New Study Topics

After seminary I chose Christ’s resurrection (systematic theology), Hebrews (Bible), and Anselm (historical theology) as three study projects for my continued learning.  I’ve focused on the resurrection with much of my time this spring, and have been writing an article on how it relates to Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices which I hope to finish during the month of June.  As of June 30 (my 27th birthday) I will consider my resurrection study officially finished.  Hebrews and Anselm will be, Lord willing, life-long projects, but I’m also going to take a break from them.  I don’t want to become lop-sided, and there are some new projects that are attracting my attention.  So I have a new triad of Bible, theology, and church history as I launch into the summer.

First, I am going to do some study in Habakkuk, trying to go more slowly through the whole book, using my Reader’s Hebrew Bible and O. Palmer Robertson’s commentary (NICOT) for help.  I’ve always been struck by Habakkuk’s radical message of faith in God in the midst of terrible suffering, and its a book I want to keep returning to and growing in my understanding of it.

Second, I want to do some work in the doctrine of justification.  I’ve been increasingly finding what a refuge this doctrine is amidst the all the various buffetings of life, but I’d like to tighten up my understanding of what it precisely means.  I’m not so much interested in the current debates (although I will read Piper vs. Wright) – I want to stick close to Scripture and try to come to a deeper understanding of what Martin Luther saw that enabled him to stand against the whole world.  I believe that there is enough power in this doctrine to make the weakest, most dejected believer dance for joy right and mock the devil.

Finally, I want to increase my knowledge of pre-reformation theology.  One the convictions I’ve been growing in lately is that we Protestants should avoid an entirely negative or neglectful orientation toward pre-reformation church history and theology.  Even the most radical anti-Roman Catholic voices among the Protestant Reformers (like Luther, or later Turretin) insisted that God had always faithfully preserved a regenerate people, that even during the seasons of greatest corruption and darkness the true church had never completely vanished from the earth (though Luther, typically tongue-in-cheek, speculated that at times it had perhaps dwindled down to a few maidservants!).  They were trying to reform the church, not recreate the church.  When Roman Catholic theologians appealed to Augustine and the church fathers to vindicate the tenets of the counter-Reformation, Calvin did not respond by saying, “who cares about Augustine and the fathers?  They are nothing.”  Instead he disputed those claims, pointing to the reality of the truths of Scripture in the history of the church.  Sola Scriptura meant that the Bible alone was authority; it did not mean that the Bible alone is valuable.

Are there lots of errors in pre-Reformation theology?  Yes.  But then, so are there in Reformation theology.  Every era of the church has problems, but these problems do not render any of them unworthy of study.  While almost all Protestants would agree with this in principle, many of us tend to restrict our study of pre-reformation theology almost entirely to Augustine.  I’m convinced that if we neglect pre-Reformation Christian theology, our Christology and doctrine of the Trinity (for starters) will suffer the consequences, because we stand on the shoulders of the courageous and faithful pre-Reformation Christians  (like Athanasius) who spent their lives fighting for and hammering out these foundational doctrines.

Therefore I am setting aside the month of July to focus on these books/figures:

1) Robert Letham’s The Holy Trinity (it has a good historical overview section).
2) The Medieval Theologians, edited by G.R. Evans
3) John of Damascus (the “final Father”)
4) Gregory the Great (pictured above; Calvin called him the last good Pope)
5) The Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory, Gregory)
6) Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word
7) Augustine’s De Trinitate
8) Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy

More posts to come as I learn…

“And we confess that which has been established by the ancient councils, and we detest all sects and heresies which were rejected by the holy doctors, such as St. Hilary, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose and St. Cyril.”   -John Calvin

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  1. That’s really neat Gavin, to be so diligent about studying new topics. Have you ever read the book How the Irish Saved Civilization? I don’t know–maybe that does not fit at all with what you’re wanting to read about.

  2. Thanks Dane. Feel free to email me any suggestions for good books on justification. Erin, I feel like I’ve seen that book at Borders or something – looks very interesting. Have you read it? What’s the idea?