‘Church Fathers’ Category

“In order that we too might be imitators of him”: The Death of Polycarp and the Imitation of Jesus

August 4th, 2015 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Biblical Spirituality, Church Fathers, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Historians, Persecution

By Shawn J. Wilhite and Coleman M. Ford

The Martyrdom of Polycarp offers an eyewitness account to the death and martyrdom of Polycarp from the church at Smyrna to the church at Philomelium (Mart.Pol. Pref.). As the narrative unfolds, some of the motifs that emerge relate to imitation. That is, the narrative of Polycarp’s death evoke the reader to imitate the death of Polycarp (Mart.Pol. 1:2).

This AD 2nd century event details three different martyrdom accounts. It praises the nobility of Germanicus, who fought with wild beasts and encouraged the “God-fearing race of Christians” through his death (Mart.Pol. 3:1–2). It discourages the concept of voluntary martyrdom as Quintus “turned coward” when he saw the wild beasts. Such voluntary pursuit of martyrdom does not evoke praise from fellow sisters and brothers because the “gospel does not teach this” (Mart.Pol. 4).

However, the narrative details the “blessed Polycarp” and his noble death (Mart.Pol. 1:1). These events are aimed to demonstrate how the “Lord might show us once again a martyrdom that is in accord with the Gospel” (Mart.Pol. 1:1). So, the narrative models for the reader a martyrdom that is worthy of imitation as it is patterned after “the Gospel.”

The Martyrdom account portrays Polycarp as a model of Christ’s life. For example, Polycarp waited to be passively betrayed (Mart.Pol. 1:2). The night before Polycarp’s betrayal, he is praying with a few close companions (Mart.Pol. 5:1). He prays “may your will be done” prior to his arrest (Mart.Pol. 7:1; cf. Matt 26:42). Furthermore, Polycarp is betrayed on a Friday (Mart.Pol. 7:1) and seated on a donkey to ride into town (Mart.Pol. 8:1)—similar to the “triumphal entry” and garden of Gethsemane events. On the verge of death, Polycarp offers up a final call to the Father (Mart.Pol. 14:3). While Polycarp is tied to the stake, an executioner is commanded to come stab Polycarp with a dagger (Mart.Pol. 16:1). Even the execution offers a similar to the confession of the centurion’s statement “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Mart.Pol. 16:2; Luke 23:47).

Not only do Polycarp and the surrounding events reflect a similar Gospel tradition, the villains in Polycarp’s story are re-cast in light of the passion villains. Polycarp is betrayed by someone close to him (Mart.Pol. 6:1). The captain of the police is called “Herod” (Mart.Pol. 6:2; 8:2; 17:2). The author(s) of the Martyrdom make sure to slow the narrative so that the reader makes the necessary connection to the Gospel accounts by saying, “who just happened to have the same name—Herod, as he was called” (Mart.Pol. 6:2). Moreover, those who betrayed Polycarp ought to “receive the same punishment as Judas” (Mart.Pol. 6:2). There is an army to capture Polycarp, similar to the Gethsemane scene (Mart.Pol. 7:1). The band of captors recognizes the piety of Polycarp in a similar way the group of soldiers bowed before arresting Him (Mart.Pol. 7:2; cf. John 18:6).

The Martyrdom narrative mimics the Gospel passion narratives. Whether it focuses on the personal character traits of Polycarp, the narrative of Polycarp’s journey to death, the secondary, seemingly accidental themes, or even the story’s villains, the Martyrdom of Polycarp is reshaped around gospel tradition.

As the narrative of the death of Polycarp unfolds, Polycarp’s character mimics the Lord so “that we too might be imitators of him” (Mart.Pol. 1:2). The blessed and noble characters of martyrdom are modeled after the narrative of Jesus tradition so as to invite readers to imitate Polycarp as he is imitating the Lord Jesus (Mart.Pol. 19:1).

Those in the early church saw patterns to imitate in the life of Jesus in regards to how to conduct oneself in the wake of impending martyrdom. Today, many Christians are faced with how to imitate those patterns as well. Both in America where persecution comes in word and thought, and in places like Syria where martyrdom is a real and present danger, reading Polycarp and other early Christian martyr stories empowers believers to follow the ultimate pattern which is Christ.

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headerJoin us on September 15-16, 2015 on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for this conference on Persecution and the Church in order to learn from examples from church history  and around the globe that will encourage believers today to face persecution.

Dr. Mohler & “Baptist Augustinianism”—a brief reply to Scot McKnight

March 14th, 2015 Posted in Baptist Life & Thought, Church Fathers, Church History

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Carl Trueman has a helpful addendum to Scot McKnight’s take on R. Albert Mohler’s comments about the conversions of Southern Baptist twins to Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. Reading the original remarks, though, by Scot left me with a concern not addressed by Carl.

