Review of Rediscovering the Church Fathers

Posted by on Apr 29, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews

Rediscovering the Church Fathers Who They Were and How They Shaped The Church is written by Michael A. G. Haykin Professor of church history and spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This book explores the importance of the church fathers to evangelicals, and then turns to looking at Ignatius, the letter to Diognetus, the exegesis of Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil of Caesarea, Patrick and the authors experience with reading the Church Fathers.

Being an avid reader I regularly look for what’s coming in the pipeline from a variety of publishers so that I can be kept aware of what’s upcoming that looks interesting to read.  When I read the title of Rediscovering the Church Fathers, I immediately knew that I was going to be interested in reading this book. Having now read this book I can say that I am even more excited about it.

First, I have a confession, I personally find Church History fascinating. I love learning about the men and women who have gone before me in the faith. In particular I love to read about the Church Fathers and also the Reformers along with the Puritans. Being that I regularly read a lot of blogs and read a lot of books every year- one of the areas theologically that I see lacking in the Church is in the area of historical theology.

As I just said Church History has much to teach the Church today about what it means to live out the faith. This book addresses two issues that I think are huge in the Church today. The first issue is a lack of rootedness in history and the second is celebrity hero culture of much of American evangelism.

The first issue that this book addresses is the lack of rootedness in history. Christians have received the faith passed on by many godly men and women- many of whom have died brutal deaths for the faith in order to hand on the faith to the next generation. Earlier I mentioned that one of the biggest issues I see lacking is in the area of historical theology. I’m thankful for books like Rediscovering the Church Fathers because it exposes Christians on a popular level to the lives of men who made an impact in their generations for Christ. So, when I say that many Christians lack a rootedness in history, I am speaking to the fact that many Christians may have never considered how their faith has been passed on for the last two thousand years. Knowing Church History is important for a variety of reasons but the biggest is to know what theological error has occurred in the past (and continues to do so in the present) and how the Church has defended such error and refuted such error historically (and continues to do so in the present).

The final issue is one that this book does not address directly but rather by way it is written. Dr. Haykin excels in this book discussing the life of the men but setting the life of the men he considers in their proper historical context. When the life of these men are considered in light of the history in which they lived in their lives- their lives are all the most spectacular. In reflecting on reading this book I came to the conclusion though that Dr. Haykin’s strength lies not in just setting the proper context or even his examination of the men he writes about, but in showing what kind of men Ignatius, Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil of Caesarea, and Patrick were. In doing that, I believe Dr. Haykin’s book goes beyond just being a teaching on the Church Fathers but takes one immediately into the present and causes the reader to examine how one is living his/her life today.

Finally, studying Church History is vital but knowing one’s Bible is far better.  In reading and studying Church History one must ultimately open one’s Bible and test and examine the theology of the teacher holding fast what is biblical in regards to the teaching, and discarding what is not. Thankfully Dr. Haykin in his book takes the reader on a journey of men who lived courageously and boldly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their generations. This is a book every Christian ought to read if not only to get familiar with the Church Fathers but to become acquainted with men who influenced the faith.  Rediscovering the Church Fathers is a book that ought to be read by every Christian of all stripes to learn about the lives of some of the men who have gone before us and who still today influence the Church. I recommend you read this book and be encouraged at how God has used men in the past and then consider how He might use you in the present to stand courageously for the sake of the Gospel in our own day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Read More »

Christocentric by Matthew Fretwell

Posted by on Apr 28, 2011 in The Gospel and the Christian Life, The Gospel and the Ministry, What We Write About

Incarnational living is Christ-centeredness; meaning, Christ is interwoven into the warp and woof of the homogeneous fabric of faith. Christ is above culture. Sure, the church strives to place Christ “in” culture, but the sovereignty of Christ means that He already supersedes culture. His position is outside of time. Being Christocentric means that I acknowledge all things are in, through, for, and by Him (Eph. 1:3-14). When the Lord stated “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22:21), Jesus implied three things: (1) Caesar may claim to be “Augustus” (the title denotes god-like, or majestic), but God is the One and only God; (2) all things are God’s, and government exists for God’s purpose, and (3) all things pertain to, and are created for, God. Caesar owns nothing! He is a created being. Christ, is above culture, but has established all things “in” Him. The Word of God launches this understanding past our human finite minds, more than once: Christ was/is the Creator (Jn. 1:1; Col. 1:16-17; Rom. 11:36).

