Too precious

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

– Ps 139:14-16

It’s a good thing Jesus loves the little children, because we don’t.

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The other evening, in the few quiet minutes before bedtime, I had my older daughter sitting on my lap as I read to her. She brought me a Bible storybook, so that’s what we read. I pointed to a picture of Jesus and the little children, and I told her, “Jesus loves the little children.” Then a pang struck through me as I realized, He does, because we grownups don’t.

The world views children as an imposition, while still paying lip service to their value and preciousness. Children get in the way of spending our free time and our money on ourselves and our pleasures, the world has pretty much decided, which as much as anything is behind the decline of children being born today. If these little people will suck up all my discretionary income and my ME time, why bother with them? My life is complete as it is, a lot of people reason. For those children unfortunate enough to actually be born to parents with that mindset, the message comes through loud and clear –whether the parents realize it or not.

Of course some of us do love children. We love our own, and some of us even love children as a group — the idea of children and childhood in the abstract, as it shows up in the little people that wander across our path every day. But even that love — even for your own children — has limits. Even the most loving and patient Christian parent will still have days where they want to scream or tear their hair out. Little kids can push our buttons and aggravate us in world-class fashion at times. They drive us right to the edge of our patience, park the car, turn off the engine, then sit back in their car seats and let us take a good long look into the abyss. Sometimes they push us right over the edge — or we hurl ourselves over, into the depths of rage.

Often if we do not view them kindly or with our rose-colored Hallmark-issue glasses on, it’s because children (our children) show us the truth about ourselves. They show us how little love or maturity actually reside behind the façade of the caring, compassionate, reasonable adult we prefer to present to the world. And we can despise them for forcing us to see that in ourselves. This is the dark side of parenting that seldom, if ever, gets talked about. Martin Luther quite correctly named family life and raising children as one of the best and most God-pleasing ways to mortify the flesh, to crucify the old Adam inside us, for precisely that reason. Little children take and take and take, and sometimes we don’t want to give.

That’s why the Son of God became a little baby, for you and for me. To atone for our lack of love for those who need it the most. So that our lovelessness would not cut us off forever from the everlasting love of God in His presence, He who is Love became a little child, as was prophesied. The Virgin’s baby Boy became the Son of Man who shouldered the world’s lovelessness and dissolved it in His holy, precious blood on the cross. Because of Him we are the children of God. We don’t always love our children like we should, so Jesus did in our place. And that enables us to love them better every day, to repent of our selfishness and place our whole selves at the beck and call of those little souls so dear to Him. It’s a good thing Jesus loves the little children, because we don’t always. But He does, to eternity, and He loves us too. (Amen.)

If it matters

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Sometimes we Lutherans are just a little bit chary of looking like extremists. We play into Garrison Keillor’s stereotypes about Lake Woebegone Lutherans, who are safe, staid, and studiously avoid conflict or raised voices. Even if we feel very strongly attached to our church and our way of following the Lord, we may still be anxious not to make too many waves — not to care too much (or to appear like we do), lest we lose our heads or our cool. We may fear being labeled extremists, or worse (like being equated with militant Muslims or irritating Jehovah’s Witnesses), so that even the thought of a sideways look (not even an actual sideways look) is enough to root us to our seats and seal our lips. We know too well, from watching the evening news, listening to talk radio, and interacting with our neighbors and coworkers, that the only unforgiveable sin in the eyes of the world nowadays is to declare that you, personally, are in possession of the truth. For too many, that implies, if not outright states, that they do not therefore know the truth — and the one thing just about anybody knows for sure nowadays is that no one person can know what the truth is. That being the case, if you speak up about the truth of God’s Word, you know good and well that you’ll get pegged, pigeonholed, and labeled for it — so the temptation to just sit down and be quiet about God’s truth. Because, after all, who wants to be labeled an extremist.

