Protestants and the Early Church

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Blood-Bought Pilgrim

Puritan Board Sophomore
Does anyone know of any works that dive into the points of continuity between Protestant theology and the early church, and/or deal with the claims of Rome and EO to be the obvious true theological heirs of the early church?

Articles, books, and podcasts all welcome!
Does anyone know of any works that dive into the points of continuity between Protestant theology and the early church, and/or deal with the claims of Rome and EO to be the obvious true theological heirs of the early church?

Articles, books, and podcasts all welcome!

The most important thing is to not overcook the evidence. You won't find First Baptist Church of Antioch in 200 AD. They have their own concerns to worry about. Because of astrology and its determinism, they were keen to stress the freedom of the will, for example.

In terms of podcasts, Gavin Ortlund is easily the best thing Protestants have on this issue. In terms of books, Schaff is always a good place to go to.
Because of astrology and its determinism, they were keen to stress the freedom of the will, for example.

It's a bit OT from the initial thread, but I honestly think in our coming age, while we'll always have the Arminian/Semi-Pelagian/Pelagian slide to work against within the Christian sphere, outside the Christian sphere, the confessional Reformed view of human free will/agency in terms of making choices sounds positively libertarian compared to some of the ultra deterministic stuff of what I might call the meatsack+neuron determinists of the extreme materialists out there. I wonder if we'll end up breaking out some of those older arguments or sounding like in apologetics.
Thomas Oden has some stuff on this. It isn't one to one for sure something is there.
Jordan Cooper has a book also titled The Righteousness of One, if I recall that looks at the apostolic fathers and their views of justification. He concludes that though it's primitive it's not far from standard Protestant views.
Also, Calvin and many others dive into the church fathers to support their views
The best works on the Fathers and Protestantism are William Perkins' Problem of Forged Catholicism, in vol. 7 of his works from RHB, and the Magdeburg Centuries by Flacius et al. The latter will probably never be in English, so start with the former.
As Jacob mentions, over cooking the evidence is a problem.
But it's quite clear that the church in its first centuries didn't say mass, had no idols, widely held to a symbolic view of the Supper, believed that Christ's atonement without human merits was the sole vehicle of salvation, and did not recognize the authority of the Pope.
They certainly had their problems as well and they weren't proto-protestants, as it were. But they had common ground with protestantism over and against romanism.
A big way they differed from protestants is that their exegesis and understanding of Scripture was at times really bad. I love Augustine but his commentaries often demonstrate a level of Scripture understanding on par with the average bible school freshman. On Romans he completely misses Paul's point in Romans 3-5 and asserts justification is "to make just" i.e. infuse a habit of righteousness.
Does anyone know of any works that dive into the points of continuity between Protestant theology and the early church, and/or deal with the claims of Rome and EO to be the obvious true theological heirs of the early church?

Articles, books, and podcasts all welcome!

Jean Daillé, A Treatise Concerning the Right Use of the Fathers would be a logical place to begin:

More narrowly focused on the topic of Scripture is Volume 3 of David King's Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith
If I can approach the question from a different perspective, what demarcates the "early" church? "Early" is relative. Perhaps we might be considered members of the "early" church by a future generation.

True, there are Christians who were chronologically nearer to the apostles than we are. This no more guarantees or selects for theological "heirship" than does our relative nearness to the apostles as compared to future generations. Scripture is the rule of faith.

Those qualifications in mind, as in most cases, the absolute best option is to read the primary sources. Given that, see here. Of course, time is always a factor.

My next recommendation is to approach your research by topic of interest. What do you like to read about generally? Given the availability of search engines, reading what you have an interest in will greatly facilitate your willingness to follow through on your impetus for your post.

Lastly, I agree with Jacob not to overreach in your expectations. By the same token, it may sometimes be helpful to read or listen to Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic apologists who do overreach in this sense. This presupposes one has some wisdom and ability to discern.

I'll give an example. I have an interest in the topic of original sin and have been recently reading about and listening to the perspective of Eastern Orthodox adherents (they call it "ancestral" sin). Mostly, they seem completely clueless. One such example is at the end of this video (the first video that shows up if you search for "original sin eastern orthodox" on Youtube and is explained by a Ph.D. and current priest):

...we have this development, this theological development which is based on this erroneous concept but we also have among the Reformers John Calvin who embraced a lot of the Augustinian concepts including predestination and he also embraced the understanding of Original Sin and the transmission of sin and guilt and the responsibility of Adam based on Augustine's understanding and that has been the case until this day for those who have followed the Calvinist understandings. Of course in the Orthodox Church this is not even a topic to be discussed because we do not see any such possibility of transmission of sin and guilt and responsibility in any possible way.

This is not even remotely in the same league as intramural debates amongst Reformed theologian such as is found in George P. Hutchinson's fantastic work, The Problem of Original Sin in American Presbyterianism.

Or take the following from the introduction to another priest's (Romanides') book, The Ancestral Sin:

Now we sin because we die, for the sting of death is sin. Sin reigns in death, in our corruptibility and mortality. Death is the root; sin is the thorn that springs from it.

