Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister McGrath
Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson in Who Needs Theology? make it clear that everyone needs theology and everyone engages in theologizing on some level. But, good Christian theology which is the theology that characterizes students in the dminlgp program entails critical thinking and reflection on core values and belief systems. Grenz and Olson’s book is a great springboard for engaging Alister McGrath’s introduction to the whole spectrum of Christian theological thought from the Patristic Period to considerations about the “Last Things.”
The book is designed for the beginner in theology and is set forth in a simple, clear and easy to understand format. It is purposely written so that it does not have to be read in a linear fashion or in totality to grasp key theological concepts. It provides a smorgasbord of theological material that the reader can choose to delve into or not. McGrath’s high regard for the study of Christian theology and his main purpose for writing the book are reflected in his statement, “Christian theology is one of the most fascinating subjects anyone can hope to study.”  He views Christian theology as an enriching voyage of discovery.
The book is a comprehensive account of the course Christian thought has taken from its inception to modern times. As a point of reference, it provides a historical background for major Christian theological dogmas, traditions, controversies, doctrinal issues and polemics as they emerged over the centuries. The author describes his book as, “descriptive, not prescriptive because it is theologically neutral; it does not advocate any denominational agenda.” . I concur with the author that he has made an attempt to present the work objectively. He has reported the positions of various beliefs that have surfaced over time and has presented the many arguments for or against them, thus allowing readers to come to a decision through their own analysis.
The portion of the book that discusses African Theology under the heading “Theologies of the Developing World” is of particular interest to me because of my fascination with matters pertaining to both theology and Africa. The topic McGrath ventures upon regarding sub-Saharan African theology is rarely discussed by prominent non-African theologians. Especially, the point he make about the influence of missionaries on African theology. He states, “As a result, African theology was simply European theology carried out in Africa, without any real interaction with the local culture.” . McGrath notes that over the past few decades indigenous African Christian theologians have come on the scene, “who are concerned to develop authentically African theological paradigms rather than capitulate to western theological norms.” . That appears to be an astronomical task.
It has me wondering. What would an “authentically African Christian theology” look like that is congruent with so many disparate religious and cultural norms and traditions in this region? What criteria would the church use for recognizing the orthodox Christianity that Christ espoused? Would it take on a form of liberation theology? How would the church deal with the tension between orthodox Christianity and syncretism? Would such a theology be beneficial and sustainable?
The treatment of this subject matter in the book is not directly related to my dminlgp research project per se, but my research does concern children who are the product of sub-Saharan African theologies. This book has heightened my awareness of the necessity to include the voices of the indigenous people, especially the scholars and theologians, in order to obtain a greater degree of objectivity in my research perspective.
. Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, Fifth ed. (West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), xxii.
. Ibid., xxvii.
. Ibid., 95.
. Ibid., 96.
McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Fifth ed. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.