Item description for A Learning Theology with the Church Fathers: The Clarity of Scripture by Christopher A. Hall...
Overview Immensely gifted theologians, the early church fathers were often working pastors who defined many of Christianity's formative doctrines---the Trinity, the incarnation, the church---within the crucible of spiritual leadership, pastoral care, and cultural conflict. Sit under the instruction of these great teachers as they weave the spiritual exercise of theology throughout the fabric of life. 296 pages, softcover from InterVarsity.
Publishers Description The early church fathers were great theologians--though they did not think of themselves as such. They were working pastors, involved in the daily life and leadership of their congregations. Yet they were wrestling with many of the great and formative questions of the Christian faith, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the providence of God and the nature of the church. These beliefs were defined in the crucible of spiritual leadership, pastoral care and theological conflict, all set against the background of the great cultural movements and events of their day. For the church fathers, theology was a spiritual exercise woven into the texture of life. What would it be like to sit under the preaching and instruction of these great men, to look over their shoulders as they thought and wrote, or to hear them debate theological issues? Learning Theology with the Church Fathers offers us that experience. With the same insight and love of his subject that he brought to Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Christopher A. Hall opens the door on patristic theology. Focusing on the great questions, we view these issues in their settings and find greater appreciation for the foundations and architecture of our Christian faith.
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Steven D. Boyer (PhD, Boston University) is professor of theology at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. Christopher A. Hall (PhD, Drew University) is the president of RenovarE. He previously taught at Eastern University, has authored a number of books, and is associate editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Hall is also an editor at large for Christianity Today.
Christopher A. Hall currently resides in the state of Pennsylvania.
Reviews - What do customers think about Learning Theology With the Church Fathers?
Needed Bridge to the Past Mar 23, 2004
Learning Theology is the second in Christopher Hall's three-volume introduction to patristic theology. The first volume, Reading Scripture with the Fathers, recounts the approaches to biblical exegesis of eight theologians of the catholic tradition. The third proposed volume, Praying with the Church Fathers, will examine the spiritual disciplines and worship of the ancient church. Learning Theology explores the major loci of Christian dogmatics, (for example, the Trinity, Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology) as articulated by major patristic theologians. Hall confesses up front the problematic nature of the division of the trilogy. On the one hand, the Fathers would not have separated dogma from Scripture. On the other hand, theology for the Fathers was never separated from the life of piety. Rather, faithful theology arises only out of the life of spiritual discipline and within the corporate worship of the Church. As a "primer for beginners," Learning Theology must, for pedagogical purposes, operate within this artificial division.
One of the strengths of the book for which Hall deserves commendation is the range of the audience for whom he has written. Although he assumes that it might serve as an introduction for seminary students, it does not replace the classic introductory textbooks on patristics, such as J. N. D. Kelley's Early Christian Doctrine or Francis Young's From Nicaea to Chalcedon. Hall is not interested in explaining the historical development of Christian doctrine. The ideal audience for this volume is two fold: first, pastors who have been out of seminary for some time but now want to explore how the wisdom of the patristic traditions might aid their proclamation of the gospel; and second, curious laypersons who wish to explore the language of the Church they have heard in the creeds, hymns, or sermons but have never understood. More specifically, the pastors and laypeople to whom Hall is writing are those whose religious roots are evangelical. Himself an evangelical, Hall hopes to correct the tendency to place confidence in a "highly individualistic" approach to exegesis that suffers from "theological and historical amnesia" (24).
At the same time, Hall is conscious to address attitudes towards theology common among most contemporary Christians. He therefore begins his discussion of each locus explaining why it is relevant to the modern reader. For example, in his chapter on the Trinity, he begins by quoting Thomas Jefferson's dismissive judgment that the Trinity is "incomprehensible jargon" and Kant's insistence that the Trinity "provides nothing, absolutely nothing, of practical value" (53). Having exposed the reader's prejudice, he uses Nazianzen's Theological Orations and Augustine's De Trinitate to explicate the logic and boundaries for the Christian's contemplation of and speculation about the mystery that is the Trinity. Hall also demonstrates his sensitivity to problems in Christian God-talk that feminist theologians have pointed out.
