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BOOK REVIEW LEARNING THEOLOGY WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS
SUBMITTED TO DR. KEVIN KING IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE COMPLETION OF CHHI520 B-05,
BY JASON LOCKE
LEESBURG, IN SEPTEMBER 26, 2010
Introduction Dr. Christopher A. Hall, first Chancellor of Eastern University, and world renowned scholar/teacher has had a long career of both ministry and academic teaching. He has served in the pastorate oversees, France for five years, and British Columbia, Canada for two years. He has written many articles and many books. Three such books deal with the early church fathers. They are Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, and Praying with the Church Fathers. It is the second book that this review will concentrate upon. In this book Dr. Hall takes the reader upon a journey to discover once again what a real study in theology is all about. This review will show that this book is not only a historical account of the early struggles of the church¶s theological issues, but it is practical for the church today. It is the hope that once one reads this review they will want to read Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, and really enter the journey to pursue after the doctrines that make up the church today. Summary In the opening chapter, Hall outlines the key doctrines that he is going to discuss namely the key theological loci that surrounded the Church Fathers¶ thinking; namely, the question of authority, the Trinity, the incarnation, Christ¶s work, question of humanity, question of the church, and the question of the future (18). Hall outlines his chapters around these issues by looking at some of the controversies that rocked the early church. In chapter two Hall takes on the Arian controversy and the question of just who was Jesus. He outlines the arguments of Arius that thought that Jesus was a created being and those of Athanasius that believed Jesus was the son of God not created but coexistent. Chapter three covers the topic of the Trinity. Hall
discusses the dilemma of describing the Trinity from the perspective of Gregory of Nazianzus. Who believed the Trinity explanations to be lacking in either direction one goes because of the fact that humans are finite and therefore lack the mind to comprehend the Trinity (59). Hall then turns to a sermon of Augustine that was preached on Jesus¶ baptism in which there was a manifestation of the Trinity in the person Jesus (Son), voice of God (Father), and the descending dove (Holy Spirit). In chapter four the Christological controversy continues as the incarnation is discussed. At issue here, is how Jesus can be both divine and human. Hall discusses the differences between Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and Nestorius in his over confidence of his position on the unity of Christ (86). Chapter five Hall departs somewhat from the normal comparing of two viewpoints to looking at four views concerning the Holy Spirit. Chapter six covers the human condition and how this world comes to be in its current state. In this chapter, Hall spends time dissecting the Pelagius controversy and Augustine¶s response. In chapters seven and eight God¶s providence is explored not only his control of human history, but whether he has a loving plan for the history of humanity. In chapter nine Hall focuses upon the importance of not adding to the scriptures in his dealings between Ireneus and the Gnostics Hall deals with the concept of church and what it means to be part of the church in chapter ten. Chapter eleven deals with the all important question what happens after one dies. It is probably obvious by now but this book explores many of the dimensions¶ of systematic theology and how the church fathers dealt with the newly formed church and her teachings. In the next section, a few of the areas that Hall covers will be looked at closer to see how they are important to the church today.
Analysis In chapter two the Arian controversy is explored on the issue that the Son was begotten and not made. The issue came to Arius that there was a time when the Son was not with the father something that bishop Alexander was teaching. To Arius, if the Son was begotten then there must be a time when he was not begotten (35-36). Hall gives a very detailed response of Athanasius, his main points are covered well for the reader (43-44). Hall does a great job of showing in the arguments where Arius is flawed in his thinking (38). One area that seems lacking, though, is there appears to be no mention of this ever being a problem before the third century. In the second century Modals taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were manifestations at different times of the same God.1 This reviewer would have liked more background on the Arian point of view. It also lacks the soteriological connection according to one reviewer, and this is a valid point, for Arius could not see how the savior can die if he is divine. 2 Halls¶ dealings in this chapter concerning the Arian controversy should make the point, to the everyday Christian, that the correct view of Jesus is essential to one¶s view of the theology of Jesus. Hall in chapter six deals with the Pelagian controversy and the results of this has forever impacted Christianity. Pelagius¶ main problems were that of exactly what made up the human condition; Pelagius was combating the notion that one could dismiss their sinful nature because of some defect in human nature (134). Pelagius contends that man is born with a will that is capable of doing good and following God¶s commandments. To this Augustine answers that that Adam and Eve did enter the world with a perfect will capable of following God but when sin
Everett Ferguson, Church History Volume 1 from Christ to Pre-Reformation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 143. 2 J. Warren Smith, ³Book Reviews and Notes´, Church History, 73 no 3, (2003), 646.
entered the world it forever changed the will of those that would follow (137). Hall does an excellent job of outlining the argument from both sides and presents in this reviewers¶ opinion a well balanced argument. Hall even explains that the difference between Pelagius and Augustine is one of the definitions of terms. Each one uses the same terms but the definitions are drastically different (138). The importance of this argument for the Christian today is knowing that there is nothing good inside of oneself. It is not a poetic license to sin, but to recognize that there is a nature that operates contrary to the way God wants one to act helps in the struggle of sin and the sin nature. It gives one hope that there is one that overcame the flesh. One of the key chapters for this reviewer was the chapter on the sacred Scriptures. It is here that Hall devotes the chapter to the conflict with Gnostic belief. Gnosticism was a belief that there was a secret knowledge that one needed in order to be saved and that scriptures were not enough. Ireneus fought long and hard against this movement. Hall brings out an interesting point that Ireneus makes if Luke had not learned anything new from Paul how could these people (Gnostics) be claiming that they received a special revelation. Ireneus¶ argument that could have been made any stronger; the argument here is that the scriptures are all one needs in order to be saved. There is no secret knowledge that one has to obtain outside the Scriptures. Conclusion It saddens this reader that today the church seems more interested in what the church picnic is serving this year than really trying to understand the doctrine that make up the faith system that one professes to believe in. This book Learning Theology with the Church Fathers would be good for pastors and laymen that are curious about where their faith comes from. Pastors should find ways in order to incorporate this book in their sermons, but showing that some of the issues the church faces today have been faced before. An example of this would be
the Scriptures themselves are under attack. There are people that want to add to them and even reinterpret them. It would be good to study this book. The importance of this book cannot be understated and Hall does an excellent job of showing issues that were of importance to the early church. These same issues helped to shape the life of the Church today.
Ferguson, Everett. Church History Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Smith, J. Warren. "Book Reviews and Notes." Church History, 2003: 645-647.
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