…book review: “Theology: The Basics” by Alister McGrath

 Theology: The Basics by Alister E. McGrath

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alister McGrath does a quality job throughout this concise volume to stay as close to the middle of the theological road as possible. He deals with and refers to both Protestant and Catholic viewpoints, utilizing creeds, doctrinal statements, and quotes from thinkers on both sides of the aisle. The Apostle’s Creed is his pathway as he moves from topic to topic, devoting a chapter to each major idea in the Creed. There are things that this volume does not cover such as sin, mission / evangelization, and the human condition, but by McGrath’s own admission he was intentionally keeping this book short to make it accessible to an audience that might never attempt another book on theology.

If I had one complaint about the book it would be it’s painstaking neutrality. In McGrath’s effort to keep from putting too fine a point on certain debated doctrines and beliefs he inadvertently leaves a couple of issue on a fine line between orthodox belief and false doctrine. None of these instances are blatant, nor do they have to do with any major, soul-shaking topics – it is almost nitpicking to point them out, but they are noticeable enough to be caught with only a little scrutiny.

That being said, I would recommend this book highly to anyone with a desire to weave through the history of the church, at an elementary level, to see how our core beliefs have been shaped, and who helped shape them. It’s an excellent introduction and McGrath is a helpful and engaging writer.

I close with a quote from the book by Karl Barth that is a wonderful support of the laity as theologians:

“Theology is not a private subject for theologians only. Nor is it a private subject for professors. Fortunately, there have always been pastors who have understood more about theology than most professors. Nor is theology a private subject of study for pastors. Fortunately, there have repeatedly been congregation members, and often whole congregations, who have pursued theology energetically while their pastors were theological infants or barbarians. Theology is a matter for the Church.”

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