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Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future) Paperback – November 1, 2006
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From the Back Cover
The Evangelical Ressourcement series is grounded in the belief that there is a wealth of theological, exegetical, and spiritual resources from the patristic era that is relevant for the Christian church today and into the future. Amid the current resurgence in interest in the early church, this series aims to help church thinkers and leaders reappropriate these ancient understandings of Christian belief and practice and apply them to ministry in the twenty-first century. Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation is the second volume in the series.
While the patristic age is marked by the development of the Apostle's and the Nicene creeds, D. H. Williams contends we must not neglect the lesser known yet just as significant theological texts and expressions of worship that were seminal in shaping early Christian identity. In this sourcebook, Williams gathers key writings from the first through sixth centuries that illustrate the ways in which the church's confessions, teaching, and worship were expressed during that time. More than an anthology, this sourcebook introduces the primary sources of Christian antiquity.
Williams opens the book with a chapter examining the close interplay between Scripture and tradition in the thinking of the early church. The selections are grouped thematically and cover various crucial topics, including the rule of faith, baptismal formulations and instruction, creeds, and biblical interpretation. Within each theme, the writings are arranged chronologically, revealing how the Christian tradition on a given topic developed over time. Explanatory notes provide historical background and theological context for each reading.
Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation enables students and teachers to read the patristic authors on issues related to the earliest development of Scripture and tradition, showing how they functioned as authorities for the early church.
About the Author
D. H. Williams (PhD, University of Toronto) is professor of religion in patristics and historical theology at Baylor University. He is the author of Evangelicals and Tradition and Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism and editor of The Free Church and the Early Church.
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Top customer reviews
Williams' book helps readers navigate the plethora of writings from the early church to gain an appreciation for their value. It is an excellent tool to kindle a passion among readers for the ministry and authority found in the traditions of the early church. His ultimate goal is to draw readers to the traditions of the early church in order to develop a more theologically and biblically literate contemporary Christian church.
Williams shows readers that the traditions of the church are wholly compatible and complementary to the charism sought in contemporary evangelicalism. Williams asserts throughout the book that the writings of the church Fathers are an essential ingredient in the practice of authentic Christianity. He recognizes the aversion that evangelicals hold toward the traditions of the church. This book is a process of taking readers by the hands and leading them through the deeply spiritual, pastoral and ecclesial writings of the Fathers. In the process, he helps readers to realize that the era of these writings occurred on the footsteps of Jesus, the apostles, Pentecost and the charismatic movement witnessed in Acts.
These writings are what helped early Christians interpret the apostles' teachings and translate them into liturgy, community, cultural practicalities and ecclesiology.
Williams writes to Christians of the Reformation's mantra of sola scriptura. He demonstrates through the book that the idea of Scripture alone determining doctrine and practice would have been a foreign concept to the early church. Williams walks readers through the process of the Bible coming out of the life of the Christian community as it listened to God's word and sought to realize it and pass it on faithfully. The Scripture was not read or taught by Christians apart from the tradition of the church, as it was demonstrated in the Rule of Faith, baptismal confessions and conciliar creeds. Outside of the tradition of the church, the Scriptures were interpreted differently by those promoting heresies based on teachings contradicted by the apostolic teachings. The church's tradition actually shaped the Biblical canon, as it discerned Scripture from other worldly writings. Williams teaches, "Like streams coming out of the same spring, "the tradition and the Bible, represented by the work of the Holy Spirit in the church were realized only in the presence of each other." (19)
By introducing evangelicals to the early church tradition, Williams is implying that early church's expectations of Christians apply to Christians of all time. The idea that a Christian could live a life indistinguishable for non-Christians in the culture seems anathema to the church Fathers of the patristic era. There is an stated and implied responsibility in their writings to study Scripture, participate in the Lord's Supper, contribute to the Christian community, respect the church's authority and to serve the body of Christ. There is no sign of cheap grace, mental assent or easy-believism among the Fathers.
Williams shows that in the Father's writings are the keys to how the church started from nothing to spread throughout the world while combating severe opposition and heresies on every side. It is astonishing that the Western Church has neglected these writings. Williams' book presents the writings with helpful commentary, and I think will effectively transform readers' views of the church's tradition.
Craig Stephans, author of Shakespeare On Spirituality: Life-Changing Wisdom from Shakespeare's Plays
I purposely do not say "patristic tradition", although it is a perfectly adequate term in the proper context, since that would imply that it is somehow "out there" and we can just latch onto it without also participating in the liturgy and sacramental life which all of the Fathers accepted as normative and necessary. A strong argument can be made that thinking otherwise would be to fundamentally misunderstand the very heritage that this book is trying to promote and sustain, but you may see my other reviews for that discussion (basically, saying you feel French doesn't make you French, and to feel connected to the past doesn't actually connect you to its living present reality, to paraphrase Schaeffer). There is more to it than an intellectual assent. That said, this primer is a fantastic way to start thinking about why the past matters if you are a Christian of any denominational persuasion, and why a serious student of theology cannot assume that what forms the Christian tradition is merely a byproduct of people sitting down and reading their bibles that magically appeared in their midst, without any reference to the Tradition of the Church out of which those very same scriptures were written and interpreted. Everything the Church Fathers wrote is not of the same worth or quality, but you may certainly find a straight line of continuity there concerning worship and doctrine, as they go hand in hand.
To start off with this book is great, and the rest of Williams' works are fantastic and highly recommended. Just don't forget the liturgical context and theology behind that context when you read the Fathers.
The following books may also be of interest.
Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers
Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement
The Relevance of the Fathers
By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition
Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian
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