Historical Theology

“One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.”

Ps. 145:4

“…the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

1 Tim. 3:15

“…The truth of the Lord endureth for ever.”

Ps. 117:2

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Historical theology is Scriptural theology organized and viewed through the way it has been recognized and developed through the history of the Church.

Why is historical theology dearly precious?  Because nearly every aspect of Scriptural teaching has been hammered out in more profound earnestness and depth by the godly giants of the past, and their personal stories, than we can comprehend.

For a good place to start, purchase Berkhof.  Shedd is online.  Cunningham is a classic, but is a bit slow going.  Be aware: there are not a lot of foundational works from an orthodox perspective in this field.

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Order of Contents

Reformed
Non-Reformed
Church Histories Emphasizing Theology
Systematic Theologies Emphasizing Historical Theology
In Latin
Dictionaries
Special Studies
By Period
.     Early Church
.     Medieval Church
.     
Protestantism
.     
The Reformation
.     New England


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Reformed Works

1800’s

Cunningham, William – Historical Theology, vol. 1 (to the Reformation), 2 (Reformation and after)  Buy  1863

This work is a classic.  Cunningham (1805–1861) was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland.  He wrote with the end in view that the most valuable part of Christian history was in the lessons learned as truth, error and God’s revelation are sifted through the ages.

Shedd, William G.T. – A History of Christian Doctrine, vol. 1 (Intro, Philosophy, Apologetics, Trinity, Christ), 2 (Anthropology, Soteriology, Eschatology, Creeds)  1863

Shedd (1820–1894) was solid theologically.

“…the ‘special’ or systematic model for examining the history of doctrines.  Examples of this model are the histories by W.G.T. Shedd, Louis Berkhof…  Each of these treatises, particularly Shedd’s, discuss individual doctrines in detail….  The histories appear in a topical order and in the shape of a theological system…

This model… imposes a modern, systematic gird on the subject matter…  Nonetheless, if this method is utilized with a candid recognition of its limitations, it does serve as a useful approach to particular doctrines and a good prologue to the study of systematic theology.” – Bradley & Muller, Church History, 2nd ed., pp. 26-7

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1900’s

Orr, James – The Progress of Dogma  1901  400 pp.

Orr was a professor, leader and minister in the United Free Church of Scotland post-1900.   He was generally conservative, evangelical and reformed, except that he imbibed certain modernistic influences such as the errancy of Scripture and theistic evolution, amongst others.

Berkhof, Louis – History of Christian Doctrines  Buy  285 pp.  Here is the table of contents.

Berkhof (1873–1957) intended this to be a companion volume to his Systematic Theology.  Berkhof goes through the whole of church history on each main doctrine laid out in systematic order.  Berkhof was solid theologically

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2000’s

Allison, Gregg – Historical Theology: an Introduction to Christian Doctrine  Buy  2011  780 pp.

Allison is a Calvinistic baptist professor of systematic theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  This work is intended to complement Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (which is not entirely recommended).


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Non-Reformed

Numerous of the works below are here due to the sheer value of their scholarly content, which is not easily found elsewhere, though be sure to beware of their sometimes slanted and/or unbelieving presuppositions and opinions, especially the German liberals and those who run in their train.

“Nevertheless, historical scholarship reached a level of maturity by the mid-nineteenth century that, in many respects, has not been surpassed to this day.” – Bradley & Muller, p. 17

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1800’s

Munscher, Wilhelm – Elements of Dogmatic History  †1814  210 pp.

Munscher (1677-1814) was a German.  He uses copious citations from the sources and divides his work into three periods: Early Church, Medieval Church, and the Reformation and After.  He treats each period generally first, and then goes more particular into specific doctrines.

“The first historian to worry profoundly about the method of historical theology was Wilhelm Munscher.  His basic approach was followed by most of the historians of doctrine in the nineteenth century…

The model has the advantage of very neatly lining out the ideas from an individual period and showing in considerable depth the various theological and systematic ramifications of the thought of the church at different times in its history.” – Bradley & Muller, Church History, 2nd ed., p. 24

Neander, Augustus – Lectures on the History of Christian dogmas, vol. 1 (Early), 2 (Early, Medieval, Reformation)  1858

Neander (1789–1850) was a liberal German scholar.

“Two major examples of the method [of Munscher] are the histories by Neander and Karl Hagenbach, both… exerted a major influence on British and American studies of the history of doctrine…

…The problem with the method, bluntly stated, is that Ignatius of Antioch, who lived in the early second century, never imagined such a thing as a theological system.” – Bradley & Muller, pp. 24-26

Hagenbach, K.R. – A Text-Book of the History of Doctrines, vol. 1 (Early, Medieval), 2 (Medieval to 1800’s) 1861

Hagenbach (1801–1874) was a liberal, Swiss scholar.

