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So, over at Boston Bible Geeks, Danny posted an interesting list of the 5 scholars that the average churchgoer would benefit from reading. That sounded like a great idea to me, and I was interested to read his list, so I’m stealing his idea and making my own. I’ll raise my hand and admit that a good bit of the reading that I do would not be of much benefit to the non-academic. And since I’m confessing here, I’ll also admit that I felt a twinge of guilt at  the statement that Danny quoted about Gordon Fee, whom I admire very much. Too much of my studying is about the Bible as an object, rather than the God it reveals, and that’s not okay.

So on that theme, I’ll list the five scholars that I think the layperson should read.

1. Gordon Fee

I’m with Danny on this one. I haven’t read his book on exegesis, but I have read God’s Empowering Presence, and if there’s any one academic book that I would encourage a layperson to struggle through, it’s probably this one. I’ve read many (too many) scholars that rebuke (rightly) our current churches, but don’t give any possible solutions. Fee isn’t afraid to offer solutions and practical advice to the average church on the corner, which is what scholarship should really be about anyway.

Recommended Reading:

God’s Empowering Presence

Paul, the Spirit, & the People of God

How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth (w/ Douglas Stuart)

2. NT Wright

NT Wright can be a polarizing figure and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. As far as I’m concerned everything I have read by him has been top-notch stuff that would benefit both the scholarly world and the Church. That doesn’t mean that I agree with everything that he says, and sometimes I wish he would stop blaming “our Western post-enlightenment thinking” for every problem facing our world, but I have found him always to be worth reading, and I agree with him wholeheartedly that we desperately need to recapture the new creation/resurrection eschatology of the New Testament if we are going to have any impact at all on our culture, which is dying while we sit back and watch.

Recommended reading:

Surprised By Hope (Seriously, I wish I could get a copy of this into the hands of every Christian in my city)

Following Jesus

Christians at the Cross

The Meal Jesus Gave Us

3. John Goldingay

Because he makes the Old Testament simply come alive, and his love for the God revealed there comes through on every page.

Recommended Reading:

Old Testament Theology volume 1: Israel’s Gospel

Old Testament Theology volume 2: Israel’s Faith

Old Testament Theology volume 3: Israel’s Life

God’s Prophet, God’s Servant

4. Eugene Peterson

Because he’s so practical that you didn’t even know he was a “scholar”. No really, the Christian faith is a lived out faith, not just a book to be read (no matter how inspired). Peterson knows that and communicates it like no one else.

Recommended Reading:

Pretty much anything.

5. Thomas Oden

Because (at least where I live, which is supposedly the most “Christian” region of the United States), the Body of Christ in the present has almost no knowledge of the generations within that body that have come before us. That’s generalizing for sure, and Lord knows there are Presbyterians here that know (or think they know) John Calvin up and down, but that’s about it as far as I can tell. Oden is doing his best to let us in on the millennium and a half  that transpired before Calvin. (Note for some John Piper fans: That was not hyperbole, there actually were Christians before John Calvin).

Recommended Reading:

Classic Christianity

Anything in the ACCS series

Ancient Christian Doctrine (5 volumes)

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Gerald Bray (ed.), Thomas Oden (series ed.). We Believe in One God (Ancient Christian Doctrine volume 1). Downers Grove, IL. IVP Press, 2009

Thank you very much to Adrianna Wright at Intervarsity Press for the review copy.

We Believe in One God is the first of five volumes in the Ancient Christian Doctrine Series from Intervarsity Press. Those who have read any of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture will be familiar with the format, as this series is basically an expansion of that series to provide commentary on the Nicene Creed.

First things first, the book is absolutely beautiful. It is hardcover, the paper is high-quality stock, and Albrecht Durer’s Adoration of the Trinity is the cover image. If they were to release the whole series as one volume edition (which would be really cool) with the same cover and binding, I dare say it would be worth buying just to gawk at it on your bookshelf.

Moving on to the content of the book, simply stated, it is a commentary culled completely from the works of the fathers of the early church on the first stanza of the Nicene Creed:

We Believe in One God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen

Two introductions,  by Thomas Oden and Gerald Bray, respectively, lay out the series and the aims of the commentary and are good reading in themselves. Oden’s contribution is particularly interesting as he lays out what he sees as some of the reasons for the renewed interest in history and tradition among evangelicals. I found myself relating to much of what he had to say, and can agree with his sentiments.

The commentary itself splits the creed into small sections (such as “We Believe” and “Maker”) and then provides small sections of commentary from the fathers. The strength of this approach is that it allows the editor some room for movement as far as what is actually discussed, rather than the entire book being on “God the Father”. For instance, in “We Believe”, scripture is discussed as it is a large part of why “we believe”. In “Maker”, creation is discussed, etc. If you haven’t been introduced to the thought of Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, et al, then you will learn much from this volume, as it touches on so many subjects.

