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The History of Christian Theology

Join Professor Cary for an enriching and thought-provoking journey into the fascinating and inspiring world of Christian thought.
History of Christian Theology is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 110.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great material, delivered with verve and humor It is quite a challenge to cover this much territory in a single course, but Professor Cary handles it deftly and explains the controversies clearly.
Date published: 2022-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses! I have been listening to this course during my daily walk, and have been enjoying it so much I just bought Professor Cary's two other courses. This is a course with deep content, tracing the history of the development of key concepts such as grace, the Trinity, the interpretation of scripture, and the theology/beliefs behind the multiplication of denominations after the Reformation. Professor Cary is enthusiastic about this topic; he packs a great deal of information in every lecture, never wanders away into the weeds, and makes you wish you could actually take one of his classes at Eastern University.
Date published: 2022-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I am learning a lot. I have never previously studied Christian Theology. My interest has arisen out of being a member of a small congregation at a 1000 year old English village church. I find the presentation style relaxed and engaging, and I have enjoyed the course. It moves at the right pace for me to take notes and remember. I have not (yet) gained an adequate depth of knowledge to debate theology, but I have a significantly better understanding than before I took the course.
Date published: 2022-02-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Typical Top Class Great Courses product So far it's good. More later. (You can have your additional charecters when I'm finished.)
Date published: 2021-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of insights As a professor of Church History, I listen to many courses on this subject. Professor Cary always has significant insights you don't find other places. This course is clear, interesting and helpful. - Dr Austin McCaskill
Date published: 2021-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have purchased 20 Religious books from Great Courses. I have completed 15 of the 20. The professor are very knowledgeable and provides you with information that one can use to make his own religious believe.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I LOVED this course I truly loved this course! It is enlightening, engrossing, and intellectually stimulating. I listened to it over many weeks while walking for exercise in the beautiful outdoors, and plan to listen again start to finish in order to fully absorb the information. I am a professional academic in an unrelated field, have never studied theology, and am a lifelong Episcopalian with a faith that waxes and wanes. My educational background has "cursed me" with the need to understand the facts and logic behind practices and beliefs. Despite being a church goer off and on for decades, the answers to many basic questions about why different branches of Christianity believe what they do and why creeds and prayers are worded exactly as they are eluded me until now. And, a bit surprising to me, this course has rekindled my interest in religion and strengthened my faith. I am grateful to have found it.
Date published: 2020-04-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from These lectures often sound like a sermon I found it necessary to filter out the lecturer's bias in order to ascertain "history" in the presentations. I know that is frequently necessary in any knowledge sharing exercise, but Cary seems more prone to inject his own religious background and practice into this work. It was disappointing but held great potential. I will only recommend it to people whom I believe can filter his comments.
Date published: 2019-12-08
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Join Professor Cary for an enriching and thought-provoking journey into the fascinating and inspiring world of Christian thought. Whether you're interested in a deeper understanding of your own faith or you're curious about the role of Christianity in the larger social and intellectual history of the Western world, The History of Christian Theology will enrich and transform your understanding of this powerful spiritual tradition.


Phillip Cary

In many ways, Plato was the founding figure of Western philosophy; although there were philosophers before him, his writings were the first that founded a lasting Western philosophy.


Eastern University

Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. Professor Cary is a recent winner of the Lindback Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching at Eastern University. He has also taught at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Hartford. As the Arthur J. Ennis Post-Doctoral Fellow at Villanova University, he taught the nationally recognized undergraduate Core Humanities seminars on ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern thought. As a scholar, Professor Cary's specialty is the thought of Augustine, but he has also published scholarly articles on Luther, the doctrine of the Trinity, and personal knowledge. His most recent books include two on Augustine, Inner Grace and Outward Signs, both published by Oxford University Press in 2008, as well as a commentary on the book of Jonah, also in 2008, published by Brazos Press.

By This Professor

The History of Christian Theology
The History of Christian Theology


What Is Theology?

01: What Is Theology?

For more than two millennia, Christians have explored a set of critical theological questions: Who is Jesus Christ? How does his life impact the lives of the faithful? This lecture offers a definition of the intellectual discipline that seeks to answer these questions: Christian theology.

32 min
Early Christian Proclamation

02: Early Christian Proclamation

For the first believers, Christian faith was a quest to understand the nature of a single, remarkable person. In this lecture, you will gain an understanding of what the first members of this faith believed about Jesus as you explore the earliest recorded Christian hymns, prayers, and sermons.

31 min
Pauline Eschatology

03: Pauline Eschatology

Early Christians viewed themselves as living between the time of Christ's resurrection and Christ's return as redeemer and king. This lecture examines the theology of this expectation of the Second Coming—called "eschatology"—as it is presented in the writings of the apostle Paul.

32 min
The Synoptic Gospels

04: The Synoptic Gospels

The Gospels are the four books of the New Testament that narrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Three of them, the synoptic Gospels, tell his story in roughly the same order. This lecture analyzes the subtle literary structure by which these narratives evoke an answer to the question, "Who do you think Jesus is?"

