Advanced Historical Theology – Introduction
by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
Because of the nature of the material that is covered in a survey of historical theology, the history of theological thought must necessarily be a theological undertaking. The entire contents of the history of Christian thought cannot be covered unless one would like to write a magnum opus of many volumes. Instead, selectivity must be taken in order to cover the most important aspects of Historical Theology.
Doctrines do not come forth through spontaneous generation, or fall out of heaven into a book unrelated to specific events that trigger theological reflection. Dogmas are set forth as parts of Christian thought and they serve as watersheds in the history of theological thinking. They act as starting points for the next set of events that will emerge for future generations. Doctrines are forged through long years of theological reflection from established practices of worship, within the context of a spirituality that opposes these doctrines that seem to attack the very essence of faith. Therefore, some find it more helpful to see historical theology not as a history of dogma, but as a history of Christian thought. For purposes of this overview, this writer will summarize the history of Christian thought.
When setting forth a history of Christian thought, one has two choices to make in the manner in which it is accomplished: either a systemization of doctrine (and then introducing key figures through history on that doctrine), or a chronological approach. In a survey of Christian thought, it is much easier to follow a chronological approach than to systematize epochs over and over again for separate doctrines. This should allow Christians a much easier time in dealing with the information than if they had to continue to retrace their steps over the history of the Christian church for every new theological turn.