Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church
Rediscovering the Church Fathers is the most recent work of Michael A. G. Haykin who serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has authored more than twenty-five books, including The Emergence of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities.
Haykin writes this book to address the question: Ã¢ÂÂWhy should evangelical Christians engage the thought and experience of these early Christian witnesses [the church fathers]?Ã¢ÂÂ (p.17). In his assessment, Ã¢ÂÂfar too many modern-day evangelicals are either ignorant of or quite uncomfortable with the church fathersÃ¢ÂÂ (p. 13). The reasoning he puts forth to study the church fathers is logically sound. These reasons include: Ã¢ÂÂto aid [the church] in her liberation from the Zeitgeist of the twenty-first century; to provide a guide in her walk with Christ; to help her understand the basic witness to her faith, the New Testament; to refute bad histories of the ancient church; and to be a vehicle of spiritual nurtureÃ¢ÂÂ (pp. 28-29). The manner in which he seeks to promote his assertion is through selected case studies of the men themselves. He dedicates a chapter to each of the following:
Dying for Christ: The Thought of Ignatius of Antioch
Sharing the Truth: The Letter to Diognetus
Interpreting the Scriptures: The Exegesis of Origen
Being Kissed: The Eucharistic Piety of Cyprian and Ambrose
Being Holy and Renouncing the World: The Experience of Basil of Caesarea
Saving the Irish: The Mission of Patrick
One of the main strengths of Rediscovering the Church Fathers is Dr. HaykinÃ¢ÂÂs ability to take us into the church fathersÃ¢ÂÂ world. When we enter their world, we can see life through their eyes. We see the Christian faith through the lens of their era as opposed to the 20th and 21st centuries. They battled many of the same issues we face. They were dedicated to defending the Christian faith against false teachings and beliefs; and they were committed to live out their faith in a practical way during a hostile time.
A second strength of the book arises from Dr. HaykinÃ¢ÂÂs ability to bring us into the church fatherÃ¢ÂÂs world. Once we see through their perspective, we learn that many of the issues and concerns we might have with them are misplaced. They were not power-hungry men seeking a way to control the church. They were men who tried to legitimately defend the faith and live out the Christian life in a context that constantly challenged solid biblical doctrine. We begin to understand why they reached many of the decisions they made regarding their beliefs and practices, when we see these decisions were brought about as a means to stand against the challenges from their culture. While we learn that they took some of these issues they dealt with to the extreme, we can also see (if we are honest) how evangelicals took many of these same issues to the opposite extreme in the Protestant Reformation.
With all the strengths of the book, I would have preferred for Dr. Haykin to interact more with how each of these issues they dealt with applies to our culture today. This interaction would strengthen his argument that modern evangelicals should spend more time reading the church fathersÃ¢ÂÂ writings. This interaction could involve spending more time wrestling with the questions: How does IgnatiusÃ¢ÂÂ willingness to die for Christ overlap with our selfish, prosperity mindset? How does BasilÃ¢ÂÂs piety stand in stark contrast to our worldly-Christian culture? How does the Eucharistic piety of Cyprian and Ambrose directly challenge the often too-low view many evangelicals have of the LordÃ¢ÂÂs Supper? There is an insinuation throughout the book that perhaps evangelicals overreacted to many of the themes and issues in the Protestant reformation and discarded a wealth of knowledge along with the rejection of the entire Roman Catholic Church. There is a measure of truth to this insinuation which needs to be articulated more clearly. It is my fear that too many people will miss the subtle hint implied throughout the histories of these great men.
I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who is familiar or unfamiliar with the church fathers because it is an easy to read and understand introduction to some of the first men who contended for the Christian faith.
August 29, 2011
Learn from the past but stand in the Gospel
Rediscovering the Church Fathers Who They Were and How They Shaped The Church is written by Michael A. G. Haykin Professor of church history and spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This book explores the importance of the church fathers to evangelicals, and then turns to looking at Ignatius, the letter to Diognetus, the exegesis of Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil of Caesarea, Patrick and the authors experience with reading the Church Fathers.
Being an avid reader I regularly look for what's coming in the pipeline from a variety of publishers so that I can be kept aware of what's upcoming that looks interesting to read. When I read the title of Rediscovering the Church Fathers, I immediately knew that I was going to be interested in reading this book. Having now read this book I can say that I am even more excited about it.
First, I have a confession, I personally find Church History fascinating. I love learning about the men and women who have gone before me in the faith. In particular I love to read about the Church Fathers and also the Reformers along with the Puritans. Being that I regularly read a lot of blogs and read a lot of books every year- one of the areas theologically that I see lacking in the Church is in the area of historical theology.
As I just said Church History has much to teach the Church today about what it means to live out the faith. This book addresses two issues that I think are huge in the Church today. The first issue is a lack of rootedness in history and the second is celebrity hero culture of much of American evangelism.
The first issue that this book addresses is the lack of rootedness in history. Christians have received the faith passed on by many godly men and women- many of whom have died brutal deaths for the faith in order to hand on the faith to the next generation. Earlier I mentioned that one of the biggest issues I see lacking is in the area of historical theology. I'm thankful for books like Rediscovering the Church Fathers because it exposes Christians on a popular level to the lives of men who made an impact in their generations for Christ. So, when I say that many Christians lack a rootedness in history, I am speaking to the fact that many Christians may have never considered how their faith has been passed on for the last two thousand years. Knowing Church History is important for a variety of reasons but the biggest is to know what theological error has occurred in the past (and continues to do so in the present) and how the Church has defended such error and refuted such error historically (and continues to do so in the present).
