Theology: Basics by Alister E. McGrath

Alister E. McGrath is an Anglican priest, and long time professor at Oxford and Kings College as well as a prolific theology author. He is also well known for his debate with Christopher Hitchens, and other dialogues such as his interview with Richard Dawkins.  

McGrath's, Theology: The Basics, is an introduction to Christian theology that is a short and small book (roughly 250pages). The book uses the Apostle's Creed as its outline: Faith, God, Creation, Jesus, Salvation, Trinity, Church, Heaven (and in the 4th edition an additional chapter on the Holy Spirit.)  Theology: The Basics is an epitome of two of McGrath's larger previous works: Christian Theology: An Introduction and The Christian Theology Reader. McGrath's Introduction is a larger volume that may serve as a text book for a Theology 101 university course, and the Reader contains quotes by Church Fathers and significant theologians that correspond to the topics in the Introduction. The Theology: The Basics is intended as an introduction to theology that could be used at a Church or informal gathering, or as a primer to theology that someone would wants a good starting place to theology. 

Theology: The Basics engages with the best theological books such as John Calvin's Institutes and Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica, and even more recent theologians such as Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics and Karl Rahner's Theological Investigations. The topics covered are excellent, however, the book ends leaving the feeling that too much was skipped and omitted; however, McGrath admits this was a zero-sum game and encourages the reader to engage the time-tested theological works directly rather than walk away frustrated and overwhelmed.

Overall, the content is very helpful however there are a few perspectives and aspects of this book to point out. The book is designed to be ecumenical, so it's not overtly Anglican or Reformed, and includes quotations and discussions that would make the book useful to even Catholics; this may be helpful to increase the target audience, but may be consider a negative to many Reformed Churches. Secondly, McGrath is in favor of dialogue between Scientists and Theologians that results in a positive assessment and affirmation of evolution that many conservatives would not appreciate (however, this is downplayed significantly in this primer). Lastly, the book seems to favor egalitarian views of women, and however helpful, the discussions about the gender of God could be confused by readers to be supporting a Divine Feminine or an Androgynous God. Although there are a handful of biblical passages that describe God using feminine attributes, nevertheless there are an overwhelming majority (almost unanimity) that describe God as masculine. The book leaves the evidence sounding even.

I appreciated the brevity of the book, and its readability, and it may be very useful for a Theology Basics class, so long as the teacher of that class is able to work through the ecumenical content of the book that doesn't fit within their Church's tradition.


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