A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs is of immense value to the student of the history of Christianity and what early Christians believed. Debates continue today about what these early Christians believed. No doubt scholarship has progressed in this field, for which I am thankful. Yet, people always look for the classics to possess on ones bookshelf. For example, Karl Barths Dogmatics is a classic in Protestantism. Or for our Catholic friends, volumes of Aquinass Summa. For a more conservative, Calvinistic Reformed position, Charles Hodges Systematic Theology or Herman Bavincks Reformed Dogmatics top the field. In the study of early Christianity and what they believed, there are few volumes I would recommend, but this is one of them.
First, I recommend this volume for its thoroughness. The breadth and depth of topics covered is immense. This is fantastic for a time period we do not know much (or enough!) about. Again, I know that scholarship has progressed, but this volume, published in 1998, exhibits the wealth of research that no doubt provided the foundation for today.
Second, in conjunction with the first, I appreciate the sources cited. Not only does the editor consult numerous church fathers, but also numerous sources of those fathers. There is not one specific source per father; rather, a plethora of sources per father. However, it is at this point I admit that I am disappointed there are not church mothers. There were plenty, I am sure, of women who influenced the beginnings of Christianity, and without whom we would not be where we are. Yet, still, I appreciate this editors contributions.
Finally, I appreciate the editors presentation. The cover is ancient and has the color for that time period (sandy and brown), and on the inside, it is well organized and presented in a coherent manner. Also, the editor provides examples on how to use the book, pitfalls to avoid, and a Whos Who of ante-Nicene Christianity to put in context the ancient Christian writers. (back cover)
For whom is this book written? I would recommend this book to pastors, young or old, who want to refresh their memory of certain beliefs from early Christianity; but, as the editor warns, do not use this book for proof-texting. These early Christians did not believe as we do today. I would also recommend this to undergraduate and seminary students looking for a resource that concisely condenses the amount of information from the early years of Christian development. Finally, I recommend this book to anyone remotely curious about the development of Christian belief. I hope you will add this wonderful reference book to your library.
This text is probably more note worthy for what it leaves out than for what it puts in. The Author will not stand before anyone who has actually read the early Fathers. Seems he found what he wanted to find rather than what was there. I reviewed the book for a friend and found it very poor indeed! I teach the Early Church Fathers and this book will not be found helpful to any reader.
An excellent resource for those who have no access to the volumes of ante-Nicene writings. Here is a compilation of important quotations from early Christians arranged topically. Interestingly, through this book, one can trace back Anabaptist doctrines such as non-resistance and non-conformity to early Christianity.
David Bercot's greatest work on the patristic writings truly help to open a vast body of literature not easily accesible for the average individual. I find this work a very useful tool in assisting to delve deeply into these writings for even those unfamiliar with the Church Fathers. While I would advise to use this book as a starting point to get deeper into the source material it is a spectacular and much needed work for anyone interested in Church history, doctrinal issues and development of theology. Bercot has also prepared many audio lessons which I have found to be very interesting and useful.