Our Legacy, The History of Christian Doctrine by John D. Hannah
John Hannah, professor of historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, has provided the serious student of the Word a valuable tool in Our Legacy. In approximately 350 pages Hannah is able to give a reliable and objective synopsis of the history and development of seven essential doctrines: Scripture, the Godhead, the person and work of Christ, salvation, the church and end times.
Hannah maintains that the earliest church fathers believed and proclaimed the core teachings of Scripture but did not explore detail or systematize theology until forced to do so when contrarian opinions and false teachings arose. As the need became evident the truths of Scripture were studied and hammered out and stated in various creeds. But as new challenges and disagreements developed various wings of theological expression sprang up.
Hannah identifies many of the key views and theologians that have influenced theological thought by discussing them within the periods of church history. Each chapter briefly deals with: the church fathers (100-150), the apologists (150-300), the theologians (300-600), the medieval church (600-1500), the early modern churches (1500-1700) and the late modern churches (1750-present). Hannah also describes how each doctrine is understood within the Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Of course with each tradition there is variance which is especially true within Protestantism. Therefore, Hannah devotes much attention to the development of theological systems including liberalism, Calvinism, Lutheranism and Wesleyanism. This provides a helpful understanding of the present day teaching of various branches of Christianity. In this overview certain names appear repeatedly such as Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Calvin, Luther, Origen and Augustine.
Our Legacy has helpful charts and good indexes and is filled with numerous primary quotes. The book connects the dots between much that we see today on the theological landscape with the past. It is not a book of systematic theology; rather it serves as a companion resource. Toward that end I will be turning to Our Legacy repeatedly in my studies of theology and church history. My only disappointment with the book, as is often true of such volumes, is that present day movements and key players are not addressed. A most helpful sequel would be to trace the history of theology to modern trends such as the seeker-sensitive movement, the emergent church and the increasingly popular concept of the kingdom of God being fleshed out through social action and attempts at fulfilling the so-called Cultural Mandate. Nevertheless, for its intended purpose, Our Legacy would be hard to beat.