In my summer reading I came across a quote that I have dwelt on quite a bit since I first read it. While the quote is by Thomas Oden, I read it in a book by Jim Belcher “Deep Church”. Interestingly enough, Belcher referenced “The Future Lies in the Past” by Chris Armstrong as the source from which he acquired Oden’s quote. All this to say, I don’t know what book the original quote came from. 🙂 Nevertheless, it is a quote that I have found to be very thought provoking, and well worth blogging about.
“All of the traditions have an equal right to appeal to the early history of Christian exegesis… Protestants have a right to the Fathers. Athanasius is not owned by the Copts, nor is Augustine owned by North Africans. These minds are common possession of the whole church. The Orthodox do not have exclusive rights over Basil, nor do the Romans over Gregory the Great. Christians everywhere have equal claim to the riches and are discovering them and glimpsing their unity in the body of Christ.”
While there are many things that could be discussed based on this statement, I have two observations that I would like to emphasize:
1) We are not necessarily wiser now than the Church Fathers of the past. While it is true that we now have more sources to derive our exegesis (explanation or interpretation of a text), there were great minds then just as there are now. You see, in modern day society we tend to subscribe to the philosophy that human culture progresses (or grows smarter) over time. This is a philosophy that seems to have been popularized by Darwin in his theory of evolution. As I said above, it is true that over time we have become experts at collecting and recording information which leads to an ability to build on blocks laid by our predecessors. However, that does not mean that we are smarter now. At best it makes us informed. It does not necessarily make us wise. Furthermore, our church fathers had access to the same leading of the Holy Spirit as we do now. Christopher Hall (a patristic scholar) said it like this “The Holy Spirit has a history”. Thus, it is important for us to see people of the past not as primitive, but as people that we can learn from. In other words, no one person or era has a monopoly on understanding. Especially, when it comes to the things of God.
2) The second observation I derive from the quote builds on the first to a large degree. It is the idea that since “the Holy Spirit has a history”, we not only have the right, but the responsibility to take advantage of their thoughts and insights. It has long been a philosophy of mine that mentor-ship need not be found solely in the acquaintances of our present time and geographic location. On the contrary, very valuable mentor-ship can often be found in books of the past and the present. This has specifically played out in my life in the study of works by C.S. Lewis, John Piper, and even the Apostle Paul. What I have found is that if you immerse yourself in multiple works by a specific author you begin to understand where they are coming from. What happens is that you begin to understand the writers on a deeper level because (if you look hard enough) you see the common threads that bind the separate works together. I have often likened it to the act of sitting under a professor in a university or seminary setting. Look at it like this, if God is not bound by time in His existence or His revelation, then why should we confine our quest to understand Him to our present time and location. Happy reading!!!