Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall
This volume is the second in a three book series dealing directly with the writings of the church fathers. The first in the set is Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and the final is Praying with the Church Fathers.
For an individual to be considered a father of the church he had to meet four qualifications: Antiquity (from A.D. 96 to John of Damascus (750)), holiness of life, orthodox doctrine and ecclesiastical approval (pp. 20-21).
Hall’s approach in his series is not a hop-skip through ancient church history taking a quote here and there from numerous fathers, but rather a focus on a few (primarily Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome) as they were specifically involved in various issues. With this approach in mind Hall deals with several theological issues: Christ, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, salvation, God’s providence, the Scriptures, the Church, the resurrection body and life everlasting. As Hall handles each of these doctrines, spread out over eleven chapters, he zeros in on one, two or three of the church fathers per doctrine, quoting directly from their writings. The result is helpful as the reader is able to enter into the thinking of the fathers in light of the theological backdrop in which various doctrines were crystallized. As might be expected most theological development was hammered out as a reaction to heresies. For example, Irenaeus’ teaching on the Scriptures became necessary due to the prevalence of Gnosticism; Athanasius’ work on the Trinity and nature of Christ was due to Arianism; and election, the will of man and our sin nature as understood by Augustine came to the surface because of contradictions with Pelagius. Of a more negative nature we see the formation of infant baptismal regeneration (p. 109) and the roots of apostolic succession (pp. 230-231) which began originally to protect and preserve sound theology.
If the reader has an interest in church history and desires a good sampling of early doctrinal formation through the writings of the church fathers, this volume would be hard to beat.