We should be less bothered by that. I keep coming back to this one phrase in my mind: if it matters. If it matters that those who do not trust in Christ don’t make it to heaven, why would we be kind and respectful of someone else’s false religion? If it matters that denying infants Holy Baptism is a serious matter, so serious that it puts the salvation of their souls in jeopardy, why would we make nice with those who deny the Savior’s Word on that score, and who overturn the historic practice of the Church? If it matters whether or not our Lord is present in, with, and under the bread and wine that are consecrated and consumed in the Sacrament, how can we be indifferent to someone else’s fanatical insistence that Jesus didn’t mean what He said when He declared, “This is My Body – this is My Blood?” If “the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” why would we not speak up when we hear someone confuse or mix law and gospel, or pervert the gospel of Christ into merely a higher form of works? If God’s Word alone creates and sustains faith, why in the world would we sit back idly when people actively promote and encourage worship forms and practices that are drawn from the exact opposite teaching? IF IT MATTERS, WHY DON’T WE SAY SOMETHING?

The Lutheran Church has historically been predicated on “saying something” — as indeed has the Christian Church herself. It is the confession of the unconditional gospel of Jesus Christ that saves and creates alive, and it is that same gospel that is therefore worth dying for. If you really believe it to be true, the way you confessed you did on your confirmation day and the way you do every Sunday since then, then why not act like it matters? Why not live it? The Church today, more than ever, needs those who will live their faith in their lives, not just make the motions with their lips — if they even go that far. Christ has redeemed you body, soul, and spirit. You are His through Holy Baptism. Why not speak up like it, live like it; be willing to depart this life and suffer all, even death, rather than be parted from Him?

Today is the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. If the Christian Church is to endure on earth, she needs faithful confessors — not just the people with the titles or the initials behind their names, but ordinary laypeople whose faith is founded in Christ and His Word. Being Lutheran, truly, authentically Lutheran, really matters — because Christ and His Word matter. They are the only thing that bridge the gap between earth and heaven. Nothing else endures, except for what Christ gives. Let’s not be afraid to look like extremists — let’s live like our Lutheranism matters. Because it does.

The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession — where Lutherans first stood up as an identifiable group and confessed the faith entrusted once for all to the saints. Will we do as well as they in our own day?

A Prayer before Reading God’s Word

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Our God, Father of light, You have sent Your Son into the world, the Word made flesh, to reveal Yourself to Your human children: Send Your Holy Spirit upon me now, so that I may encounter Jesus Christ in the Word which comes from You. May I come to know Him and to love Him more intensely, and so come to the happiness of Your kingdom. Amen.

(from “Praying the Word: An Introduction to Lectio Divina”, by Enzo Bianchi)

Chasing the Bridegroom

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Anyone who has ever made a serious effort at Scripture study will identify with what Origen is talking about in this quote. He captures so well that blessed frustration of feeling drawn closer to God, only to have that feeling evaporate. Origen sometimes gets a bad rap — and he deserves most of it; for instance, he was a leader in giving teachers in the Church permission to run amok with allegory, thus sidetracking people for centuries after him. (He seems to have had trouble distinguishing just how literally to interpret Scripture; he was reported to have deliberately castrated himself based on Matthew 19:12.) But he doesn’t always deserve to be looked down or excluded, and this quote shows why. When Origen sets aside the silliness of over-allegorizing and simply ponders the text, he can actually have something worthwhile to say. This quote is probably the best thing he ever wrote that I’ve read. It comes from his sermons on the Song of Songs. The Bridegroom, of course, is Christ. I think that God allows us to grope around and search for Him, and perhaps be allowed to feel that we’ve found Him, if only for a little while, so we won’t give up searching on the one hand, and so that we won’t become complacent or contemptuous on the other. Enjoy the quote, and let us know in the comments if you’ve had similar experiences.

Then she looks for the Bridegroom, who, as soon as she has glimpsed him, departs. And he does this often throughout the poem, something that only someone who has experienced it can understand. Often, God is my witness, I have felt the Bridegroom come to me, and stay with me quite long; but when suddenly he withdrew, I could not find what I sought. Then again I desire his coming and sometimes he returns; and as soon as he appears and I hold him in my hands, again he slips away.