The ancient Christian church acknowledged Christ as the entirety of their lives. They lived the Gospel within every community they reached. With no personal Bibles, buildings, or Sunday school classes, the church thrived on what they knew to be true in their hearts: the Gospel. “Classical Christianity affirms the centrality of Christ to all creation and offers a distinct way to deal with the problem of evil…which permeates all the structures of existence…they affirm the unity and coherence of all things in Christ (Col. 1:16-20).”[1] For this reason, believers are to meditate on Christ (the Word) to renew minds (Rom. 12:2) and pray for one another (James 5:16). We are to seize Christocentric-living (Eph. 4:15), which knows humility (Phil 2:3), and love (2 Cor. 5:14); “put[ting] on Christ” (Col. 3:12), and crucifying the flesh (Rom. 7:5). Bringing the Kingdom principles into community is more than a church plant; it is more than meeting unmet needs; more than a Bible study in the local barista; it comes from the implementation of Christocentric living, coupled with intentional discipleship and interaction with the unsaved.

If Christians truly believed that Christ was resurrected and lives, then there would be a transformation so powerful; so evident, so infectious, that no emperor, culture, or government would be able to squelch its growth. George Hunter, in his book The Celtic Way of Evangelism, expresses the nature of how powerful and comprehensive the understanding of living Christ was for the Celts. He states, “Celtic Christians had no need to seek [outside secularism]. Their Christian faith and community addressed life as a whole…help[ing] people [to] live and cope as Christians day to day in the face of poverty, enemies, evil forces, nature’s uncertainties, and frequent threats from many quarters.”[2] While this may not seem like evangelism, the act of living out one’s faith by Christocentric-driven devotion was indigenous for the Celts; something which needs to be engulfed into a paradigm shift of thinking in Westernized Christianity. Let us all reflect upon this:

“[This] is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” ~ Ephesians 4:20-24


[1] Webber, Ancient-Future Faith, 40-41.

[2] George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2010), 20-21.

 

Read More »

The Triumphant Resurrection of Christ

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 in What is the Gospel?, What We Write About

The Triumphant Resurrection of Christ

Jesus in John 11:25 said, “I am, the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” The lengthiest explanation of Jesus’ resurrection is found in 1stCorinthians 15. This whole chapter is about how if Jesus did not bodily rise in victory over death, then Christianity is false and dreamed up by liars to give false hope to people. In this chapter, we will examine the biblical evidence, historical evidence, and arguments against the resurrection.

The resurrection of Christ is the most known and celebrates miracle in the history of the world. There has always been consensus that it is in many ways the core of our faith:
Thomas Arnold (Professor of modern history at ….Oxford….): “No one fact in the history of mankind is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort” than the fact that “Christ died and rose from the dead.” Bishop B.F. Westcott: “Indeed, taking all the evidences together it is not too much to say that there is no historical incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.” John Locke said, “Our Savior’s resurrection is truly fo great important in Christianity; so great that His being or not being the Messiah still stands or falls with it.” Billy Graham: “The entire plan for the future has its key in the resurrection.” Martin Luther: “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in words alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” John R. Stott: “Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.” William Lyon Phelps (Yale Professor: “In the whole story of Jesus Christ, the most important event is the resurrection.” Benjamin Warfield (Princeton Professor): “The resurrection of Christ is a fact.”

Having taken a look at what some people have said regarding the resurrection let us now turn to the Biblical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ.

