BY BRYAN M. LITFIN
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
CHHI 520: History of Christianity I
Dr. Gregory Tomlin
Review written by
Curtisha D. Lawrence
22 September 2013
Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction By Bryan M. Litfin: Baker Publishing Group, 2007, 301 pp, $14.63 paperback. Bryan M. Litfin, an author and associate professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute, has offered a compelling view of some of the most profound and prominent church fathers in Getting to Know the Church Fathers. His perspective is one that is primarily different than other theologians or colleagues of his time, and provides insight to church fathers for the Christian community. This book captivates large audiences for group study and/or individual study, and is formatted in a way that is easily readable, as well as comprehendible. Litfin expresses his desire for evangelical Christians to think as their forefathers did to act as a guiding light for applying his or her faith (p.18)
His introduction begins with defining a “church father.” He defines a father as someone who came before us and as a father’s child, he or she is genetically associated to him as descendants. Litfin states, “Today the academic study of the ancient Christians is called “patristics” or “patrology,” which comes from the Latin word for father “pater” (p. 17). As the introduction advances, he presents the notion of various misconceptions about the church fathers. The three major misconceptions are as follows: 1) the church fathers were not biblical; 2) the church fathers were Roman Catholics; and 3) the church fathers represent the “fall” of Christianity (p. 20-24). Of the three misconceptions, the idea of Christians equating the term “catholic” for being interpreted as “Roman Catholic”; thus, Christians should understand the differences between “lowercase-c” and “capital-C” when referring to the term “Catholicism” (p. 23). When speaking of Roman Catholicism, the bible expounds upon an abundance of doctrines and practices. However, Christians should be aware that Roman Catholicism of today is quite different than the medieval and Reformation periods.
Litfin combats these perspectives in various ways by attempting to get the believer to be reconciled with his or her spiritual ancestors or “church fathers.” He states “Christianity cannot simply be reduced to a set of doctrines…because when we get to know the church fathers as individuals, we will begin to understand something of the gradeur of the community to which we belong—what the Apostle’s Creed calls the “communion of saints” (p. 29). He uses the phrase “thrust of the Christian faith” when referring to today’s Christians and their connections to the past believers’ and their passion for following Jesus Christ (p. 29).
Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria are the church fathers that were specifically chosen by Litfin. Unlike the fathers mentioned above, Perpetua, a female was also discussed (p. 132-135). This led to a sense of irony for the reader contradicting the title concerning the term “fathers.” However, she too, could be utilized as a model for the Christian faith. He discusses the fathers in the ten chapters, each breaking down each leader in detail, recognizing his life’s strength and influences.
Four areas of strength in Litfin’s work are particularly noteworthy. First, Litfin’s structure was remarkable. His style consisted of each chapter being broken down into first identifying the character, giving a detailed background description, and providing reference questions for the reader to initiate deeper thoughts. This makes the book attract both individual and group audiences. Furthermore, it can be utilized in theological study groups, or just for further insight into the lives of