– Origen, Homily on the Song of Songs 1:7

 

He remembers even the poorest

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Lord Jesus, You remember the poor and lowly and the despised. You Yourself know what it is to be poor — You, whose are the earth and heavens, yes, all creation, yet You for our sakes became so poor! In mercy You provided a way for Your Old Testament people — even the materially poorest and most destitute — to atone for their sins and to be made right with You again, through the sacrificing of an innocent life. By the provisions of the Law You gave through Your servant Moses, You teach us that You dwell with him who is of a crushed spirit and a contrite heart, with him who is spiritually poor and lowly. Lord Jesus, remember me, for I am poor and lowly and despised. Forgive me my sins, and accept my offerings of thanksgiving and prayer, the fruit of lips that confess Your name. May they be acceptable in Your sight, for the sake of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. 8 And he shall bring them unto the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and wring off his head from his neck, but shall not divide it asunder: 9 And he shall sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar; and the rest of the blood shall be wrung out at the bottom of the altar: it is a sin offering. 10 And he shall offer the second for a burnt offering, according to the manner: and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him. 11 But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering. 12 Then shall he bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it, even a memorial thereof, and burn it on the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the Lord: it is a sin offering. 13 And the priest shall make an atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned in one of these, and it shall be forgiven him: and the remnant shall be the priest’s, as a meat offering. (Lev 5:7-13)

My review of Peters’ “Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: 10 Commandments” featured on “The Shepherd’s Study”

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Once more I am honored to have the most recent review to appear on “The Shepherd’s Study”, our synod’s continuing education resource blog for pastors. You can read it here.

It’s always refreshing to read work that approaches something as dear to our hearts as Luther’s Catechisms are, and yet still has something new to say and a new perspective. Peters certainly has that, and to spare. Anything that helps us impart and impress the doctrine of the Catechisms (which is the doctrine of Scripture, after all) on our people, especially our young people, is worth at least a look. Peters is worth more than that.

Here’s the full review, for those who prefer. Enjoy!

Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Ten Commandments, by Albrecht Peters. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009, 333 pages.

Professor Dr. Albrecht Peters was a longtime member of the theological faculty of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg, Germany.

Perhaps the hardest thing in the world to see, really open one’s eyes and see, is what’s most familiar. Whenever the overly familiar, the old standbys, the tried-and-true present themselves, we might resist the urge to yawn and go looking for something more exciting or more “relevant.” In 21st century America, to paraphrase our Lord’s words, “No one after drinking the new wine wants the old, for he says, ‘The new is better.’” …But what if the old is better? Are we in danger of discarding something useful? The trick is to know and appreciate just how precious our heritage is—and how familiarity can dull our eyes to the gifts our forefathers left us.

For that reason, works such as Albrecht Peters’ are useful for us. While Peters speaks about the familiar catechetical heritage we use constantly in Luther’s Catechisms – and overall he does a worthwhile job – he does so with a vocabulary and accents that may sound a little strange to our ears. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s bracing and invigorating to hear someone with as talented and formidable a mind as Peters grapple with the same truths we grew up on, yet approach them from angles that can surprise us. Reading this book felt similar to taking a different seat at the dinner table than the one you normally occupy: the fare on the table’s the same, the company’s the same, the setting is the same, and yet it all looks new.

For that reason alone, Peters’ commentaries on the Catechisms are worth reading. This reviewer had initially feared a Talmudic approach to the Catechisms, at the expense of Scripture, but this proved not to be the case. Peters still balances Catechism, Word, and scholarly research in a perspective that’s different for us. This yields fresh insights, especially for those who are accustomed to thinking that they’ve already gotten everything out of the Catechisms (perhaps most of all, the Small Catechism) that there is to be had. Peters’ exegesis on the arrangement of the Small Catechism, for instance, will have the catechist nodding his head in agreement. Peters draws out the structure that we always knew was there, but had never elaborated so clearly. For we who preach and teach the truths of the Catechism week in and week out, such fresh insights are positively priceless.

