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50 Key Concepts in Theology

Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd London 2007
RRP $34.95

Theology can be described as the rational and systematic study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious faith. But to the ordinary person in the pews this is too complex.

In 50 Key Concepts in Theology, Hugh Rayment-Pickard has in concrete, straight-forward terms written clear and stylish statements of the key concepts which the layperson can read and understand.

The author says he aimed to provide digestible answers to difficult theological questions, and in this he has succeeded, in an interesting and useful way.

Each short chapter gives the meaning of the term – eg “mysticism” – then outlines the growth and development of the concept as well as the chief exponents.

Each chapter ends with a short list of “thinkers” and another of “ideas”; both lists being particularly helpful if you wish to pursue it further as they give the differing views throughout the centuries.

For example, the chapter on “Atonement” clearly outlines the developing perception of the meaning of Christ’s death, from the ‘ransom’ idea of the first millennium which persists in our Easter hymns, to St Anselm at the beginning of the second millennium who proposed the ‘exemplar theory’. The debate continues and the lists of thinkers and ideas which follow are helpful.

Similarly the chapter headed “Kairos” follows the brief explanation with the Thinkers, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and others including T.S.Eliot, and Friedrich Nietzsche. A fascinating mix. The Ideas section explains “Epiphany”, and “phronesis”. Both words for which I have heard explanations not as clearly and simply expressed.

I took 50 Key Concepts in Theology on holidays and enjoyed it on several levels: the clear, uncomplicated language, the very useful list of topics, and the thoughtful comparisons between eminent theologians with differing views.

It will be an informative as well as stylish guide to tricky theological questions on my bookshelves.

Reviewed by Joan Cook