By Michael A.G. Haykin
Do the Fathers lead logically to the full-blown theology of the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodoxy? Not at all: Epiphanius of Salamis condemned the use of icons and pictures; Cyprian described Stephen, the bishop of Rome, as the Antichrist; Augustine’s view of the presence of Christ is much closer to Luther than Trent; and on and on. Read Calvin’s Institutes and see how often he cites the Fathers, esp. Augustine. And why? Because he believed they supported him, not the Roman Church. And he was right. Thomas Cranmer, the theological and liturgical architect of Anglicanism, was one of the leading patristic scholars of his day. No, the Fathers are not necessarily the root of the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodoxy. They are just as much my Fathers as they are theirs—and I, a full-blown unrepentant Evangelical—am not ashamed to own them as my theological mentors and forebears. This does not mean I believe everything they believed, even as I do not believe everything my great hero Andrew Fuller believed (his view that John Wesley was a crypto-Jesuit is plain ridiculous, e.g.).
If you wish to see how contemporary Evangelicals read the Fathers, check out the series of books beginning to be published this year by Christian Focus and of which I am the series editor: “Early Church Fathers.”
Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.