Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: Rediscovering Church Fathers

 I am grateful to Crossway for the opportunity to review Rediscovering Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael Haykin.  I am no theologian. When I received this book and saw the accolades on the back cover from really smart people I thought, "Yikes! I'm sunk.  Why did I agree to read and review this book?"  However, my fears were completely unfounded.  This book is well written and quite accessible for even the non-theologian.

From the publisher:
While history never repeats itself exactly, there is deep wisdom we can glean and apply to the church today. Michael Haykin, author of Rediscovering the Church Fathers explains, “the early centuries of the Church saw Christianity threatened by a number of theological heresies [and] many of these heresies has reappeared from time to time in the long history of Christianity. Knowledge of the way that Christians in the past defended the faith against Gnosticism would provide helpful ways of responding to Postmodern spirituality today."
The intent of the author was not simply to provide biographical sketches of church fathers.  Had he done that I may have walked away with interesting trivia (Origen's mother hid his clothes, thereby forcing him to stay home, so he couldn't join his father in prison).  However, beyond trivia there would be no real application.  Instead, Haykin chose his subjects not based on the interesting lives that they led, but as the above quote states, the heresies that they dealt with.

"What was critical was not primarily the choice of figures but the issues that they wrestled with in their lives as believers, for these issue are central to the Patristic era: martyrdom, monasticism, and discipleship; witness to an unbelieving world and mission; the canon and interpretation of Scripture; and the supreme issue of this era, the doctrine of the Trinity and worship." page 29
By choosing his figures in this manner, I found it quite easy to make application to today.  Indeed, the author stated in the first chapter that one of the reasons that we should reading the church fathers was "as an aid in defending the faith." (page 22)  

The following chapter list will give you a better idea of his choice of figures.
1.  Rediscovering the Church Fathers:  A Vital Need for Evangelicals
2.  Dying for Christ:  The Thought of Ignatius of Antioch
3.  Sharing the Truth:  The Letter to Diognetus
4.  Interpreting the Scriptures:  The Exegesis of Origen
5.  Being Kissed:  The Eucharistic Piety of Cyprian and Ambrose
6.  Being Holy and Renouncing the World:  The Experience of Basil of Caesarea
7.  Saving the Irish:  The Mission of Patrick
8.  Walking with the Church Fathers:  My First Steps on a Lifelong Journey

There are three specific things that I like about this book.  First, the author spends the first chapter detailing the reasons that we should study the church fathers.  I think that is very profitable (and very professor-like) because it caused me to read the book with specific purposes in mind.  Second, the book is heavily footnoted at the bottom of every page.  I hate footnotes at the end of the book and having to flip back and forth.  Most people probably don't bother but I'm a die hard footnote reader.  By putting them within the book the author is saying, "This is important.  It is here for you to read."  Second, I love the writing style.  If this professor teaches in the same manner that he writes, I'm sure that his classes fill quickly.  His writing style is conversational and engaging.  He doesn't dumb down the material but he certainly doesn't make it more difficult than it needs to be.  (Really smart people can sometimes unintentionally do the latter.)

This is a book that I'm glad I have on my bookshelf.  I would highly recommend it to you. 

I received this book free from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

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