- Paperback: 204 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (August 11, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0830839372
- ISBN-13: 978-0830839377
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,310,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures Paperback – August 11, 2011
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"This assembly sheds much light on now-obscure figures who had an incalculable influence on later and more famous Christian thinkers; endlessly fascinating to readers interested in history and culture, as well as pastors and students of theology." (Graham Christian, Library Journal, October 1, 2011)
"[T]his volume provides a solid introduction to these pivotal figures in early Christianity written by proven scholars in early Christian studies. It would fit nicely into any introductory course on early Christianity, especially if it was coupled with other primary readings." (Stephen O. Presley, Southwestern Journal of Theology, Fall 2014)
"'Where can I find the current state of scholarly opinion on such and such patristic figure?' This is a question frequently confronting serious teachers and scholars who are not content to fall back on the golden oldies of patristic scholarship. . . . IVP Academic's Early Christian Thinkers is the place. These essays provide a succinct account of contemporary scholarly views on major, as well as less familiar, figures from the second to early fourth centuries (e.g., Justin, Theophilus of Antioch, Eusebius of Caesarea) by the guild's top scholars who know how our understanding of these figures has developed over the last fifty years. Early Christian Thinkers will be a resource valuable to professionals as well as students seeking a snapshot of the writers whose lives and thought shaped how early Christians understood and lived out the gospel." (J. Warren Smith, associate professor of historical theology, Duke Divinity School)
"This fine series of essays provides an accessible and up-to-date introduction to twelve key figures who helped to shape the development of mainstream Christianity before the age of Constantine. Early Christian Thinkers will be a valuable aid in the study of this formative period of church history." (Christopher A. Beeley, associate professor of Anglican studies and patristics, Yale Divinity School)
"In Early Christian Thinkers, Paul Foster has assembled a team of world-renowned scholars to give us a refreshing look at the lives and influence of twelve pivotal figures of early Christianity. From Justin, Irenaeus and Theophilus, to Perpetua, Origen, Gregory Thaumaturgos and Eusebius, this masterful collection deals with history, sociopolitical relationships, theology, apologetics, lives, martyrdom, in short, as Frost calls it, "the intellectual legacy and cultural heritage" of a faith and a new people that sprung from that little-known region of Galilee to bring God's good news of salvation to all. Arranged in a meaningful chronological order, Early Christian Thinkers will be used in colleges and seminaries to open up for its readers the multifaceted world of early Christianity with new appreciation not only of their subject but also as a prime example of how first-rate scholarship ought to be done in the service of the specialist and the nonspecialist alike." (George Kalantzis, Associate Professor of Theology and Director of The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, Wheaton College)
"This splendid volume has encouraged its authors to construct twelve fine chapters about early Christian theologians. The project's genius emerges both from the high-level manuscript studies in the introductions and the well-written summaries concerning what is known of the theologians' lives and thoughts. The pithy comments will stay with us all. Fellow specialists will turn to this book for the state of many questions; undergraduates can see what patristics has been and is now becoming. A rare combination of features which we should find together more often." (Frederick Norris, Professor Emeritus of World Christianity, Emmanuel School of Religion)
"Paul Foster has edited an excellent collection of essays on some key figures of the pre-Nicene Church. Teachers of the period will find this an invaluable volume, both for the quality of the essays and for the particular selection of figures included. In English this collection has no equal." (Lewis Ayres, Bede Chair of Catholic Theology, Durham University, UK)
"This is a thoroughly reliable, appreciative introduction to the formative perspectives of early Christianity by a well-chosen team of experts. Early Christianity used to be taught in a scholastic kind of way as if it had fossilized completely. The contributors to this volume all understand early Christianity as a time of creative ferment, when innovations were extended and at times withdrawn in a way both like and unlike today. This account of tentative progress is an excellent foil for those wrestling with the changing church today." (Iain R. Torrance, president, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ)
About the Author
Paul Foster (D.Phil.) is senior lecturer in New Testament at the University of Edinburgh. He is author of Community, Law and Mission in Matthews Gospel (Mohr Siebeck) and The Apocryphal Gospels: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford).
