Long before I entered seminary I would look at the course selections offered and was always puzzled why there would be classes on different persons. "Why is there a class on Calvin or Karl Barth?" I asked myself. "Isn't studying the Bible all I really need?" Then one day I asked myself another question. "If God was gracious enough to gift the church with such great teachers and preachers what sense does it make to ignore them? Isn't the point of having teachers to learn from them?" That's when the light bulb came on.
So I'm excited to tell you about The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide by Gerald R. McDermott. Here's the catalog description:
"After preaching a sermon that referenced Saint Augustine and Martin Luther, Gerald R. McDermott faced a familiar question:
Is there any way I can get a handy introduction to these theologians you and the other pastors talk about all the time? I wish I could go to seminary, but that’s impossible. And I am afraid I won’t understand a big textbook. All I want is a little handbook to give me the basics of each of
these great theologians.
Like this church member, many Christians wish to learn the basics of the great theologians, yet don’t have the time or opportunity to take formal classes or read dozens of sizable and arguably intimidating books. Finally, here is a concise and accessible introduction to some of the church’s greatest theologians that any Christian can enjoy. Challenging but not overwhelming. Provocative but not frustrating. And not too long.
The table of contents offers a quick look at who the theologians are:
Origen: Oft-Reviled but “The Greatest Teacher After the Apostles”
Athanasius: The Black Monk Who Saved the Faith
Augustine: The Most Influential Theologian Ever
Thomas Aquinas: The Teacher of the Catholic Church
Martin Luther: The Monk Who Rose Up Against Heaven and Earth
John Calvin: Greatest Theologian of the Reformed Tradition
Jonathan Edwards: America’s Theologian
Friedrich Schleiermacher: Father of Liberal Theology
John Henry Newman: Anglican Theologian Who Swam the Tiber
Karl Barth: Most Influential Twentieth-Century Theologian
Hans Urs von Balthasar: Stellar Catholic Theologian of the Twentieth Century
From Origen to Barth, McDermott offers a brief introduction to eleven of the church’s most
influential minds. In the process he offers a glimpse into two thousand years of church history and thought. For each figure, McDermott provides a biographical sketch and a short selection of the theologian’s work. He also explains the themes distinct to each thinker and how the theologian has impacted the church. He suggests lessons to be learned, offers questions for discussion and provides a list of resources should the reader desire to learn more. All this in language that is accessible to any thoughtful Christian."
You can find an interview with McDermott here. I liked his answer to these last two questions:
Why did you choose to write about these eleven theologians?
They are among the most influential of all. Not all have been appreciated, but all have had enormous influence on Christian thinking in the last two thousand years.
Have each of these theologians influenced the church in a positive way?
No. Schleiermacher, for instance, was the father of Protestant liberalism. His portrait of God
and Jesus was fundamentally distorted, and has done great damage to the church. But
precisely because he has been so influential, it is important for Christians to understand
him. Orthodox Christians might even find that their own thinking has been unwittingly
shaped, in part, by the trends he introduced.
Look for it next March. It will be paperback with 210 pages and sell for $20.00.