Church fathers

The author of the book, “Getting to know the church fathers” makes it very clear from the onset that the book is not only a historical look into the development of the church but an attempt to revitalize or jump-start one’s life in Christian ministry. Bryan Liftin helps readers understand the fathers as individuals who cared deeply about preserving the core tenets of the Christian faith. This book has a perspective that favors the discipleship of others into learning about the relevant key figures and events of early church history that have their setting in the years of the formation of the old catholic church.

Through reading this book, insight into the past has provided encouragement and passion for present day evangelism to a generation that is overwhelmed with media influence. Bryan Litfin, the books author summarizes a main theme that supports the idea that ancient Christian leaders of the past provided discipleship for future ministers of the Gospel as he writes, “The fathers (early church believers) are a previous generation of believers who continue to guide their spiritual descendants in the Christian church today. This book uses the Christian past to energize believers today to serve diligently in ministry and uphold the faith with great regard. When discussing the Christian walk, Litfin uses the analogy of a grandma to describe the relationship of the ancient church to the development and mentorship of believers today. He encourages readers of the book not to study the church fathers as a means to win debates with colleagues but to really gain a true understanding of God’s vision for the church.

If enlightenment is the goal of the reader, ulterior motives, and selfish religious views must be discarded. Personnel views of the church must be discarded if true understanding is to be reached; selfishness stands in the way of knowledge. Starting with the first chapter of the book, Litfin introduces several of the early church fathers: John Martyr, Tertullian, and Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius of Antioch is introduced in Litfin’s book as somewhat of a superhero of sorts due to his determination to uphold the laws of the church and protect the universal Catholic Church from false doctrines.

Ignatius’ commitment to the promotion of Christianity and his determination to uphold the faith in the mist of religious opponents; Judaizers and Gnostics, shows he had the heart of a Pastor. Next, Justin Martyr, is introduced as an early century apologist who wrote three key apologetic works including the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, First Apology, and Second Apology. Justin’s contributions include a perspective of the Logos that provided a pre-Trinitarian view, as well as an incorporation of Greek philosophy and Christianity in an attempt to reach a social demographic with a Hellenistic world-view.

Justin designed an evangelistic blueprint for later apologists to use as they seek to win pagan audiences with a Christian intellectual message. Just like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons was a strong advocate for the Christian faith. Irenaeus of Lyons is credited with the theological construct that salvation provides redemption from sin not knowledge. Irenaeus is described in Litfin’s book as having an orthodox view of Christianity and holding literally to every aspect of Jesus’ life. His views were in opposition to that of Gnostics.

Irenaeus combats Gnostic thought by suggesting that the Catholic Church draw its authority from the apostles, the two Bible testaments, and creeds supported by the Rule of Faith. Irenaeus held to his orthodox view despite overwhelming attacks from others. Another key figure in Litfin’s book is Tertullian who risked his own life to protect the lives of many Christians. Tertullian just like Irenaeus wrote against Gnosticism. Tertullian saw the Gnostics and the Marcionites as the most dangerous enemies of the early church and wrote extensively about them.

Tertullian was able to protect the Christians by separating them from groups like the Gnostics through the Rule of Faith that comprised the basic doctrines of salvation. Progressing through Litfin’s book, one finds that in Chapters five and six the author briefly touches on the impact of Perpetua and Origen on early Christian history. Litfin introduces a young Christian martyr from Carthage by the name of Perpetua. Perpetua was a 22-year-old mother who descended from a wealthy family.

When the first persecution of Christians started, Perpetua, her husband, and her maid, who was pregnant, were arrested with some other young Christians and thrown into prison. Perpetua’s father encouraged her to renounce Christianity for his sake and the sake of her child. Perpetua stood firm in her faith and explained to her father that she would never deny her commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While in prison, Perpetua looked after and consoled the other inmates. In the end, she was condemned to death and thrown to wild animals in the cities amphitheater.

Perpetua’s faith is to be admired. Litfin admirably provides great insight into the unconventional doctrine taught by Origen, explaining Origen’s belief that Jesus was subordinate to the God and that the Holy Spirit was a created being. He also went on to clarify that Origen taught that the Christian’s resurrection body will not be physical, and that the purifying fires of hell will reconcile all creatures back to a Holy God. This view is in direct conflict with the views of Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine like all believers had his own inner struggles. Litfin describes how despite the fact that Augustine wrestled with his secret demons of sexual lust, he found the real peace that only comes from having a relationship with Jesus Christ. In the end Augustine and his Catholic colleagues prevailed against Donatism using the insightful theology of Augustine despite a sinful past. In chapter ten of the book, Litfin summarizes the life of Cyril of Alexandria as a very politically motivated individual with a theological mindset.

Cyril is a church father, who engaged in the Christological debate regarding the divinity of Christ. This was in opposition to Nestorius who insisted on emphasizing Jesus’ humanity. Cyril coined the term “hypostatic union” in order to explain that Jesus is one person who possesses two natures, divine and human. In conclusion, Litfin gives great insight into the lives of Christianity’s early church fathers. Much can be learned from these martyrs who gave the ultimate sacrifice to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Inspiring tales like that of Perpetua need not be hidden from modern day Christians. This story can be effective in encouraging Christians to trust God no matte what the situation. Testimonies like that of Augustine have the power to deliver men today who struggle with pornography and their own sexual demons. Litfin has provided this generation with a valuable piece of history that refocuses and reminds Christians that the believer has been called to a high calling.

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