Gonzalez, Justo L. A History of Christian Thought in One Volume. (Nashville: Abingdon Press,2014), Kindle edition.
This book, written by prolific author and great theologian, Justo L. Gonzalez, who has added tons of wealth to theology both in academia and practical church realms, lives up to the expectation. In an abridged version of his three-volume work, Gonzalez, provides a more than sufficient and detailed overview of the development of Christian thought; as opposed to a mere overview of Church History.
The purpose of this book is understood in two forms, the purpose behind the abridged version and the purpose for the book itself. In the preface, Gonzalez states that it is his hope that this “shorter version” would make the “subject more accessible for those interested in the subject”; all the while lightening the burden felt because of the non-essential although valuable, information that isn’t needed to “understand the basic development of Christian thought”( Loc. 91). The reason for writing a book of this material ties in nicely with his desire for an abridged version of his three volume work, this book is to serve as an “introduction to the history of Christian thought” (Loc. 146).In other words, it seems as if his goal was to write a book that would be accessible for those interested in theology and the development of Christian thought, that would sit well with those who may not have a strong desire for an academically rich book.
As mentioned above, Gonzalez undertakes the task of writing a history of Christian thought, as opposed to a book on Church History.It is his strong opinion that the “history of Christian thought is of necessity a theological undertaking” (Loc. 108). This philosophy of approaching Church History requires handling not just events or shifts in theological stances that have taken place within history, but also the intricacies of those theological stances, and the background influences that led to those events. The structure of how the book is one that is composed of an essentially chronological outline, that give spotlight to the “continuity of certain theological themes of primary importance” (Loc. 147). The book is broken up into three main parts, that have subsections with detailed information. The three parts are titled after the transitions within the development of Christian thought. The three parts being: From the Beginning to the Council of Chalcedon; Medieval Theology; From the Reformation to the Present.
In a masterful blend of cold hard facts and a relational narrative tone, Gonzalez opens up the eyes of his readers to the study of Church History. In using his first chapter as an example, one can see how Gonzalez seeks to provide the frame of the primitive church (primitive church should not be read in a negative light, but rather as referring to the earliest form). In providing the groundwork for understanding the primitive church, Gonzalez includes background information of not only Christian culture, but the cultures and philosophies that played into the development of theology and community experiences. But why study Church History? Why this book? As I see it, the study of church history is important and necessary, first and foremost because it serves as a multifaceted tool. I strongly believe that studying church history ultimately is a science which shapes and reinforces one’s identity. As one studies church history, one is able to: 1) determine the primitive elements of the Christian faith, 2) identify the development of official doctrinal stances, and 3) trace philosophical trends and variances in Christian thought throughout what we in hindsight call, “eras”. With those main points in mind, studying church history affords one greater possibility of understanding and staying within the bounds of orthodoxy