It is something of a coincidence that not long after I wrote my last post about Roger Olson on Relational Theology, I by chance discovered a book by him while on holiday in Derbyshire.
Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but I didn’t really expect to find a theological book in a store advertised as a tourist attraction and as ‘the biggest bookstore in the UK’ or something to that effect (and I’m not sure I agreed – I’ve been to Foyles). Nevertheless to my surprise I discovered a section of ‘final copies’ – and within it a whole shelf of theological and Christian material.
It reminds me of another occasion a few years back when on holiday in Devon. I walked into what seemed like a regular second-hand book shop, and upon traipsing into the basement, discovered a whole room of quality Christian and religious literature. I picked up a neat little Early Church Fathers volume for maybe a couple of pounds.
(Incidentally if you live in the UK and want to know where to find the best second hand bookshops, look no further than York. It was a fantastic place to live for three years.)
The book I found this time was The SCM Press A-Z of Evangelical Theology. I think I’ve seen it around before. I was able to pick it up for the bargain price of £7 where it’s usually £22.99 on Amazon (£19.54 at time of writing)!
The relatively boring title of the book belies the rich material within. The book is formatted mostly as a kind of encyclopaedia, with alphabetical entries in different categories as Olson saw fit to put it together. (In case anyone is wondering at this stage, though it is a single-author work rather than an edited book, he makes efforts to keep his own theological stance from colouring his approach to the material, which I think he does very well.)
Apart from the encyclopaedic entries, however, there is an excellent introductory essay, running to 64 pages (of miniscule text, it must be said), which takes a look at the history of Evangelical theology, tracing its roots through the Reformation, and subsequent movements including Pietism and Puritanism, Wesleyanism, Revivalism, and Old Princetonian theology, and into the twentieth century with the growing divides between fundamentalism and liberalism, and the attempts to steer through these minefields in conservatism, and the various ‘posts’ (post-fundamentalism, -conservatism and -liberalism). Mention is made of course of some of the figures that have held together the divergent streams of Evangelicalism, most notably Billy Graham, whose presence at the centre has no doubt provided a great deal of ‘glue’ for the many otherwise divergent groups. Many other significant names are mentioned throughout, including some helpful in-depth biographies as context to the historical movement of Evangelical Theology.
This essay really impressed me. So far it’s all I’ve read of the book; I was going to shelve it at this stage and peruse the subsequent ‘entries’ as and when I needed to, but I’m drawn to the idea of reading through the whole thing. Thus far it has been very helpful in building up the picture for me and filling in a great many historical and theological gaps in my understanding of Evangelicalism; reading through the entries will probably be of further help, but thanks to its format it will also be useful in the future as a reference book.
Olson clearly has a grip on the history and the sweep of theological discussion that has gone on within Protestant history at large and within the movements that have come to be identified with ‘Evangelicalism’ in particular. I would recommend this book to anyone as a great general companion to understanding Evangelicalism!
Incidentally, it is one in a series published by SCM under the general heading ‘SCM Press A-Z of Christian Theology’, and it looks like an interesting collection – I’ve decisively added the one on the Patristic Theology to my Amazon Wish List!