This completely reverses cause and effect (Romans 6:23).

I've also seen several Eastern Orthodox apologists appeal to John Chrysostom (Romanides and Eastern Orthodox apologists who disagree with him). Chrysostom says,

Seeing their children bearing punishment proves a more grievous form of chastisement for the fathers than being subject to it themselves.

Now, without fail, Eastern Orthodox apologists deny original guilt. But then how is it that they think children may justly bear the punishment for another's sins? Whether Chrysostom himself believed this point is irrelevant. Hutchinson and the Reformed tradition deal with this question directly. Eastern Orthodox apologists seem barely aware of it.

On this note, it's helpful to see engagement between theologians or apologists of different traditions. Triablogue's Steve Hays went toe-to-toe with prominent Eastern Orthodox apologists. Another example may be found in Original Sin and the Fall: Five Views. In it, Oliver Crisp responds to the Eastern Orthodox presentation (Andrew Louth, priest and Ph.D.) with the following:

In the context of expounding the doctrine of ancestral sin in terms of a web of human sinfulness going all the way back to our first parents, he raises the issue of whether this is sufficient as an account of sin. As he puts it, for defenders of original sin, like myself, the ancestral sin view “seems to leave open the possibility (even if totally exceptional) of someone living a blameless life.” And this, of course, is the fundamental worry Augustine had with Pelagius’s doctrine. The problem is, Louth never really addresses this objection to his position head on. He never explains how the Orthodox doctrine of ancestral sin can avoid the traditional Augustinian objection that it leaves conceptual room for the existence of someone that is, for all practical purposes, without sin. This, it seems to me, is a serious lacuna in his presentation.

From the same book, the following remarks by another contributor are even better:

On a final note, the corruption-only position of ancestral sin is a flawed doctrine; it discounts the truths of imputation (and realism) implied in passages like Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 as well as the broader doctrinal synthesis of the whole Bible on which imputed guilt rests (see my marks to Crisp). I ask Louth, Are there any human beings apart from Christ who were perfectly sinless? Answering yes would suggest he has a defective hamartiology and Christology. Scripture is clear that with the exception of Christ all humans are sinners (e.g., Rom 3:9-20; 1 Jn 1:8); if we presume there were any sinless people, as perfectionists have claimed, such naiveté detracts from the glory of the incarnation and belittles the gravity of sin. I suspect Louth agrees. In that case, it must be our inherited corruption that makes sinning inevitable. But then how is this scenario just? Since no human is responsible for innate corruption, in his view, and since that same corruption leads inevitably to sin, it is unclear how ancestral sin fares any better than original guilt. The concerns surrounding divine justice remain.

This is just a sampling. I might make further remarks, such as that many Eastern Orthodox apologists will criticize Reformed theologians for accepting that we have corrupted wills but that Christ does not... yet they will turn around and accept that we have gnomic wills yet Christ does not. If a mode of will can be accepted in one case, just so for the other.

One more example. All Eastern Orthodox apologists I've encountered love Maximus the Confessor. It's almost as if you can't disagree with the guy. If that's the case, though, then what does someone like Jay Dyer (who rejects the aseity of the Son and Spirit, cf. mark 2:00:45 here) do with the following statement by Maximus (link)?

Mystical theology teaches us, who through faith have been adopted by grace and brought to the knowledge of truth, to recognize one nature and power of the Divinity, that is to say, one God contemplated in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It teaches us to know God as a single unoriginate Intellect, self-existent, the begetter of a single, self-existent, unoriginate Logos, and the source of a single everlasting life, self-existent as the Holy Spirit: a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity. The Divinity is not one thing in another thing: the Trinity is not in the Unity like an accident in a substance or vice versa, for God is without qualities. The Divinity is not one thing and another thing: the Unity does not differ from the Trinity by distinction of nature; the nature is simple and single in both. Nor in the Divinity is one thing dependent on or prior to another: the Trinity is not distinguished from the Unity, or the Unity from the Trinity, by inferiority of power; nor is the Unity distinguished from the Trinity as something common and general abstracted in a purely conceptual manner from the particulars in which it occurs: it is a substantively self-subsistent essence and a truly self-consolidating power. Nor in the Divinity has one thing come into being through another: there is within it no such mediating relationship as that of cause and effect, since it is altogether identical with itself and free from relationships. Nor in the Divinity is one thing derived from another: the Trinity does not derive from the Unity, since it is ungenerated and self-manifested. On the contrary, the Unity and the Trinity are both affirmed and conceived as truly one and the same, the first denoting the principle of essence, the second the mode of existence. The whole is the single Unity, not divided by the Persons; and the whole is also the single Trinity, the Persons of which are not confused by the Unity. Thus polytheism is not introduced by division of the Unity or disbelief in the true God by confusion of the Persons.

It's helpful to realize that one's favorite theologian does not agree with one's own position. Once I myself realized that, I was able to develop my own views more healthily.
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