Part of this effect comes from the style of language in which this volume was written. Immediately upon picking it up, one senses that this was not a book composed in English. In many places the language style is dense and scholarly with a distinctly Germanic way of joining clauses and phrases. It can verge on impenetrable at times. However, this matter of style should not dissuade anyone from picking up the book. One gets used to it as the book goes on. There are even times when what was written and translated strikes the reader almost as poetry. Perhaps my favorite instance of this in the entire book comes when Peters describes the ways in which the First Commandment was recorded in Scripture: “We lead our lives ‘facing’ the zealous holy God whose eyes penetrate the abysses of our heart that are hidden to us” (p.111).

Part of the foreign tone that Peters’ style has in this volume comes from his embracing of historical-critical methodologies and vocabulary. The publisher’s preface, which alerts the reader to this facet of Peters’ work, had this reviewer bracing for the worst right from the start. However, forewarned is forearmed, and such historical-critical comments are easy to discard when the reader encounters them. They actually do not impair the reading of the book all that much. In fact, this reviewer discovered that historical-critical jargon, when encountered, could actually serve a positive purpose. The strange nature of historical-critical language afforded another opportunity to view Luther’s work from a different angle. It was amazing how often Peters would note the same things we value about Luther’s work, while showing Peters’ other preoccupations, only some of which were drawn from historical criticism. It was a reminder that not everybody approaches Luther’s catechisms (or Lutheranism in general, for that matter) from the same viewpoint that we do.

Peters also places Luther more accurately than we sometimes do in the stream of Christian tradition. His research allowed him to identify where Luther stood with his predecessors in certain interpretations and approaches to teaching, and where Luther diverged or contributed new insights. Many of Luther’s most memorable formulations are of his own coining (e.g. “we should not despise preaching and His Word” in the explanation of the Third Commandment).

Perhaps most revealing was how often Luther remained conventional in his interpretation. He actually changed little that was handed down in the traditional catechesis of the church, while at the same time putting his own indelible stamp on it. We see this in the way Luther would often use the Gospels heard in worship as proof texts in the catechisms. For example, Luther used Matthew 5:20-26, the Gospel for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, to drive home the true meaning of the Fifth Commandment – something that Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure (to name a few) had done in the past (97). Luther was able to do this because of the rich pastoral and practical content of the historic pericopes. The historic readings line up well with the church’s program of catechesis by selecting texts and regularly repeating them. Many in modern Lutheranism are rediscovering the same synergistic benefits between lectionary, catechisms, and what the people learn in our own day.

One side benefit of reading this book is imbibing large sections of Luther’s writing. The reader encounters Luther again and again, not just Peters. The church fathers, ancient and medieval, also have many gems scattered throughout the book as Peters draws on their catechetical work extensively. Peters, Luther, and the fathers provide much to tuck away for future use in preaching or teaching. Of special interest to this reviewer was Luther’s illustration of two pouches with four pockets. The first pouch, faith, has two pockets, one for original sin, the other for Christ as Redeemer; the second pouch, love, has two pockets, one for good works to serve our neighbor and one for suffering under the cross (35).

We’ve all heard Luther’s urging never to be done with the Small Catechism, and Peters has done us a service by showing us how. By bringing the Catechism, and thus the Word, into our pupils’ homes and lives, we shape and mold young souls for God. Peters can help provide variety and encouragement in this vital task.

For reviews of other books in the Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms series, please be sure to visit the following:

When God speaks

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A thought-provoking quote from Tauler on the soul’s relationship to God and the Word. I don’t always agree with him (or always understand what he’s talking about, for that matter), but he always makes me think.

Now, dear children, know of a truth, if any one else would fain speak in the temple, that is in the soul, except Jesus alone, He holds His peace, as if He were not there; and in truth He is not at home in the soul, for she has strange guests with whom she desireth to hold converse. But if Jesus is to speak in the soul, she must be alone, and must be silent herself that she may hear the voice of Jesus; and then He enters in and begins to speak. What does He speak? He speaks that He is. And what is He then? He is the Word of the Father; in which Word the Father utters Himself, and all the divine nature, and all that God is, so that, in that He perceiveth it, He also
is it, and He is perfect in His perception and in His power. Hence He is perfect through this His speaking, for when He uttereth this Word, He uttereth Himself and all things in another person, and giveth that person the same nature which He Himself has, and speaks all rational spirits into being in that Word, in the likeness of the same Word, according to the type or pattern which abideth continually in Him. And thus the Word shines forth in man, according as each word exists in God. Yet is he not in all respects like this same essential Word; but rather the possibility is granted to him of receiving a certain likeness by the grace of this Word, and of receiving the Word as it is in itself. This all has the Father Himself spoken through the Word, and all that is in the Word.

