Accordance Blog
Dec 18, 2015 Richard Mansfield

Why You Should Consider Adding the Ancient Christian Commentary Series to Your Accordance Library

Confession: I used to totally ignore the Early Church’s interpretation of the Bible. I felt that it was pre-critical and not worth paying any attention beyond historical curiosity. I was simply a modernist snob. In the last decade or so, my way of thinking has been changed greatly as I've gained new appreciation for ancient faith and wisdom. Regardless of historical-critical insights, which I still value, I’ve come to appreciate the way the Early Church—those closest to at least the New Testament events—viewed the Bible.

In fact, when I am studying or preparing to preach or teach a passage, as part of my overall process, I first look at two kinds of commentaries before any others. First, I look at background commentaries to try to understand the context and cultural issues associated with the text (I’ll save discussion of this for a later blog post). Second, I look to see how the Early Church interpreted the passage. It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with the interpretation, but I want to see traditional understanding of a passage that is often neglected in modern historical-critical expositions.

ACCS_Gen_1 Years ago, if I wanted to see what the Church Fathers had to say about a biblical text, I had to consult multiple sources, scanning Scripture indexes. That changed with the introduction of editor Thomas C. Oden’s excellent Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). These 29 volumes save me hours of time that would be spent scouring multiple sources, thanks to a cross-denominational team of scholars who have done the patristic research for me. With every passage of the Bible, I find the wisdom and insights of dozens of Early Church writers gathered in one place with sources appropriately cited in case I want to read the original context.

ACCS features the voices of nearly 200 individuals and anonymous documents from the first eight centuries of Christianity. Every source is hyperlinked to a section of “Biographical Sketches & Short Descriptions of Select Anonymous Works” which is helpful in keeping these ancient sources separate. Following the biographicsl sketches is a “Timeline of Writers of the Patristic Period” which helps in understanding the chronological context of the ancient contributors.

ACCS

If you don’t already have the Ancient Christian Commentary Series in your Accordance Library, I strongly urge you to consider adding it not only to your selections of commentaries, but also to your steps in preparation as well.

$308

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Ancient Doctrine Related to ACCS are two other sources I’ll briefly mention. Ancient Christian Doctrine, which originally published in five volumes, is the most thorough examination of the Nicene Creed I’ve ever seen. To get a look at Ancient Christian Doctrine in Accordance, be certain to read Abram Kielsmeier-Jones’ review, "IVP’s 5-Volume Ancient Christian Doctrine in Accordance" at his website.

$199

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Ancient Devotional Finally, as we are close to the beginning of another new year, we often take the time to renew our commitments to reading the Bible. For 2016, why not do something a little bit different by choosing Ancient Christian Devotional (3 volumes) to incorporate readings from the Bible with ancient wisdom from the Church Fathers. Designed as a weekly devotional rather than one for daily use, Ancient Christian Doctrine uses the readings and cycles of the Revised Common Lectionary with commentary from the Early Church. Meet the New Year with the Church Fathers!

$42.90

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Feb 29, 2012 David Lang

Hearing the Church Fathers Speak

Last week, I read a blog post which called for Christian theologians to focus anew on articulating the doctrine of the Trinity in response to recent challenges. In recent years, many Christians from non-liturgical traditions have shown renewed interest in more liturgical forms of worship. Modern society's can't-stop-for-breath pace has many people looking for ways to achieve greater simplicity, a deeper sense of community, a more thoughtful spirituality, and a more profound appreciation of the sacred. These are all areas where contemporary Christians can benefit from greater familiarity with the early church fathers. After all, they were the ones who first articulated Christianity's central teachings, established the church's liturgical practices, and wrestled with how best to live out their faith in the world.

Of course, the challenge of looking to the early fathers for guidance is knowing where to begin. The most familiar collection of their writings is a whopping 38-volumes! Few of us have the time or wherewithal to work our way through that body of literature systematically, and while Accordance's powerful search capabilities now make it easy to explore, it can still feel like you're visiting an alien world of unfamiliar people and ideas.

Early Church Fathers

ACCS-Comp-cover-sm Thankfully, there are now some helpful resources to guide you in your discovery of the early church fathers. Not long ago, I blogged about the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS), which arranges excerpts of patristic teaching into a running commentary on the text of the Bible. I compared the experience of reading this commentary to "attending a group Bible study and listening to the interplay of different perspectives." Consult this commentary a few times and you'll come to admire the fathers' Scriptural knowledge and exegetical skill—even if you don't always agree with their take on a passage.

The ACCS can give you various fathers' commentary on specific passages of Scripture, but two brand new resources offer a more topical introduction to the fathers.

Fathers-Theol-cover-smLearning Theology with the Church Fathers, by Christopher Hall, offers a fascinating look into how the church fathers wrestled with the difficult theological controversies of their day. I started reading it the other day and frankly couldn't put it down. Hall goes beyond merely discussing historical theology; he manages to reveal the principle motivations and concerns of the people involved. The result is that one begins to see them not as esoteric philosophers discussing obscure points of theology, but as dedicated pastors who felt compelled to articulate what they understood to be the teaching of the apostles and of the Bible. In short, they become more human, and far more three-dimensional.

Worshiping with the Church Fathers, written by the same author, does much the same thing with respect to worship, prayer, and the sacraments. I haven't read as much of this one yet, but Hall's discussion of "the sacramental mysteries" in Chapter One is extremely helpful, not only for understanding the fathers, but also for understanding the way various Christian traditions differ in their view of the sacraments. After the sacraments, Hall turns to the fathers' teaching on prayer and personal discipline. The latter section deals with the desert fathers and early monastic movements, and from the bits I've skimmed looks absolutely fascinating.Fathers-Worship-cover-sm

In both of these books, Hall acts as a guide to the early fathers, helping modern readers understand where those early Christians were coming from. Hall is an effective guide precisely because he himself does not come from a tradition which places much emphasis on church history. As he puts it in Learning Theology with the Church Fathers:

The model of exegesis I had received and practiced as a young Christian was a highly individualistic affair. … I was shockingly unaware of the Christians who had read, pondered and interpreted these texts before me.

In other words, because Hall understands the assumptions of those who know little about the fathers, he does an excellent job of communicating the fathers' importance in a way they can understand and appreciate.

As you can see, I'm pretty excited about these resources. The contemporary church can learn much from the early church, and these new resources make it easier than ever to do so.

If you'd like to begin exploring the early church fathers yourself, all the resources I've just mentioned are on sale from now through March 15th. Be sure to take advantage of the discounted prices.