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Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 1: From Its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation (Readings in the History of Christian Theology Vol. I) [Paperback]

By William C. Placher (Author)
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Item description for Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 1: From Its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation (Readings in the History of Christian Theology Vol. I) by William C. Placher...

Discusses Gnosticism, the School of Alexandria, the Trinitarian controversies, Eastern theology, Saint Augustine, and theologians of the Middle Ages

Publishers Description

In this book, William C. Placher compiles significant passages written by the most important Christian thinkers through the early sixteenth century. An important resource for theological study, "Readings in the History of Christian Theology" contains excerpts preceded by the author's illuminating introductions so that the book can stand alone as a coherent history.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Westminster John Knox Press
Pages   204
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.9" Width: 5.9" Height: 0.7"
Weight:   0.76 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 1988
ISBN  0664240577  
ISBN13  9780664240578  

Availability  141 units.
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More About William C. Placher

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! William C. Placher was Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He was the author or editor of a number of books including "Essentials of Christian Theology", published by WJK.

William C. Placher lived in the state of Indiana. William C. Placher was born in 1948 and died in 2008.

William C. Placher has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible
  2. Introduction
  3. Readings in the History of Christian Theology Vol. I

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General

Christian Product Categories
Books > Theology > Theology & Doctrine > General

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Reviews - What do customers think about Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 1: From Its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation (Readings in the History of Christian Theology Vol. I)?

Theological readings of the works of the Church Fathers that enable us to Revive our Ecumenical Theology  Dec 3, 2006

"We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, by whose grace we see farther than they. Our study of the works of the ancients enables us to give fresh life to their finer ideas, and rescue them from time's oblivion and man's neglect." (Peter of Blois, 12th century)

"Christian theology is a series of footnotes to St. Paul." (Sydney Ahlstrom)

Christian Theology:
A definition by John Leith states briefly but clearly that, "Christian theology is critical reflection about God, about human existence, about the nature of the universe and about faith itself in the light of the revelation of God recorded in Scripture and particularly embodied in Jesus Christ, who is for the Christian community the final revelation, that is, the definitive revelation which is the criteria of all other revelations."

Case for Historical Theology:
"The history of philosophy, especially that philosophy which hired itself out as a handmaiden to theology is a succession of conflicting views and of attempts to reconcile them...theology, which occasionally stoops to speak the language of ordinary men, would describe it as a process of peacemaking between mutually misunderstood friendly opinions. But while in theology peacemakers are pronounced blessed and are they who inherit the kingdom of dogma, ..." Harry Wolfson, Religious Philosophy.
"Christians have always disagreed about what they ought to believe, and both sides in those disagreements have often made a persuasive case. The study of the history of theology teaches that diversity within Christianity is nothing new. Studying the history of theology on its own terms, rather than only when theology touches on some other branch of history, also teaches greater respect for the intellectual coherence of the theological tradition." W. Placher

Theology's beginnings:
"Christianity begins with Jesus, and Jesus was a Jew: born in a Jewish family, ... raised and educated in a Jewish culture. He worshiped at the Temple and in the synagogues; he chose all his disciples from among his fellow Jews. Jesus and his first followers set the shape for Christian theology down the centuries, and they had grown up within Judaism. They took many of its ideas about God, human beings, nature, and history for granted. One cannot understand them or what they said without knowing something about Judaism and the traditions of Israel that lay behind it. A short time after Jesus' death about A.D. 30, a handful of his followers began to proclaim him as their resurrected Lord. The (canonical) books of the New Testament ( basis of theology) come out of that first century after Jesus' death. The general trends in earliest Christian theology were started by Paul and established by John who dominate the New Testament theological thought written by them (or by their followers).

Systematic Theology:
The development of (Systematic) Christian theology, may be known by most of us, but what about how it started and why? By the end of the second century, most Christians in the three great centers of the Roman empire, Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch had agreed that some interpretations of Christianity, by Gnostics, Montanists, and Marcionists, were out of the main stream, of congregational Orthodoxy and were labeled as Heterodoxy or heresies. Since the Gnostics rejected the world of matter themselves, they could not believe that God had fully entered into it, which contradicts the redeeming mission of the Word incarnate. Paul warned against Gnosticism, active in Rome, following its great philosophers in Alexandria. "... Origen combined philosophical sophistication with learned biblical interpretation. Theology in its modern scope, as defined today started in the catechetical school of Alexandria. Origen its second and greatest dean, stands as the first great Christian systematic theologian and as one of the most prolific biblical commentators in history. Although his belief (or hope) that everyone will eventually be saved and his emphasis on Alexandrine allegorical method of Bible interpretation would soon became controversial, after his death.

Fine Theological Quotations:
William Placher, has put together a selected collection of early Church fathers writings, and their consequencial theological fruitage, in the early and high middle ages, although he did not aggregate the Dionysian mystics from the Aristotalian scholastics. While this reader is a pioneer effort to examine the originals, the eminent theologian shied away from applying any historical turn points, that fit within theology much more than Christian history, as Mark Noll proposed. Developments in theological thought and later Church doctrine were initiated and advanced by people and concluded by events. Theological history associated Marcion/ NT canon, Alexandrine theology/Christian Neoplatonism, Augustine/Predestination, Dionysius p-Areopagite/ Mystical theology, Iconclasm/Damascene theology, Aquinas/Aristotlean replacing Neoplatonic philosophy (or faithful fallability and Roman church infallibility), etc.
Although the learned author provided the original theological concepts in quotations of some of the great theological writings he attempted to keep his comments to a neutral minimal. On the other hand A. McGrath rearranged his theological reader in a topical order, that render the focus more on theological concepts and their progress in Church history. which supports Placher's ecumenical goal more clearly. This drawback may be overridden by reading Placher's 'History of Christian Theology' first, or alternatively, as a companion book.
Broad Survey of Documents, Not deep enough for me.  Sep 14, 2006
`Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volumes 1 and 2' edited by William Placher are almost exactly the sort of thing I was looking for when I was planning an `advanced' Sunday School study group examining major commentators on Christian doctrines throughout the last 2000 years. I say almost, because the editing policy which selects small fragments from a large number of documents is really not what I had hoped. A second weakness is that oddly, some major documents were left out.

