Monday, June 28, 2010

the Old Testament among early Christians

I finished reading Ronald E. Heine's Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought (Evangelical Ressourcement; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007). I am relatively new to Patristics and the history of Christianity beyond 100 CE, so there's a lot I don't know here. But over the last ten months or so I've been doing quite a bit of reading, among both the literary remains of post-New Testament Christianity and the scholarship thereof, and Heine's book is perhaps the most engaging and wide-ranging of my recent reading.

At 194 pages and a list price less than $22.00 [USD], there's no reason why anyone should avoid this book. Heine draws together a diverse cross-section of primary materials, from the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus, to Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome. He touches on Ephrem and the Cappadocian Fathers. He treats Origen at length (relative to his treatment of other Fathers in this book).

Despite this broad scope, Heine's book exhibits a clear structure that remains in focus throughout. As the book moves from the Fathers' reading of the Law to their treatments of the Exodus, the Prophets, and the Psalms, I found myself always aware of our location within both the canon and Christian history. His treatment of such difficult topics as allegorical vs. literal hermeneutics is nuanced and even-handed. The last major chapter, "Living in the Text" (175–91), justifies the book's rather meagre cost by itself.

I would have liked to see some [more] explicit discussion of the Fathers' struggles (i) against the developing rabbinic expression of Judaism, and (ii) with theological and philosophical controversies arising within their ranks. But these discussions would likely have weighed down what is an otherwise clear, concise, and lucid text.

Heine has, in my view, provided the Church with a valuable sense of its past and its conviction that Israel's scriptures are its scriptures, that Israel's story is its story. He has also provided the Academy with a helpful way into the vast body of material that is the early Christians' reading of Israel's sacred traditions. Many of the writings from this material are readily available in print and online (see "English Sources for Exegetical and Homiletical Works of the Church Fathers" [195–97]), though too few of us—in the Church as well as in the Academy—are very familiar with them. Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church offers a helpful corrective to this problem.


Rich Griese said...

I have not found McGrath of any value. I would recommend people avoid and ignore McGrath

Jack Weinbender said...

It's a shame you weren't able to make it out to SCJ this year— Heine's lecture was probably the best one of the week, and I'm sure you would have liked to talk to him. He seemed very nice. Also, an Oregonian. So I guess he's the exception.

Rafael said...

Yeah . . . I'm not fond of Oregonians. At least, not of those I've met. But I hear he's nice anyway.

Nearly unrelated: One of the greetings of the Midlands (England) is, "Me duck," which seems appropriate for Oreganders.

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