Friday, June 01, 2007

History of Theology

I almost finished reading Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall today. I am about 11 pages short of the 296 page book and I will probably finish that when I go to bed. It was a pretty decent book. Covering the major area of theology, the books gives a glimpse of what those in the first and second century held to and why.

The thing that stuck me most about this book that I am not sure I noticed before is that each of these church fathers shaped their thoughts and crafted their creeds in response to some heresy. That is, there is always a historical context in which doctrine was nailed down and if that context is not understood then there is danger of misinterepreting that doctrine. For example, Irenaeus' (Bishop of Lyons ca. 130-200 A.D.) main concern was Gnosticism. Because Gnostics held to a series of lesser deities it was important that the church held to "'believes in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,' a teaching that clearly contradicts the Gnostic insistence that creation was the work of a lesser deity or evil angel" (Hall, p. 227).

Similarly, Augustines belief that the church is made up of a mix of true believers and false believers must be understood in the context of his discussion with the Donatists.

While it was a slow read (which is the best way to read it, in my opinion - take in about a third or half of chapter and then ponder it for about half a day), it was a good read. It is a nice companion to a systematic theology book. It was a great approach and I would recommend it as an addition to any Christian wanting a deeper understanding of theology.

Here is one of the most striking things I found throughout the book: So much of what the church fathers agrued against 1800 years ago or so is rearing its head again in the Emerging Church Movement (ECM). Take, for example this quote from Irenaeus in Against Heresies:

When, however, the Gnostics are confuted from the Scriptures,
they turn around and accuse these same Scriptures as if they
were not correct, nor of authority. They say that they are
ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by
those who are ignorant of tradition...But, again, when we refer
them to that tradition which origninates from the apostles...they
object to tradition. (Hall, citing Irenaeus, p. 207)

This sounds exactly like the claims of the insidious encrochment of Postmodernism into the present Church. The rejection of authority (which is essentially the basis of Postmodernism and the ECM), the refusal to believe in absolute truth, and poor arguments.

This is why Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall is an important book. Knowing the history of what believers believe and why they believe it is a necessity to protect the church from facing the same dangers it faced in its infancy.