I just noticed that I was tagged by Mark Stevens in a post on his blog where he discusses two major influences on his own thought and ministry which have been his personal church fathers. He chose Eugene Peterson and Karl Barth (see here). I would say that mine are (1) N.T. Wright; (2) Athanasius of Alexandria and (3) C.S. Lewis. I know, I chose one more person but I couldn’t choose between the Nicene defender and the great apologist.
N.T. Wright: No one has shaped my reading of the Scriptures and my understanding of subjects like Second Temple Judaism like Wright. While there are times when I disagree with his exegetical findings it is his “big picture” approach that has changed everything for me. He has helped me understand the meta-narrative of Scripture, the role of Israel, the purpose for the Messiah, and even eschatology in ways that moved me beyond many an intellectual impasse. It was while reading his works that I realized the essential place of the resurrection in Christian theology and how once that is understood it reshapes everything from our view of the Second Coming to the future of the earth to the definition of “heaven”. Even as I have spent time studying with fellow students who marvel over Luther, Calvin, and Barth much more than Wright (who some seem to imagine to be a “trendy” theologian to admire) it remains apparent to me that Wright is a theologians of lasting impact who will be considered the greatest since Barth.
Athanasius of Alexandria: While everyone from Bart D. Ehrman to Dan Brown have made an effort to depict the debates of the fourth century church as merely political (not denying that it has that aspect) it became apparent to me while reading the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria that what was of utmost importance was the interpretation of Scripture. Athanasius was a Bishop and therefore “politics” were unavoidable but it is very important to note that he defended the doctrine of the Trinity and the full deity of Christ even when this resulted in exile because of the political elite. He did not change his views with the politics. Rather, if the politics lined up with his views he supported what he believed was the truth.
Athanasius’ commitment to the doctrine of Christ and God as he read it in Scripture has impressed me. It is easy to be swayed this way or that way by the elites of the day. Athanasius was known as the one who stood “against the world”. Often it is this minority that is remembered while the compromisers of history fade into the darkness.
C.S. Lewis: It was while reading books like Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters that I was able to become intellectually at rest with doctrines like the Trinity, the problem of suffering/theodicy, hell, and the supernatural. No, Lewis didn’t answer all the questions nor were all his answers irrefutable. On the contrary, I know many are refutable. What I gained from Lewis is the realization that there is always an answer over time for why the church declares what she does. Even when it seems ridiculous in one era it resurrects in the next. As an example think of the influence of Bultmann before either Barth from one approach or Wright from another. Is Barth or Wright’s responses better? Who knows?! What it does show is there is a response over time.
Lewis made me seek to defend my faith with intellectual answers while realizing I cannot answer everything. In his book on the Nicene Creed. Justo L. Gonzalez wrote something similar worth paraphrasing here (since I don’t have the book available). In gist he said that we don’t recite the Creeds necessarily because I believe or I can defend everything written therein but because it is the constitution of the church. While I personally do affirm everything written therein it is worth noting that I cannot always defend it. I can’t prove a virgin birth. I can’t explain how Christ descended into “hell”. But this church is not my church; the church is the church. I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance or affirm the Constitution of the United States because I understand everything written therein. I do so because I am an American. It is our identity. Lewis gave me reason to hope that the doctrines of the church will always survive even if it takes a long time to breath new life into them once the current age has trampled them down.
Now I will tag the following: JohnDave Medina, Robert Jimenez, Marc Cortez, T.C. Robinson, and Rodney Thomas. Note: you do not have to choose those designated with the title “church father”, only those who have “Spiritually” fathered you in one way or another.