Learning Theology with the Church Fathers

By Christopher A. Hall
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2002). 308 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Larry Pettegrew
14.1 (Spring 2003) : 117-118

 Most Christians would no doubt have to admit that they do not know enough about their Christian roots. And if this is true, most Christians do not know enough about the church fathers. And if this is true, most Christians do not know enough about theology. For anyone who is willing to read it thoughtfully, this book will help with all three problem areas.

The book is intended only “to be a primer for beginners” (12). And it fulfills its goal admirably. The author writes clearly and carefully, trying not to bore the reader or scare him off through technical theological jargon. He is convinced that the fathers are hardly ever boring, so he tries with good success to present them to the reader with enthusiasm.

The first chapter introduces the fathers and explains why we should know about their contributions to theology. Each successive chapter familiarizes the reader with doctrinal issues that the fathers debated and tried to clarify. These issues include the relation of the Son to the Father, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the deity of the Holy Spirit, sin and grace, providence, the Scriptures, the church, and the resurrection of the body and everlasting life. Rather than bring in many voices on every doctrine, the author explains the views of the two or three fathers who led each debate. Usually he summarizes their arguments in some detail, quoting them when helpful.

Hall also tries to let the fathers speak without needlessly intruding into the debate himself. Still, it is apparent that his sympathies lie with the orthodox views. He sides with Augustine, for example, in his debate against Pelagius.

In an age when experience has conquered doctrine in many churches, many believers have difficulty articulating the basics of theology. This book will help the serious reader to think more deeply about the importance that our spiritual ancestors placed on getting the details of theology right.