A Concise History of Christian Throught
By Tony Lane
Reviewed by Dr. Michael Vlach
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 126-127
Tony Lane, Professor of Historical Rheology and Director of Research at the London School of Theology, has do ne a great service by offering his revised and expanded edition of A Concise History of Christian Thought. This work is a concise, readable survey of key Christian leaders, creeds, councils, and documents from the time of the church fathers to the present.
The number of books devoted to church history is vast, but Lane’s work distinguishes itself from many by its excellent format. His 336-page work has 150 entries that offer succinct but thorough explanations of the person or topic at hand. Thus, the average entry receives a little over two pages of fact-filled, relevant information that gets to the point and shows why the discussed person, creed, council, document, etc., was important in the development of Christian thought. This helpful format avoids the brevity of dictionary-like definitions while escaping overly long explanations that can lose the reader who is looking only for the most essential information on a person or topic.
The book has five major divisions. Part I (26 entries) covers the church fathers up until A.D. 500. Part II (11 entries) addresses the Eastern tradition until A.D. 500. Part III (26 entries) covers the medieval West from 500–1500 and Part IV (41 entries) summarizes the Reformation period and reaction to it (1500–1800). In Part V (46 entries), Lane addresses Christian thought in the modern world from 1800. This last section of Lane’s expanded edition includes discussion of more recent theologians such as George Lindbeck and John Hick.
In any book in which the history of Christian thought is distilled to 150 entries, some will have differences of opinion concerning who should be included or excluded. This reviewer, though, found the selections to be well chosen. Evangelicals will probably be disappointed that Lane does not give more attention to evangelical theologians. For instance, G. C. Berkouwer and John Stott are the only two evangelicals of the last one hundred years whom Lane discusses.
For the most part, A Concise History of Christian Thought operates as a reference book that dispenses concise, helpful information to the reader. One could read this book from beginning to end, but its primary benefit is more as a reference tool, much like a dictionary or encyclopedia. The reader should be aware that at times Lane offers his personal evaluations of the topic at hand, especially in regard to more recent theological developments. For example, in his discussion on Process Theology, Lane points out that the movement has a philosophical starting point that leads to a distortion of the biblical concept of God (295). Lane also expresses optimism about the ecumenical movement (333) and recent Catholic-Protestant discussions concerning the doctrine of justification (335-36).
Though the reader must be discerning when he comes to Lane’s opinions, this book delivers what it offers—a concise history of Christian thought. Thus, it is a helpful resource for church leaders, students, and all who are interested in church history and the development of Christian theology. For this reviewer, A Concise History of Christian Thought continues to be a much-used reference work.