Crippen, T.G. – A Popular Introduction to the History of christian Doctrine  1883  380 pp.

Though this is a ‘popular introduction’, it still has a fair amount of informative detail.  Crippen’s method is to go through the whole history of the major doctrines laid out in systematic order.

Allen, Alexander – The Continuity of Christian Thought: a Study of Modern Theology in the Light of its History  1884  470 pp.

Allen was a professor in the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge.  His work is chronological through the major periods.

Sheldon, Henry Clay – History of Christian Doctrine, vol. 1 (to 1517), 2 (after 1517) 1886

Sheldon was a long-time professor of systematic theology in Boston University.

“…is by a Methodist author, who writes with impartiality.” – G.P. Fisher

Harnack, Adolf

Outlines of the History of Dogma  1893  580 pp.

Harnack (1851–1930) was liberal, German, Lutheran professor.

“The best model for the history of doctrine is certainly the integral or organic model that attempts a synchronous understanding of the development of the central ideas of Christianity…  The foremost practitioners of this model were Adolf von Harnack and Reinhold Seeberg…  The major methodological issue for both was to trace out the large issues addressed by groups of thinkers and to indicate how those issues were brought to a conclusion.” – Bradley & Muller, p. 29

History of Dogma, vol. 1 (to 100’s) 2, (100’s-200’s), 3 (Christ, Redemption), 4, (Homousia, Hypostatic Union, Sacraments, Saints) 5 (Sin, Grace, Means of Grace, Augustine, 400’s), 6 (Medieval), 7 (Reformation, Luther) 3rd German edition, trans. Buchanan

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1900’s

Seeberg, Reinhold – Text-Book of the History of Doctrines, vol. 1, 2  1904

Seeberg (1859–1935) was a liberal, German, protestant professor.  See above on Harnack.

“…the classic historians of dogma Adolf von Harnack and Reinhold Seeberg were able to construct tightly argued histories of the fundamental dogmatic tenets of Christianity, focused on the Trinity, christology, and grace that presented the development of Christian doctrine from earliest times to the Reformation.  The Reformation, understood both as the end of a united Christendom and as a return to Scripture as a norm prior to tradition, concludes the history of dogma, except for the dogmas later enacted by the Roman Catholic Church and discussed by Harnack and Seeberg as limited after-growths.” – Bradley & Muller, p.7

Fisher, George – History of Christian Doctrine  1911  680 pp.

Fisher (1827–1909) was an American professor of Church History at Yale.

Workman, Herbert – Christian Thought to the Reformation  1916  275 pp.

Workman (1862–1951) was a Methodist minister and pastor.

Otten, Bernard – A Manual of the History of Dogmas, vol. 1, 2  1917

Otten was an American theological professor in St. Louis University.

Stoughton, John – An Introduction to Historical Theology, being a Sketch of Doctrinal Progress from the Apostolic Era to the Reformation  1924  470 pp.  Religious Tract Society

Stoughton (1807–1897) was an English non-conformist minister and historian.

Klotsche, E.H. – An Outline of the History of Doctrines  Buy  1927  349 pp.

Klotsche was a Lutheran.

McGiffert, A.C.

A History of Christian Thought, vol. 1, 2  Buy  1932  The history goes up to the Reformation.

McGiffert (1861–1933) was an American who studied under Harnack and succeeded Philip Schaff as a professor at Union Theological Seminary.

“…the ‘great thinker’ method.  An example of this model is A.C. McGiffert’s often brilliant History of Christian Thought.  McGiffert was a fine historian…” – Bradley & Muller, p. 27

Protestant Thought Before Kant  1915  290 pp.

The Rise of Modern Religious Ideas  1915  335 pp.  This volume brings his series of works up to the 20th century.

Gonzalez, Justo – A History of Christian Thought, 3 vols.  Buy  1970

Gonzalez is a Cuban-American, Methodist Church historian.  He is a fine and very readable and engaging historian, though sometimes his history tends to read key historical and theological events as being determined by political and economic influences, reflecting the influence of a Latin American theological context.

“Justo Gonzalez’s three volume history of doctrine also tends toward the examination of individual thinkers…  The great thinker model loses track of the interrelationships of ideas and, indeed, of the host of ‘lesser’ minds whose work may have been far more important to their contemporaries than the ‘great thinkers’ identified by later generations.  The great thinker method remains extremely useful because it is a way of understanding how ideas cohere in one person’s thought.” – Bradley & Muller, p. 28

Pelikan, Jaroslav – The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, 5 vols.  Buy  1975

Pelikan was a pastor in the Lutheran tradition and a Yale professor.

McGrath, Alister – Historical Theology: an Introduction to the History of Christian Thought  Buy  1998  320 pp.

