Friday, May 27, 2011

Review of Rediscovering the Church Fathers by Michael Haykin

In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy with the lameness of Mike Leake:

  • If you think Basil is a only a name for a spice, then you might need to Rediscover the Church Fathers.
  • If you think St. Ignatius is only a high school, then you might need to Rediscover the Church Fathers.
  • If you think Diognetus is something you need to go to the doctor for, then you might need to Rediscover the Church Fathers
  • If you think Cyprian and Ambrose may be the name for a law firm, then you might need to Rediscover the Church Fathers.
  • If you think Origen is where you are from, then you might need to Rediscover the Church Fathers.
  • If you think St. Patrick is only about wearing green and getting drunk, then you might need to Rediscover the Church Fathers.

If you are guilty of a couple of these then I have great news for you:  Michael Haykin has written an excellent book, Rediscovering the Church Fathers, to help you fill in a few gaps.  Haykin is a professor of church history and biblical spirituality at SBTS.  And if my memory serves me correctly he actually teaches a class on the patristics (early church fathers). 

Some evangelicals may be a little turned off by the mention of Church Fathers.  As Haykin remarks, “far too many modern-day evangelicals are either ignorant of or quite uncomfortable with the church fathers” (13).  Because of this reluctance to study the Fathers, Dr. Haykin offers five key reasons why we need to study these early Christian witnesses:

  1. Reading of the Fathers liberates us from the present (17)
  2. Reading the Fathers helps us to understand the New Testament (19)
  3. Reading the Fathers assists us in engaging “bad press” about the Fathers (20)
  4. Reading the Fathers aids us in defending the faith (22)
  5. Reading the Fathers will nurture us spiritually (27)

Haykin “seeks to commend the reading and prayerful study of the church fathers” by looking at the lives of a few specific church fathers:  Ignatius of Antioch, the author of the Letter to Diognetus, Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil of Caesarea, and Patrick.  Each of these early witnesses are given a chapter of consideration. 

The eighth chapter closes out the book with Haykin telling his personal journey and interaction with the Fathers.  There is also a helpful Appendix on helping a beginner in reading the Church Fathers.  It is obvious throughout that the main purpose of this work is to encourage the reader to pick up the original sources and begin studying and enjoying these pillars of the Christian faith. 

Am I Hungrier for the Church Fathers?

So, does Haykin succeed?  Do I want to start reading more of the early Church Fathers after reading this work? 

In an effort to be fully honest you should know that I am a giant history nerd.  It doesn’t take much to stir up my heart to want to study some good history.  But there have been books that bored me to no end and inspired me to look at a different historical era.  I’m passionate about the era’s of history that I am because of works like Haykin’s. 

From my perspective Haykin accomplishes his goal.  He interacts with the sources just enough to whet your appetite.  He is neither incomplete nor exhaustive.  And because of this endearing quality I found myself downloading the works of some of these Early Church Fathers. 

This work serves as a wonderful introduction to studying the patristic era; but it is so much more.   At each turn the reader is given practical application from these early believers.  Haykin does an admirable job of showing by real example how each of his five reasons for studying the patristic era is true.  I found myself spiritual nurtured, inspired to read more, and even began to reconsider some long held theological assumptions. 

Whetting your Appetite

As a church leader I often find myself wondering, “where in the world did _____ come from”?  If you tend to ask those questions or are just a curious George you will find a good smattering of these questions answered and probably even more questions will be birthed in your mind through reading this work. 

Have you ever wondered about early Christian martyrs?  Why were martyrs eventually held in high esteem within the church?  The chapter on The Thought of Ignatius will iron out some of these questions. 

How did Christian go from being a small, and somewhat hated but often neglected sect, to having an audience with Rome?  How did the early Christians relate to their culture?  How did these early believers engage in apologetics?  The Letter to Diognetus may answer some of these questions.

Have people always interpreted the Bible the same way?  How did those in the early Church view and read Scripture?  For those within the first few centuries of Christianity what principles were used in interpretation?  Where did the idea that Scripture is an encoded text come from?  The Exegesis of Origen may assist in discovering these answers.

How did the early church celebrate the Lord’s Supper?  What was their view of the Supper?  Where did sacerdotalism come from? What in the world is sacerdotalism?  The Eucharistic Piety of Cyrpian and Ambrose may cause you to study your view of the Lord’s Supper a little more deeply.

How did our doctrine of the Holy Spirit develop?  What did it mean for early believers to be holy and to renounce the world?  What was the early Christian experience of the Spirit?  Haykin’s chapter on The Experience of Basil of Caesarea may begin to answer some of these questions. 

Finally, the chapter on The Mission of Patrick will certainly redeem your St. Patrick’s Day.  But it may also give you an appreciation for the way early believers engaged in mission.  Perhaps it will even inspire your own calling to “live-sent”. 

This certainly is a book worthy of being added to your collection.  If you are not interested in the Church Fathers and have little prior understanding this book is a great place to start.  You do not have to be an expert in theology or church history to enjoy this book.  Haykin writes in a very readable and helpful way. 

I encourage you to buy this book, but I will warn you—your purchasing probably won’t stop here.  After you read Haykin’s book you will probably be adding some of the Early Church Fathers to your collection of books as well.  But start out by reading this excellent work

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

1 comment:

  1. I just ordered this book. Thanks for the review, it inspired me. I've heard Michael Haykin teach a couple times (He's come to my home of Cork, Ireland on preaching trips before) and his scholarship and warm nature really have endeared himself to many over here. Can't wait to look through the book (Especially the chapter on Patrick)!



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