Spring 2019: Early Christian Studies

The Apocalypse, or Revelation, of Jesus Christ is known for being the most enigmatic book in the New Testament. Its cryptic imagery, other-worldly symbolism, and visionary drama often contribute to an interpretive quagmire that biblical scholars and theologians alike have attempted to navigate for centuries. renewed interest in early Christian studies has emerged among many evangelical scholars in recent years. One reason for this development is a growing solidarity with the robust spirituality that the Church Fathers exhibited in their writings. Another is the historical proximity of the Patristic era to the first century. Just as 2nd Temple literature is prominent today in New Testament studies because it provides insights into the Jewish milieu that immediately preceded Christianity, so do the Church Fathers stand at the other end of the temporal spectrum as the initial successors of the theological traditions bequeathed by the apostolic generation. Finally, a growing number of exegetes and theologians resonate with selective facets of hermeneutical approaches utilized by the Fathers. Their views of biblical interpretation were premodern in orientation, which is to say they were not encumbered with many of the historical-critical pitfalls that sometimes stifle confessional readings of Scripture. Thus, it is for these reasons as well as many others that our Spring 2019 edition of CTR is devoting six articles to this important subject.  

Our lead article is written by Stephen O. Presley who serves as Associate Professor of Church History and Director of the Center for Early Christian Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, TX. Presley engages recent scholarly attention to the field of biblical theology and shows how the work of Irenaeus of Lyons has much to offer such inquiries. Presley surveys the work of Irenaeus to show how his approach to biblical interpretation was an outflow of specific commitments he had regarding the symmetry of Scripture as a whole.

Our second article is by Susan Wendel who serves as Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Briercrest Seminary in Caronport SK, Canada. Wendel discusses some of the complexities that emerged in early Christianity regarding the theological implications of interpreting Old Testament texts as “Christian” (or Gentile-inclusive) Scripture. She compares the work of Justin Martyr on this matter with how Jew/Gentile relations are portrayed in Luke/Acts.

The third article is written by Carl L. Beckwith who is Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. Beckwith discusses how Luther and the larger Lutheran tradition viewed the theological heritage of the Church Fathers. In particular, Beckwith clarifies how Lutherans maintained their commitment to Scripture alone while still maintaining a high regard for the contributions of the Fathers. Likewise, Beckwith clarifies how they did so in ways that were distinct from their Roman Catholic opponents.

Our fourth contributor is Shawn J. Wilhite who is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA. Wilhite examines Basil of Caesarea’s interpretation of Psalm 1 to show how he viewed biblical texts as having multiple layers of meaning. The point of this discussion is not merely to highlight the use of allegory in patristic exegesis. It is also to show how Basil viewed the reading of biblical texts as a means of experiencing spiritual transformation.

The fifth contributor is Brandon D. Smith who is Assistant Professor of Theology and New Testament at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH. Smith initially surveys how early Trinitarian language tried to balance the dual biblical emphases of monotheism and divine triunity. He then traces vocabulary in the New Testament that stresses the deity of Jesus and summarizes how various church fathers synthesized this data. From here, Smith finally shows how Athanasius and Nicaea built upon the strengths of these earlier contributions to provide a more precise Trinitarian vocabulary.

Finally, our last entry is by Brian Burns who currently is completing doctoral studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Burns analyzes several features in the history of evangelicalism that have contributed to an unfortunate anti-intellectual ethos in certain theologically conservative guilds. In hopes of providing a viable alternative to this trend, he proposes that becoming reoriented with the writings of the Church Fathers can potentially foster a healthier perspective on the relationship between theological acumen and spiritual disciplines.

Following these articles are eight book reviews that inform readers about works which can improve their theological libraries. And also remember that past issues of CTR can be accessed online at atla.com. Your local university or seminary can provide you with a password.

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