For many evangelicals today, church history looks something like this: the Bible . . . the Reformation . . . my denomination's founding . . . my church's founding. Or it might be more like this: the Bible . . . something something something . . . my church's founding (within the last couple of decades). In my experience, lots of churches express a desire to have a biblical church or first-century church but have little regard for two millennia of history between then and now. (To be clear, I am writing as a conservative evangelical in the U.S., and acknowledge my own limited experience.)
Bryan Litfin definitely writes from a quintessential American Evangelical perspective. His father, Duane Litfin, taught at Dallas Theological Seminary and was a long-time president of Wheaton College. Bryan Litfin went to DTS and now teaches at Moody Bible Institute. Even with that pedigree, Litfin holds the early church, including the Church Fathers of the first several centuries of church history, in high regard. In Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, Litfin invites his fellow evangelicals to appreciate the importance of these early shapers of the faith we share.
For Getting to Know, Litfin selects his "top ten list" of early Christians whose writing, leadership, and theology shaped the church. His list includes obvious choices like Origen, Augustine, and Justin Martyr, but also includes a "church mother," Perpetua of Carthage, and Patrick of Ireland, who (I don't think) is not typically counted among the church fathers.
Litfin's selections include biographical information, a discussion of each church father's writings and theological importance, and their impact on the formation of the church, as well as a selection from their own writings. Unsurprisingly, each of them come across as evangelical. More than a reflection of Litfin's theological perspective, Litfin reveals the genuine, passionate faith these early leaders of the church shared. To our detriment, evangelicals "are being robbed of their ancient heritage precisely because they have equated the word 'catholic' with being 'Roman Catholic.'" Litfin shows that "all the centuries of Christian history are our [every Christian's] rightful possession."
While not comprehensive, and while written from a decidedly evangelical perspective, Litton's book is a great resource. He reminds us of the vibrant faith of the early church, and the importance of these fathers and others in preserving the right teachings of Jesus and pointing the church in the right direction for the benefit of future generations of Christians. Our 21st century faith was built on the founding centuries of Christians. "We are small figures inevitably carried forward by the weight of the holy catholic church, whose sails are filled by the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit."
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!