In recent decades, one of the biggest problems in the church has been a lack of interest in and attention to church history and historical theology. Lately we have begun to see a correction, but this correction needs to flow down to the laity as well. That is where The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide by Gerald McDermott comes into play.
In this book, McDermott highlights eleven of the most influential theologians in the history of the church: Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Schleiermacher, Edwards, Newman, Barth, and Balthasar . Each get between fifteen and twenty pages, in which McDermott provides some brief biographical notes, an overview of some key aspects of their theology, a section detailing what the current church needs to learn from them, a short selection from their writing, questions for group discussion, and suggested further reading.
That seems like a lot to fit into fifteen or twenty pages, but McDermott does an admirable job. He selects vignettes very carefully providing background that is both interesting and/or relevant to the later sections. I appreciated the balance with which this section was written, as McDermott praised them for their strengths and positive contributions and also brought up their weaknesses (e.g., Edwards owned slaves even though he denounced the slave trade) in a respectful and constructive manner.
The overviews of their theology are where the most significant value lies. While I may have had quibbles with a point or two, I think that these were of excellent quality and form a very good brief summary to each theologians thought. I found it most impressive that he was able to be so succinct, clear, and understandable without having to resort to superficiality. McDermott also renders us a service by helping debunk some popular misunderstandings of many of the theologians he treats (e.g., Origen held many views later deemed heretical - in fact he merely suggested these views for further discussion).
The remaining sections of the book also were helpful. I think that I generally agreed with his assessment of what we need to learn from each theologian (in the case of Schleiemacher it was about what to learn not to do/believe). I appreciate his desire to make his book relevant for current readers today. The questions could have been better, in my opinion. I found them to be a bit repetitive.
One other thing I found interesting was the occasional comments made by McDermott drawing out similarities in thought between the different theologians. It was very helpful, but I was occasionally surprised by what he chose to highlight. There are several comments about divinization (also known as theosis). I wonder if McDermott was tipping his hand there on a controversial issue in Evangelical theology.
Overall I found The Great Theologians to be both engaging and informative, a book badly needed by the contemporary church, especially given its accessibility. I highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in theology, meaning I recommend it to all Christians. Great Theologians is a must read.
 Personally, I don't think that I would have picked the same eleven as McDermott did. I probably would have swapped Newman for Wesley. That's not to downplay Newman (who I admittedly am unfamiliar with), but more to get the Wesleyan tradition represented.