– Johannes  Tauler, from a homily for Palm Sunday on Matt 21:10-17

Why should I bother with the Church Fathers?

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This post originally appeared on The Shepherd’s Study, a blog reviewing resources for pastors to use. You can read the original here. (If you poke around on the Shepherd’s Study, you can also find my review of Religion on Trial, if you’re interested.)
I just had to repost this because it’s so heartening to me to see other Christians, and other pastors, willing to listen to the great leaders and shepherds of the past. They were human, sure, with all that carries with it, but the remove of time between us and them allows us to appreciate their strong points and their accomplishments and look charitably on their errors or mistakes — while still not excusing them, of course. The church fathers really are astonishing when you start reading them at any length. Their depth and breadth of teaching that they delivered in a single sermon, for instance, puts most of us walking the face of the earth right now utterly to shame. They make me want to preach more, and preach better…the way they do.
The fathers that Haykin lists as good places to start are worthy of mention; from my own reading and experience, I’d add Chrysostom, Augustine, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great. The last two especially had a popular, direct style of preaching. You can really see why they were so lauded in their lifetimes, and afterward. Reading the fathers helps teach you how to preach. You pastors out there, of whatever theological stripe or persuasion you might be, if you expound the Word of God regularly on a public basis, you will not fail to find help and improvement with the church fathers. If you feel smarter or more talented than everybody who’s come before you, then I guess the fathers won’t help you, but then again, if that’s your attitude in preaching, there’s an excellent chance nothing will help you. I surely don’t feel that way, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. If you crib from people smarter than you, that makes you smarter in turn. That’s the theory anyway. :)
Interestingly, when I was thinking about different reasons why the fathers are valuable to read and study, I came up with a list that was different than Haykin, the author of the book reviewed below. They have much to teach us, if we have ears to hear — and if you can get past the oftentimes unfortunately stilted or unnecessarily archaic translations with which the fathers are often saddled. Even with that handicap, they still shine. And newer translations are available, if you do a little looking around. Haykin’s book looks interesting and worthwhile. The fathers are always worth reading. As one of my professors once told me, “They are our guides.”
Title:
Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church
Author:
Michael Haykin
Reviewer:
Pastor Thomas Meissner

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church, by Michael A.G. Haykin. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. 172 pages.

Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin is the professor of church history and Biblical spirituality and director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is also the editor of Eusebeia: The Bulletin of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. Haykin is a prolific writer having authored numerous books and editorials, over 250 articles, and over 150 book reviews.

In his introduction to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, C.S. Lewis advised, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period” (4 – St. Vladimir Press Edition).  Among the mistakes of our time are strains of anti-intellectualism and the aliteracy (as opposed to illiteracy) which results from its contraction. “Gilbert Beers, a past editor of Christianity Today, has noted, ‘We owe much to many whom we have never met.’ In times past, when there was a reverence for the past, this reality was acknowledged gratefully. But as Beers goes on to note, ‘We live in a throwaway society; we dispose of things we consider a burden. My concern is that we do not add our predecessors to the collection of throwaways, carelessly discarding those who have made us what we are’” (27).

Dr. Haykin’s book, Rediscovering the Church Fathers is intended to help Christians get to know some “members of the family” as it were, and from that point regain a connection to the wisdom, the experience, the courage, and the fortitude of faithful believers who came before us and followed Christ. Haykin gives Hebrews 13:7 as one of his key rationales for studying church history as well as the Fathers, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”  It is well noted, and refreshing that he understands a proper balance must be kept between the word of the Fathers and the word of Holy Scripture. “The Fathers are not Scripture. They are senior conversation partners about Scripture and its meaning. We listen to them respectfully, but are not afraid to disagree when they err. As the Reformers rightly argued, the writings of the Fathers must be subject to Scripture” (29).