Scot is critical of a Baptist piety that is of the “no-creed-but-the-Bible” variety and one that has no regard for the Great Tradition that stretches back into the patristic era. And well he should be (here I fully concur with Carl’s piece at First Things). But Scot gives the reader of his blog-post the distinct impression that Dr. Mohler’s theological perspective is shaped by both of these emphases he finds wanting. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A careful reading of Dr. Mohler’s written corpus and his spoken words reveals a deep-seated confessionalism, a consciousness that the Protestant Reformation is deeply indebted to the patristic era, and a profound Augustinianinsm. Moreover, the teaching of patristic studies at the school under his leadership further belies Scot’s remarks about a lack of interest in this great era of Christian thought.

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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.

Book Review: The Quest for the Trinity by Stephen Holmes

February 9th, 2015 Posted in Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Stephen R. Holmes, The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012; xx+231 pages.

the quest for the trinityA part of an ever-growing body of recent literature on the most important doctrine of the Christian Faith, that is, that the true and living God is a triune Being, this comprehensive study by Stephen Holmes, senior lecturer in theology at the University of St. Andrews, is a solid critique of the direction of much of this literature. As Holmes notes, many theologians in the twentieth century, especially in the latter half, believed that the doctrine of the Trinity had been neglected, even lost, and they sought to recover it. As Holmes adeptly shows, though, this recovery by the likes of Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, and John Zizioulas has given rise to a perspective on the Trinity quite at odds with what had prevailed in Christian thinking and devotion from the patristic era to the end of the eighteenth century. The reason for this Holmes deftly shows to have been the fact that twentieth-century thinkers regarded the patristic understanding of the Trinity, which Christian tradition had assumed to be correct down to the rise of biblical criticism in the eighteenth century, as deeply problematic. The Fathers’ insistence on the simplicity and ineffability of the divine being, the fact that the three divine hypostases are distinguished by the eternal relations of generation and procession, and that the entirety of Scripture bears witness to the Triune God have basically been ignored by modern writers. And the result, in Holmes’ opinion, can hardly be described as a “Trinitarian revival.”

Holmes first looks at the biblical witness to the Trinity (p.33-55) and rightly stresses that the Patristic development of the doctrine of the Trinity is “largely a history of biblical exegesis” (p.33). Some of their exegesis seems odd to early twenty-first-century readers, but Holmes helps us make sense of their hermeneutics and also shows why it can be regarded as viable. He then turns to the actual development of the patristic understanding of the Trinity, which rightly occupies a significant amount of his book (p.56­–143). Critical to his argument here is his cogent demonstration that there is a unified patristic witness about the Trinity, contra the common, but very wrong, assumption that the Greek Fathers, personified in the Cappadocians, and the Latin Fathers, personified in Augustine, took two very different and conflicting pathways of thought about God.

Chapter 7 looks at the medieval doctrine of the Trinity and the debate over the filioque (p.147­–164), where Holmes argues that neither position in the latter should be regarded as doing “violence to the received orthodox and catholic tradition” (p.164). While this reviewer personally sees the filioque as a correct development, I think Holmes is right in his emphasis here. Chapter 8 (p.165–181) tracks the story from the Reformation to the close of the eighteenth century. The period after the Reformation is often ignored in the history of Trinitarianism, and Holmes’ careful, though succinct, attention to this era is very welcome. The final chapter (p.182–200) looks at Trinitarian thought in the last two hundred years—the speculative nature of much of it in the nineteenth century after G.W.F. Hegel and F.D.E. Schleiermacher and then the supposed recovery in the twentieth century.

Has Holmes proven his case? This reviewer thinks so: twentieth-century theologians have clearly regarded the patristic synthesis as deeply problematic and taken thinking about the Trinity in very different directions from the received tradition. If so, what is needed then is a true ressourcement, in which the Fathers’ thinking on the Trinity is carefully delineated and its significance for the present day cogently argued.

Michael A.G. Haykin
Professor of Church History
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

To download the review as PDF, click here. To see other book reviews, visit here.

Reading Plan for the Latin Fathers (April-June 2014)

April 19th, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Reading Church History Lists

By Michael A.G. Haykin

April 19–26     Read Tertullian’s Against Praxeas
Question: What are Tertullian’s main arguments against modalism and how does he anticipate the later Trinitarian formula “three persons in one being”?

April 27–30     Read Cyprian, To Donatus
Question: Outline Cyprian’s understanding of conversion.

May 1–7          Read Cyprian, On the Unity of the Catholic Church
Question: What are the marks of the true church according to Cyprian and how does he substantiate his view?

