Posted April 30, 2004
Book: The History of Christian Thought: The Fascinating Story of the Great Christian Thinkers and How They Helped Shape the World as We Know It Today
Author: Jonathan Hill
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, pp.352
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
Because, if you are Christian yourself, it helps you to understand the faith — addressing everything from where Christians got their ideas of the Trinity and how Christ can be both human and divine to what they think about issues like feminism, globalization and social justice.
And because, even if you are not, all Western society has been shaped by the influence of thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas and Luther. You can’t understand the world as it is without knowing something about Christian thought.
Jonathan Hill has the uncanny ability to sketch portraits of his subjects — whether early church apologists, medieval doctors of the church, Reformation giants, nineteenth-century philosophical behemoths or contemporary feminist scholars — that are simultaneously lively, brief and revealing. Similarly, he ably penetrates to the nub of their thought, combining apt description with pithy quotations from their work.
Significant events, councils, movements and terms are introduced and explained, putting the cast of characters in context and illuminating their place within the development of Christian ideas and ideals. Not content merely to describe, Hill offers pertinent assessments that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of his subjects’ contributions to Christian thinking and spur readers to reflect on significant issues for themselves.
The name of Dietrick Bonhoeffer will probably be familiar to more readers than that of any other 20th-century theologian. His life was a rare display of courage in the face of tyranny, and his execution by the Nazis established his place among the martrys of the church. At the same time, his thought has made a great impact outside the cloisters of academic theology; in fact, it has not been particularly influential within them. In his life, death and thought, Bonhoeffer was a theologian of the people.
. . .This idea of God as the final answer to otherwise unanswerable problems is simply losing it usefulness.
“Man has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the “working hypothesis” called God. In questions of science, art, and ethics this has become an understood thing at which one now hardly dares to tilt. But for the last hundred years or so it has also become increasingly true of religious questions — and in fact, just as well as before.”
Letters and Papers from Prison, pp. 325-26.
Such is the secular nature of the modern world that people no long feel the need to talk about God even when dealing with the most profound problems of existence.
“Efforts are made to prove to a world thus come of age that it cannot live without the tutelage of “God.” Even though there has been surrender on all secular problems, there still remain the so-called “ultimate questions” — death, guilt — to which only “God” can give an answer, and because of which we need God and the church and the pastor . . . But what if one day they no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered “without God”?
Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 326.
. . .If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, now in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.
Letters and Papers from Prison, p.312
So we must look for God “within” the world.
It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the centre, not in weakness but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man’s life and goodness.
Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 282
Table of Contents:
I The Church Fathers
Irenaeus of Lyons
The Cappadocian Fathers
The Desert Fathers
Augustine of Hippo
Cyril of Alexandria
2. The Byzantine Empire
Maximus the Confessor
Symeon the New Theologian
The Great Schism
The Third Rome
3. The Middle Ages
The Dark Ages
The Holy roman Empire
The Mendicant Orders
John Duns Scotus
4. The Reformation
The Later Reformation
5. The Modern Era
Geology and Biology
John Henry Newman
6. The 20th Century