The significance of studying the church fathers cannot be measured. Their defenses of Christian doctrine against the earliest heresies, their rich interpretation of Scripture, and their brilliant philosophies are definitely worth careful consideration. Rediscovering the Church Fathers is a great place to start. As Michael A. G. Haykin walks you through the lives of the most important key figures in church history, you will find yourself captivated by the godly lives of these men who devoted their time and effort to edifying the body of Christ. This book is for anyone desiring to have a beginner’s understanding of the lives and writings of the early church fathers.
Haykin begins this book by stating its purpose in the first chapter: the need for studying the fathers among evangelicals. Haykin states that we should study the church fathers for such reasons as freedom and wisdom, understanding the New Testament, correcting mistaken views about the fathers, apologetic reasons, and for spiritual nourishment. The second chapter considers the life and thought of Ignatius of Antioch. He was known mainly for his martyrdom, and some even call him insane for the way he viewed his sure death. As Haykin brings out, Ignatius was willing to die by martyrdom because he “is certain that his martyrdom will please God” (p. 42). The argument of this chapter is that the Christian message was “so central [to] Christian orthodoxy, that it was worth dying for” (p. 48).
Chapter 3 is an examination of the apologetic writing, The Letter to Diognetus. Haykin walks you through the significant points of this letter and demonstrates how apologetically minded the author of this letter was and how this letter contributed to the shape of the early church in that it “permeated the ancient church’s witness to a sin-shaped culture” (p. 67). Chapter 4 is a study of the life and thought of the great exegete, Origen. Haykin gives a detailed biography of Origen’s early life and his contribution to the life of the early church by writing commentaries, books, and pioneering interpretation of biblical texts. This is one of the best balanced treatments of Origen that I have ever read. Chapter 5 is a look at the lives of two men who helped thrust religious piety towards the Lord’s Supper: Cyprian and Ambrose. Haykin shows the ways in which they both contributed to a biblical understanding of the Eucharist. Cyprian’s contribution was that he viewed the Eucharist as “a place where the believer knows afresh the forgiveness of the Lord and as a result is suffused with joy” (p. 97). This, of course, is the more reformed view of the Lord’s Supper. Ambrose’s contribution however, was that he identified “Christ’s words of institution as the means by which a change is effected in the elements of bread and wine” (p. 100). Ambrose’s thought would lead to a confusion of symbol and meaning, but nevertheless, both Cyprian and Ambrose are good representatives of the shifts in thought about the Lord’s Supper during that time. Haykin brings this out very well.
Then chapter 6 is a lengthy examination of the life and thought of Basil of Caesarea. This chapter is full of great quotes and rich writings from the pen of Basil, and Haykin shows what a great monastic reformer he was. Haykin mentions Basil’s defense of the Holy Spirit’s deity, during a time of controversy by noting the greatest work from the pen of Basil, namely On the Holy Spirit. This too, like the treatment of Origen, is one of the greatest readings on Basil of Caesarea. Chapter 7 is the last of the church fathers that are studied in this book, and it consists of a brief biography of Saint Patrick. Haykin tells us what the economic and social setting of that time was, and then proceeds to talk about Patrick’s career and his conversion. This is one of the most beautiful conversion stories in the history of the early church. What Haykin writes about Patrick’s conversion is worth getting this book. Haykin also notes what Patrick is most known for: his great missionary efforts. And Haykin concludes this chapter with a brief look at the impact he had on the Celtic church.
In chapter 8, Haykin gives a personal testimony to his encounter with studying the fathers. He talks about his honored mentors who introduced him to Patristics (the study of the church fathers), and encouraged him to further study. Then Haykin describes his doctoral studies on the life and thought of Basil and Athanasius. The appendixes of this book are also helpful. Haykin asks the question, “Where does one begin reading the fathers?” (p. 157). He then lists a number of helpful books that would aid anyone in their understanding of Patristics. Haykin concludes this book with an examination of one of his mentors, Jaroslav Pelikan, and his thought in Patristics. This part of the book is very touching because you get to see the personal life of Dr. Haykin.
What Haykin attempts to accomplish throughout this book is to give an outlook of how these early Christian figures have shaped our understanding of theology. They have contributed through their preaching, their many books, and in some cases their deaths. Haykin gives a new perspective on these great Christian thinkers by showing the different ways in which they have shaped contemporary Christianity.
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