Book review: Pocket History of Theology

by Roger E. Olson and Adam C. English


For anyone wanting a quick overview of Christian theology through the last two millennia, this condensation of Roger Olson’s The Story of Christian Theology hits all the high points. Beginning with the early second century, you’ll meet church fathers and apologists Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Origin and Cyprian. On into the turbulent centuries following, you’ll learn about the council of Nicaea (and the Nicene creed), the council of Constantinople, of Ephesus and of Chalcedon as controversy in the church escalates. You’ll meet St. Augustine, of course, and learn about the division of the church (what we now call the Orthodox church and the Catholic church, when neither are listening; the “Orthodox” hardly consider themselves less Catholic, and the “Catholics” hardly consider themselves less Orthodox).

As we move into the 16th century, division only continues. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin are highly influential reformers, and a more extreme version surfaces with the Radical Reformers (often labeled Anabaptists, rejecters of infant baptism). Along comes the English reformation and the Catholic counter-reformation. Deism hopes to reconcile with modern science. And on into the 20th century, with the birth of fundamentalism.

This book is dry, but highly informative. An awful lot is packed into 100 pages.

Today, Christian theology is as diverse as ever, and the story of Christianity continues after this book concludes. I find myself reviewing books by Jewish Christians who interpret the life of Jesus within Hebrew roots, liberal Christians who reject anything miraculous, even Pagan Christians. I guess Jesus has something for everyone!

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