31 min
The Gospel of John

05: The Gospel of John

Unlike the synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John dwells at length on Jesus's divine identity. You explore the unique elements of John's message—including his famous prologue in which he declares that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh—and examine how the Gospel of John provides a foundation for later doctrines about Christ's divinity.

31 min
Varieties of Early Christianity

06: Varieties of Early Christianity

By the second century, the Christian church was largely non-Jewish, or Gentile. In this lecture, you take a closer look at some radical offshoots of Gentile Christianity, the Gnostics, and see how these controversial groups rejected Christianity's Jewish roots in favor of a more spiritual view of the universe.

31 min
The Emergence of Christian Doctrine

07: The Emergence of Christian Doctrine

Here, you learn how the very idea of official church doctrine arose, as well as its opposite, "heresy." In response to Gnosticism and other rejected teachings, the mainstream church developed institutions such as the office of bishop, whose function was to maintain continuity with the tradition of teaching by the apostles.

31 min
Christian Reading

08: Christian Reading

Looking back to Jewish scriptures, early Christians could not ignore the powerful relationship between the Jewish people and their God. You examine how early Christians created strategies to insert themselves into this grand story by interpreting the ancient teachings as bearing witness to Jesus Christ.

32 min
The Uses of Philosophy

09: The Uses of Philosophy

You explore the profound interplay between two great forms of ancient thought: early Christianity and ancient philosophy. Agreeing with the philosophers' emphasis on reason, wisdom, and happiness, the church fathers adapted many themes from ancient thinkers, including Platonist metaphysics and Stoic moralism.

32 min
The Doctrine of the Trinity

10: The Doctrine of the Trinity

You examine the most fundamental teaching proposed by the church fathers, the doctrine of the Trinity, which identifies the God of the Christian faith as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a single divine essence that mysteriously manifests itself in three distinct, complete individuals.

32 min
The Doctrine of the Incarnation

11: The Doctrine of the Incarnation

The establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity paved the way for the development of a second key teaching, the doctrine of Christ's Incarnation. You examine the implications of this doctrine, which states that as the Son of the Father, Jesus is truly God, while as the son of Mary, he is truly human.

31 min
The Doctrine of Grace

12: The Doctrine of Grace

The third fundamental doctrine proposed by the early church fathers states that believers become children of God by adoption, through the grace of Christ who is the Son of God by nature. Augustine develops this into a doctrine of the inner help of the Holy Spirit, which is necessary for salvation.

32 min
The Incomprehensible and the Supernatural

13: The Incomprehensible and the Supernatural

You move from the ancient world of the late Roman Empire to the Middle Ages as you consider a distinctive concept of Christianity: the incomprehensibility of God. This concept follows from the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity and is grounded in ineffable mysteries such as the eternal begetting of God the Son by God the Father.

31 min
Eastern Orthodox Theology

14: Eastern Orthodox Theology

Next, you examine a second great development in medieval Christian history, the formation of a distinctly Eastern Orthodox version of Christian theology. You explore some of the hallmarks of Eastern Orthodox theology, including the veneration of icons, the transfiguration of Christ, and the energies of the Trinity.

31 min
Atonement and the Procession of the Spirit

15: Atonement and the Procession of the Spirit

In 1054, the Christian Church saw its first great schism: the separation between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Western church. You explore a fundamental principle that led to this schism: the doctrine of "double procession," which teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from both the Father and the Son.

32 min
Scholastic Theology

16: Scholastic Theology

In medieval universities, scholars such as Thomas Aquinas applied Aristotelian concepts of logic and science to the study of theology. You examine the result of the intellectual interplay: scholasticism, a distinctively Western deepening of the relationship of faith and reason that used a method of disputation to harmonize diverse strands in the theological tradition.

32 min
The Sacraments

17: The Sacraments

Take a closer look at the practices of the medieval church as represented in the development of an important church institution—the seven sacraments. Derived from scripture and believed to be instituted by Christ, these sacred rites were seen as external signs that both signified an inner gift of divine grace and bestowed it on those who believe.

32 min
Souls after Death

18: Souls after Death

While early Christians were more concerned with the second coming of Christ than with the fate of the soul after death, there eventually developed teachings about the Christian afterlife. In this lecture, you examine the development of these beliefs and see how they derived from a variety of sources, including Hebrew scripture, the New Testament, and Platonic philosophy.

31 min
Luther and Protestant Theology

19: Luther and Protestant Theology

The break between medieval Catholicism and Protestantism is marked most importantly by a single famous figure, Martin Luther (1483–1546). In this lecture, you examine how Luther came to make his break with the established church and examine some of his key teachings, including the idea that one is justified by faith alone.

