I was pleased to receive in the mail this past week a new historical theology text. BJU Press has recently released David Beale’s two-volume work, Historical Theology In-Depth. I’ve only just begun dipping into the set, but I wanted to mention it here and provide a few initial impressions.
In contrast to Gregg Allison’s recent Historical Theology which is arranged topically like a systematic theology (Grudem’s Systematic Theology, to be specific), this work by Beale is written largely in a chronological format. Volume one contains 37 chapters that cover the Apostolic Fathers up through the Middle Ages. Demonstrating how difficult it is to discuss historical theology in a strictly chronological format, several later chapters in this volume focus on developments which took place within Roman Catholicism after the Protestant Reformation. Volume two includes 20 chapters and four appendices. This volume covers Martin Luther up through about the late nineteenth century. Toward the end of volume two, Beale once again transitions to more topically-oriented discussions. This time, later chapters and the appendices focus on evangelical views of the Bible, historical perspectives on abortion, and various issues related to creationism. Several other topical chapters also appear at various points in the text, but for the most part, these volumes read more like a church history than a history of doctrine.
On the negative side, I do not find Beale’s emphasis on paradox and “theological mystery” to be particularly helpful (e.g., 1:2–4, 2:98). In fact, I think such an emphasis is generally counterproductive to the work of interpreting Scripture and attempting to correlate what God has said about specific topics (i.e., systematic theology). A lesser problem is the fact that Beale tends to use older translations of historical sources (e.g., ANF & NPNF) and older editions of certain modern sources when newer editions have been readily available for years (e.g., Holmes’s 2nd vs. 3rd ed. the Apostolic Fathers). And then, more significantly the work seems to contain some rather obvious historical gaps. For example, I looked in vain for more than a passing reference to John Wesley, Methodism, or for that matter, most of the major English Puritans (outside the topical discussion of the Sabbath). In fact, the English Reformation and the Church of England are barely discussed at all.* It seems to me that a significant bit of historical development was left out somewhere between the continental Reformers and the rise of the Baptists.
Those criticisms aside, overall, this looks to be a generally helpful work. I like that the author includes brief excerpts from primary sources and short bibliographies at the end of most chapters. These bibliographies brought several older titles to my attention for the first time. I also appreciated the chapters that diverged from the chronological format to discuss the development of a specific idea (such as transubstantiation or the Sabbath) through a broader stretch of church history. In my view, such chapters are the most helpful sections of this work.
*Illustrative of this kind of problem is the fact that Josh McDowell and Gary North made the index of volume two, whereas John Owen and John Wesley did not.