Tag Archives: patristics

Social justice, early-church style


Giotto's Franciscan allegory of poverty: Poverty is a winged gaunt woman dressed only in rags, at whom children throw stones or brandish sticks. Christ himself marries this woman to St Francis. Numerous angels, as well as the personifications of Hope and Chastity, are present as witnesses. As offerings, two angels carry worldly goods heavenwards. The reactions of the world are depicted at either side: on the left a young man imitates Francis, and on the right the rich express ridicule.

The most recent issue of neoconservative Acton Institute‘s organ, Religion & Liberty, brings an interesting interview with “paleoorthodox” pundit Thomas C. Oden. Actually it is an excerpt of the interview; other bits of interview, dealing with Marxist liberation theology and the current condition of Oden’s United Methodist Church, can be found here.

The excerpt printed in Religion & Liberty ranges from early Christian treatment of the poor to global South missionaries coming to the West. Here are some of Oden’s comments on the value of patristic exegesis for today’s Christians–in particular where such exegesis was applied to social issues:

Why do you think many evangelicals, in their searching, are drawn to patristic thought and commentary? What can churches do to encourage those that are searching?

They’re drawn to patristic thought because it is wise. They are hungry for wisdom. They are looking for reliable Christian teaching and, in many cases, evangelicals have not been exposed to these documents because they have been focused on Christian doctrine since the Reformation. Continue reading

Two talks: Why study early Christian history? (Everett Ferguson); The church fathers as wise exegetes (Robert Louis Wilken)


From the Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, check out these talks by Everett Ferguson and Robert Louis Wilken on the whys and wherefores of patristics:

3-18-2010 | Center for Early Christian Studies Spring Gathering Keynote Address by Dr. Everett Ferguson
“Why Study Early Christian History and Literature? ” (MP3)
10-30-2009 | Center for Early Christian Studies Inaugural Lecture by Dr. Robert Louis Wilken
“Going Deeper into the Bible: The Church Fathers as Interpreters” (MP3)

How evangelicals have rediscovered the treasures of early Christianity, and what to do next


Further to my previous post on the new center for early church studies at Wheaton: In Spring, 2007, Wheaton College hosted a conference on how evangelicals are re-engaging with the wisdom of the early church. I attended the conference and wrote a feature article on it, published in Christianity Today in February 2008. The trends I describe here are certainly continuing, and the wise encouragements and warnings of the scholars who presented at that conference still apply. Let us rejoice in “treasures old” as well as new, and let us also display and use these treasures with discernment:

The Future Lies in the Past
Why evangelicals are connecting with the early church as they move into the 21st century.
Chris Armstrong

Last spring, something was stirring under the white steeple of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

A motley group of young and clean-cut, goateed and pierced, white-haired and bespectacled filled the center’s Barrows Auditorium. They joined their voices to sing of “the saints who nobly fought of old” and “mystic communion with those whose rest is won.” A speaker walked an attentive crowd through prayers from the 5th-century Gelasian Sacramentary, recommending its forms as templates for worship in today’s Protestant churches. Another speaker highlighted the pastoral strengths of the medieval fourfold hermeneutic. Yet another gleefully passed on the news that Liberty University had observed the liturgical season of Lent. The t-word—that old Protestant nemesis, tradition—echoed through the halls.

Just what was going on in this veritable shrine to pragmatic evangelistic methods and no-nonsense, back-to-the-Bible Protestant conservatism? Had Catholics taken over? Continue reading

Wheaton College opens its Center for Early Christian Studies


The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies officially opened a few days ago, on Oct. 29. The center, through which students can study early Christianity at an undergraduate, masters, or doctoral level (one doctoral-level student will be accepted per year), welcomed the distinguished Robert Louis Wilken of the University of Virginia to give its inaugural lecture.

Wilken is one of my favorite scholars, and I’m not alone: according to David Neff at Christianity Today’s history blog, the large majority of Wilken’s graduate students over the past ten years at UVA have been evangelicals. Wheaton has taken note, and the center, announced this spring, will accommodate many students of evangelical sympathies who would otherwise have had to do their study of the church fathers (“patristics”) at schools outside the evangelical orbit.

Even if you are not ready to rush out and enroll in an undergraduate or masters program on early Christian history, I strongly recommend Wilken’s book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. There’s no better book to get you inside the mind of the early Christian–and the prose is readable, even lyrical, to boot!