My one major frustration with the book is the relative lack of historical context given to the texts and authors discussed. For example in his account of the Arian controversy, Hall gives his readers the impression that the Trinity and the divinity of the Son were not a problem for the early church until the third century. Although he makes a passing reference to Sabellianism, he offers no discussion of second-century views of adoptionism or modalism. Moreover, Hall's treatment of Arius's theology does not provide an explanation of why Arius and his followers denied the divinity of the Son. Hall's explanation that Arius wanted "to preserve God's simplicity and indivisibility" (36) does not give attention to the soteriological concerns (How can the savior die if he is divine?) that accompanied the philosophical and theological issues. This problem applies to his account, not simply of Arius, but of Athanasius as well. Hall focuses almost exclusively upon the intra-Trinitarian questions, omitting the soteriological issue that necessitated the divinity of the Son. By separating the doctrine of the Trinity from soteriology, Hall, contrary to his own goals, actually makes the debate about Trinity to be principally a philosophical dispute about the conditions for the divinity of the Son. Moreover, the conspicuous omission of any serious examination of certain major theologians, such as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Theodore of Mopsuestia, means that Learning Theology does not provide readers with the multitextured and developmental character of patristic theology. This problem is particularly evident in his chapters on sin and grace, and eschatology. Unfortunately, the new student of theology will come away without a sense of the theology that provided the foundation for the ascetic piety that shaped monasticism East and West. Perhaps this will be coming in the third volume, Praying with the Church Fathers.
In spite of these issues, Hall has given evangelicals and nonevangelicals, clergy and laity alike, a helpful introduction to the world of early Christian doctrine-an introduction that both offers a sympathetic reading of patristic theology and is also sympathetic with the modern Western reader's frustration and confusion with the language of the ancient church that can seem so alien.
Theology based on "The Faith Once Delivered" Jun 7, 2003
Probably more books have been written in the last 50 years on "pop theology" in the religious book market than any other type of book. Now here is a book on the ancient faith that was delivered to the ancient church.
It is not "easy beliveism" but is rich with the words of the Apostles and those who sat at their feet.
Both comforting and challenging, it is a most valuable resource for a serious seeker.
Helpful review of selected fathers Apr 16, 2003
I found this book to be very useful, but in a rather limited way. While Hall clearly is a master in his field, he falls into the common pitfall of most books of this sort. In a sense this is unavoidable, but then the title should not be taken to mean (or meant to mean) that the book covers all the main themes on a given subject in the fahters. I do not mean the minor opinions of some main fathers either. For example, in his discussion on the human condition, ,Hall fails to represent the Eastern Orthodox tradition in any way. What is represented is the typical Augustine vs. Pelagius dispute with the mediating roman council's declaration on the matter. This misses so much of what the eastern fathers have to say on the matter. Again, this is a great book, but it is not representative of the fathers as a whole. It fails to capture the patristic mind.
I guess my qualm is more with what I expected thebook ot be based upon teh fathers and not with the book as such, but the title should really be something more like "Selected themes from selected fathers". But who, besides geeks like me, would read a book with that title? Enjoy the read!
Excellent book. Feb 16, 2003
This is an excellent overview of the theological approach to Christian doctrine as practiced by the early Church Fathers. While Hall's previous book in the series lacked some degree of practicality, this book is full of useful historical and doctrinal detail in dealing with how the Church explored issues such as the Trinity, the Divine-Human Nature of Christ, and Original Sin and Human Nature. A must for anyone interested in rediscovering the ancient ways of thinking about the Christian Faith. I can't wait for the third in the series dealing with spirituality, prayer, and the sacraments.
Great introductory text! Nov 1, 2002
This book is the second in a three part series surveying the various aspects of early church history.
Book 1 - Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (examination of various hermeneutical methods, focusing upon the differing schools of Alexandria and Antioch).
Book 3 (forthcoming) - Praying with the Church Fathers (deals with sacramentology and pietism among other things).
This second book details with the basic components of theology, showing how the fathers wrestled through the major issues. HOWEVER, this book does not detail all the major players. Hall instead has opted to take the major names associated with the various positions and deal with those two (or three) in detail, rather than having to paint broad strokes about everyone.
Among the issues are: (1) Christ the Son, Begotten and Not Made (2) Mystery and Wonder of the Trinity (3) Christ Divine and Human (4) Holy Spirit (5) Sin, Grace and the Human Condition (6) Providence (7) The Sacred Scriptures
(8) One Holy, Apostolic Church (9) Resurrection and Eternal Life
One of the things I like best about this book is its broad appeal. It not only deals with the heady theological problems, but also seeks to affect the heart as well. Consequently, whether you're well versed in historical theology or not, you should read this book (meditatively) at least once. You will not regret it.