Top Customer Reviews
Review: I'm not sure how to rate this book. I bought it thinking it was an introduction of these great thinkers to the layperson. I was wrong. It's highly academic, using terminology form theological and philosophical study, literary analysis and historical ideology. I didn't understand half of what they were saying. This doesn't mean it was a bad book. The authors did an excellent job of introducing the thinker and giving a fair overview of their life, works and controversies. If I was a scholar of the higher order, this would be an desired book for my studies. As I am a lay person with a singular difficulty in understanding theology and philosophy, I found it hard to muddle through.
What I love about this book is that it presents the well-known and not-as-well-known figures that helped shape the Christian faith, at least some of those figures not as well known to me. Like one of the only early church Mothers: Perpetua. I've had this on going debate with my wife that there were no early church Mothers; I stand corrected! She was a contemporary of Tertullian who provides us in her diary the first example of Christian autobiography and a sketch of Christian identity that we won't see again until Augustine. (100) Her Passion of Perpetua and Felicity is a prison diary she wrote after she and her fellow catechumens were arrested by Carthagian authorities. It also contains four revelatory, prophetic dreams and a practical theology that promotes a familial understanding regarding our relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and calling as a Christian.
Another less well-known thinker is Tatian, a disciple of Justin Martyr who wrote an apology and gospel harmony. His Oratio ad Graecos was a robust defense of the Christian faith against the superiority of Greek philosophy and culture, in which one argument suggests the superiority of the Christian tradition based on the antiquity of Moses and charge that the Greeks borrowed ideas from him. He also suggests the Christian ethical practices are much more superior to Greco ethics in light of Greek cultural practices. Tatian's other famous work was a harmony of the four gospels, titled Diatessaron. ('through the four'). This project sought to resolve discrepancies in light of the so-called Synoptic Problem, deleted duplicate stories, and filled in the gaps found in each individual canonical gospel. His work was highly influential among Syrian Christians and later among Semitic and European gospel harmonies. As ECT argues, "His contribution makes one aware of the fluidity and creativity that existed in [the early Christian] movement during the second half of the second century." (34)
Then, of course, you have a whole host of other more well-known early church thinkers: Justin, the 2nd century apologist, philosopher, and martyr opens the list as the one representing the first attempt "to place Christian thinking on an equal footing with the elite philosophies"(xii) of the Roman day; there is Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons who, out of deep pastoral concern, "set himself to refute what he considered to be distortions of the authentic gospel," (36) while also crafting for the Church deep theological categories relating to the nature of Christ's work through recapitulation and nature of Christ himself; Clement of Alexandria sought to synthesize the Bible and Greek philosophy--insisting that "all truth is God's truth" long before Rob Bell ever did--and developed the notion of the Christian life as a pursuit of perfection, a "gradual ascent of the soul to the beatific vision" (81) influencing a long line of thinkers through Christian history (e.g. John Wesley); then there's Origen, one of the most prolific writers of Antiquity who gave the church exegetical, theological, and pastoral works of reflection, developed an "optimistic cosmology of salvation through the incarnate word," (111) and was later pronounced a heretic; and finally we have Eusebius, the ancient 4th century historian who no only gave us a historical reflection on the early Church and its writings, but also blessed the Church with little known or engaged Biblical commentaries and theological and apologetic treatises.
Despite the inclusion of these well-known and not-so-well known, I was left scratching my head at the omission of 5 more key figures from the 4th century: Arius and Athanasius, and the Cappadocian Fathers--Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. I get that the book wanted to guard against becoming bloated with every mover and shaker and focus on the "live and legacies of 12 key figures," but why include Tatian, Hippolytus of Rome, and Gregory Thamaturgus at the expense of Arius and Athanasius and the Cappadocians? All five were incredibly important to developing the Church's understanding of the Trinity and Christology. While I think the book is still a great primer for people interested in early Christian thinkers, failing to include these other 5 major Christian thinkers is a serious omission, me thinks.
