Styled as a companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and written at Grudem’s suggestion, Historical Theology presents a summary of Christian doctrine over the centuries. It largely follows the chapters of Grudem’s work, though combining some chapters, omitting a few and adding one new chapter (on the interpretation of Scripture). So, while most summaries of historical theology are ordered chronologically, Allison’s link to Grudem’s Systematic Theology means his work is ordered thematically which means it offers something new and fresh.
Allison’s book is eminently readable. I picked it up to flick through and before I knew it I have read over 50 pages. The prose is simple and straight-forward without academic artifice and each chapter has a strong sense of narrative.
For the most part, Allison allows the historical figures he has chosen to speak for themselves by summarising their views and judiciously quoting from their work. Critique comes from others figures. Allison’s evangelical perspective comes through from how he structures these debates and whom he chooses, especially as he reaches the modern period. Conscious of his likely readers, Allison tends to terminate the narrative of each chapter in North America. The downside of this is that sometimes it can feel like American evangelicalism is the climax of the story and therefore the apotheosis of biblical Christianity. It is also occasionally anachronistic, the result I suspect of the compression needed for such a vast undertaking. For example, Allison identifies the two earliest threats to trinitarian orthodoxy as dynamic monarchianism and modalism without noting that these are later terms that would not have been recognised by either their advocates or opponents.
Historical Theology makes a great companion to Systematic Theology. Indeed if you are reading through Grudem then I would strongly urge you to read Allison alongside it: it fills out the historical narrative and compliments the dry, theology-through-lists style of Grudem. If you like Grudem then you’ll like Allison even more. But Allison’s Historical Theology is a fine work in its own right.