Theology: The Basics

A set of eleven video presentations introducing every chapter of the fourth edition of this popular and widely used textbook. This book is much shorter than Christian Theology: An Introduction, and is pitched at a more accessible level. The book is widely used in colleges and in church study groups. These video presentations will help you get the most out of using it!

Introducing the textbook. Why it was written, how it works, and its basic structure. It also introduces some basic questions about the methods and sources of theology, and explains its main periods of historical development.

Chapter 1: Faith. This chapter explores the nature of faith, and the rationality of theism in general. Topics considered in this chapter include some arguments for the existence of God, the way in which faith goes beyond reason but not contrary to reason, faith as a response to God’s promises, and the relation of faith and doubt in the life of faith. Every chapter in this textbook concludes with a text for study; in this case, this is a section of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), which talks about the nature of faith as a “a steady and certain knowledge of the divine benevolence towards us, which is founded upon the truth of the gracious promise of God in Christ, and is both revealed to our minds and sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Chapter 2: God. This chapter deals with many aspects of the Christian understanding of God, although a discussion of the distinctively Christian idea of the Trinity (chapter 7) is postponed until after we have reflected on the identity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The chapter opens by considering the use of analogical language to think about God, particularly the idea of God as father. This is followed by discussion of the important question of what it means to speak of God as a person and as “almighty.” After considering whether God can suffer, the chapter concludes with a text from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) which deals with what it means to think of God as a father.

Chapter 3: Creation. The third chapter deals with the theme of God as creator, noting in particular biblical ways of thinking about creation, and the important idea of “creation from nothing (Latin: ex nihilo).” After considering the implications of the doctrine of creation, the chapter reflects on three classic models or analogies of creation: emanation (an idea widely used during the early Christian period), construction, and artistic production. The chapter then turns to consider humanity within creation, focussing especially on the biblical idea of humanity bearing the “image of God.” This is followed by a discussion of natural theology, which suggests that the creation, in some way and to some extent, can bear witness to the nature of its creator, before concluding by considering some recent debates about creationism. The chapter concludes by engaging a section of the Belgic Confession (1561), which speaks of creation as “a most beautiful book, in which all creatures, great and small, are like so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God.”

Chapter 4: Jesus. This fourth chapter considers the area of Christian theology traditionally known as Christology, which aims to understand the identity and significance of Jesus Christ. The chapter opens by considering the main biblical titles for Christ, and how these illuminate his identity and importance. We then move on to look at how early Christian theologians made sense of the rich witness of the New Testament to the identity of Christ, focussing on the idea of the “two natures of Christ,” and the concept of the incarnation, especially as this was formulated by the Council of Chalcedon (451). The chapter also considers the idea of Christ as “mediator,” a New Testament image which has been developed extensively by Christian theologians, and is particularly helpful in grasping some key Christological insights. After discussing some questions about faith and history, the chapter concludes by examining a text. In this case, we look at a lecture by the famous English novelist and lay theologian Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957), which offers an important and penetrating analysis of the relation of the divinity and humanity of Christ.

Chapter 5: Salvation. This chapter opens by looking at some of the images of salvation found in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s letters, before going on to consider three approaches to the cross which have played a significant role in Christian theology: sacrifice, victory, and forgiveness. None of these is complete in itself; each illuminates part of a greater whole. Each has its own distinct emphasis, which is important for preachers. The chapter also considers the relation of salvation to sin, as well as two important ways of understanding salvation: deification (which is especially important in Greek and Russian Orthodox theology), and the idea of being made right with God, particularly associated with Martin Luther. The chapter concludes with a fifth century sermon by Augustine of Hippo, which opens up some helpful lines of reflection.

Chapter 6: Spirit. This chapter considers the person and work of the Holy Spirit, which has become increasingly important in recent theological discussion. After considering the biblical witness to the person and work of the Spirit, we explore how the early church understood this question, focussing especially on Irenaeus of Lyons, the debate over the divinity of the Spirit, and the relation of the Spirit to Christ (a matter that lay at the heart of the filioque debate, which is introduced and explained.) After exploring the four main functions of the Holy Spirit, the chapter considers the images that the church has traditionally used to represent it: a dove, oil, and fire. The chapter ends with a text for study by Sarah Coakley, formerly Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, which focusses on the relation of the Holy Spirit to preaching, worship, and prayer.

Chapter 7: Trinity. This chapter deals with the doctrine of the Trinity, which many find to be one of the most challenging aspects of the Christian faith. In fact, the doctrine makes perfect sense once you understand why it emerged and what it seeks to do. This chapter explains carefully the many factors leading to this emergence, and the significance of this doctrine. It builds on the discussion of the identity and role of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which are integral to understanding this doctrine. The chapter includes discussion of visual images of the Trinity, as well as a recent discussion of this doctrine by the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson which many find helpful: the Trinity names the Christian God. Finally, the chapter considers how the Trinity is represented in Christian hymns, and how the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann developed a “social” approach to the doctrine. Finally, the chapter explores a text from the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, which sets out his distinct understanding of the role of the Trinity.

Chapter 8: Church. The Nicene Creed affirms that Christians believe in “one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” So what is meant by this? How is the church to be defined, and what is its purpose? This area of theology is traditionally designated “ecclesiology” (from the Greek word for “church,” ekklesia). This chapter explores the various ways in which Christians have understood the nature and function of the church, engaging with a wide range of theologians and approaches. As the doctrine of the church is controversial, the chapter includes insights from a wide range of perspectives, including the Second Vatican Council. The chapter ends with a short text from the English hymnwriter Isaac Watts (1674–1748), which sets out a very accessible model of the church as a place of safety and growth, shielded from the world around it.

Chapter 9: Sacraments. This chapter deals with what are widely known as “sacraments”, although some prefer to refer to these as “ordinances”. There is considerable divergence within Christianity over the number of sacraments, the names by which they are to be known, and their place and purpose in the life of faith. This chapter explores discussions about these three issues, ensuring that a wide range of positions and perspectives are considered. Three issues are discussed in detail: do the sacraments convey or represent divine grace? Is infant baptist justified? and in what sense, if any, is Christ to be considered as present in the eucharist or Lord’s Supper? The chapter concludes by considering some sections of the text of the 1982 theological statement of Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches entitled “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.”

Chapter 10: Heaven. The final chapter of this book explores the Christian hope, introducing the general area of theology widely known as “eschatology” (from the Greek words ta eschata, meaning “the last things”). The chapter opens by considering the New Testament’s teaching on this matter, before considering some questions which arise from this, including classic and contemporary reflections on heaven, hell, purgatory, and the resurrection. Prominent theologians to be considered in this chapter include Augustine of Hippo on the “two cities”, and Jürgen Moltmann and Benedict XVI on the theology of hope. The chapter ends with a text for discussion. In his third century treatise On Mortality, Cyprian of Carthage reflected on the fragility of human life, and how the hope of heaven gave stability and hope in the face of uncertainties.