If you are a theological nerd or church history enthusiast like me you will greatly enjoy this book. However Rediscovering The Church Fathers is for all believers. Dr. Haykin does a superb job of showing how much of what we treasure in Christendom is due to the early Church Fathers. Knowing this information keeps us connected to the whole body of believers since the time of Christ. Learning of this shared faith and theology is indeed a joy and is due to God's Glory of Himself throughout the ages. I suggest you grab of copy of this book and enjoy it deeply.
"Rediscovering the Church Fathers" is an introduction to early church history which focused on seven men whose lives and teachings helped shape church doctrine. The writing is somewhat formal in tone, but it's a quick read and easy to follow. The author gave some historical background for each man, quoted from some of their writings, and commented on those writings. I'd recommend this book to those who'd like a quick overview of how some current Christian doctrines were formed.
The first chapter explained why we should care about what the early church fathers taught. Chapter 2 was about Ignatius of Antioch and mainly focused on his letter about martyrdom, it's historical context, and what it showed about his view of martyrdom and of Christ. Chapter 3 was about the contents of the Letter to Diognetus (a defense of the Christian faith against the pagan misrepresentations of it) plus what can be gleaned from it about how the writer viewed Christ.
Chapter 4 was about Origen's life and writings, what he taught about Christ (against heresy and in his Bible commentaries), and about his method of Bible interpretation. Chapter 5 was about the teachings of Cyprian and later of Ambrose about the Lord's Supper (and the rise of the Catholic doctrine about it). Chapter 6 was about Basil of Caesarea's life and writings with a focus on the monastic movement (why Christians became monks/nuns, etc.).
Chapter 7 was a brief history of how Christianity came to Britain and about the writings of St. Patrick on his life and in promotion of missionary work aimed at "barbarian" peoples. Chapter 8 was about how the author got interested in early church history. The appendix contained suggested books for further research on church history and information on the writings of Jaroslav Pelikan about church history.
I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.
Generally, I am a tough critic when it comes to book reviews, giving books three stars if I thought they were well written and informative. Yet, every once in a while there comes across my way a book that that compels me to dig in deeper and to appreciate the subject matter in a more refreshing way, such is Michael Haykin's new book entitled Rediscovering the Church Fathers. Haykin, a professor of church history and biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a lucid, provocative, informative and appreciate book on the early church fathers. I have not quite read a book written both as an apology for reading the fathers and as an introduction of the early fathers that is so compelling as this book.
The first chapter of the book devotes itself to the renewal of interest in church fathers study by evangelicals, the question of who are the church fathers, and the more actute statments regarding the value of studying the fathers. In reading through his analysis of our debt to the church fathers, I was once again reminded that, "Every age has its own distinct outlook, presuppositions that remain unquestioned even by opponents. The examination of another period of thought forces us to confront our innate prejudices, which would go unnoticed otherwise" (17). To study the fathers is to cast off the mask of historical amnesia that we put over our faces, proclaiming that our era is better and that we are more advanced than the past generations. Haykin's claim is that without adequate study of the past, especially the church fathers, we live uncritically by accepting the culture's main philosophy and ideas without seeing how other Christians lived their faith out in the world. Although most Western Christians do not face persecution on a daily basis, many others do face the threat of death and physical damage. Many church fathers were able to stay strong in their faith in the midst of terrible atrocities, and therefore give us a firm witness on how to stand firm in the midst of persecution.
Secondly, Haykin points out that studying the church fathers gives us a 'map for the Christian life' (18). We can go back to the Nicene Creed, to Athanasius's defense of the Trinity and see how these men sought to integrate a biblical understanding of their faith in concrete terms, therefore fending off abberant ideas. Although the fathers are fallible, they provide concrete examples of the setting down of their faith in forms that point us to key doctrines that we must understand. I hope from here on out to point out some of the highlights in an overall stunning book filled with great examples of these faithful fathers.
In the second chapter, Haykin focuses on Ignatius of Antioch. Arrested in Antioch between 107/110, Ignatius was to be taken to Rome for execution (37). Ignatius knew many influential and well to do Christians who were in Rome who could easily pull some strings and get him out of his sentence, and yet he vehemently wanted silence on this issue. "In other words, the silence of the Roman believers will mean that Ignatius, by his martyrdom, can proclaim to the world the sincerity of his faith" (40). Martyrdom was not taken lightly for Ignatius, it was an honorable way to show forth the redemptive faith that he held. Just as the Son's death was pleasing to his Father, so Igantius's death is an example of pleasing God in sacrifice (42). What is amazing is both the tenacity at which Ignatius held his faith and the desire to imitate Christ in his own life. In understanding this great act of faith, Ignatius wed his theology with his practice, his life with his faith in an unyielding way, even to the point of death.
