I thoroughly enjoyed reading Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister E. McGrath. This is a great book for both the novice as well as the scholar. McGrath “assumes that its readers know nothing about Christian theology.” He thus creates a tool that can be placed in the hand of a student, but at the same times goes into enough depth for someone with a greater theological background.
This was a fairly lengthy book. On the one hand, it is laid out in a way that makes it easy to skim and use as a reference tool. On the other hand, I found that it took me a long time to get though it because it was so interesting and well written. This is another one of those books that I would recommend owning a hardcopy rather than just an electronic version.
McGrath’s background in biochemistry, history, and theology gives him a unique perspective. He understands that theology did not just happen, but developed within certain contexts, addressed specific issues, and was formed within an historical and cultural framework. He is able to walk his readers through a path divided into three major sections; Landmarks, Sources and Methods, and Christian Theology.
I appreciate that he explains the development and significance of the history and theological methods in Christendom before jumping into specific doctrinal issues. He identifies the key issues ,the major contributors, and the key councils that wrestled with the issues and articulated sound doctrine.
Without understanding this background, theology can easily go askew. Theology without history is dangerous. At best, theology without history leads to folk theology; At worst, it can lead to cults.
Of the many practical tools McGrath gives the reader, there is one model in particular that I really like. Referring to the sources of theology, he says “Broadly speaking, four main sources have been acknowledged within the Christian tradition: 1 Scripture 2 Tradition 3 Reason 4 Religious experience”. Often referred to as Wesley’s Quadrilateral, I have found this four-part method to be a great way to help people bring a more balanced approach to their theological thinking. I have worked with people who adhere to one of these pillars exclusively and end up with some pretty sketchy theology. This applies to individuals as well as denominations. Some will hold tradition over scripture even when there is obvious conflict. Others will apply a modern interpretation to scripture that negates the way the church has understood a particular passage throughout the centuries. Some hold experience as the crowning jewel in our christian lives while others will not accept anything unless they can prove it in a lab or fully explain it. The four-part approach recognizes the value of a person’s particular background or preference while moving them toward a more holistic approach.
While this approach is often represented as a quadrilateral, I have also seen it as a triangle with scripture in the center as a constant reminder of its centrality.
I would like to mention one final thing. While this is a great reference book for anyone’s library, I think one of its greatest strengths is as a teaching tool. The questions at the end of each chapter make this an easy book to teach out of, whether it is used in a formal class or an informal group. The online resources found at www.wiley.com/mcgrath are an excellent free companion to the book, providing quizzes, PowerPoint presentations, additional resources, and links.
 Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: an Introduction, 5th ed. (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, Kindle ed. 2011), location 376.
 Ibid., location 4149.