In my fairly diverse reading, it is striking how few times I will see any mention of some of the earliest witnesses of the Christian faith. I am speaking of the early Church fathers who wrote right after the time of the apostles. And this common neglect is found among both so-called liberals (or progressives) and so-called conservatives.
Why the neglect?
I am not entirely sure, but Lesslie Newbigin’s terrific book, Proper Confidence, may provide a clue. Newbigin believed both liberals and conservatives derived their understanding of reason from the Enlightenment. Liberals, according to Newbigin, tend to believe the Christian faith can never be proven by reason, while conservatives tend to believe the Christian faith can be proven mainly by reason. Both have forgotten what the Scriptures say about the nature of faith.
Many conservatives need to be reminded that we now see in a “mirror dimly,” while many liberals need to appreciate we can still have confidence that the resurrected body of Jesus is a well-founded hope. In The Reason for God, Tim Keller (perhaps somewhat ironic because of the title), does a fine job reminding us that we all utilize faith along with our reason(s).
The Church fathers can help us with these matters. They understood that our understanding now is partial, but they were still confident it was true.
If you want to learn more, I recommend reading a primary source and a secondary one. The Apostolic Fathers (the edition by Michael Holmes is the latest, but the edition by J.B. Lightfoot is less expensive) has wonderful selections to read. Reading the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall is my recommended book for getting your bearings on this historical period.
So how about it liberals and conservatives? Stop avoiding the Church fathers and pay them a visit!