Rooted in History

Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah promise that Jesus would be born into humble circumstances to live a simple life, die a brutal death, and then rise to take away our sin. (Isaiah 53:8-12)

Jesus predicted his resurrection

On numerous occasions Jesus plainly promised he would die and rise three days later (Matthew 12:38-40 Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34 John 2:18-22).

Jesus died on the Cross

The death of Christ was a brutal event where He underwent many sleepless nights of trial, and beating that left him exhausted. He was scourged, crucified, a spear thrust in his side, wrapped in roughly one hundred pounds of linens and spices which would have killed him by asphyxiation. Through this all Jesus survived, but he could not have endured three days without food, water in a cold tomb carved out of rock, and so He died. (John 19:34-35)

Jesus was buried in a tomb that was easy to find

Jesus was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in death. Jesus was a very poor man who could not afford an expensive burial plot. After Jesus died on the Cross a wealthy and well-known man named Joseph of Arimathea gifted his expensive tomb for the burial of Jesus. This made the tomb easy to find as soldiers were assigned to guard the tomb, and the disciples and women who visited the tomb found it empty all knew exactly where Jesus’ dead body was laid to rest. Had Jesus not risen from death, it would have been easy to prove it by opening the tomb and presenting Jesus’ body as evidence. (Isaiah 53:9, Matthew 27:57-30)

Jesus appeared physically alive three days after his death

The Jehovah Witnesses reject the physical resurrection of Jesus while maintaining that he rose spiritually. This alternative explanation for Jesus’ resurrection does not agree with the historical facts.
Following Jesus’ resurrection many people touched his body; his disciples clung to his feet, Mary clung to him, and Thomas the doubter put his hand into the open spear hole in Jesus side. Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection and they were uncertain if he had truly physically risen from death. The Scriptures are clear however that Jesus went out of his way to prove his bodily resurrection. (Matthew 28:9; John 20:17, John 20:17; John 20:20-28). No credible historical evidence from the time period of Jesus to validate any alternative explanation for Jesus resurrection other than his literal physical resurrection. (Luke 24:36-43).

Jesus resurrection was recorded as scripture shortly after it occurred

Mark’s Gospel account of the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion mentions the high priest without mentioning him. Mark did not mention the high priest by name because he expected his readers to know whom he speaking about. Caiaphas was high priest from 18-37 A.D the latest possible date for this tradition is 37 A.D. This date is so close to the death of Jesus there would not have been sufficient time for a legend of his resurrection to occur. This proves that the biblical record of Jesus’ resurrection was penned while eyewitnesses were still alive to verify the facts. His resurrection was not a legend that was developed after the time of Jesus. (Mark 14:53-54, 60-61, 63)

Jesus resurrection was celebrated in the earliest church creeds

1stCorinthians 15:3-4, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” This statement is accepted as the earliest church creed which began circulating as early as 30-36 A.D., shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. The early age of this age demonstrates there was not sufficient time between the crucifixion and the creed for any legend about Jesus’ resurrection to accrue. In addition the witnesses mentioned were still alive and available to be questioned about the facts surrounding the resurrection. The early date of this creed also proves that the church did not corrupt the truth about Jesus with fables and folklore like the resurrection. Rather, the early church simply clung to the plain and incontrovertible facts of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Jesus resurrection convinced his family to worship him as God

James, Jesus’ half-brother, was originally opposed to the claims of his brother. A transformation occurred in James, after he saw his brother resurrected from death. James went on to pastor the church in ….Jerusalem…. and authored the New Testament epistle bearing his name. He was also actively involved in shaping the early church, which suffered and died to proclaim to everyone that Jesus is the one true God. Jesus’ mother, Mary was part of the early church that prayed to and worshipped her son as God, as was Jesus’ other brother, Jude, who wrote a book of the New Testament bearing his name. While it is not impossible to imagine Jesus convincing his own mother and brothers to suffer persecution in this life and risk the torments of hell in eternal life for worshipping him as the one true God unless he truly is. (John 7:5, 1stCor 15:7, James 1:1, Acts 12:17; 15:12-21; 21:18; Gal 2:9, Acts 1:14, Jude 1).

