A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs is of immense value to the student of the history of Christianity and what early Christians believed. Debates continue today about what these early Christians believed. No doubt scholarship has progressed in this field, for which I am thankful. Yet, people always look for the “classics” to possess on one’s bookshelf. For example, Karl Barth’s Dogmatics is a classic in Protestantism. Or for our Catholic friends, volumes of Aquinas’s Summa. For a more conservative, Calvinistic Reformed position, Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology or Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics top the field. In the study of early Christianity and what they believed, there are few volumes I would recommend, but this is one of them.
First, I recommend this volume for its thoroughness. The breadth and depth of topics covered is immense. This is fantastic for a time period we do not know much (or enough!) about. Again, I know that scholarship has progressed, but this volume, published in 1998, exhibits the wealth of research that no doubt provided the foundation for today.
Second, in conjunction with the first, I appreciate the sources cited. Not only does the editor consult numerous church fathers, but also numerous sources of those fathers. There is not one specific source per father; rather, a plethora of sources per father. However, it is at this point I admit that I am disappointed there are not church mothers. There were plenty, I am sure, of women who influenced the beginnings of Christianity, and without whom we would not be where we are. Yet, still, I appreciate this editor’s contributions.
Finally, I appreciate the editor’s presentation. The cover is “ancient” and has the color for that time period (sandy and brown), and on the inside, it is well organized and presented in a coherent manner. Also, the editor provides examples on how to use the book, pitfalls to avoid, and a “Who’s Who” of ante-Nicene Christianity to “put in context the ancient Christian writers.” (back cover)
For whom is this book written? I would recommend this book to pastors, young or old, who want to refresh their memory of certain beliefs from early Christianity; but, as the editor warns, do not use this book for “proof-texting.” These early Christians did not believe as we do today. I would also recommend this to undergraduate and seminary students looking for a resource that concisely condenses the amount of information from the early years of Christian development. Finally, I recommend this book to anyone remotely curious about the development of Christian belief. I hope you will add this wonderful reference book to your library.
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