On the first point, an important discussion topic may be the Nag Hammadi documents, their reflection of Gnostic doctrines, and their relevance to Christian orthodoxy of the first 200 years of the Common Era. The editor includes the most important of these Gnostic gospels, the `Gospel of Thomas'. Unfortunately, the editor only sees fit to include a scant 12 out of the 114 verses printed in, for example, Bart D. Ehrman's `Lost Scriptures'. This is not nearly enough to accurately contrast this document with the canonical gospels on all major points such as the nature of Jesus and the Gnostic cosmology story, which is distinctly different from the one early Christians inherited from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament).

On the second point, there are important highlights which I really wish would have been included such as the text of Martin Luther's 95 Theses and the writings of Jonathan Edwards on Free Will, especially as the snippet from Augustine is on the subject of Free Will and the topic comes up again in the selection from Blaise Pascal's `Pensees'.

On the whole, the book tries to cover all bases, even if that means the coverage is as thin as a leaf of phyllo dough. I would have much rather seen in the section on (Early) American theology less from Joseph Smith (Mormons) and Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (`Transcendentalist') and much more from Edwards, who was easily the very best American philosophical theologian even up to the present day, rivaling even Charles Saunders Peirce for the distinction of most important American philosopher.

The one thing that makes these failings even more regrettable is that the generally very good bibliography doesn't give references to complete texts for all sources such as any works of Jonathan Edwards or Soren Kierkegaard for example. I would also argue that some of the bibliographical references are not as strong as they could be, for example, the often criticized `The Gnostic Gospels' by writer for the layman, Elaine Pagals.

This pair of volumes remains a nicely inexpensive overview of source documents and a starting point for the study of same, but one could do a better job of providing a good source for all the most important post-canonical writings.
In their own words...  Jun 21, 2004
William Placher teaches religion and philosophy at a university nearby to my schools and residence; I've had the opportunity to hear him speak several times. During his time as a teacher, he has written books on religious studies, theology and history for use in classroom settings, and this two-volume set of readings is one such useful product of Placher's.

Originally intended to be reader companions to his earlier work, 'A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction' (1983), Placher discovered to his surprise and delight that these books are able to stand alone without the earlier volume as a useful narrative of the development of Christian ideas.

The first volume deals with Christianity from the earliest days in Apostolic times to the late Middle Ages, immediately prior to the Reformation. The first few chapters deal with the earliest Church Fathers, who were writing at a time Christianity was still trying to form an identity, often over and against beliefs commonly referred to as heresies. The first chapter deals with Gnosticism and opponents -- Placher pulls in writings from Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and a few anonymous pieces (the Gospel of Thomas, for example). The second chapter moves forward a century into more elaborate developments of Christian thought; Placher chose writings from Justin Martyr, Clement, Origen, and especially Tertullian. The third chapter deals with the Trinitarian and Christological issues that pushed forward through the various credal formulations -- here, Placher draws from a wide range of writers, including the Cappadocian fathers, writers on 'losing' sides such as Arius and Nestorius, and text from the creeds themselves.

Chapters 4 and 5 highlight East and West. The fourth chapter explores many of the leading lights in the Eastern church after the Ecumenical council of Chalcedon, including John of Damascus and Gregory Palamas. The fifth chapter, the only one to concentrate on a specific individual in either volume, deals with Augustine, drawing from his many writings, including the Confessions, the City of God, and lesser works.

The next three chapters look at the Middle Ages in successive Early, High, and Late periods. The Early Middle Ages includes figures such as Jerome, Gelasius I, John Cassian, and John Scotus Eriugena. The High Middle Ages include the greats Anselm, Aquinas, and Francis of Assisi. The Late Middle Ages, up to the period of the Reformation, included William of Ockham (Ockham's Razor), Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich (the only woman in the first volume), and Erasmus.

In all, this gives a very solid introduction to the pre-Reformation church in sense of ideas, beliefs, and struggles.

The books in this set are ecumenical in nature; it is generally Western in its bias, tending toward the northern-European and American development; of course, this is audience to whom Placher writes. This is not an institutional history, but rather a history of ideas. Placher has introductions to the chapters and again to each of the primary texts, but these are minimal percentage-wise of the overall text. Placher made the conscious effort to include the most common and familiar of the passages from history, making the persuasive argument that, for students, often the passages seemingly over-used by teachers and ministers, are in fact new.

A good book to get an overview of historical Christian views  Oct 11, 2000
This book takes writings from church founders, and some who argued different points that have not survived well through today in order to compare and show the growth of christianity up till the reformation. It is good in that it uses the actual writings (or translated writings in many cases) of early church founders, which unfortunately can be dry reading, but is extremely informative reading. I recommend reading it along with Placher's other book, A History of Christian Theology, in order to get a full overview of what was happening in the church during the periods of the different writings, but it can be read alone also.

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