Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Great addition to my library…McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction

Written by: on October 30, 2014

Alister E. McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction provides an overview of the history and development of Christian theology. He traces the development of theology through history, by sectioning it off a chunk at a time. I appreciate his approach as “there is no need to read every chapter in this book, nor need you read them in the order in which they are set out. Each chapter can be treated as a more or less self-contained unit.”[1] While I want to improve my knowledge on the history of theology, it is often overwhelming to digest it at one time. I can’t say that I necessarily enjoy studying this subject, but I believe that every Christian should seek out a basic understanding of how Christianity has developed. This will help them to better understand why they believe what they do today.

A couple of month’s ago I had an eye-opening conversation with some Amish friends. This sect of Amish has had very little exposure to outside ideas or even the history of their own faith. As we discussed some of the differences between our beliefs, they wanted to know how we came to our understanding and why today’s Christians seem to have so many differences of opinion. We’ve had many discussions over several years about theological differences, but this was the first time we had talked about the historic development of Christian theology.   In my explanation this particular day, I shared some early church history. My Amish friends were astounded and somewhat disbelieving that any of their values or beliefs could have ever been associated with the Catholic Church. They had never questioned the roots of their faith, and weren’t familiar with anything beyond the fact that their early church leaders came from Europe. In fact, questioning theology is considered taboo. This day, I realized that it is our history that can help us to bridge divisions that have been created over centuries of theological differences of opinions. In some ways, this particular discussion with my Amish friends drew us closer to each other. I think they gained a better appreciation for our faith and belief system, and at the same time, they were encouraged to explore their own history.

There are so many flavors of Christianity today. Some people are firmly loyal to their church’s doctrine, and there are also those that don’t place much importance on doctrinal differences. I often think of those people in church that will loudly voice their opinion that the Calvinist view of “once saved is always saved” is heresy! Sometimes I get tired of the divisiveness across churches. We aren’t in competition with each other!  I may not always agree on every point to other theological views, but I enjoy living in community within the greater body of believers. Younger generations seem to be more open to differences of opinion, while at the same time they are likely to seek deeper levels of understanding about their own beliefs.  McGrath’s book goes beyond doctrinal differences, as “this is not a work of Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant theology, but great care has been taken to ensure that Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant perspectives and insights are represented and explored.”[2] The book is a great resource for understanding Christian theology, and for gaining a foundation that helps us to better understand our own beliefs.  In his words, “Christian theology is a subject which ought to excite students. In practice, both student and teacher often find the teaching of the subject to be difficult, and occasionally rather depressing.”[3] It is evident that McGrath has placed much thought into the presentation of the material within this book.

[1] McGrath, Alister E. (2011-07-12). Christian Theology: An Introduction . Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

12 responses to “Great addition to my library…McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction”

  1. Travis Biglow says:

    Hi Dawnel,

    I really like what you said about not having to read this in order. I went around alot to areas of the book that i wanted some more reinforcment and did look at the rest. Christian Theology is off the chain to me. The doctrines presented and their content is overwelming in this book. Im doing some readings on ecclesciology because of what im writing for the Sizing up our ministry. It is great to know that you can share with others your experience in your faith and let them know how theirs relate to Christianity as a whole!

    Blessings D.

  2. Brian Yost says:

    Thanks for sharing with us your conversation with your Amish friend. I have had similar conversations with other people who are not Amish, but belong to different faith traditions. It is amazing how many christians disassociate from their Catholic roots. Sometimes this is done out of ignorance and sometimes just out of denial. It is if their denomination magically sprang from the ashes of a dead religion. History certainly paints a different picture.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Brian and Dawnel. It is interesting how many of us Protestants view the Catholic church as some kind of great wicked empire, even writing it into our eschatology as an agent of the Antichrist. It’s shocking to people when they realize we all sprang from that trunk!


  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Dawnel, I’m so interested in your Amish conversation. It’s fascinating to hear they never considered their connection to the Catholic Church. It doesn’t surprise me but it’s so telling as to how little most people of faith know about their faith history. Sounds like you did a great job encouraging them.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Nick… We have become friends with this particular group of Amish over many years. It’s taken a long time to get to the level of trust where we can have discussions about faith. We are thankful every time that the Lord opens the door for us to have dialog. They have taught us so much about our own faith and how to relate to other cultures.

      Some of my friends from other religious backgrounds have pushed me to more deeply reflect and grow in my own faith.
      Because I am knowledgeable in my own beliefs and theology, I am not threatened by other religions or by those who are different than myself. I can better focus on commonality versus differences. We are all created in His image, no matter our religious affiliation. This is profound, as often Christians treat non-Christians as “outsiders”. The Amish may look, act, and believe differently. Yet, in so many ways we are alike. They have taught me much about danger in my own realm of life, such as the level of materialism that comes from our English ways. When they ask questions about my faith, I come to the table with facts…such as the history of theology as shared in McGrath’s book. The facts often speak louder than my words ever could.

      • Nick Martineau says:

        My wife has a fascination with the Amish lifestyle…She’s going to make us take a family trip to meet your friends. (-:

        You make a good point that because you are knowledgeable in your own theology and beliefs that you can enter into those conversations with security. Most believers get insecure in those setting, they have good hearts but they just don’t know what to say.

        • Dawnel Volzke says:

          Nick, You and your family are welcome to visit any time! Spring is typically best to drive out and meet the Amish. They are sometimes a little hesitant to talk around strangers, but I’ve taken other friends out to meet them.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, What a great line here, “This day, I realized that it is our history that can help us to bridge divisions that have been created over centuries of theological differences of opinions.” In your example that is such a powerful statement. I love how that makes practical and useful the time spent on knowing our historical theology. Thanks for sharing that great encounter with your Amish friends!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Phil and Mary,
      Sometimes I need that “lightbulb moment”…and this was one for me. I’ve never thought of myself as being a “theology scholar”, yet I’ve studied theology to gain a better understanding of why I believe the things that I do. Mary has a great point about empathy. Sometimes I think we need to develop in our theological knowledge to have confidence in our beliefs….which in turn takes away any judgement or fear of beliefs that are different than our own. I don’t have to protect my faith (Christ has already won any battles!). I am solid in what I believe, therefore I can really listen to others without taking a defensive stand.

  5. Dave Young says:


    I might have mentioned to you during the advance part of my prep for getting going with the DMin was some leveling work, specifically a church history class. What you said in this post is exactly my take away from that church history class. I came to appreciate the history of my faith, and was excited to learn about it. Much of my judgmental attitude toward Catholic faith diminished when I understand the development of the western church, I could understand why things are the way they are today. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    So before reading Phil’s comment, I too was going to highlight your powerful words that “our history that can help us to bridge divisions that have been created over centuries of theological differences of opinions.” But since it’s been already offered, let me comment on the final line in that paragraph, “In some ways, this particular discussion with my Amish friends drew us closer to each other.” I think we fear our differences, when in fact, our differences can provide stimulation for new understanding and empathy for another’s background. It doesn’t mean that I now need to take on what the other person said. Likewise, I don’t have to expect that if I share my theological perspective that it is required that another take that perspective as his/her own. It is about the development of relationships with one another, and ultimately with God. You demonstrate that well in this post, Dawnel.

  7. Mary Pandiani says:

    Oh, also, I love the buggy. 🙂

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