The final issue is one that this book does not address directly but rather by way it is written. Dr. Haykin excels in this book discussing the life of the men but setting the life of the men he considers in their proper historical context. When the life of these men are considered in light of the history in which they lived in their lives- their lives are all the most spectacular. In reflecting on reading this book I came to the conclusion though that Dr. Haykin's strength lies not in just setting the proper context or even his examination of the men he writes about, but in showing what kind of men Ignatius, Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil of Caesarea, and Patrick were. In doing that, I believe Dr. Haykin's book goes beyond just being a teaching on the Church Fathers but takes one immediately into the present and causes the reader to examine how one is living his/her life today.
Finally, studying Church History is vital but knowing one's Bible is far better. In reading and studying Church History one must ultimately open one's Bible and test and examine the theology of the teacher holding fast what is biblical in regards to the teaching, and discarding what is not. Thankfully Dr. Haykin in his book takes the reader on a journey of men who lived courageously and boldly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their generations. This is a book every Christian ought to read if not only to get familiar with the Church Fathers but to become acquainted with men who influenced the faith. Rediscovering the Church Fathers is a book that ought to be read by every Christian of all stripes to learn about the lives of some of the men who have gone before us and who still today influence the Church. I recommend you read this book and be encouraged at how God has used men in the past and then consider how He might use you in the present to stand courageously for the sake of the Gospel in our own day.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
June 1, 2011
Many young, reformed, evangelical types today tend to follow a select number of 'modern' or 'current' church fathers. You know who they are, MacArthur, Piper, Keller, Mahaney, Driscoll, Chan, and even Platt. Don't get me wrong, these are excellent teachers and preachers and they are definitely shaping us young leaders and I have personally benefited from their teaching and practice.
What is missing in our understanding of church polity, orthodoxy and orthopraxy is some guidance from our church fathers from ages past. You know who they are (well, actually we don't, but just go with it), Ignatius, Origen, Ambrose, Basil and Patrick. There is a wealth of guidance that should be gleaned from these early church fathers, and it is to this end that Haykin has written Rediscovering the Church Fathers. Many evangelicals are unfamiliar with any church father outside of the apostles in the New Testament canon, this book is perfect to introduce these fathers to a new generation of believers. This volume provides an overview of the early church fathers and the insights they contributed to Christendom in apologetics, worship, suffering, evangelism/mission, and God's Word.
Many times it seems there are questions I am struggling with and no one else has ever had to figure out how to answer them. Then, I turn to the early church fathers and see they not only had similar questions, but they have profound and deeply biblical answers. It is in turning to those who have gone before us, that great cloud of witnesses, that I can find encouragement, strength and the realization that I am not the first to have these struggles.
This book is only the tip of the iceberg as it relates to the writings of the church fathers. Included is an appendix that helps the reader go further in their study of the church fathers, recommending a few helpful books and a few places to start exploring. For some who read this book, they will find themselves 'rediscovering' the church fathers, but I believe a greater majority of those who read this book just might find they are 'discovering' the church fathers for the first time.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Crossway as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
May 17, 2011
"Rediscovering the Church Fathers" Book Review
There seems to be a resurgence of interest as of late in church history. No doubt this is in part to authors such as John Piper, who quotes extensively from Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. Men such as N.T. Wright have also sparked much interest in Early Judaism as well. However, one area where students in my generation simply do not seem as interested is the early church fathers. Michael A.G. Haykin's book Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church seeks to educate and, hopefully, rekindle an interest in the church fathers.
Unfortunately, Haykin's book, while educational, does little to rekindle interest. The book mostly feels like a random collection of essays concerning different fathers in the church. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the book is that Haykin provides little commentary on why these church fathers are relevant for today. While he insists on their contemporary importance, little application is given.
Some chapters are particularly perplexing within his book, such as his chapter on Origin's exegetical practices. After spending the entire chapter pointing out the shortcomings, Haykin never comes around to explaining what we can learn. The question is simply crying out to be asked, "Why did he decide to pick Origin?" Again, Haykin spends a great deal of time discussing Ignatious of Antioch's somewhat graphic (and joyous) description of martyrdom. While he dismisses any suggestion that Ignatious was wrong in his perspective on suffering, he never builds a conclusive case as to why we should listen to Ignatious.
Haykin's book also seems to ramble. His final chapter discusses his own experience with the church fathers. While interesting, the chapter simply concludes with Haykin essentially saying, "That is how I got into the church fathers." What is left out is how they are relevant, what we can learn from them, and how to apply them to today.
All is not lost, however. Chapter 6, on Basil of Caesarea, stands out as a particularly practical and powerful chapter. His chapter on St. Patrick is also quite interesting as well. Also, Haykin should be commended for his use of quotations of the early fathers. He quotes extensively from the original sources without using so many quotes that it disrupts the flow of the book. Each chapter was also quite readable and the chapters seemed to be a good length.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Haykin's book is that it does not really offer anything new to the market of introductory studies on the church fathers. For example, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall offers both a thorough introduction to the thinking of individual fathers and provides relevant application. In my mind, at least, Hall's works are a sort of paradigm for introductory material. Rediscovering the Church Fathers simply does not measure up. With so many better books out there on the church fathers, I would suggest passing this one up.
*Thanks to Crossway publishers for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review*
April 21, 2011