My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this book, Johnston presents an accessible and clear overview of dominant, Western Christian thought from Paul through 20th and 21st century thinkers. It’s a useful resource for those who are new to Christian theology and want to understand some of its major developments. In other words, it’s a starting point, and Johnston is clear that it’s not comprehensive. For what it is, this book is helpful in summarizing the thought expressed in texts that might be difficult to comprehend if read unaided, as some of these ancient and metaphysical thinkers sometimes produced dense work. After reading this book, I now have a better understanding of theologians I already knew about and I’ve been introduced to theologians I hadn’t heard of. The book taken as a whole really illustrates that Christian thought has never been the stagnant, never-changing thing that some people believe it to be. Every supposedly timeless doctrine can be traced back to a person–a person who loved God and tried to articulate what it is to experience and believe in God.
Still, I was surprised that the author did not include a chapter on liberation theology or some better exposition of theology from the margins. He mentions it in passing in the sole feminist theology chapter, but doesn’t spend much time explaining it. I really think that a book aiming to survey the history of Christian theology should include such content, as there are certainly liberation theologians in the West that the author could have chosen to introduce readers to that approach to Christianity. So for people looking for an easy-to-follow introduction to liberation theology, I recommend Liberation Theology for Armchair Theologians.
Additionally, it’s sometimes obvious which thinkers the author prefers and which ones he’s more skeptical of in sections that are just meant to summarize the theologian’s life or thought. This didn’t really deter my enjoyment of the book; it was just something I noticed. One random thing I found hilarious, though, was his statement that Charles Wesley allegedly wrote over 9,000 hymns because now I will always associate Wesley with a classic Internet meme.
Lastly, the book could’ve used a copy edit. I often noticed unnecessary words in some sentences and punctuation errors that impacted flow.
Despite what I’ve noted here, I still found this to be a very informative and interesting book that has piqued my interest in the Bonhoeffer and Brueggemann books already in my library that I haven’t read yet.
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