Can you provide a summary of "The Story of Christian Theology" by Roger Olson?

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Let us begin by exploring the full title of this wonderful book that won the Gold Medallion award from Christianity Today! in the year 2000. Seeing as the book is called The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform , we can expect that this book talks...

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a lot about how Christianity is a story that began two thousand years ago (twenty centuries) and is full of tradition and change.The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform, has quite an organization actually with nine different parts (delineated by roman numerals) which are divided into thirty-five separate chapters.

Directly before Part I is the introduction which discusses Christianity precisely as “a story.”

While history seems as dry as dust to many modern readers, a story is always eagerly welcomed and greeted with interest.

This is precisely the reason why Olson presents Christianity as a “story” as opposed to painting it it a simple history. Part I is specifically about the second century (100-200 years after Christ) and discusses different visions and trajectories of the new religion: Christianity. Chapter 1 is about the critics of the religion and the opposing members of cults that attempted to prevent its spread. Chapter 2 discusses some of the first apostles of Christ (that is those who were originally “sent out” to spread the word) and how they proclaimed Christ as the “Way” as well as “the Truth and the Life.” For example, Saint (and bishop) Polycarp, Clement, Ignatius, and Barnabas and their struggles against different heresies are discussed at length. Then Chapter 3 attempts to discuss the apologists who attempted to combat those same heresies by defending the Christian faith. Finally, Chapter 4 of Part I is about Iraneus exposing the truth behind heresies like Gnosticism. Irenaeus, of course, was the eventual saint who was quite severe in proclaiming that there was no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church.

Part II continues Olson’s idea of Christianity being a “story” in that it is about the plot of the story thickening specifically in the third century. The different chapters of this part attest to this. Chapter 5 talks a lot about philosophy and how it often has been shown to contradict Christian thinking, especially in the early spread of the religion to North Africa. Chapter 6 is about how the philosopher Origen nixed the concept of reincarnation by proclaiming “one mortal bodily existence” and the interesting idea of “ultimate, universal reconciliation for all creation,” even including Satan. Chapter 7 is about Cyprian from the city of Carthage, who took it upon himself to unify Christians, while Chapter 8 is about how that unity (inspired by Cyprian) truly brought the early Christian church together.

Part III discusses the Church’s first great crisis: the concept of the Trinity (and how it was explained and resolved, especially by the Council of Nicaea). Chapter 9 speaks of the concept of Trinity (there being one God with three parts: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and the fact that the Alexandrians contested the second part of the Trinity (the Son). Chapter 10 is about the response to that problem: the Council of Nicaea. The Nicean Creed is still recited in many churches, even today. Chapter 11 is about Athanasius, who continued the faith adamantly, while Chapter 12 is about the Cappadocians who finally concluded the Church’s first crisis.

Part IV is about the Church’s second crisis: the specific issues of the second person of the Trinity (the Person of Christ). Chapter 13 is about how Alexandria and Antioch butted heads about the person of Christ (in their differing opinions of the Son of God). Nestorius and Cyril bring the crisis to the forefront in Chapter 14 while Chalcedon proclaims Christ being the Son of God as a “mystery” in Chapter 15. The final chapter is about the fact that this never-ending crisis continues to have a “fallout.”

In Part V is about the Great Schism: the division between East and West in regard to the Christian Church. Chapter 17 focuses on Saint Augustine, the famous saint who went from a life of licentiousness to holiness, and talks about the glory of the one true God and how humans are gravely flawed. Chapter 18 and 19 respectively talk about how the Western Church becomes Roman Catholic while the Eastern Church becomes Eastern Orthodox. Chapter 20 discusses this as the particular “Great Schism.”

Part VI covers new ideas of science and how they have to do with the formation of the church. Chapter 21 discusses the skepticism of Abelard and Anslem in regard to how the new science conflicts with church teaching. Chapter 22 is fully about Saint Thomas Aquinas, a famous Roman Catholic Academic, who wrote about Christian Truth, including the concept of the “Just War.” Chapter 23 groups Humanists, Reformers, and Nominalists together in one chapter in their attempt to justify the Faith.

Part VII talks about what Olson calls the “new twist”: the Protestant Reformation. Chapter 24 speaks of Martin Luther and how his “theses” divided the Church once and for all, halting the spread of a unified Christianity. Chapter 25 is about how Protestant thought was cemented by both Calvin and Zwingli. Chapter 26 is about the frustration of the Anabaptists (and specifically how they attempted to get back to Christian roots through simplicity). Finally, Chapter 27 attempts to explain the parallel teachings of Canterbury and Rome as the two separate schools of Protestant and Catholic thought.

Part VIII is about the diversity of Protestantism and how it broke the Faith apart even more through its many religions. Chapters 28-31 discuss these differing Protestant religious groups respectively: Armenians, Pietists (Lutherans), Puritans, Methodists, and Deists. Each religion has its own specific teachings, which are a bit too detailed to discuss at length here. This part, more than any other, reveals the problems that arise when there is not one authority on religious thought.

Finally, Part IX concludes the “story” by discussing the modern schism of liberal and conservative Christian thought. Chapter 32 is about modern culture and how to “marry” it with Christian tradition. Chapter 33 is about conservatives bouncing back against those “liberals” discussed in the previous chapter. Chapter 34 discusses the new orthodox ideas (deemed “Neo-Orthodoxy”) that try to bridge the gap between the two. In its final chapter, Chapter 35, Olson’s The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform discusses at length the Christian struggle with diversity (both of culture and thought) while touching on such ideas as abortion and gay marriage. Olson ends with firmness about how the Christian “story” is truly never ending and is, in fact, still being written even today.

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