Jesus resurrection was confirmed by his most bitter enemies like Paul

Paul was a devout Jewish Pharisee who routinely persecuted and killed Christians. After an encounter with the risen Christ, Paul was converted and became the most dynamic defender and expander of the church. Had Jesus not truly risen from death, it is absurd to assume that Paul would ever have worshiped him as God, particularly when Paul rightly believed that worshipping a false God would send one into hell. Paul hated Jesus and would never have changed his religious practice unless Jesus had risen from the death to prove him wrong. Finally, Paul insisted that Jesus had risen in almost all of his letters that are in the New Testament. (Phil 3:4-6 Acts 7:54-60, Acts 9).

Historical Evidence for Jesus Death and Resurrection

After studying the biblical evidence for the resurrection for Jesus’ resurrection it is now important to examine the historical evidence for Jesus. The historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming as we shall learn here. The testimony of these non-Christians is important because it confirms the truthfulness of the biblical accounts of Jesus. The argument from many non-Christians is there no historical evidence to substantiate the Resurrection. Not only is this charge false it dismisses the evidence without even considering it, which is to violate the principles of sound research in order to justify one’s opinion. Let the historical evidence presented here speak for itself, and realize this is only a sampling of the massive historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

Josephus (37-100A.D)

In the Tetestimonium Flavianum,” he says: Now there was about this Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these men and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

Suetonius (70-160 A.D.)

Suetonius was a Roman historian and annalist of the Imperial House. In his biography of Nero, Suetonius mentions the persecution of Christians by indirectly referring to the resurrection: “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition [the resurrection].”

Pliny the Younger (62-113A.D)

Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan describing early Christian worship gatherings that met early on Sunday mornings in memory of Jesus’ resurrection day: I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds for starting an investigation and how are it should be pressed. They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error accounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day[Sunday in remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection] to change verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god.”

Wilbur M. Smith in Therefore Stand: “The original accounts of Buddha never ascribe to him any such thing as a resurrection; in fact, in te earliest accounts of his death, namely, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, we read that when Buddha died it was ‘with that utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind.” 60/385

Professor Childers says, ‘There is no trace in the Pali scriptures or commentaries (or so far as I know in any Pali book) Sakya Muni having existed after his death or appearing to his disciples.’ Mohammed died June 8,632 A.D., at the age of sixty-one, at ….Medina…., where his tomb is annually visited by thousands of devout Mohammedans. All the millions and millions of Jews, Buddhists, and Mohammedans agree that their founders have never come up out of the dust of the earth in resurrection.” 60/385

Theodosus Harnock says: “Where you stand with regard to the fact of the Resurrection is in my eyes no longer Christian theology. To me Christianity stands or falls with the Resurrection.”

Professor William Milligan states: “While speaking of the positive evidence for the Resurrection of our Lord, it may be further urged that the fact, if true, harmonizes all the other facts of His history.” 43/71.

Bernard Ramm says that even “the most cursory reading of the Gospels reveals the fact that the Gospels deal with the death and resurrection of Christ in far greater detail than any other part of the ministry of Christ. The details of the resurrection must not be artificially severed from the passion account.”

Many impartial students who have approached the resurrection of Christ with a judicial spirit have been compelled by the weight of the evidence to belief in the resurrection as a fact of history. An example may be seen from a letter written by Sir Edard Clarke, K.C. To the Rev. E. L. Macassey:
As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter Day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect. The Gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class, and as a lawyer I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate.

Professor Bernard Ramm comments: “In both ecclesiastical history and creedal history the resurrection is affirmed from the earliest times. It is mentioned in Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians (95 A.D), the earliest document of church history and so continuously throughout all the patristic period. It appears in all forms of the Apostles’ Creed and is never debated.”

