“One of the most important new facts about Christian theology is the sudden popularity of the theologians and pastors, monks and bishops, martyrs and missionaries, who first fashioned a Christian culture nearly two thousand years ago,” writes R.R. Reno in First Things magazine (November).
The renewed interest in the early church fathers can be seen in the ongoing 28-volume project by the evangelical InterVarsity Press,The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. The series presents selections of early church interpretations organized around the verses of the Bible. Reno adds that graduate students and professors who a few decades ago may have cited or written dissertations on liberal Catholic theologian Karl Rahner are “now more likely to focus on the speculative system of Origin or the Christian Platonism of the Cappodocians.”
Reno adds that the “Paul Tillich Society may soldier on, but in the large annual meetings of scholars in religion, sessions on the Church Fathers (especially their biblical interpretation) have increased manyfold…Even biblical scholars, the last Enlightenment rationalists in the now postmodern universities, have taken notice. Researchers are interested in how the early Church read the Bible, and the history of interpretation is a growing focus of scholarly enquiry.”
Reno notes that this development was not even on the charts for either Protestants or Catholics, who predicted that the future of theology would be in embracing modernization or social revolution or (for evangelicals) retrieving the purity of the biblical text. The early church fathers resonate with Christians “struggling to find a voice after Christendom,” since they were the “original agents of evangelization,” addressing a non-believing culture with Christian claims. At the same time, postmodern academic trends encourage this turn to the Fathers, since postmodernists “want to analyze the process by which texts come to function as mechanisms of authority that shape our notions of the truth.”
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