32 min
Calvin and Reformed Theology

20: Calvin and Reformed Theology

You begin to examine a second great movement of Protestant theology, the Reformed tradition. Founded by John Calvin, Reformed theology pioneers a new concept to Protestant thought, adoption, or the idea that God elects to make some people his children through the grace of Christ.

31 min
Protestants on Predestination

21: Protestants on Predestination

Calvin taught that God predestines some people for damnation as well as salvation. Later Calvinists incorporated this doctrine of "double predestination" into a system of eternal divine decrees governing all the events of time. Examine the development of these views as they appear in the classic five-point doctrine of Calvinism.

32 min
Protestant Disagreements

22: Protestant Disagreements

While the Reformed and Lutheran traditions of theology were very similar, they also diverged on several key points. One of these key points, which you explore in this lecture, is the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper.

31 min
Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation

23: Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation

A radical wing of Protestantism, the Anabaptists, diverged even further from the Catholic tradition when they could see no grounds for infant baptism in scripture. You explore the origins of these persecuted Christian communities and trace their development in today's Mennonite tradition.

32 min
Anglicans and Puritans

24: Anglicans and Puritans

Now, you move from Germany and Switzerland to England to trace a further divergence within Protestant theology. You see how the Anglicans sought to find a middle way between Catholic practices and Reformed theology, while the Puritans desired a more thoroughly Reformed church divested of all traces of Catholicism.

32 min
Baptists and Quakers

25: Baptists and Quakers

Continue your consideration of English Protestantism with two new Christian communities: the Baptists and the Quakers. These traditions are known for their rejection of the state church, their persecution by governing authorities, and their championing of religious freedom.

32 min
Pietists and the Turn to Experience

26: Pietists and the Turn to Experience

In response to the dry arguments of Protestant scholasticism, the Pietist theologians of Germany advocated a focus on the inward, emotional experience of religious faith. In this lecture, you explore the teachings and practice of the Pietists and a similar but distinct group, the Moravians.

30 min
From Puritans to Revivalists

27: From Puritans to Revivalists

Continue your examination of Protestant traditions with an introductory look at American Revivalism. Beginning in the 18th century with the teachings of Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, the Revivalists stressed the importance of a strong, deeply felt conversion experience as a critical part of salvation.

31 min
Perfection, Holiness, and Pentecostalism

28: Perfection, Holiness, and Pentecostalism

You trace the further development of American Revivalism as it was influenced by the teachings of John Wesley, who proposed that through the process of sanctification, one could attain spiritual perfection. This notion became a key tenet of Methodism as well as in the Holiness movement promoted by Phoebe Palmer and led to the concept of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Pentecostalism.

31 min
Deism and Liberal Protestantism

29: Deism and Liberal Protestantism

You examine two traditions that grew out of the intellectual crisis of the 18th-century Enlightenment. The Deists sought to derive a "natural religion" from the teachings of Reason, while the liberal Protestants based their theology on inner experience, and especially the inner impression made on Christian consciousness by the historical Jesus.

32 min
Neo-Orthodoxy—From Kierkegaard to Barth

30: Neo-Orthodoxy—From Kierkegaard to Barth

In the 20th century, neo-orthodox theologians turned from liberal theology's focus on consciousness to an Existentialist focus on the transformation of human existence. Examine how theologian Karl Barth pioneered this reimagining of faith, only to reject it later for a revision of the doctrine of election

32 min
Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism

31: Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism

You explore how Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism developed out of the concern that liberal theology was rejecting fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Learn about Dispensationalism, whose doctrine of the end times was influential both in Fundamentalism and its offshoot, Evangelicalism.

31 min
Protestantism after Modernity

32: Protestantism after Modernity

Modernity is both Protestantism's child and its challenge. In this lecture, you examine this central irony—how Modernity was produced by the habits of mind inculcated by Protestantism and yet, according to some theologians, may undermine the faith through its increased emphasis on secularization.

31 min
Catholic Theologies of Grace

33: Catholic Theologies of Grace

Now, you return to the 16th century and pick up the story of modern Catholicism. Starting with the teachings of the Council of Trent, you trace the development of Catholic teachings on grace, its role in salvation, and its relation to free will.

32 min
Catholic Mystical Theology

34: Catholic Mystical Theology

In modern Catholicism, mystical theology means supernatural prayer directed toward a union with God in love. This lecture explores this tradition through the writings of St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and in Rome's response to the mystical movement known as Quietism.

31 min
From Vatican I to Vatican II

35: From Vatican I to Vatican II

You continue to follow the history of Roman Catholic theology in the modern period with an examination of the 19th-century council that defined the infallibility of the pope and the 20th-century council that opened up the Roman Catholic Church's relationship to the world, other religions, and other Christians.

31 min
Vatican II and Ecumenical Prospects

36: Vatican II and Ecumenical Prospects

The Roman Catholic involvement in ecumenism, initiated in Vatican II, has major consequences for other Christians, especially Protestants. In this final lecture, you explore the notion that Protestants and Catholics have much to learn from each other as they continue to develop their traditions of faith.

32 min