This semester’s class The Pre-Reformation Interpretation of the Old Testament has reminded me of a former passion, the writings of the early church. This passion first appeared in Historical Theology I with Dr. Quiggle. More than any other professor at Moody, Dr. Quiggle taught his students how to read. Read for the thesis. Read for the methodology employed by the author. Read for the specific points he is trying to make and how he goes about making them.
Dr. Thomas has forced us to do the same in this course. Our purpose was to look at a host of interpreters and analyze their interpretive methods. At the end of the class, as is expected in most classes, we are required to turn in a term paper on a specific period of interpretation or interpreter.
Throughout this experience I am once again reminded of the importance of the Church Fathers. What is it about modern culture that makes us think that we have moved beyond the wisdom of our fathers? This does not mean that we read the fathers uncritically. It does mean that they have meditated on the Scriptures and have faced the same issues presented by the text as we do today. Why is it that we think that Mark Driscoll, John Piper, or Matt Chandler are more equipped to deal with our theological quandaries than Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, and many others? Yes, so much of the conversation has changed. And yet, so much of it has remained the same.
Dr. Thomas made this point the other day in class. As Protestants we are prone to think that we do not read the Scriptures through tradition. We read Scripture with our own eyes. Yet, we do exactly that the moment we pick up a commentary, listen to another’s sermon, or read a theological treatise by our contemporaries when we seek to better understand the text.
So I challenge you, pick up a work from a dead theologian. Investigate the context in which that author is writing. What were the exegetical and theological practices of the day. How is he similar or dissimilar. Will this not better equip you to analyze your own methods? Won’t our methodological principles be better refined by sharpening them against the Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, Nicene Fathers, Post-Nicene Fathers, and Scholastics, Reformers, Puritans, etc.? The Protestant cry of ad fontes “to the sources” applies to those sources that have shaped the way we currently see or read Scripture as it does to the Scriptures themselves.