May 8­–15        Read Novatian, On the Trinity
Question: How does Novatian show from Scripture that Jesus is God?

May 16–23      Read Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 1
Question: Outline Hilary’s conversion.

May 24–31      Read Augustine, Confessions (the whole book)
Question: Outline the way that Augustine depicts God as The Beautiful.

June 1–7          Read Augustine, City of God 1.1–36; 4.1–4; 11.1–4; 12.4–9; 13.1–24; 14.1–28; 15.1–2; 20.1–30; 21.1–2; 22.8–9; 22.29–30
Question: What is Augustine’s understanding of history?

June 8–15        Read Patrick, Confession
Question: What is Patrick’s understanding of the missionary call?

Download the Reading Plan for the Latin Fathers (PDF)

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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.

Dr. Rowan Greer

April 11th, 2014 Posted in Church Fathers, Church History, Historians

By Michael A.G. Haykin

One of my scholarly heroes, Dr Rowan Greer, has recently passed away. Here is the official notice, which does not mention the book that deeply shaped the way that I approach Patristic exegesis, The Captain of Our Salvation, his ground-breaking study of the exegesis of Hebrews.

On March 17, 2014, The Rev. Dr. Rowan A. Greer III, Walter H. Gray Professor of Anglican Studies at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, died after several years of on-and-off illness. He was 79. Greer taught at Yale for nearly 35 years, and he is remembered for his generous and devoted service to his students.

Although he rarely attended academic conferences, Greer is widely known for his pioneering work in the study of Antiochene Christology, patristic exegesis, and early Christian pastoral ministry, and for his translations of early Christian texts. Greer’s Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian—published four years before his 1965 Yale Ph.D.—is still regarded as a seminal work. His treatment of patristic exegesis in Early Biblical Interpretation (Westminster, 1986, with James Kugel), was for many years a rare introduction to early Christian hermeneutics. And his volume on Origen for the Classics of Western Spirituality Series remains a treasured and much-used book.

Greer’s scholarship was characterized by an approach that integrates theological and social concerns, well before such interdisciplinarity became de rigueur. Building on early works from the 1960s and 1970s, the fullest expression of Greer’s approach came in his monograph Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life in the Early Church (Penn State, 1986), which ranges from classical soteriology to the practicalities of family, hospitality, and Christian politics. Greer’s Christian Hope and Christian Life: Raids on the Inarticulate (Crossroad, 2001), a study of Christian eschatology in Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, John Donne, and Jeremy Taylor, won the Association of Theological Booksellers’ 2001 Book of the Year. In recent years he published two volumes of translations, The “Belly-Myther” of Endor: Interpretations of 1 Kingdoms 28 in the Early Church (Brill, 2007, with Margaret Mitchell), and Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentaries on the Minor Epistles of Paul (Brill, 2010). With the assistance of J. Warren Smith, a final work-in-progress will appear later this year as One Path for All: Gregory of Nyssa on the Christian Life and Human Destiny (Cascade).

A memorial service will be held at Yale Divinity School sometime this fall.

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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.

 

Reclaiming St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Biblical Spirituality, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians, Missions

By Steve Weaver
Patrick Cover

Michael Haykin’s new biography of Patrick. See below for a free giveaway opportunity.

We are blessed in our society today to have holidays such as Easter, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day which are filled with Christian significance. Unfortunately, almost all of the Christian meaning for these important markers on the Christian calendar has been forgotten. As much as we Christians like to blame the nebulous society around us, I don’t think it is the “world’s” fault that these holidays have not retained their Christian meaning. Instead, I fault Christians who are either unaware of their heritage or just plain derelict in their duty to educate their children. We shouldn’t expect unbelievers to celebrate Christianity, but we should expect Christians to seek to pass their heritage on to the next generation.

Hopefully you do use the holidays of Christmas and Easter as opportunities to talk to your children about the birth and resurrection of Christ respectively. However, days like St. Valentine’s Day and especially St. Patrick’s Day are often missed opportunities in evangelical homes. Perhaps we’re frightened away by the fact that these individuals are often associated with the Roman Catholic Church. But there is no need to fear Patrick for in him evangelicals have not a foe but a friend.