The next chapter dealing with the Letter to Diognetus is an amazing ecample of the clarity with which early Christians bore witness of their faith through argument and example. The recipient presumably named Diognetus is a 'Greco-Roman pagan' whom the author is seeking to make a case for the Christian faith (50). As we read on, we find that the author arguments much in the same vein as Paul does in his address to the Athenians at the Areopagus. This author makes a hard case against the absurdity of the false Greco-Roman idols and their ability to be none other than common objects. At one point, the author says, "Do you really call these things gods, and really do service to them? Yes, indeed you do; you worship them-and you end up by becoming like them. Is it not because we Christians refuse to acknowledge their divinity that you dislike us so? (54). From this point on, the author builds a case for the existence of the one true God and the way in which we receive knowledge and true understanding of Him via revelation. Later on in the letter, the author posits five different ways that Christ is our substitute (60). The richness of the letter combined with its theological integrity and clarity are hallmarks of the author's witness to the Christian faith. Secondly, the author makes a strong apologetic against what he sees are the crass consequences of paganism in order to build his testimony on the basis of revelation.
The rest of the book is filled with concrete examples of those early fathers who laid their lives on the line for their faith. When writing about St. Patrick, Haykin writes, "His Confessions reveals a transparent personality: a zealous evangelist and loving pastor who was willing to be a stranger in Ireland not his own that Irish men and women might come to know the Savior" (148). In due course, we learn that Patrick was not originally from Ireland but rather from Northern Britain. The only small criticism I have of the book is rather a fault of mine own, for I could not get my head around the section on Basil of Caesarea. Haykin writes, "to come to the Spirit for sanctification we must have purified our souls" (124). This reference comes after a section of text from Basil's work on the Holy Spirit. What I don't really get is what is regarded as purifying one's soul and what kind of process does this entail?
Haykin does a great job at providing the reader with a glimpse into his journey with the church fathers from early on in college all the way through to his doctoral work. Haykin is wise to point out that careful study of the fathers demands ancient language acquisition and a careful study of the ancient world surrounding the Fathers (156). For pastors, those starting their church history course in seminary, or those in church who are asking questions regarding the first few centuries of the church, this book is a rare gem. Part of the reason I rated it so highly is that a great book should cause the reader to want more of the subject, to go on into the sources themselves. This work has certainly caused me to see the need for a careful primary source study of the Fathers, for none other than a good study points us back to our Savior.
First of all I would like to thank Crossway books and especially Angie Chetham for sending me this advanced review copy so that I could give an opinion on Michael Haykins new book.
Rediscovering the Church Fathers is a very well written book intended to reacquaint the Christian Church with the early exegetes of Scripture. We pastors and laypeople have a tendency to pick up commentaries that are written by modern day theologians (modern being from the 1800 to present day) to help us better understand scripture.
But we have a tendency to ignore those writers from the early 1st century through the 8th century. These works have been translated and made available in several volumes that make up the larger work known as the Nicene Fathers and the Anti-Nicene Fathers.
One of the Haykin's premises is that when we have ignored the early church Fathers even though they "can provide us with a map for the Christian life." He uses the illustration that we would not try to sail from New York to London across the Atlantic without some navigational guides. We often use guides that were written by the early explorers and take them as "gospel." So, why don't we take the early writings of the Church Fathers and give them the weight of value that they deserve?
Most likely we don't read them because we believe that they will be hard to read, hard to understand and that they won't understand our culture because they wrote at a time when life was totally different.
But as Haykin points out these early writers were giving us insight into the scriptures during a time of great persecution of the church. They personally knew the men and women that were being martyred for the faith. Many of the martyrs were their students. So, who better to give us insight into scripture knowing that their stand against the Greeks and the Romans could very much cost them their lives.
An interesting fact that Haykin points out is that many of these writers were having to answer the questions of other scholars as to why this "New Teaching" of Christians should be listened to. The Greeks and Roman scholars believe that if the writing or thoughts were ancient they must be true, but if they were new they must be suspect.
So, given the fact that today we have people who question the validity of the Scriptures and their relevancy we will find a common bond with the Early Church Fathers because they were wrestling with that same issue even in the 1st and 2nd century after Christ death.
The early Church Fathers looked as Martyrdom as a Gift of the Spirit. Ignatius wrote as he awaited death for espousing the Gospel, "Earthly longings have been crucified and in me there is left no spark of desire for mundane things, but only a murmur of living water that whispers within me, 'Come to the Father.' He truly understood that the things of this world are worthless when put into the perspective of what Christ suffered and what He calls his followers to do.
After an introductory chapter regarding why we should read the early Church Fathers Haykin goes on in the next chapters to introduce us to some very key writers. Chapters include background and details about;
Ignatius of Antioch
Origen, nicknamed Adamantius "Man of Steel"
Cyprian and Ambrose of Alexandria
Basil of Caesarea
and the Mission of Patrick
If these names don't sound familiar that's because we have neglected to read about the early history of the church.
This work is a great primer for the early Church Fathers. It ignited in me a desire to dig deeper into the writings of these early Church Fathers, The Patristics as they are known.
So, how do I start? Well Haykin answers that question. In Appendix #1 he gives you "A Beginners Guide to Reading the Fathers." This short appendix is a great summation of the book and gives you the tools to start into a deeper study.
If you are unfamiliar with the early Patristics this book will wet your appetite. If you are familiar with them but have been ignoring them because you want to read works from modern commentators, this book will wet your appetite to get back into reading the early writings.
The year is early, but this book is right now my #1 recommendation for the year. It might not stay there, but it will take a pretty good book coming in the future to knock it from the top slot for this year.