Regardless of these curious omissions, these are among the ancient throngs who helped provide a sure foundation for the 21st century Church. But as Paul Foster reminds us, giving shape to that foundation wasn't easy, neat, or tidy. While now we take for granted our Trinitarian understanding of God, full deity and full human status of Jesus, and deep reflections on the nature of the Cross, the period from the mid-2nd to 4th centuries "was a period of both theological creativity and challenge for this emergent religious movement. While a group of members shared a common devotion to the person of Jesus, the basis of such piety and worship required further definition." (xi)
This "further definition" is what this book is about. It is a timely book that reminds us of the very real challenge that existed of "adjudicating between competing perspectives and interpretations concerning matters of faith" in order to remind us that there is a consensus around which the Church has expressed herself theologically. And this consensus can be perceived in even later expressions: "there is undoubtedly much continuity and many ideas can be identified in nuce...Therefore, while many beliefs found more precise expression in later centuries many can still be recognized in embryonic form in the first few centuries of Christianity." (xii)
I am often amazed at the great effort put forward now by so-called "progressive" Christians who wish to re-imagine the Christian faith, as if the Church simply re-incarnates herself generation after generation into a more evolved, advanced organism, without any memory or mooring to her past. These so-called "New Kind of Christians" who are emerging into a "New Kind of Christianity" should sit down with Foster's book and a stiff drink, and take in the grand, long memory that marks the Church. Student, pastor, and Joe/Josephine-blow Christian alike will benefit from this short reminder of the lives and ideas that have combined to craft the anchor to which our contemporary expression of the Church is in fact tethered.
(In the interest of disclosure, I received a free review copy from the publisher, which did not impact the content of my review.)
It is highly debatable whether they would have felt comfortable in each other's company. Yet in many way that is what makes this selection of early Christian figures so fascinating, because in a very real sense their diversity represents much of the complex dynamic of early Christianity from the mid second century to the beginning of the fourth century. In no way can early church history be represented as irenic and unproblematic. (xix)
"Who is this motley crew", you ask?
There is a single chapter by a different author on these twelve early Christian thinkers: Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Perpetua, Origen, Cyrpian of Carthage, Hippolytus of Rome, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and Eusebius of Caesarea.
If after reading that list you are shaking your head and wondering, "who", that's what makes this book so helpful and appealing. Even for a history nerd like myself there was plenty information, stories, and thoughts in here to keep me intrigued.
Even the interaction with the more notable of these figures is still helpful. As an example, Paul Parvis' chapter on Justin Martyr is an outstanding treatment of Martyr in his historical context. Parvis helps the reader to really get an accurate feel for Justin's influence and give a contemporary model for one that "was trying to explain the Gospel he had received in terms that would be comprehensible to the world around him" (9). Knowing this helps us to come to a better understanding of the intention behind much of Martyr's writing, while simultaneously spurring the reader on to similar incarnational missions.
As you can expect in a volume written by twelve different authors some chapters are better written than others. Some chapters keep you engaged, on the edge of your seat, and searching Amazon for other resources on the Christian thinker being discussed. Other chapters feel a little like reading a 5th grade history book; somewhat stale but still helpful.
I am not certain that this would serve well as an introduction to the Early Church Fathers (for that I would suggest Haykin's latest work: Rediscovering the Church Fathers). However, it is not so technical and filled with jargon that the average lay-person could not sift through it and learn a good deal about church history. It's best audience will probably be for those with a previous knowledge of history and those who are perpetual students of history.
If you want to know more about the thinking in the early church through the lens of several key figures then this book is definitely worth looking into.
**I got this book free from IVP in exchange for a review. I didn't have to give a positive review, but I did anyways because I like it.