As my boys have reached their teen years, they seem increasingly surprised to hear that their father and I know something about the world.
Dating? Yeah, we’ve been there. Jobs? We’ve had a few of those. Driving? Since before you were born. The boys seem to be humoring me when I offer insight into how girls think. (Hello, I’m a girl.)
Nor will they willingly ask their father—a math teacher—for help with 7th grade algebra. They aren’t trying to be rude, but it seems that older people’s experiences don’t count as much as their peers’ do.
Too often, we can take a similar attitude when studying the Bible. We have thousands of resources available to us, written and produced by people of all nationalities, denominations, and knowledge levels. But most of the ones we consult—especially online—tend to come from contemporary authors. When was the last time you sought out a commentary or sermon published before you were born? Or before the printing press was invented?
Do the church fathers and theologians of history have anything to offer us today? These men and women lived many centuries closer than we do to Jesus’ time on earth. Some of them, like Clement, knew the apostles, or, like Irenaeus and Tertullian, lived within a hundred years of Christ. Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine led the way in the Patristic era. Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and Catherine of Siena were abbesses and mystics before Martin Luther and John Calvin spearheaded the Reformation. George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and Dwight Moody revitalized the church through their preaching in more recent centuries.
These people proclaimed God’s word to their contemporaries, often at risk to their own lives. Their thoughts remain relevant today because they followed a living God and taught a timeless text, one in which God reveals truths applicable to all people of all times. Much like when we read Homer or Chaucer in a literature class, we need repeated interactions with ancient writings in order to become familiar with their style and language. But the investment is worth it. With a little extra effort, we can uncover the rich insights of men and women who loved Jesus passionately in their times and places. And their prose—with its archaic but beautiful sound—gives us a fresh perspective.
From Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, the June 7 devotion on Psalm 97:10:
If you truly love your Saviour, and would honour him, then “hate evil.” We know of no cure for the love of evil in a Christian like abundant intercourse with the Lord Jesus. Dwell much with him, and it is impossible for you to be at peace with sin.
“Dwell much with him.” The more time we spend in the word and in prayer, meditating on God’s truth and his person, the less enamored we become with the world’s priorities and self-centeredness. Encouragement from 1866 that applies directly to 2017.
To be fair, I can remember rolling my eyes at some of my parents’ wisdom during my teen years. I know my kids’ attitudes will pass as well, and my husband and I will become smarter (in their eyes) the older they get. Hopefully I—and you—will remember the same about yesterday’s theologians.