Patristics for Busy Pastors: An interview with Ligon Duncan

Patristics? For pastors?  I have to admit I know very little about the early church fathers.  However, I do hunger to understand more about the period of the early church.  What has hindered me has been unfamiliarity of the period, coupled with the inaccessibility of the reading material.  I must also admit that I harbored a very unfortunate sense that the early church was simplistic, moralistic, and because it deteriorated rapidly into two predominant forms of heresy (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) it was therefore unecessary.

In this interview conducted by Tony Reinke, Ligon Duncan demonstrates that the early church fathers is the most relevant study of church history for our contemporary culture.  Evangelicals have, by in large, left the church fathers to the Roman Catholics.  But Duncan explains that not only did the 16th century reformers know the church fathers very well, the culture the early church fathers engaged is most like our own in the 21st century, being very pagan, pluralistic, and gnostic.

In discussing the great merits of knowing the church fathers, Ligon Duncan provides a few book recommendations:

The Spreading Flame, by F. F. Bruce, Ligon considers the best historical overview of this period.

Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley, provides a few chapters on the early church that provide a quick summary of the history and players.

Everett Ferguson’s, Backgrounds in Early Christianity, is an excellent resource book that provides bite-sized, yet very effective summaries of certain heresies and philosophical schools that influenced the culture.

Peter Brown’s biography, Augustine of Hippo, is a phenomenal work by one of the greatest Augustine scholars in the world.

J. N. D. Kelly’s, Jerome, is another biography of notable stature of an early church giant.

As far as primary writings, Ligon recommends reading these books:

Athanasias’ Incarnation is a classic, and you should try to find the version that contains C. S. Lewis’ classic introduction.

The Apostolic Fathers, edited by J. B. Lightfoot (later updated by Holmes) should also be on your list of reading.

Geoffrey W. Bromiley’s Historical Theology: An Introduction is a helpful tool for gaining background information on how certain theologies developed. 

Iraneus’ work Against Heresies is also a classic worth having.

Finally, Ligon talks about how Tom Oden had been swept up into deep liberalism, and who didn’t return to orthodox Christianity until he began to read the church fathers and discovered that the liberal view of them was wrong.  Oden wrote about what he learned in his book, After Modernity, What? which J. I. Packer writes the introduction to.

This is a fabulously informative and challenging interview that will excite your interest in the church fathers.

Patristics for Busy Pastors at Sovereign Grace Ministry page >>>

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3 thoughts on “Patristics for Busy Pastors: An interview with Ligon Duncan

  1. The work referred to above as “Jeffrey Bromley’s Historical Theology” will be easier to find with this spelling:

    Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Historical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978).

    Hope that helps!

  2. Thanks for listing the books. I was listening to Ligon’s interview while walking and thought I was going to have to relisten to jot down all his book recommendations. This list is a great help! Thanks

  3. I concur wholeheartedly.. Thank you for not only posting this link, but also taking the time to list so many great resources!

    For clarity’s sake, I wanted to mention that “Church History in Plain Language” is written by Bruce Shelley, not Gary. This book is written in a very engaging style and will give a good overview of some of the key figures and events in the early church.

    Those looking for something a bit deeper might want to pick up an anthology called “The Apostolic Fathers in English” edited by Michael Holmes. This contains several early writings, including letters from Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and more. It can be a bit heady at times, but it’s worth the effort to work your way through.

    Thanks again for not only this post, but all the work that you do on this site! I’m a frequent visitor, and have found many of the sermons and interviews you’ve posted extremely helpful.

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