sense, we are all currently center stage, being called by God to continue the task. Olson provided a very accessible, clear, and thorough synopsis of Christian doctrine. His book has benefited me tremendously.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eric Parsons

    I was required to read this book for a Masters-level theology class at Ohio Christian. Had it not been required, I may not have read it, but I am glad that I did. This is more in-depth than a survey, but not an examination of the most minute detail on Christian theology. The primary strength of Olson's work is that it traces the documentation of Christian theology through the centuries via ecumenical councils and great thinkers. Olson does not shy away from those who effectively preached heresy a I was required to read this book for a Masters-level theology class at Ohio Christian. Had it not been required, I may not have read it, but I am glad that I did. This is more in-depth than a survey, but not an examination of the most minute detail on Christian theology. The primary strength of Olson's work is that it traces the documentation of Christian theology through the centuries via ecumenical councils and great thinkers. Olson does not shy away from those who effectively preached heresy and even gives some strong points that these have made that are worth remembering. He also clarifies the myth that canon was voted on and that theology was determined democratically--simply untrue, these councils met to document what was largely accepted at the time and to answer stark heresies such as Arianism and Nestorianism. Included toward the end are the challenges the modern church faces with postmodern thinking and neo-Orthodoxy, though a bit more of a touch of certain wildly popular heresies would be in order (most likely in and updated fashion). Nevertheless, a good book for a church historian to read alongside other material to get a fuller picture.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ken Peters

    Before reading this lengthy book, I had felt a growing desire to reacquaint myself with some of the significant historical moments of church history. I chose this book for several reasons: it focuses on church theology rather than church events, it’s written as a story rather than as systematic theology, and it’s written by an historian with an Arminian background rather than a Calvinistic background (something I’d never encountered before). I enjoyed the book, sometimes finding it difficult to Before reading this lengthy book, I had felt a growing desire to reacquaint myself with some of the significant historical moments of church history. I chose this book for several reasons: it focuses on church theology rather than church events, it’s written as a story rather than as systematic theology, and it’s written by an historian with an Arminian background rather than a Calvinistic background (something I’d never encountered before). I enjoyed the book, sometimes finding it difficult to put down, probably because I felt I was learning so much about things I’d only been vaguely aware of previously. It connected a lot of dots for me in regards to how one thing led to another, and I think that’s why I liked the story-approach. But like any historical account, it’s affected by a writer’s biases, and is forced to be selective in what it covers. But because I assume that will be true of any history book, I felt quite satisfied with reading this one.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alan Geygan

    Olson does a good job of walking the reader through the evolution of theology in vivid detail. He tried to incorporate as many different readers and influencers as possible to give you the full picture. At times it is very cumbersome and difficult to follow. You get a general feel for the overall progression of Christianity, but it can get lost in the multitude of characters and philosophies at times. Christianity is a long, winding story without much cohesion at times, but he does an admirable Olson does a good job of walking the reader through the evolution of theology in vivid detail. He tried to incorporate as many different readers and influencers as possible to give you the full picture. At times it is very cumbersome and difficult to follow. You get a general feel for the overall progression of Christianity, but it can get lost in the multitude of characters and philosophies at times. Christianity is a long, winding story without much cohesion at times, but he does an admirable job tying it all together.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anna Steggerda

    As a student of Dr. Olson’s, I had to read this book for my Intro to Christian History class. When I first received it in the mail, I was not looking forward to reading it because it was so thick. HOWEVER, Dr. Olson’s writing is made for everyone. He defines terms that are not common in everyday life. He goes into just the right amount of detail on different theologians that have created Christianity as we know it today. This gives a overview of Christian history that is easy to understand, kind As a student of Dr. Olson’s, I had to read this book for my Intro to Christian History class. When I first received it in the mail, I was not looking forward to reading it because it was so thick. HOWEVER, Dr. Olson’s writing is made for everyone. He defines terms that are not common in everyday life. He goes into just the right amount of detail on different theologians that have created Christianity as we know it today. This gives a overview of Christian history that is easy to understand, kind of exciting (?) & well written!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Josh Trice

    While a very insightful read, this book unfortunately gets tough to read in the latter parts. I’d say the first half is very majorly able to read as it reads like a story, but as the “story” continues, it gets more and more intellectual and less and less easy to grasp. I read this as a part of my first semester of seminary, the author (Roger Olson) was my professor so surely that affected my overall take on the book. He is a knowledgeable man and this is a well written book. If you like history ( While a very insightful read, this book unfortunately gets tough to read in the latter parts. I’d say the first half is very majorly able to read as it reads like a story, but as the “story” continues, it gets more and more intellectual and less and less easy to grasp. I read this as a part of my first semester of seminary, the author (Roger Olson) was my professor so surely that affected my overall take on the book. He is a knowledgeable man and this is a well written book. If you like history (especially Christian History) read this book! It’s long, but it’s worth it!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan A. Neal

    Overall I think it is a useful and interesting read. Despite coming in at over 600 pages it feels like the author is only hitting the high points. I'm certain this is a consequence of covering such a broad subject in one volume; however, at points it felt like there could have been more detail or explanation provided. The author provides a fairly balanced narrative, but his theological positions to become apparent.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wesley Storks

    What I enjoyed about the book is the intriguing and fascinating manner of storytelling that is educational and exciting. You take a journey through the history of Christian thought and theology and how these events shaped the way theologians think today. Not only that but it is both scholarly and attention grabbing which are at time mutually exclusive from each other. Good read!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Justin Leitch

