Classical Christian Doctrine

July 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

9780801048739Ronald Heine is professor of Bible and Christian ministry at Northwest Christian University. He has previously authored Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church, and now offers readers Classical Christian Doctrine: Introducing the Essentials of the Ancient Faith. It is a slim volume, but as Heine says in the preface, “It is intended to be a primer” and so “does not presuppose any special understanding or skills in theology” (viii).

His intent in writing is that “this book be used in undergraduate classes introducing students to the study of Christian doctrine.” In particular, Heine is introducing what he calls “classical” Christian doctrine, which is “those doctrines that were accepted as true by most Christians before the end of the first four centuries of the Christian Era” (3). The classical expression of these doctrines is of course the Nicene Creed, but Heine’s book is “not a study of the Nicene Creed as such.”

Instead, the creed provides the general doctrines that Heine will consider in his book. This means the book focuses heavily on Trinitarianism and Christology. So for instance, after an initial chapter on Scripture (chapter 2), chapters 3-7 deal with Trinitarianism, starting first with the affirmation that God is one (chapter 3), and then how Christians understand the Word to God in distinction from Greek philosophers (chapter 4). From here, we interact with ancient heresies. First, the monarchian approach to God, and then Arianism, with a chapter on the eternal generation of the Son sandwiched between them. Here Heine is endeavoring to present positively what Christians believe, but by dealing with ideas advanced in the early church that were ultimately not accepted. Starting in chapter 8, the focus is more explicitly Christological with a discussion of Christ’s two natures, followed by a chapter on the Holy Spirit.

Having clarified the persons of God and their relations to one another, chapters 9-14 focus more on the work of God in the world. First, there is chapter on creation (chapter 9) and then on Christ’s redemptive work (chapter 10). Chapters 11 and 12 are focused on the church and the Christian life respectively, while chapters 13 and 14 turn to eschatology. Chapter 13 covers the basic hope that all Christians share, while 14 introduces the idea of a millennial kingdom and how that was first understood.

In each chapter, Heine begins with an insert that introduces the major personalities relevant to that discussion. This allows readers to not just learn about the doctrinal discussions, but recognize the key figures associated with those discussions. In addition, Heine offers sidebars throughout the chapters with relevant quotes from primary sources in the early church. These complement his discussions nicely and give readers an entry point into church father’s writings. For readers wanting more, Heine lists specific resources for further reading at the end of each chapter.

All that to say, this book makes an excellent primer on both classical Christian doctrine and the figures that animated those discussions in early church history. I considered whether this would be a good resource for my 11th grade theology class, but decided that Heine’s suggestion for a target audience (college students) is probably a better fit. It might work with high school juniors, but I think some of the discussions, while not overly technical, are probably not the best fit for a high school audience. For the average interested Christian lay reader though (or the diligent high school student) this book is a great little introduction.

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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