Faith of our fathers

Arthur Middleton on a significant book in which Evangelicals rediscover tradition

 

Ancient Faith for the Church's Future, edited by Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman [IVP Academic], is a significant book of essays written by Evangelicals. The essays from the Wheaton Theology Conference 2007 set out to demonstrate the lively and significant importance of the patristic mind for contemporary Christian witness and practice. The concern is to engage with the witness of Christians throughout the history of the Church who have been inspired by Gods Word.

'When the content of the church's confession coheres with the witness of Scripture, and when Scripture is regarded as the ground of the church's tradition, respect for the place of tradition is a matter of considerable importance... When a given tradition is consonant with God's self-revelation, it is to be upheld and honoured by the church. On this count, the early confessions, creeds, hymns, commentaries, sermons and works of theology constitute a deposit or treasury of ancient witnesses'

In 2006, Robert Webber and Phil Kenyon published A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, to examine the Church's faithfulness to God's revelation in Jesus Christ. The editors' introduction calls for 'the Church's reflection to remain anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned from the early Fathers. Thus, we call evangelicals to turn away from methods that separate theological reflection from the common traditions of the Church.'

This call stands in a much larger tradition, to learn from one of the most significant theological developments of the twentieth century: ressourcement theology. In the middle of the twentieth century, a group of French theologians, including Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou, Henri Bouillard, Yves Congar, Louis Bouyer and Marie-Dominique Chenu, and the Swiss Hans Urs von Balthasar inaugurated a remarkable theological movement termed ressourcement theology.

While far from being a unified school of thought, these figures shared a common belief that the writings of the early Church constitute an incomparable source for the contemporary renewal of the Church.

Facing a post-Christian Europe, ressourcement theologians turned to the work of great patristic and medieval theologians such as Origen, Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, John of Damascus and Thomas Aquinas. In so doing, they essentially revered crucial sources for the revitalization of contemporary theology and pastoral life.

A number of intriguing parallels can be drawn between the challenges faced by Roman Catholictheologians leading up to Vatican II and the contemporary state of evangelical theology. Blondel and de Lubac observed that when Neo-Scholasticism drew a sharp distinction between the natural and supernatural, it unwittingly helped to usher in the very secularism that marks a contemporary post-Christian Europe.

'Those familiar with Augustine's remarkable work De Doctrina Christiana recognize that the patristic period saw a necessary correspondence between reading and growth in Christian formation. In contrast, the modern period approaches reading in ways that are self-consciously devoid of prayer for God's grace and illumination.' A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future is an invitation to recover the kind of approach to the early Church that we find s o p owerfully on display in Roman Catholic ressourcement theology.

The 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference sought to demonstrate the viability and promise of an evangelical engagement with the early Church. This volume includes a number of the most constructive and perceptive examples of evangelical Protestant ressourcement theology. Here is a meeting point for Evangelicals and Catholics in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans whose common concern is for the renewal of Anglican orthodoxy whose roots lie in the patristic mind.

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