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.