on January 20, 2014
This book is well done in some aspects, but terrible in others (below). For the good aspects I was going to give it a 3 star as "Ok", but because of the negative aspects that lead people astray from Biblical truth, I give it a "2 star".
It is an imaginative and exciting read in the story telling parts of trying to imagine the context and history of these four men. I like his method of seeking to "fill in the blanks" as long as it is consistent and reasonable. The book is a Roman Catholic apologetic and biased popular introduction to these four men in early church (adding others in also to expand the RC idea that the whole early church agreed with Roman Catholic centuries later doctrines and dogmas). Rod certainly makes history come alive with his vivid descriptions and story-telling skills, and he also does a good job of weaving other writers and church history in his story. He also makes extensive use of Eusebius, Polycarp, Tertullian, and Cyprian to relate and harmonize the early centuries of Christianity together. He states his main purpose is to let the Early church speak for itself in her own words. (page 17) He does this to an extent, but he also leaves out some key parts of Clement (page 87, see below), and especially Irenaeus that actually go against his stated purpose. (to let the early church speak for itself) He skewed Cyprian of Carthage (died, being beheaded, around 258 AD) by leaving out important aspects of his life and writings, that pertain to the whole Roman Catholic vs. Protestantism debate. However his real purpose seems to be - to show that Protestantism is not historical, which is subtle. His main purpose seems to be to show that Sola Scriptura and Protestantism is wrong, especially when we read the afterward and the appendix of all the Roman Catholic distinctive doctrines that are the main issues that Protestants have against the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
Rod is a friend (I hope all my criticisms are against the doctrines, issues and principles and not against him as a person) a good story teller, and the aspects of early church history that he treats fairly that Protestant's agree with is great. The intro is skewed in a few places toward the RC side of things, as is the Afterward and the Appendix; - the last 2 sections of the book, Afterward, and on "Catholic Teaching in the Early Church" and "Catholic Teaching Today" are very skewed, in that they are trying to show that the doctrines and dogmas of the RCC that Protestants dis-agree with were there from the beginning of church history. They were not.
The biggest problem is that he leaves out key elements of the quotes from Clement, which would show that Clement treated presbyteroi (elders) and episcopoi (overseers/bishops) as one church office/same person - as in Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy chapter 3. Since Clement, along with the Didache are the earliest writings outside of the NT and they are compatible with a two office local church government (elders/overseers who do the work of shepherd/pastors and deacons); and all scholars of church history agree, and Rod agreed with me when I pointed this out, that it was not until Ignatius around 107-117 AD, who exalted one of the presbyers out from the college of presbyters and made him the mono-episcopate (one bishop over the college of elders. When I pointed this out, Rod eventually agreed with me that he will need to add information in a subsequent edition on that issue. The way Clement is left, he has made it appear that the early church from the beginning had a three office structure, rather than just two.
Getting a grip on early church is hard work, and Rod provides us with some handles, such as the context of the Roman persecutions and the heroic Christianity of Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr in dying for the sake of Christ, and Irenaeus in defending the doctrines of Christ against Heresies. Rod has also challenged evangelicals to know and study church history and for that, we are grateful for his contribution.
But there are many things that he leaves out, that, if they had been included, would weaken his case against Protestantism. He is a former Protestant, a Southern Baptist, and evangelical, and by leaving out certain parts of Irenaeus and Clement, at the exact places that balance these men and their writings a little more toward Protestantism, his purpose seems clear. I am not saying that these four men, or the early church was Protestant or Evangelical in the modern, fully developed forms of Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. and other Protestants. Not at all. They were "catholic" (universal), and they provide the trunk of the tree that later branched off into Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being selective, and no one can include everything in his or her research, otherwise, one would just have to rehash too much material with no analysis, and what would be the point of that? We don't expect just a complete re-stating of all of Irenaeus' great work, "Against Heresies". And certainly, I realize that I would be accused of the same thing, if I wrote an apologetic for Protestantism and the early church and I leave out some parts of Irenaeus and Tertullian that seem to teach Mary as the New Eve (that, according to R. Catholic claims, provide seeds of the later ideas of the intercession of Mary, prayers to Mary, that she is an advocate for us, a co-mediatrix ideas of Mary); or if I leave out other passages of other early church fathers/writers that seem to teach some kind of baptismal regeneration or apostolic succession. Those three issues have Protestant responses; my point is that I understand that this tendency can work both ways, and it is a massive task to thoroughly cover all the issues in a small book. Some ancient passages are anachronistically interpreted to be something about the Roman Catholic church, the Pope, etc.; but they do not really teach that at the time of the early church, in the Roman Catholic Papal sense that took centuries to develop. An author has every right to pick and choose what he wants to in order to make his case; my only point is that someone else also the right to come along and show how certain things have been left out, and at just the precise place, so as to seemingly, although innocently, skew the evidence. Giving Rod the benefit of the doubt, I wish to say that leaving these things out may be just an oversight that, as he said to me when I pointed this out, did not occur to him at the time. But he later agreed with me on that.