This is not meant to be a gripe, but it should be noted that the quotations are of very short length. Rarely is anyone quoted for more than two to three sentences at a time. Like criticisms I have read of The Justification Reader (also by Oden), this opens the book up to the charge that with such short excerpts, freed from their original context, they can almost mean whatever the editor (or reader) thinks they mean. I don’t actually think that this should be seen as a negative, so much as a warning to potential readers that book is very high level introduction to the thought of the fathers of the early church, not a systematic treatment. For that, one should go to the fathers themselves (such as the Ancient Christian Texts series, which also looks very promising).  Again, this is not a criticism, just an observation of what to expect if you’re thinking of buying the book. The format works very well for devotional type reading also, which may be the best use of the book. I certainly found much to reflect on.

If there was one thing that became apparent to me as I read the book, it was that it is a testament to the writings of the early church and the content of the book that it can withstand such fragmented treatment and still be interesting, fresh, and readable. Can you imagine a compilation consisting of two or three line quotations of modern theologians? Would you want to imagine that? 😉

Bottom Line:

We Believe in One God is a very promising introduction to the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. For those (like  myself) who have only read lightly in the early church fathers, it will be a very helpful introduction to their thoughts on God the Father as Creator, the Holy Scriptures, and many other subjects along the way. It is not the sort of book that one sits down and reads through at once, but rather a book that bears repeated reading and reflection on its content. It definitely has staying potential, and I imagine that I will still be reading and reflecting on it for a while to come. I look forward to the other volumes in the series.

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The Father is one, but there are two persons because there is also the Son, and then again, there is the Holy Spirit too. The Father decrees, the Word executes the decree, and the Son is manifested by the Spirit, through whom we believe in the Father. The dispensation of harmony leads straight back to one God, for God is one. It is the Father who commands, the Son who obeys and the Holy Spirit who gives understanding. The Father is above all, the Son is through all, and the Holy Spirit is in all. We cannot think of God in any other way than as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

-Hippolytus, Against Noetus 14

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Thanks to Adrianna Wright at Intervarsity Press, I have really been enjoying We Believe in One God, the first volume in the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. The Book is the first in a series of commentaries on the Nicene Creed, culled entirely from the early church (AD 95 to AD 750). It’s a great resource!

To give an idea of the content of the book, over the next few weeks or so, Fridays will feature a quote (or a few quotes) that seemed particularly insightful, interesting, or even silly, from one  of the fathers of the church.

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As far as we can, we should think of God as good but without quality, great but without quantity, a creator even though he lacks nothing, a ruler with no position, the sustainer of all things without having them, fully present everywhere but with no place of his own, eternal but without time, making things that are changeable but without change or passion within himself.  Anyone who thinks about God like this, even though he cannot discover everything there is to know about him, nevertheless is careful not to think anything about him that is not true.

St. Augustine, On the Trinity

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Thanks to Adrianna Wright at Intervarsity Press, I have really been enjoying We Believe in One God, the first volume in the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. The Book is the first in a series of commentaries on the Nicene Creed, culled entirely from the early church (AD 95 to AD 750). It’s a great resource!

To give an idea of the content of the book, over the next few weeks or so, Fridays will feature a quote (or a few quotes) that seemed particularly insightful, interesting, or even silly, from one  of the fathers of the church.

Read Full Post »

God wants everyone to be saved, but only if they come to him. He does not want those who are unwilling to be saved, though he wants so save them if they so desire. For the one who gave the Law to everyone has not excluded anyone from salvation. Does not a doctor declare publicly that he is willing to heal everyone, as long as he is asked to do so by those who are sick? For salvation means nothing if it is granted to those who do not want it.

Ambrosiaster, On 1 Timothy 2:4

Thanks to Adrianna Wright at Intervarsity Press, I have really been enjoying We Believe in One God, the first volume in the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. The Book is the first in a series of commentaries on the Nicene Creed, culled entirely from the early church (AD 95 to AD 750). It’s a great resource!

To give an idea of the content of the book, over the next few weeks or so, Fridays will feature a quote (or a few quotes) that seemed particularly insightful, interesting, or even silly, from one  of the fathers of the church.

Read Full Post »

After saying ‘When I was a child’, the apostle Paul goes on to add, ‘Now we see through a glass darkly’. Here is the second proof of our present weakness, in that our knowledge is imperfect. And the third proof is found in the word darkly. A little child sees, hears, and says many things but does not understand anything in an analytical manner. The child knows something at one level, but knows nothing  properly. In the same way, I know many things in one way, but at another level I do not know them at all. I know that God is everywhere and that all of Him is everywhere, but I do not know how that is possible. I know that He is without beginning, unbegotten and eternal, but again I do not know how this can be. The human mind is unable to understand how something that does not owe its origin either to itself or to anything else can be called a substance. I know that He has begotten the Son, but I do not know how. I also know that the Spirit comes from Him, but again I have no idea how.

– John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God

Thanks to Adrianna Wright at Intervarsity Press, I have really been enjoying We Believe in One God, the first volume in the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. The Book is the first in a series of commentaries on the Nicene Creed, culled entirely from the early church (AD 95 to AD 750). It’s a great resource!

To give an idea of the content of the book, over the next few weeks or so, Fridays will feature a quote (or a few quotes) that seemed particularly insightful, interesting, or even silly, from one  of the fathers of the church.

Read Full Post »