McGrath is an intellectual historian who has been a professor of historical theology at Oxford.


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Church Histories Emphasizing Theology

Hurst, John Fetcher – History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, 2  1900  1,000 pp. each

Hurst (1834–1903) was an American bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the first Chancellor of the American University in Washington, D.C.

Kurtz, Johann Heinrich – Church History, vol. 1, 2, 3  1889

Kurtz was a German liberal.

Schaff, Philip – History of the Christian Church, 7 vols.  from the 1910 Charles Scribner’s edition

Schaff (1819–1893) was a very influential and good, Swiss-born, American church historian and professor in the German Reformed Church.

“Philip Schaff… is sometimes considered the father of American church history… because he brought together the best advances in the study of church history and set new standards for the discipline in the United States… and set forth his own understanding of church history, called ‘The Reformed-Catholic Percpective.’…  Yet while Schaff represented the best in post-Enlightenment historiography, the influence of Hegel was so pervasive that the work suffers from at least three characteristic weaknesses…  

Schaff understands history in terms of steady improvement, but he is, in the first place, naively optimistic…
Second, the historian is able to truly comprehend past events, and to unfold them, just as they originally stood, before the eyes of the readers.
Finally, like Neander and Tholuck, Schaff is overly optimistic about the historian’s ability to discern the hand of providence and the guiding spirit of Christianity in history.” – Bradley & Muller, p. 17


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Systematic Theologies Emphasizing Historical Theology

Turretin, Francis – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 vols.  Buy  1679–1685  ed. James Dennison Jr.

Turretin usually begins each doctrinal section with a history of the issue.  As he lived in the 1600’s, he often gives a very detailed account of the rise of the question in that century.

Hodge, Charles – Systematic Theology, vol. 1. Theology, 2. Anthropology, 3. Soteriology and Eschatology, Index  Buy  1871

Hodge does not always give the history of the doctrine in each chapter, but where he does, it is often of value, and is usually in the form of opposing views.

Bavinck, Herman – Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols.  Buy  3,024 pp.  late-1800’s

Bavinck was Dutch Reformed.  Most of the topics in his work begin with a section on the doctrine’s historical development, which are often very in-depth.

Kelly, Douglas – Systematic Theology: Grounded in Holy Scripture and Understood in Light of the Church, 3 vols.  Buy  2009

Kelly was a long-time professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte.


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In Latin

Forbes, John – Instructiones Historico-Theologicae de Doctrina Christiana  †1648  880 pp.

Forbes (1593-1648) was one of the Scottish Aberdeen doctors.

Buddeus, Johann – Isagoge Historico-Theologica ad Theologiam Universam, vol. 1, 2

Buddeus (1667-1729) was a Lutheran.


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Dictionaries

Blunt, John Henry – Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology  1872  840 pp.

ed. Hart, Trevor – Dictionary of Historical Theology  Buy  2000   619 pp.


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Special Studies

Briggs, Charles A. – History of the Study of Theology, vol. 1, 2   1916

Briggs was an American, liberal scholar.  This work encompasses the whole of church history and gives background to the methods that historical theologians employed in studying.

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Church History by Period
Being constructed

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The Early Church

Early Church Theology

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The Medieval Church

Medieval Church Theology

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Protestantism

Dorner, Isaac, A. – History of Protestant Theology, Particularly in Germany, vol. 1, 2  1871

Dorner (1809–1884) was a German liberal.

Hurst, John Fletcher – History of Rationalism: Embracing a Survey of the Present State of Protestant Theology  rev. & enlarged, London, 1867  This edition includes ch. 4 on Spinoza in the 1600’s that other editions don’t have.

Hurst (1834–1903) was an American bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the first Chancellor of the American University in Washington, D.C.

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The Reformation Period

This section is incomplete, but we will add greatly to it in time.

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Cunningham, William – The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation  Buy  1862  608 pp.

Here Cunningham is at his best, church history and the principles of the Reformation being his life’s work.

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New England

New England theology has generally been a downhill slide ever since the death of Jonathan Edwards.

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Articles

Dwight, William, T. – ‘Characteristics of New England Theology, a Discourse’  1855  30 pp.  Congregational Board of Publication

Foster, Frank – ‘The History of the Original Puritan Theology of New England, 1620-1720’  1897  27 pp.

Beeke, Joel – ‘Preface’ to Theology Explained and Defended, 4 vols. by Timothy Dwight  (†1817)  Buy  2005  5 pp.

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Books

Boardman, George Nye – A History of New England Theology  1899

Boardman was a professor in (the liberal) Chicago Theological Seminary.

Foster, Frank Hugh – A Genetic History of the New England Theology  1907  Univ. of Chicago Press

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Related Pages

Systematic Theologies

Biblical Theology