In recent years, more and more evangelical Protestants have been looking at the early church fathers—that group of Christian teachers stretching from just after the apostles through approximately the first five centuries of the church—to see how they read their Bibles and did their theology.
"Exhibit A" in this resurgence is the Ancient Christian Commentary series edited by Thomas C. Oden and published by InterVarsity Press—a 28-volume set that places side by side with the text of each Bible book the key exegetical writings of the early church.
In what might be seen as a book-length preface to that series, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Christopher Hall of Eastern University guides readers into the "far country" of those early interpreters. Who better, we thought, to provide orientation for CH readers?
Why should Christians today care what the church fathers—Athanasius, Irenaeus, Augustine, and others—had to say about the Bible? Shouldn't we just interpret the Bible for our own times?
The phrase Tom Oden taught me is "The Holy Spirit has a history." The church does not thrive in the first century, fail in the second, then revive in the sixteenth. The Spirit never deserts the church as it reads the Bible.
He is present in every century, guiding bishops and pastors of the church, particularly as they encountered readings of the Scripture that at first glance might have seemed plausible, but in light of the larger tradition—the Rule of Faith, the liturgical tradition, and so on—didn't make sense. It is the Fathers who provided the framework to protect that apostolic tradition down through the years.
So, since God has always been present with his church, our education as Christians will be stunted if we don't expose ourselves ...1