Item description for 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 by Jonathan Hill...
Overview In this lively and accessible introduction, Jonathan Hill offers a wealth of insight into the history of Christian thought and the colorful personalities who gave it shape and form.
Publishers Description Why read about the history of Christian thought? 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, which put the cast of characters in context and illumine their place within the development of Christian thought. Not content to merely describe, Hill offers pertinent assessments that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of his subjects' contributions to Christian thinking and spurs you to reflect on significant issues for yourself. A society with no grasp of its history is like a person without a memory. So Hill, in this lively and accessible introduction, offers you a wealth of insight on the history of Christian thought and the colorful personalities of those who gave it shape and form.
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More About Jonathan Hill
Hill has a first class degree in philosophy and theology, and an M.Phil in theology from Oxford University, England. He has worked as a writer and editor since 1997.
Reviews - What do customers think about 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?
From Ante-Nicene to Post-Modern: A Panoramic View of Christian Theology Jun 22, 2006
When an author undertakes to cover 2,000 years in under 400 pages, inevitably something or someone is going to be left out or neglected, and cognoscenti are going to be disappointed that their own pet subjects were given short shrift. I, on the other hand, brought a wealth of ignorance to the subject and was consequently well-satisfied with the work.
Hill begins his survey with the closing of the New Testament canon and tries to address the biography, career, thought, and impact of every major Christian theologian from that day to this. The reader may quibble over some of his omissions, but cannot argue with his inclusions. Hill also attempts to outline various movements and schools of thought that have arisen and flourished during the long history of Christianity.
The reader will meet many admirable men, many strange ideas, and much convoluted thought between the covers of this book.
Bites off more than he can chew. Mar 26, 2006
This is a well-written introduction to many interesting and important thinkers. Hill introduces each era and movement, tells about the lives of his subjects with lively anecdotes, then sketches an outline of their thought. He has a good sense of humor; his discussion of post-modernism, for example, is suitably wry.
It seems to me, though, that Hill has bitten off much more than he can chew.
First of all, what does he mean, "Christian thought?" In the ancient world, a "philosopher" was someone who sought truth of all sorts, without being constrained by our modern concept of academic disciplines. Most of the ancient thinkers Hill discusses are "philosophers" in this sense, and so are many Medieval and Renaissance "thinkers." But in the modern era, Hill narrows his scope to recognized "theologians" (Bultmann, Barth, Tillich, etc.) He doesn't so much as mention folks like Chesterton, Girard, Solzhenitsyn, Plantinga, Stark, or C. S. Lewis. A narrative so potentially vast must limit itself, but the failure to mention such influential thinkers seems odd to me.
While his treatment of some thinkers left me thirsting for more (Pannenberg, for example), I hardly recognized his monochromatic caricature of Augustine. (I doubt he likes him.)
Worse is Hill's shallow and misleading treatment of four important topics: the relationships between faith and reason, attitudes to past thought, Christianity and culture, and the "historical Jesus."
On faith, Hill seems to buy the "Enlightenment myth" lock, stock and barrel. "Whether we like it or not," science and religion "do operate according to different value systems, and they do make conflicting claims about the world." Well, gee, glad to have that settled -- paying attention, Polkinghorne, Lewis, and Niebuhr? "People were looking at the world with new eyes -- the eyes of reason, not those of faith." Recently, I researched what thirty great Christian thinkers said about faith and reason, beginning with Justin Martyr. For most, faith and reason were like the wings on a single bird, as Pope John Paul put it, complementary though distinct. It is more plausible to say this phoney distinction between faith and reason is one of the fundamental errors of the Enlightenment. (See Jesus and the Religions of Man for details, or the anthology on faith and reason at christthetao.com.)
