How do Christians live out their faith in an age often critical of their distinctive beliefs and values? And how can they successfully communicate their faith to others and defend it effectively when it is challenged?
Models for Today
A great resource available to us today for learning how to live a consequential Christian life can be found in the past. Church history and historical theology provide many lessons, both good and bad, for contemporary Christians. So while Christians don’t live in the past, in a very important sense the past lives in us through our historic faith.
I think every Christian today who is interested in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics should consider selecting a significant Christian thinker from the past and learning deeply about that person’s life, ideas, contributions, and writings. This select Christian thinker can serve as a type of historical model for how to navigate through challenging issues relating to Christian thought, values, and overall worldview orientation. This thinker will also help connect today’s Christian with believers from the past and thus promote a true continuity of the communion of the saints.
Since all Christians are forgiven sinners with elements of brokenness and fallenness in their lives, this historic person will inevitably reveal their own weaknesses and challenges. But that admission can help us learn how to grow in a life of grace and godliness in the midst of failures and setbacks. Learning from both the strengths and weaknesses of believers who have come before can provide inspiration and wisdom for those living for Christ today.
Evangelicals can especially benefit from such a project because, unlike the other branches of historic Christendom—Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism—today’s evangelical Protestants are sometimes not well-connected to church history. Evangelicals typically have a knowledge of Scripture but are unable to name and relate to significant church fathers, medieval philosophers, and past historical theologians.
A Beginner’s Guide
My book Classic Christian Thinkers can serve as a place to begin an appreciation for some of Christendom’s leading thinkers. I introduce church history and historical theology to evangelicals through the use of biography, exploring the following nine thinkers: Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Pascal, and Lewis. The book is written as a true beginner’s guide, so virtually anyone can pick up the book and benefit from reading it. I include introductions to the thinker’s key writings, ideas, and accomplishments. I also list things to be learned from these men, along with how their lives and writings relate to modern-day apologetics challenges.
So, who is willing to take on this project and learn from the Christian past? This endeavor will bring many rewards, not only in reading and learning but also in stretching your mind and soul. I am positive that investing in one’s past Christian heritage will pay immense dividends in the present.
Reflections: Your Turn
Which Christians thinkers of the past do you find intriguing? Why? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2019).