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A Concise History of Christian Thought, by Tony Lane (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006). Pp. x-336. $19.99 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof Herman Hanko.]

 

The author, professor of historical theology and director of research at the London School of Theology, has given us a very worthwhile book. It can best be called a biographical history of doctrine. It is unique in that it traces the development of doctrine from the early church to today by means of biographical sketches of the church’s theologians and what they taught. The description of their teachings is enhanced by pertinent quotes from their writings.

The author has covered a wide field of theologians. He has divided them into five categories: The Church of the Fathers to AD 500, under which he treats twentyfive theologians and councils; The Eastern Tradition from AD 500, under which are treated ten theologians and councils; The Medieval West (AD 500-1500), under which are treated twenty-five theologians and councils, including the pre-Reformers; Reformation and Reaction (1500-1800), under which are treated thirty-three theologians and the chief confessions adopted during this period; Christian Thought in the Modern World (1800 onwards), under which are included forty theologians and various important documents produced during the period.

The biographical sketches are short, as well as the descriptions of the doctrines treated. It is a bird’s-eye view of the history of doctrine, rather than a detailed and scholarly study. But its sketchy character gives the book its value for God’s people who are interested in church history and are eager to learn the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ in the church. One will meet many people of whom he has heard much: Athanasius, John of Damascus, Francis of Assisi, John Wyclif and John Hus, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Blaise Pascal, Schleiermacher, Tillich, Charles Finney, G. C. Berkhouwer, John Stott, Karl Barth, Hans Kung, and a host of others. One will also learn of the important councils that were held, the documents drawn up at different times in the church, and the creeds of the post-Reformation times.

One weakness of the book, no doubt due to its format, is the failure to show that doctrinedevelops. The church in any given age stands on the shoulders of the church that lived in earlier days. The truth develops as an unfolding of a rose from a small bud to a fully developed flower. The same is true of the lie. Heresies do not usually arise out of the blue. In heresy there is nothing new under the sun, but each heresy is an old one, clothed in different rags, and showing the wrinkles of age. The book is a photo album, not a moving picture.