    Great overview of the history of Christian theology. Olson traces Christian though chronologically from the early church to today. Every chapter is a look at the life and theology of a time period, historical movement, and/or an influential thinker. The overview is broad and helpful, especially in understanding how the church arrived at its current state.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nate Weis

    Helpful historical material, but it would have been nice to get through a whole chapter without a rant about how much Roger Olson hates the doctrine of immutability. Caricatures and broad brushing abound in this book. According to Olson, the Apostolic Fathers were a bunch of legalists and Athanasius was a heretic. There are more helpful and less biased historical theologies out there.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Genet

    I learned a lot in the portions I read. Found it very interesting. Though the author's bias of what is considered heresy and what the founding church fathers got right and wrong was distracting to me. The book was much more extensive than what I was expecting. Will be a great reference book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Josefina Zhu

    As an entry level (text)book on the history/the development of christian theology, it is easy to read and engaging. The story telling is better than expected. Sometimes I wish things could be explained in more details. An enjoyable and informative read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Hankins

    Disclaimer: Read this book for class over two semesters; I think we skipped a couple of chapters.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Smith

    A pretty good theology of Christian theology. Quick tidbits from all over history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian Ku

    A very comprehensive account of the development of Christian thought through the ages, with an unapologetic and understandable bias towards mainstream orthodoxy.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matt Crawford

    Had to read for an Introduction to Historical Theology class. Which is what bothers me most about this book. It skips around and sees to correlate historical movements to today. Which is great, thats why we study church history. However, his rendition of some events are just plain wrong. He seeks to paint certain church history giants in a new life. He also denies and likes to skip over confessionalism and calling it free church. Very saddening.

  25. 5 out of 5

    James Palmer

    Should have been given the title, 'the story of Protestantism.' Although insightful and engaging Olson writes the entire history from the perspective of a modern evangelical, mostly excluding Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic thinking altogether. His critique of the apostolic Fathers as 'moralistic', was founded on Reformed ideas and concepts of justification, rather than developing any sound enquiry into why they wrote and thought the way they did. It is an unfortunate pattern within the book Should have been given the title, 'the story of Protestantism.' Although insightful and engaging Olson writes the entire history from the perspective of a modern evangelical, mostly excluding Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic thinking altogether. His critique of the apostolic Fathers as 'moralistic', was founded on Reformed ideas and concepts of justification, rather than developing any sound enquiry into why they wrote and thought the way they did. It is an unfortunate pattern within the book that Olson continues to write his history in this manner; as if to say that modern theology is superior to where it has come from, without understanding why at each point theology has tried to answer the questions it was answering. It would be arrogant to suggest that modern theology isn't subject to the same pressures as they were. We are merely trying to figure out the christian story within our cultural and social contexts today. That said it is a good introduction to the story of theology and has provided a good basis for continued reading, it is light readable and easily digested. You don't have to be a scholar or even have much theological knowledge to engage with the author.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris Hall

    The best single volume church history I've ever gotten my hands on. Olson's intent is not to tell you the history of what externally happened to church, but the internal development of what the church believed in the midst of its external history. Olson explains that theology never appears in a vacuum; there is always a context in which theology is born. The early church fathers weren't speculating about the inner essence of God merely for the fun of it, they were reacting to heretical teachings The best single volume church history I've ever gotten my hands on. Olson's intent is not to tell you the history of what externally happened to church, but the internal development of what the church believed in the midst of its external history. Olson explains that theology never appears in a vacuum; there is always a context in which theology is born. The early church fathers weren't speculating about the inner essence of God merely for the fun of it, they were reacting to heretical teachings that threatened the very gospel itself. I would highly recommend this book for its theological focus in regards to church history, as well as its readability and brevity. Andrew Miller's "Church History" might serve as a good companion to this book - it explains more the church's story (what happened rather than what it believed) throughout history and provides some spiritual application along the way.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Patience

    A longer book than I usually attempt, but clear and easy to read. I also think that Olson tries to be fair and respectful to each viewpoint he explains even if he disagrees with it. I gained something of the 'longview' of the development of Christian thought looking back to the very beginning of the post apostolic era, from a protestant viewpoint. I was surprised to find out how much philosophy (particularly Greek philosophy), has had an influence in the development of Christian theological idea A longer book than I usually attempt, but clear and easy to read. I also think that Olson tries to be fair and respectful to each viewpoint he explains even if he disagrees with it. I gained something of the 'longview' of the development of Christian thought looking back to the very beginning of the post apostolic era, from a protestant viewpoint. I was surprised to find out how much philosophy (particularly Greek philosophy), has had an influence in the development of Christian theological ideas, and how Christian form in the West has been moulded by the cultures in which it has survived, reacted and been revived. I would like to have read a bit more about whether Eastern Orthodoxy has also gone through a similar development over the years. Perhaps it is impossible to read the Bible without certain presuppositions, but I think I am going to be more aware of it on my next reading through of the Bible.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ian Carmichael

    A good general survey. It achieves what it states. It's broad, designed for beginning readers in solid theology and not deep. It is a starting point, not an ending point and after the orientation a committed student needs to do the depth work - and that's by reading the theologians, not reading about them. I commend it to my introductory theology classes for what it does, not for what it fails to do.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I learned a lot and I finally feel like I have a vague outline of how the Christian Church has developed. Some chapters were fascinating. Some chapters took a lot of work for me to get through them. That probably says more about me than the author; I was predisposed to find particular theologians interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joel Daniel Harris

    Brilliant. Both an accessible and challenging read, Olson masterfully provides an intriguing, helpful, and inspiring overview of Christian history and theology with a balanced hand and thoughtful critique. Highly recommend.

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