In a recent post, I made a short pitch for pastors to engage in a bit of historical theological work. I believe reading history and paying attention to the historical development of ideas will help the pastor and serve the church for the glory of God. You can read my thoughts here.
After publishing that particular post, a friend called and asked where he might begin if he were inclined to engage in historical theology. Off the cuff, I provided a few thoughts but have since thought more about his question. In this post, I want to point to some helpful resources and then set out a proposed plan for picking up a bit of historical theology in 2019.
However, before I launch into the list of resources, I want to note that I am still learning historical theology myself. I am a student, not a teacher. The list is slanted towards my own theological traditions and represents those resources I’m personally familiar with. Hopefully, as the years go on and I continue to develop, the list will broaden. At this point, the list below are works I’ve personally benefited from and I believe are good places to start.
• Alistair McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought
• Gregg Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine
• John D. Hannah, Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine
Historical Theology Readers
• McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader
• Denis Janz, A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts With Introductions
• Joseph Early Jr, Readings in Baptist History
• Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God
• G. R. Evans, The Medieval Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Medieval Period
• Timothy George, The Theology of the Reformers
• Matthew Barrett, Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary
• Joel R. Beeke, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life
• William H. Brackney, A Genetic History Of Baptist Thought: With Special Reference To Baptists In Britain And North America
Works on Individual Thinkers
• Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine
• Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil
• Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas
• Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards
• Chris Chun, The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller
These resources were helpful to me when I began reading in the realm of historical theology. Yet, before I offer a plan for 2019, I should note something about primary sources. That is, rather than simply reading about the thought of Augustine, Luther, or Calvin, the pastor should read the original works of these authors (and many others). That is, pick up the City of God or the Confessions by Augustine, Luther’s commentary on Galatians, or Calvin’s commentaries. Read the ancient authors themselves, not simply about them.
Finally, let me offer a plan for 2019.
- Begin by reading the introductory chapters in McGrath and Allison from the Overview section above. These introductions will help solidify what historical theology is, how it relates to other disciplines (e.g. exegesis, systematic theology, church history), and why it is important for the church today.
- Next, read the entirety of Hannah for a relatively short overview of historical-theological development of important doctrinal topics (i.e. doctrine of God, salvation, ecclesiology, etc.).
- From Hannah, move to an age-specific text and match it with an age-appropriate reader. For instance, if you pick Timothy George, The Theology of the Reformers, pick up the Reformation Theology Reader by Janz. Read selections of Janz as you work through George.
- If you picked an age-specific text from the Reformation age (e.g. the Reformation Reader), then read a work aimed at an individual in the Reformation era. For example, after you’ve read George, and selections of Janz, pick up Paul Helm’s, John Calvin’s Ideas.
- Lastly, if you followed the program above, while reading Helm, pick something by Calvin and work through it alongside the secondary source. Perhaps, while you’re reading Helm, you could read through Calvin’s commentary on Romans or sections of his Institutes.
Here is a suggested monthly plan for 2019:
- January/February—McGrath and Allison introductions, moving to Hannah’s work.
- March/April—Timothy George, The Theology of the Reformers and selections from Janz.
- May/June/July—Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas, accompanied by a slow reading of Calvin’s commentary on Romans.
There you have it. A practical guide to incorporating historical theology into your life and ministry for 2019. Again, I’m a student. A more professional historical theologian would surely provide more nuance and perhaps better resources. However, by God’s grace, maybe this will prove helpful to someone somewhere at some time.
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