Why spend time trying to rediscover the Church Fathers? After naming it “A Vital Need for Evangelicals”, Haykin lists six reasons:

  1. “Study of the Fathers, like any historical study, liberates us from the present” (17).
  2. “The Fathers can provide us with a map for the Christian life” (18).
  3. They “may also in some cases, help us to understand the New Testament” (19).
  4. “We also need to read and know the Fathers since they are sometimes subjected to simply bad history or bad press” (20).
  5. “Reading the Fathers [serves] as an aid in defending the faith” (22).
  6. There is value in “reading the Fathers for spiritual nurture” (27).

With two thousand years of Christianity from which to choose, who would you pick to meet this “vital need”? Haykin chose seven, presented in what he describes as “case studies.” All of whom he says have been his close companions “for more than three decades” (29), men to whom he has come back time and again “to learn theology, to be refreshed spiritually, and to think about what it means to be a Christian” (156):

  1. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35/50-c. 98/117)
  2. The author of the Letter to Diognetus
  3. Origen (ca.185-254)
  4. Cyprian (ca.200-258)
  5. Ambrose (ca.339-397)
  6. Basil of Caesarea (c. 330-379)
  7. Patrick (ca.389-ca.461)

“Not…that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palatable, will not endanger us.” C.S. Lewis’ words from his introduction to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (5) remind the reader to keep his eyes open for mistakes and insights both in books of the past and books of the current age. In the case of this particular book, Haykin displays expected Baptist biases, most notably in regard to the Lord’s Supper. One wonders if Haykin is of the opinion that the doctrine of the real presence did not exist before the Fourth century (102).

One puzzling inclusion in this book, particularly because he was an errorist, is the chapter on Origen, “Interpreting the Scriptures: The Exegesis of Origen.” The quote from 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 with which Haykin begins the chapter cues the reader into the fact that he sees in Origen someone who sought to “engage his culture” with the Word of Christ. This desire, he says, shows Origen was “without a shadow of a doubt the greatest thinker of his day, pagan or Christian, one who was always writing to convince others of…‘the importance of Christian life and why a person should become a Christian’” (79).

Should such a desire trump holding fast to the truth of Scripture? Certainly not! Origen placed “the Son and the Spirit on a level subordinate to the Father” (75). It is true enough that Origen stated in a homily on Luke 16:6, “I want to be a man of the church, not the founder of heresy. I want to be named with Christ’s name and bear that name, which is blessed on earth.  I long to both be and be called a Christian as much in deed as in thought” (76). As seriously as we should take such a desire and put the best construction on it, however, Origen’s teachings were not in line with Holy Scripture.

Perhaps some worthwhile reasons for reading chapter four are a greater understanding of how human experience can shape a person (i.e. persecution against Christians which Origen and his family experienced), the vital importance of good exegesis, and the need for every pastor to strive for excellence each day as he cares for souls. Also worth learning from this chapter is the truth that not even the “divine ends” of evangelism should justify any means.

Overall Haykin’s method of presenting these seven Church Fathers is unique, readable, and his goal is laudable: let’s learn from our fathers and grandfathers in the faith and “fight the good fight” of faith. Haykin reintroduces the reader to these real people with strengths and weaknesses, people who lived in a real context, people from whom we can learn.  That said, why not go right to the source and read the Fathers for themselves?  This book is a stepping stone for people who wouldn’t normally do so, and as such this book provides a relatively short introduction to the Fathers and gives enough quotes to whet the appetite for primary source reading. Also included are two appendices.  The first is a beginner’s guide to reading the Fathers and the second is a reprinting of Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600).

What’s the take away?  “To do theology without history is to study cut flowers, not living plants” (165). Read this book and you will see living plants; real people who reveal to us that people share the same desires, the same needs; the same hopes and fears today, as they did in centuries past. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from them as we seek to follow Jesus Christ who is “the same, yesterday, today and forever.”

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