Rather than referring to the cogency of arguments or new data, often Hill exhibits a cloying "chronological snobbery" (as Lewis put it) to explain why new ideas supplant old ones. Origin's idea of a succession of universes "sounds like science fiction" but was "more reasonable" in those days. (Has Hill never heard of the oscillating universe or multiverse hypothesis?) "Deism seems hopelessly naive to us today." (Has he read Steven Hawking or Anthony Flew?) "Barth put the Trinity and Christology at the center of Christian thought." (Oh? And where had they been?) Hill's discussion of feminist theology suffers from a naively critical view of the past. (See "The Sexual Revolution" in my Jesus and the Religions of Man.)
Hill's treatment of faith and culture is even weaker. "For the first time (during the Enlightenment) cultured people were becoming aware that other religions were not simple forces of darkness but had worthy ideals and concepts of God." Hill has read the Church fathers; he ought to know better. Justin, Clement of Alexander, and Origin, all said that pagan philosophers not only shed light, but were "tutors" to bring the world to Christ. Augustine became a Christian through Plato, and Dante credited Virgil for his faith.
Hill's treatment of Asian Christianity is especially weakened by this error. His discussion of Nestorian Christianity in China ("Jingjiao" not "jinjaio" as he renders it) seems tacked on. He spends four paragraphs on Marco Polo, but absurdly, does not so much as mention the great Matteo Ricci. He says nothing about the Chinese Christians who developed Ricci's Biblical (and Augustinian) approach. Nor does he mention key later thinkers like James Legge, Lin Yutang, or Yuan Zhiming, any Indian thinker, or such interesting thinkers as Uchimura Kanzou in Japan. Instead, he focuses on a few obscure theologians, writing as if the idea of relating Christian faith to Asian culture were a modern idea!
Finally, Hill does not deal seriously with the "historical Jesus" question, which looms large in late chapters. Barth, he says, "rejects the whole enterprise" of the search for the historical Jesus, "cutting Christianity adrift from its historical foundations." What Hill does not explain is why Barth did that, or what it means. In Why the Jesus Seminar Can't Find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, I described twelve basic errors in history, logic, and epistemology that undermine secular "historical Jesus research," errors implicating some of Hill's subjects. Again, Hill makes little effort to sort these issues out or critique "enlightened" views.
These are epic seas, over which Odysseus himself could not sail without occasionally grounding. Hill simply and succinctly describing the lives and thought of many important figures. Apart from these reservations, this is not a bad book. But it does show, as Hill himself admits, that there is no substitute for reading the originals.
An excellent, highly readable survey Jan 10, 2005
Unclear just what Arianism was, or what the Monophysites were upset about, or exactly why the Eastern church split from the Western? Not quite sure about the difference between liberal theology and liberation theology? Here's the book for you. This is an extremely well-written survey of Christian thought from Justin Martyr and the early church fathers through contemporary theologists, like Moltmann and Pannenberg. That's a lot of ground to cover in less than 350 pages, but Hill does about as good a job as I can imagine anyone doing. The background theological, philosophical, and cultural issues are clearly described, the key ideas of the particular theologian or thinker are carefully presented, and brief evaluations are provided. The book is published by InterVarsity Press, which might indicate a strong Evangelical bias, but Hill is scrupulously fair throughout; in fact, if anything, he leans in a moderately liberal direction. There is no lack of seriousness here, but lots of interesting anecdotes enliven the text and show the decidedly human side of men more known for weighty ideas and arduous prose. For one example, it is interesting to contemplate the teen-aged Aquinas brandishing a smoking log from the fireplace to chase a naked prostitute out of his room, a woman sent by his family to seduce him in a more worldly direction. Later, he got so fat a semicircle had to be cut from the front edge of his desk so he could sit close enough to do his writing. John Henry Newman, in contrast, was so skinny and bony he had trouble getting comfortable enough lying down to get a good night's sleep. Albert Schweitzer worked all night, with his feet in a tub of cold water and drinking black coffee to ward off sleep. The ideas are interesting, and so were the people who produced them. I had never heard of this book, which I picked up on a whim, and I'm very glad I did. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it in a consistently interesting and entertaining fashion, while never losing focus on the intellectual issues under consideration. What more can you ask? Highly recommended.