Historical theology

"Historical theology integrates the thoughts of other Christians throughout the centuries since the times of the Bible. Church history is of vital importance to historical theology since it provides theology the context in which it was produced and defined. Systematic Theology attempts to create a statement of faith explaining the leading doctrines of the Christian Bible. Historical Theology, then, embodies both of these concepts as a way of informing theologians as to what has been believed in the past, and as to what corrections, improvements, or adherence ought to be made in the present based on that information. Historical Theology was first prominent in the Reformation and in its emphasis of returning to the original sources of the Bible (ad fontes). It is critical that the systematic theologian remember that it is nearly impossible to do theology as if it has never been done before. Historical Theology, then, is used both as a pedagogic tool (for systematic theology) and as a critical tool (highlighting various important topics through history as key elements of the Christian faith)." ^[1]^

Areas of study within historical theology

Historical theology can be broken down into four major time periods. This is only a brief list of topics that can be studied:

The Patristic Period (c. 100-450)

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance (c. 500-1500)

The Reformation and Post-Reformation Periods (c. 1500-1750)

The Modern Period (c. 1750-Present Day)

Why study historical theology?

"First, the study of history provides a classic mode of learning. Examination of primary and secondary sources helps students to think about their subject rigorously. They must learn to organize and assess evidence, analyze problems, interpret complex events, and, finally, to write with clarity and precision. In short, studying Church History helps students learn how to learn."

"Second, history is popular. History's special appeal comes from its distinctive subject matter, the human past. Church History is interesting because it deals with real people and events, not with abstractions. The history of the Christian Church from the earliest times to the present offers a boundless variety for selecting favorite topics and pursuing personal interests."

"Third, historical knowledge is important. Amnesia is devastating on the individual level. If I don't know who I am and where I've come from, then I can't know where I am or should be headed. Historical amnesia on the institutional level is even more devastating. For the church to be ignorant of its history is dangerous because, as George Santayana has observed, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As the church continues through the 21st century, it is imperative that its pastors and teachers know its history. Studying historical theology . . . equips the leaders of God's church with insight both into where we have been and, perhaps more importantly, where we should be headed." ^ [2]^


  1. ? An Introduction to Historical Theology, by C. Matthew McMahon
  2. ? Why Study Historical Theology?, Concordia Theological Seminary

See also

Further reading

  • Alister McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. (Blackwell Publishers, 1998) ISBN 0631208445
  • Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Historical Theology: An Introduction. Eerdmans, 1978; Wipf & Stock, 1998; T&T Clark, 2000.
  • Trevor A. Hart, ed. The Dictionary of Historical Theology. Eerdmans, 2000.

Branches of Theology
Biblical theology | Historical theology | Philosophical theology | Systematic theology | Practical theology