What kind of insight can we glean from the church fathers, anyway? That’s a question I’ve heard often and asked myself before I began to delve into the answers. Hall’s series on the fathers is a lengthy answer to that question.
The first logical question is about this book as a series. Is it possible to read this without reading the other books and gain insight? Yes, absolutely. I, in fact, did not read any of the other books in the series and didn’t even know it was one until I read the introduction. I imagine readers would gain more from reading the entire series, but would also say that it is perfectly acceptable to read just this one.
This book is about living with the fathers. Specifically, it is about how we ought to live in light of Christ. Chapters focus on martyrdom, wealth and poverty, war and military service, sex and the dynamics of desire, life as male and female/marriage, life and death, entertainment, and the well-ordered heart. An incredibly broad array of topics, to say the least.
Highlights of the book include the chapters on entertainment, wealth and poverty, and war and military service. Regarding the latter, it seems clear that “for hundreds of years, the ancient church opposed service in the military” (126). However, perspectives began to change later, specifically with Constantine and Augustine. Nevertheless, a strong commitment to pacifism in the church remained a lively option even to this day. Entertainment is a tough field to navigate, and though some seem to suggest that people today face worse challenges than ever before, it is clear that in Ancient Rome, with its debauchery and gladiatorial games, had much to deal with as well. The way the early church dealt with this, argues Hall, reveals a kind of threefold response to entertainment: “first, the intimate link between Roman entertainment and Roman religious life; second, specifically what was being offered as entertainment; and third, the effect of this entertainment on God’s image bearers…” (199). It is easy to see how this can be applied to entertainment today, though Hall doesn’t spend much time highlighting how the application might be transferred. Regarding wealth and poverty, Hall notes that the wealthy and poor were both early Christians, and even then too many Christians ignored the plight of the poor (61). What we do with our wealth shows the state of our heart. If there is something negative to be said about the book it is that at times, it seems Hall may smuggle a few of his own theological perspectives into the positions of the church fathers, but these are few and far between.
Living Wisely with the Church Fathers is a broad look at the theology of the early church regarding the Christian life. Those interested in learning more about Christian living or historical theology should check it out.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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