Patrick was a courageous Christian missionary to Ireland in the 5th century. His story of being kidnapped as a boy in Britain to become a slave in Ireland, his escape back to Britain, and his call as a missionary to return is a fascinating tale of God’s providence and grace. His dedication to the doctrine of the Trinity is both admirable and worthy of emulation. Talking to your children about how Patrick taught the Trinity to the pagans of his day provides a tremendous opportunity to explain this difficult biblical teaching to them. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Likewise, Patrick’s commitment to take the gospel to unreached peoples (Ireland at the time would have been considered the “end of the world.”) is another important teachable aspect of this remarkable life for our children. Read, in Patrick’s own words, his commitment to take the gospel to Ireland:

I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord would grant it to me. (Confession 37)

In short, St. Patrick should be introduced to our children as a courageous missionary hero who believed and taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Many legends are attached to the story of Patrick and though I believe most are grounded in some true events, the discerning reader must be aware of the mixture of legend and history on this early Christian figure. However, we are not dependent merely on legends to know about the life of Patrick. His autobiographical Confession has survived the centuries and is a fascinating recounting of his life.

For those interested in learning more, there is a helpful modern biography of Patrick by Philip Freeman. For parents wanting a good introduction that can be ready by or to their children, I highly recommend Patrick: Saint of Ireland by Joyce Denham. In addition, a new biography of Patrick has been penned by Michael Haykin, which is already available in the UK and is available for pre-order in the US. We are going to give away a free copy of this book today. Enter the contest below!

A few short, but very helpful articles about Patrick’s modern-day relevance are available online.

This post originally appeared on March 17, 2012 on pastorhistorian.com. It has been lightly edited and reposted today on that blog in honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2014.

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children.

New Series on Early Church Fathers Edited by Michael Haykin

March 14th, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians

By Steve Weaver

A new series of books featuring biographies of the early church fathers is being published by Christian Focus Publications of the United Kingdom. Noted Patristic scholar Michael A.G. Haykin is serving as the series editor. According to the publisher’s website:  “this series relates the magnificent impact that these fathers of the early church made for our world today. They encountered challenges similar to ones that we face in our postmodern world, and they met them with extraordinary values that will encourage and inspire us today.”

Basil CoverThe first volume, authored by Marvin Jones, focuses on Basil of Caesarea. The publisher’s website provides the following description:

Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD) was a Greek Bishop in what is now Turkey. A thoughtful theologian, he was instrumental in the formation of the Nicene Creed. He fought a growing heresy, Arianism, that had found converts, including those in high positions of state. In the face of such a threat he showed courage, wisdom and complete confidence in God that we would do well to emulate today.

Patrick CoverThe second volume in the series was authored by Haykin and is an exploration of the life and impact of Patrick of Ireland. The publisher’s website provides this description:

Patrick ministered to kings and slaves alike in the culture that had enslaved him. Patrick’s faith and his commitment to the Word of God through hard times is a true example of the way that God calls us to grow and to bless those around us through our suffering. Michael Haykin’s masterful biography of Patrick’s life and faith will show you how you can follow God’s call in your life.

Both these books are available in the UK. They will not be available in the US until May, but are available for pre-order now on Amazon:

Other books scheduled in the series include:

  • Athanasius by Carl Trueman
  • Cyril of Alexandria by Steve McKinion
  • Augustine by Brad Green
  • Irenaeus of Lyons by Ligon Duncan
  • Tertullian by David Robinson

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children.

 

The Fathers—my mentors

January 31st, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers

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.”

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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.

Dr. Haykin contributes to New Book on the Atonement

November 15th, 2013 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Theology

By Steve Weaver

Final coverReleasing this month from Crossway is a massive new book on the doctrine of definite atonement titled From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. As the title suggests, this volume will approach the doctrine historically, biblically, theologically, and pastorally.

Edited by David and Jonathan Gibson, the volume assembles a world-class group of scholars to address their “particular” topics. Dr. Haykin drew from his patristic training to write his chapter: “We Trust in the Saving Blood”: Definite Atonement in the Ancient Church.

There is a website dedicated to promoting the book. On the website, you will find a list of the contributors, the table of contents, endorsements, and a free preview (PDF) of the book.

The book is slated to release on November 30, 2013, but is already available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 2 and 14.

A Reading-Plan for The City of God

November 7th, 2013 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians

By Michael A.G. Haykin

StAugustineCityOfGodWhen I have lectured on Augustine’s seminal work, The City of God, I have often mentioned a reading plan I have for the work. Here it is below. The number prior to the full stop refers to the book (there are twenty-two books in The City of God), and the numbers after the full stop refer to the chapters within the respective books.

1.1­–36: why Augustine wrote The City of God

4.1–4: the nature of kingdoms without justice

11.1–4: the origin of the two cities, the city of God and the city of man

12.4–9: the origin of evil

13.1–24: man’s fall and sinfulness

14.1–28: the two cities

15.1–2: the two cities at the beginning of time

20.1–30: the end of the two cities

21.1–2: the eternality of the punishment of the wicked

22.8–9: an excursus on miracles

22.29–30: the beatific vision

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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.