Book Review: Living Wisely with the Church Fathers

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Christopher A. Hall, Living Wisely with the Church Fathers, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2017. 276 pp. $ 22.50.

Those familiar or unfamiliar with Hall’s work in patristics will find this work a pleasant read and as serving either as a gateway or compliment to his other works. His other volumes along this same vein find this one a complementary addition to Halls focus on the church fathers and their views, especially as it here relates to daily living. One considers that life coincides with beliefs held, and Hall unpacks the ideas relative to several aspects of social engagement and how early Christians differed in their ethos from the populace.

Hall begins with the Christian acceptance of martyrdom as viewed as one of the highest expressions of faith in Christ. Because eternal life was promised through Jesus, the lusts of the flesh and covetousness of a secular life meant one might embrace materialism and lose their soul; while to give away one’s wealth was to store up treasures in heaven. Students of Restoration Movement history will find Hall’s material on war and military service delightful, primarily if they have studied the views of David Lipscomb. As Origen is shown to have opposed serving in the military for the favor of Christian prayer, so one might find him a somewhat familiar companion to the views of Lipscomb. Next, Hall details sex and marriage, and for those so interested they will not find that the church fathers were endorsing of the myriads of perspectives circulating today. Closing out his tome, Hall looks at early Christian views concerning life and death and then concludes with entertainment in the Roman Empire. Hall’s final notes summarize all that he had previously said and extrapolate according to his interpretation of how the church fathers might inform Christians to live today. Parts of this work will not be agreeable to those who hold to progressive or liberal views of sexual fluidity and pro-choice narratives. However, one might expect that they find the pro-life stance of the church fathers consistent, especially when they read the section on military service.

One criticism that might be levied is that at various points, though they are few and far between, the author offers his theological insights into the material he covers. Rather than reading the church fathers and stating their views, he seems at times to read his opinions into what they say, which is typical of anyone but should seek not to occur. Objectivity should rule as much as one can allow such, but Hall’s subjectivity is not overbearing or very common throughout his work. Another criticism might be that Hall is selective in the church fathers he highlights. The Desert Fathers are not mentioned, which may lead to the author’s subjectivity at times since his fellowship may not deal so much with them, but that is only conjecture. Third, the material mentions at times Roman custom, but giving a more significant explanation of Roman social culture at times might have better illuminated the views of the fathers against the backdrop of their context.

The book is an edifying read for any who would take it up. The term edifying is used on purpose because there are moments of sheer joy at reading what Hall presents. Scholars and ministers alike would glean from it, though in their respective stations. Even lay Christians interested in more profound connection with Christianity’s past would find this work a welcome addition to their reading list. Overall, Hall does again what he has previously done, and it must be said that if a reader is unfamiliar with him that this work can be read alone and may even whet one’s appetite to pick up more of his works.

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