Clement of Rome
In his section on Clement, on page 87, Rod Bennett stops the quote short of confirming that episcopais (overseer or bishop) and presbuteras (elder) are used interchangeable and teach that they are the same office in the local church. (see I Clement 43:6 - 44:1-4) In 44:3-6, if the quote is allowed to continue, shows that the earliest churches, closest to the written Scriptures, still held to the teaching that elders and overseers were one and the same office in the church, charged with the responsibility of teaching, pastoring, and guarding the flock from false teaching. (Acts 20:17-30, Titus 1:5-7, I Timothy 3, I Peter 5:1-5) All of these passages show that elders and bishops are the same, and that their job is to pastor/ feed/ shepherd the flock, and do the work of "overseeing" (leading).
Clement agrees with this, with the Scriptures, that elders and bishops are the same, so this is hardly an early church document in which teaches a papacy or Roman Catholicism. Rod claims that he "found only Catholicism" (page 281) , when reading and studying the Early Church Fathers. We can agree with this, if he means "catholic' with a little "c", in the sense of "universal", spreading throughout the world, believers from all nations (Revelation 5:9; 7:9), and which is orthodox and is unified on the "rule of faith" and is against the heretics, such as Gnosticism, Arianism, Judaistic legalism, and other anti-trinitarian heresies. Historic Protestants agree with the early centuries and the develpment of the doctrine of the Trinity (and the early councils and creeds on doctrinal issues - Nicean, Constantinople, Chalcedon, Athanasian Creed), because it was all based on consistent exegesis of all the texts. He is wrong, if he means in the later "Roman Catholic" way, which took centuries to develop, which is what he is really claiming.
Also, in the Irenaeus section, he cuts the quotes and re-arranges them out of order in such a way as to give a false impression.
Irenaeus believed in the rule of faith, but how does Irenaeus define the rule of faith?
On page 246, he leaves out part of the quote that shows that Irenaeus is using Scriptural proofs for his arguments against the Gnostics.
On page 247, Rod claims that the Gnostics always appealed to Scripture for their views:
"To what did they appeal when they offered their various insights? To Scripture always . . . though always to Scripture properly understood of course."
Where is the proof of this? I have not found this anywhere in Irenaeus. Rod is making it seem like Protestantism is like Gnosticism. Actually, Irenaeus says just the opposite!
He says that the Gnostics:
a. gather their knowledge from other sources other than the Scriptures. (Against Heresies, 1:8:1)
b. claim that the Jesus gave the apostles a secret, oral tradition. (3:2:1)
c. accuse the Scriptures of being unclear and ambiguous. (3:2:1)
But these 3 things are what the Roman Catholic church actually does do. They have other sources of authority that the Scriptures. Secret oral tradition, historical development of interpretation throughout history, the other councils after the first four ecumenical councils, creeds, and interpetations that grew centuries later, writings of the Popes, and the Apocrapha books, which are called "Deutero-canonicals", meaning, "secondarily received into the canon as God-breathed." Jerome and Athanaisus and Melito of Sardis have enough evidence to show the Apocrapha books were not inspired or part of the canon in the way that Roman Catholic apologists try to make them out to be.
Roman Catholics say the Scriptures are unclear, whereas Protestantism says that the Scriptures are clear to those who are born again by God's Spirit and are willing to honestly look at them and do proper exegesis. ("My sheep hear My voice . . . " John 10:27-30) This is not to say that all things are equally clear; (granted some secondary and minor things are unclear), but only to say that the main things necessary for salvation are clear. This is called the Protestant doctrine of the "perspicuity of Scripture", which the Roman Catholic denies.
Knowledgeable Evangelical Protestants do not hate the word, "tradition", nor "Eucharist", nor "catholic". Properly understood, there is no problem with these words as originally meant. When reading the early church fathers, those words come up a lot; but that does not mean that the early church was Roman Catholic.
What is "the tradition"?
The tradition that Irenaeus is talking about, is the right Biblical tradition, he defines it, in context (belief in One God, who created all things, Jesus as Son of God, the same God in OT as NT, against Gnosticism, etc.)
(See, Against Heresies, 1:10:1 and 1:10:2; 3:4:2)
On page 250, leaves out a key part of Irenaeus that defines what the "faith", the preaching, the tradition is. He quotes 1:10:2 and makes it seem like what Irenaeus is saying is that tradition that the church protects is some thing different from the basic doctrines of the apostles creed, and the Nicean Creed.
The way he treated Cyprian (bishop of Carthage, lived around 200-258 AD) was very problematic (pages 272-273, as part of Irenaeus), leaving out key aspects and historical information. While Cyprian operated on the mono-espiscopate principle, which started with Ignatius; he did not agree with any kind of "univeral bishop over all other bishops", that Rod skews it toward. The chair of Peter, the faith of Peter, only meant the doctrinal content of Matthew 16, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. It did not mean any kind of "ex cathedra Papal sense" of the 1870 dogma. Cyprian, Firmillian and 85 other bishops from all over the Christian empire in the 7th Council of Carthage wrote; "no one has the right to claim he is bishop over all the other bishops" - the claim that Stephen, bishop of Rome, made. This was an arrogant claim, and those 86 bishops rightly rebuked Stephen. There is no such office as "Pope" in the early centuries of Christianity. Even Gregory, bishop of Rome in 601 AD argued against the concept in his disagreement with John of Constantinople.
There is much more I could write, but these are the main issues for now.