Tag Archives: Robert Louis Wilken

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought–Robert Wilken


Cover of "The Spirit of Early Christian T...

Run out and get it, & read it now!

Bryan Bademan over at the University of Minnesota‘s MacLaurin Institute has begun blogging on one of my favorite books, Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought:

In his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale UP, 2003), Robert Louis Wilken explains that “Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices and a moral code: it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history.” Indeed, “for Christians, thinking is part of believing” (xiii). Wilken’s important work is centered on this great theme of early Christianity—that far from the faith banishing reason and clear-eyed analysis of the world, early Christians were obsessed with such intellectual practices and bequeathed to the world a faith tradition that was inextricably bound to (and yet creative with) the best of the classical past. For Augustine, this point was axiomatic: “Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking” (xiv).

Wilken’s book is helpful for Christian scholars today precisely because he’s interested in “how a Christian intellectual tradition came into being.” Continue reading

The evangelical patient awaits a medieval transfusion


The Summer of Research has given way to the Summer of Writing, issuing in the first halting words of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants (Baker Books, forthcoming). Here are some initial, gut-level thoughts–rough and unrevised:

I write this book not as an expert but as a pilgrim. The subject is medieval faith, but academically I am an Americanist. I write for the American evangelical Protestant church(es) in a time of intense pain and confusion. Battered by modernity, we have tried in turn rational apologetic, pragmatic ecclesiology, charismatic experience, and postmodern experimentation. None of these has proved lasting.

The rationalism of modern apologetics has collapsed as the questions of the unchurched have turned away from doctrine and the agonies of the churched have centered on spirituality and practice rather than belief.

The pragmatism of the church growth specialists has dissolved, as it always has, as its shallow spirituality has become evident.[1]

The experientialism of the charismatic movement seems often to have failed to build lasting, faithful, discipled churches as worshippers have bounced from one high to the next.

The postmodernisms of some emerging Christians seem already to be veering into heresy.[2] 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!