The Jewish explanation

The earliest attempt to provide an alternative explanation for the resurrection of Christ did not deny that tomb was empty (Matthew 28:13-15). The Jews claimed that the body was stolen, thus admitting the fact of the empty tomb. The tomb was closed with an enormous rock and sealed by the government, and there is no explanation for how the rock was moved while being guarded by Roman soldiers. Second, if the body had been stolen, a large ransom could have been offered to the thieves and they could have been coerced to produce the body. If the disciples had taken the body then the only thing the Jews would have had to do is to persecute the disciples enough to give up the body of Jesus. Thirdly, if the body was stolen, how are we to account for the fact that Jesus appeared to multiple crows of people, proving that he was alive. Finally, the theft of the body is unlikely and still fails to account for it returning to life.

Conclusion

The historical testimony of those who were not Christians stands in agreement with the Scripture that Jesus died and rose again because those are facts established from the Bible and history. Having examined the biblical, historical and some of the arguments against the resurrection, it is clear that the resurrection of Christ is a historical and biblical fact.

Every year Christians celebrate the resurrection o Jesus at Easter. Many people believe in the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection but have not become Christians by placing their personal faith in him. Even some Christians today deny the historical facts of Jesus’ resurrection. Newsweek did a poll and asked the question, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after dying on the Cross?” Of those who answered only 88 percent of people who claimed to be Christians answered yes But, fully 3 percent of people who claimed to be non-Christians answered yes.

Jesus promised that he would not only rise from death to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt Jesus that He is God, but also that he would judge everyone who has ever lived and determine their faith (John 5:16-30). His first promise came true when he rose from death, and his second promise will come true either upon our death or upon his return. The opportunity in this life is to repent, and turn from sin only extends in this life. There are no second chances after death to repent. Jesus is more than just a good man, teacher, Prophet, and Priest; He is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world, was buried, and rose again. Forgiveness and eternal life are made possible only through Jesus’ own death and resurrection for humanity.

The burial and resurrection of Christ form two thirds of the Gospel. The Gospel is not secondary it is primary. Paul reminds Christians in 1stCorinthians 15:1-3, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,” Paul makes it clear that the content of the Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. These are the “words of Christ” which Paul speaks of in Romans 10:17.

Having now examined the biblical, historical and some of the arguments against the resurrection it is now time to make a decision. Will you come, hear, and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Jesus often divided His audience into categories those who play pretend with Him, and those who take up their Cross and follow Him. The same is true today; those who accept the Gospel will be saved by believing and confessing that Jesus Christ died, was buried and rose again. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been the clarion message of the Church for two thousand years. There is no other message that God has authorized other than His Gospel. Any message that takes away from the Gospel dismisses Christianity entirely. The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of man’s souls. Man’s deepest need is Christ’s righteousness. During His life, Jesus demonstrated that He cared for the poor, weak, sick, and so many more by ministering His healing power which stemmed from the fact He was the Son of God. People knew that Jesus was the real deal and were attracted to Him because of His divine authority and power. Christians today have been empowered by the Resurrected Christ to spread His Gospel to the ends of the earth; calling people to repent of their idols and turn to the living God, and His Son Jesus Christ whose death forever satisfied the wrath of God. It is this Gospel that is the foundation stone for the Church and by it believers, “stand” (1stCorinthians 15:1).

Do you have assurance that your sins are forgiven? Do you know where you are going when you die? The only One who can offer you forgiveness from your sin and empower you to live a new life is the Resurrected Christ who died, buried and rose again. Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Bibliography

Flavius Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities,” In The New Complete Works o Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 18.63-64).
Suetonius, Vita Nero 16.11-13.
Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96.1-7
Kenneth L. Woodward, “2000 years of Jesus,” Newsweek, March 29, 1999, 54.
For more on the evidence for Jesus read Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Historical evidences for the Christian Faith by Josh McDowell

Read More »